The Expedition is a dinosaur movie that sees writer/producer Ben Loyd-Holmes team up with director Adam Spinks for the first time.
We caught up with Loyd-Holmes to chat about the new film, and the challenges of getting it made.
- The Expedition is one of the projects that you have on the horizon this year, so can you tell me a bit about it?
The Expedition is a monster movie. It is an adventure film that is set in the Amazon.
It follows a team of researchers who go to the Amazon to protect vulnerable and endangered species and conduct a study. They themselves end up on the endangered list when they discover dinosaurs (laughs).
- You star in the film, produce it, and pen the screenplay, so where did this project start for you? And what inspired the story?
I have always been big lover of the great outdoors; I am a little bit of an adventure nut myself (laughs). It is perhaps not the safest hobby, but I do love the natural world. I have always been interested in that kind of thing.
There are so many of these fantastic places like the Amazon and places in Africa, which are still quite remote and undiscovered. It is always interesting when there is something out there that we as an audience can think 'maybe there is something there'.
You can drop all of the suspension of disbelief you have to have if you are watching a monster in the city, and you can really believe that these things are out there. I just like that whole idea of bringing the audience in to a deep degree, and trying to get them to believe. That was really the founding for it.
I then did a bit of research into the technology of it all, how we could create the dinosaurs, and we would go about the physical aspects of making a movie like this.
- You have teamed up with Adam Spinks to pen the screenplay and Adam is in the director's chair, so how did that collaboration come about?
I had a good idea of what I wanted to create and the sort of film that I wanted. I knew that choosing the director was going to be important because making a film like this was going to be a big challenge, and I needed someone who was really loved it and was going to run with the idea.
This is right up Adam's street, as he loves found footage, monster movies, and fake documentary type things. I had the outline of the story done, and when I sat down with him and told him the movie that I wanted to make, he was really excited.
I said 'look, let’s work together on the actual script'. When you have two passionate people fighting for the same thing, you are always going to come out with a good result.
- How perhaps did the story/characters change from the initial idea to the film we will see on screen? And why did you decide to go with the found footage format?
In answering the first question, the characters are very similar to the original idea; the only difference is we maybe pushed a few a little further. For example, the character of Rob - played by Neil Newbon - we decided to make him a touch darker and more remote as an individual.
We really played with Sarah Mac's character Michelle, to really develop her false strength: which we then knock down to find her true strength.
In our daily lives, I think a lot of us have a false strength that we put up when we are at work or in social situations, but I think that you have to go through a real journey to find your true strength. We really worked on her character a lot to build that more. They are all very similar to the original concept, but maybe just pushed.
In terms of how we decided to do found-footage, doing a dinosaur movie is a ridiculously tough thing to do (laughs), and it is something that hasn't been done properly as a found footage movie.
It was something that we thought would be different and exciting; again, we also thought it lent itself to taking the audience on a real journey where they can almost believe it.
Obviously, every film is walking in the shadows of the films that have gone before it; Jurassic Park is by far the most phenomenal dinosaur movie ever. Therefore, to do something different and that stands on its own two legs, was a real reason we decided to go with found footage.
- With a movie like this you have got to create the dinosaurs, so what kind of challenge did that pose?
I was pretty sure that if we were going to do this, and do it well, then we needed a physical creature on set; that in itself is very difficult. The skeletal system, the skin and the movement is very difficult to create.
We did a lot of research - the basis of that research is what green lit the project - and I knew that the physicality could be created to a high level.
We had a great team behind us for the making of the physical creature, and we had a great team working with us on the digital side; they brought extra levels of the creature to life.
- We are always hearing about how difficult it is to get movies made in this country at the moment. How difficult was it to get this film off the ground and made?
I think this was one of the most difficult movies to get made. If I walk into a pitch movie and say 'I am going to make a zombie movie,' the people who are listening to that pitch understand what I am saying, as they hear it all day long; that is actually why I didn't want to make a zombie movie.
The people that you are pitching to need to understand your product and understand - based on what you have done before and what is being made - that it can actually work. When you are trying to pitch a dinosaur movie, many people think that you are not going to be able to make it because it is going.
I actually went down a slightly different route than I normally would, as I didn't tell anyone what the creature was. The pitch was essentially, 'I am making another film. I am not going to tell you what the creature is, but it is about a research team in the Amazon. There are monsters. You are in or you are out' (laughs).
Somehow, these people got on board. I told them that I was going to start shooting on a certain date, and just crossed my fingers and toes. I think, that the energy of saying 'on this date it is happening, and you can either become a part of this project or you don’t’ got investors and backers excited.
That was really the way that we were successful in raising the budget. You can make a film if you understand how produce and sell a film, but it is a difficult process. This had many challenges based on the fact that it was such an ambitious project.
- As I said earlier you star in, written and produce the project - how much is being so hands on something that you enjoy?
It is a very very tough balance to have. I was very pleased when Adam Spinks very quickly said 'do you want to play Howson?' When you are producing a film and you are in it, you have to ensure that all of your producing business is done before you step on set, so you are not stepping on the other actor's toes; it would make things difficult if you didn't handle that in the right fashion.
For me, being a producer I do like to be very hands on to make sure that everything has been done to the upmost degree and the best that we can; otherwise, we shouldn't really be making films. I am always very hands on.
When you are acting in it and producing it, it does make it pretty tough. Again, it helps when you are working with good people who understand what you are trying to go through and understand your heavy workload.
- Sarah Mac, Neil Newbon, and Daniel Caren are just some of the other names on the cast list. So how involved were you in the casting process?
I do like to have a hand in it. Choosing your cast is imperative; not only their ability, but also their interest level with the audience.
Sarah is a fantastic actress. We met her during the casting process, and she really was a breath of fresh air and very natural. She was a very exciting actress to work with.
I had worked with Neil before; we met on a job two or three years ago. Daniel Caren is a good friend of mine, and we actually met on the set of Whitechapel.
When we were casting the role of James, we did look at a few other people, but from the word go, I knew Dan was going to be James. We needed someone who is very charismatic and talented as an actor, because he is very rarely seen on screen.
Dan plays the cameraman and is standing behind the actual cameraman doing his lines. It is a very hard part to play. Dan was just great, as he knew how to bring out that character without having to be on screen. He worked closely with the actual cameraman, and they became like one person.
Knowing that you have someone who can really embody a character really makes you excited and less stressed about the production. You really do know that those people can take the task forward.
- Where did you shoot the movie?
Well, the big secret (laughs). It is set in the Amazon, but we weren't quite in the Amazon jungle. We were in an amazing set of locations to make it look perfect (laughs).
- Away from The Expedition, Mercs is another of the acting projects on the horizon; can you tell me about those?
Mercs is a very fun, very exciting action/adventure film. It doesn't take itself too seriously; it is more like the A-Team than The Expendables. Again, it has great characters and a great story behind it.
All of our characters are pretty fun characters and are all different. It is an exciting project to be a part of. I am looking forward to the release of that: it is going to be 2015 now.
- You moved into the director's chair with TV film Black Book back in 2010, how much is being behind the camera something that interests you?
For me, I am a storyteller; that started as an actor but the writing, producing and my little dabble as a director is all part of the same thing.
Maybe I would like to direct a feature at one point, but I think I am a way off that yet. For me to direct something, I want to be really comfortable in that space and get something that I feel that I can do justice to. I probably need more experience before I can do that.
Directing is something that I do really admire; I don't think I am ready for it yet. Writing and producing is my behind camera passion that I am exploring.
- Finally, what is next for you?
I have a film coming out in April, which is called He Who Dares. I play an SAS soldier trying to save the Prime Minister's daughter. I also have a meeting coming up about a follow-up movie with the same guys.
There may be another project that we are looking, that is more of a British Donnie Brasco. I have got to wait and find out what is happening first with that.
The Expedition is released later this year.