PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

One of the hardest styles of movies for low budget directors to conquer is the sword and sorcery fantasy genre. ADAM STARKS, a young but enthusiastic newcomer has accomplished just that, though with his film THE JOURNEY TO ARESMORE…

STARBURST: How did you get into filmmaking?

Adam Starks: It started when I was about eight years old, I would create stop motion animations on a home video camera just to amuse myself and show my friends. My uncle noticed I had an interest in cameras so he got me a mini disc camcorder for my birthday that allowed me to edit them on a computer, which at the time, not many people could do. By the time I was a teenager, I grew out of the hobby and started seeing it as ‘silly’ and ‘childish’, as did my friends. It wasn’t until I got to the age of 22 and graduated university that I seriously thought about what I would like to do in my life and what makes me happy; then I remembered how much I used to enjoy making films and so I made the decision there and then to make a feature-length movie.

The Journey to Aresmore is an amazingly ambitious project for your first film; can you tell us what made you take the plunge with this?

When I started, I was definitely naïve about what goes into making a film, I took the plunge because I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. If I knew then what I know now, I would never have attempted it and done a much simpler shorter first film. I’m glad we made the movie, though, it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot and I would encourage anyone else to do the same.


How did you raise the budget, and how much was that?

I spent a couple of days putting together a concept video to accompany the script and must of gone to every UK production company and film funding scheme to get the movie financed. All of them declined, which is completely understandable as it would have been a massive risk to fund a British movie with a first-time director/writer. I found myself at the point that makes a lot of aspiring filmmakers give up, but I decided I was going to make this movie whether I get funding or not, I wasn’t going to let film financiers decide if I get to make this! So I funded the movie myself, I couldn’t say the exact amount it cost as it was filmed over such a long period, there was no set budget, I would just keeping filming and paying as we went along. Fortunately, it has paid off after getting into the thousands in film sales, in just a few weeks after distributing it.

How did you cope both acting and directing?

I never really thought about it as two separate things that I had to do, I just thought of it as ‘making a movie’. The original plan was to have someone else play Peter in the movie and I was going to spend my time behind the camera. When it came to the first day of shooting, we didn’t have anyone to play Peter so as a last resort, I decided to play him. I don’t think it added any stress or anything as I knew I could rely on myself to turn up and be on time, although it was a bit time consuming to do my lines in front of the camera whilst trying to get the shots I wanted.


How long did the film take to shoot? And how long did the edit take?

In total, it took two and a half years (and that was still rushing it!). Joshua Copeland and I were both working full-time jobs at the time and we would only have about a four-hour window each month where we could both be available to shoot the movie. We would have to rush and we had to get it right in one take, which meant that most of the lines were improvised as we couldn’t rehearse the scene. Although we did eventually manage to get time to go to some really nice locations, but they were few and far between.

We imagine the amount of effects involved meant a lot of planning went into the shoot - what were the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge was maintaining continuity, as any effects shots were made months before the time we shot that scene. I decided to do it that way to save time in editing but the problem was that exterior locations would change massively, depending on the season. Another big challenge was trying to show facial expressions through the prosthetics on the characters, in addition to being very uncomfortable, every expression had to be exaggerated to the maximum as the silicone didn’t move with the face all that easy.

What were your influences when you were writing and planning the story?

My biggest influences were the fantasy movies from the ‘80s and early ‘90s such as Willow, Hook, The NeverEnding Story, The Goonies, Legend, etc... Those films are a major part of my childhood and made me want to give this movie a sort of retro feel. I wanted it to be set in the modern day but feel like it could have been made 20 years ago.


Where were the locations you used, and did you manage to get permission to use them all or were they filmed ‘guerrilla style’?

We went all over the UK to find the exact locations needed for the film. A lot of the exterior locations were shot in Snowdonia in Wales, The Peak District, and The South Downs National Park. Most interior locations were filmed near where we live in Hampshire; we are very fortunate to live near a lot of historical places and ancient villages that fit perfectly into the movie, I didn’t realise there were so many castles in the UK until I started looking. We got permission for most of the locations, I was surprised at how supportive people were when I explained I was making a movie I expected most of them to say no but they were fine with it.

Do you have any interesting stories from the shoot you’d like to share?

Well in one of our scenes, we went to the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. We turned up to an area of the forest with very magical unique feel to it; we thought we were alone for miles. When we arrived, we noticed a gate that was left open and assumed it was a way into the forest, which it was. When we got a few hundred meters past the gate and saw that something wasn’t quite right, we could hear crowds of people and in the distance, we noticed what looked like a film crew with trailers and lights, etc. Someone people came running over explaining that we shouldn’t be there and we can’t go any further. We asked ‘why not?’ to which they responded with two different answers, the first being that it was a children’s party (which seemed very unlikely), the second was that they were trimming the trees and it was too dangerous to go any further. So we stopped where we were and did our filming around 500 meters back from where the people were (we had to try hard to not get them in the shot). We got back to our accommodation later that night only to find out that the location was currently being used for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but sadly I didn’t get to meet J. J. Abrams!


What’s next for you?

Since releasing The Journey to Aresmore, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able shoot my next movie called The Criminal Network, which is now in post-production and coming out some time this summer and I have also started pre-production on another movie called The Beast of Bodmin Moor, which we should be shooting later this year.

THE JOURNEY TO ARESMORE is available to buy on DVD from and reviewed here.
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