STARBURST caught up with Mark Ashmore of FUTURE ARTISTS ahead of the launch of PORTAL, the first scripted drama for Dailymotion later this month, which he directed and co-produced… Plus, PORTAL EPISODE 1 is now available, plus EPISODE 2.
STARBURST: Mark, thanks for finding the time for a quick chat. So, in one paragraph, what is Portal?
Mark Ashmore: Imagine the ultimate social network, a place you can be who you want to be, not the person you’re expected to be. Portal puts you in a coma, and rips your mind out via a drug of the same name and inserts you into a digital character. Our story starts when 95% of the world is hooked on this legal high, and it’s just been BANNED! How are people gonna get their fix… OMG!
And when did it all start for you?
We completed a little feature film in 2014 that we self-funded and DIY distributed The Lost Generation about reality TV, banks and death! It proved quite popular after it was pirated and released via BitTorrent by a fan; within three months The Lost Generation' had been seen over 500,000 times on streaming sites. At this same time, I was trying to convince Dailymotion that they should be making original content, and with The Lost Generation going big, it was like, these views should be on your channel, so they agreed to fund it. Because the production was based in Yorkshire, the film agency Screen Yorkshire could get involved, and they co-funded it. The executive producer Hugo Heppell from Screen Yorkshire has produced Shane Meadows films, of which I am a big fan – it all kind of came together.
So that’s the business side of things as a producer, but my other job was as filmmaker – I am also the story creator of Portal. The story I wanted to tell was that of the disconnected generation, all those people on trains and buses and in cafes and bars, those couples on Facebook when they are out in public together, they are addicts. With new technology coming through, Google Glass, wearable tech, Oculus Rift and virtual reality, where are we heading and what are the consequences? Portal is my expression on this, and, as a sci-fi fan, creating a world like Portal means as a filmmaker I can do anything, show anything, and explore with an audience anything.
Little fact here too: the screenplay is by Jack Casey who I worked with on Life on Mars series 2. He was the runner making everyone tea, and I was John Simm’s stand in, the lowest on the crew, first to arrive, last to leave, lowest paid, and now we have worked up to this level and we get our own TV series and feature film. Just wanted to share that!
What has been the trickiest step along the journey?
My influences are Blade Runner, Star Wars and Martin Scorsese gangster films, so with Portal, although the screen and the budget were small, I wanted the film and the story to be huge and cinematic. We had a tiny budget on this film, and 12 crew and over 70 cast filmed the whole lot in 13 days too! Everything from logistics to filmmaking was hard work, but because the way Future Artists works, we have an agile, flexible and creative mindset. A crew of 12 worked like a 60-piece crew, the locations where spectacular, the VFX are top notch and the script, which is the base of everything, is tight. We are also getting praise from the performances by our three leads, so stack all this together, and although it’s hard work, creativity see's you through.
Our motto is 'without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible'
Can you talk a bit about the cast? Chelsea Edge looks set to be a big star of the future but the whole cast put in strong performances. Were there any special challenges you faced?
I am glad that you brought this question up. I met Chelsea on The Lost Generation; she came in to read one line as a receptionist, her scene is as follows: the lead actor points a gun at her, she puts the phone down and buzzes our lead into the building - 3 seconds on screen. She is part of our collective at Future Artists, and when I was casting this film, Clay Whitter (who plays John in Portal) suggested I should look at Chelsea for the lead role. I watched her music videos, where she didn’t really say much, but she just holds the screen. She had moved to London in-between Lost Generation and Portal, so I invited her to Dailymotion HQ to chat. She is such an intelligent actor and is hardworking (we met in her lunch hour from an admin job), from that moment I knew she had the whole movie star package. If she was part of the old Hollywood studio system, she would make her way through from B-movie to leading lady. Hopefully Chelsea, like the rest of the cast can grow with Future Artists.
Screen Yorkshire helped fund this project; can you tell us a bit about the history of their involvement?
I was at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014 with The Lost Generation and managed to blag a meeting with the head of Screen Yorkshire. I live and work in Yorkshire, so I told them Dailymotion were keen to back me. Screen Yorkshire have this development fund, where they invest in projects they see as a commercial return on investment. I had to pitch, produce a business plan and enter months of legal contract negations between Dailymotion and Screen Yorkshire; at the end of it, they fully supported the project, me as a filmmaker and the vision for digital web series. This is their first ever investment in a web series, so no pressure!
Once the series has aired, you are looking to release a film late summer of 2015. Is that a re-edit of the series or something different?
Something different. We shot a lot of extra and alternative scenes, Portal is an alternative universe after all. I started out as an editor and I love working in a digital environment as a storyteller. I intend the feature version to be a little different in terms of learning about the characters. You won't get the adverts, so the viewing experience will be different, plus you get to see it on a big screen, Portal is made for cinema.
And what happens afterwards? Portal 2, or something new? Of course, that rather depends on how this ends – any hints gratefully received!
Each episode is a day, so episode one starts on Sunday, and we go through to Thursday, so it ends then. A lot can happen in a week; this is the week after portal, the most addictive drug on the planet, has just been banned. We explore this concept, so new characters will come in, some favourites might die, or fan-fiction takes over and they take ownership of the world and write what they want to happen. I have loads of ideas, as does Jack, the writer, but the future model of indie media is to work collaboratively with your audience; so as a storyteller, I have set this up. I would love the fans to take ownership and write what happens next, and I’ll go and film the bits I can...
And what else have you planned for the next year or so; is there room for any other projects?
Portal Season 2 is my main focus, so we want fans to share Season 1 and talk about it and give us feedback. We will also be re-editing and shooting some extra stuff for The Lost Generation, which we decided to release as a mini-series online, so we are working on that, and looking for sponsors.
There is always something going off at Future Artists it’s never dull. We work with creatives and artists to support their careers. I think we might be opening up a venue with a pop up cinema, but this may or may not happen.
Ultimately, our focus is Portal and making sure it connects with people who 'get it'. Then I want them to take ownership, fill in the blanks, write some scenes, and help us tell the story. Portal can go on for the next 10 years and be as big as Game of Thrones or Star Wars, but as an indie we need our champions. I hope people enjoy Portal as much as I enjoyed making it, it’s a year of my life!
Fans can let Mark know what they think by tweeting @dmportal and @futureartists and can watch all of Season 1 at http://www.futureartists.co.uk where they can also read more about the making of this project.