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Despite assembling such impressive resources for Between the Lines, Ashley is not a professional filmmaker. “The only experience I had with making films before BtL,” he explains, “was attending a night school about film editing and spending a day at Ealing Studios making a short film with other amateur filmmakers.”
Having never been short of ideas, Ashley recalls that Between the Lines evolved from a paranoia thriller in which British soldiers infiltrated the German ranks to a fantasy action piece with walking tanks. Once he got his imagination under control the concept became more realistic, examining both the British and German forces from within a single story.
“It’s set after the Allied invasion of Normandy and follows soldiers from the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry and a German Tiger Tank crew,” details Ashley, going on to explain how the two plots entwine as the disoriented British attempt to recover from an ambush while the Germans make a frantic retreat across France. By showing both perspectives, Ashley hopes to dispel the usual stereotypes.
Allies and treaties
Writing a story is one thing; taking an epic war from the page to the screen is something else entirely. Ashley’s first port of call was the local war museum to brush up on his history. The visit became a crucial turning point for the project, with the museum chairman Phillip Trayhorn taking an unexpected interest.
“He asked me to join him for a meeting,” Ashely says, “and I was then offered a budget and put in touch with a professional playwright to help me re-write the script.” With the sudden support of both the Brixham Battery Museum and the Local Heritage Initiative, doors began to open and the project began to steamroller. With the Local Heritage Initiative involved, people were all too happy to help out, donating their help and archive materials (yes, including a tank) to the project.
Meanwhile, Ashley was working closely with new co-writer Dave Murphy to create a script worthy of all the accumulated knowledge and resources. “We tended to develop the script around the availability of props,” explains Ashley, “for example, as soon as I got confirmation that we could use a jeep I wrote it in.”
With the project increasing momentum, Ashley decided it was time to do some good, old-fashioned tests, which resulted in the two teasers that were released earlier this year to the FXhome.com cinema. “They were made to show the mood and style we were going for,” says Ashley, “but when I checked the quality I made a huge decision that completely changed the way I shot the film.”
Ditching the ‘DV look’ became crucial, with Ashley shooting several more tests with different camera and shot set-ups to find exactly what he needed. “If those trailers hadn’t been created the final film would have looked complete different,” he states.
With the shoot fast approaching, Phil Trayhorn took on duties of producer and set about helping Ashley secure locations and a crew, using a series of storyboards to explain their vision. “It was all unpaid work, so I didn’t have any power to tell people to do stuff, just ask politely and hope they were around at the time of filming,” says Ashley, neatly summarising the main problem with all no-budget productions. Crucial was clearance to film on protected land, which needed to be secured eight weeks prior to the actual shoot. “I think we did a pretty good job considering we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into!”
In the trenches
While the weather conspired against the team and wrecked continuity, Ashley began to despair and wonder if he’d bitten off more than he could chew. As the cast and crew became ever more exhausted, filming split into two units to try and make up for lost time. “Looking back we should have managed our schedule a lot better,” admits Ashley. Despite the hardships, however, Ashley’s crew stayed true and he has nothing but praise for their efforts. “After three days of filming the novelty had worn off – only one person had any filmmaking experience, the others were my friends. They put up with a lot of abuse and labour, for which I am eternally grateful.”
The good news for those of us eagerly awaiting Between the Lines (not to mention Ashley and Phil’s sanity), filming eventually drew to a close and the production was able to retreat back to the editing room. “There were times I thought it was pointless,” muses Ashley, “I just kept shooting, no matter what happened. I was happy one day and completely rock bottom the next. It was the biggest roller-coaster ride I have ever had.”
Although post-production doesn't tend to suffer from bad weather or malfunctioning tanks, it nevertheless comes with its own challenges which Ashley appears to be fully embracing with an audacious line-up of visual effects requirements. “Without a doubt,” he enthuses, “I am a big fan of using miniatures rather than CG effects.” Judging from the early tests in the Between the Lines German teaser, Ashley’s model work is already working wonders. “The teasers were my first attempt at any type of greenscreen or compositing and I’m still learning how to do certain things,” he says.
“To try and keep all the shots as authentic as possible I take measurements of distance and height and recordings of light and shadow,” he continues, recognizing that while this is old news to the pros it’s something that is often overlooked in the enthusiast arena. With some mammoth shots including live action footage, greenscreened actors, miniatures, 3D animation, particle effects and FXhome muzzle flashes, matching everything together in the composite will be vital.
Those compositing duties will fall to none other than FXhome’s VisionLab Studio, taking on multiple roles to help create the finished movie. “This project would not be possible without FXhome products,” says Ashley without any form of bribery being involved. “It was only when I saw FXhome.com that I thought the project I had begun to draft could be a possibility. VisionLab will be used throughout the movie for all the grading and compositing.”
After the battle
Next up is a brand new trailer featuring actual footage from the movie, which should be ready for viewing in November, followed swiftly by the movie’s premiere in December at the Brixham Theatre in Devon. Shortly afterwards it will be gracing the hallowed halls of the FXhome.com cinema as well as the shiny sides of a double-disc DVD set.
Although Ashley would love to quit his job and “follow the dream”, mortgage and bill realities mean that filmmaking will remain a part-time activity for the time being. Nevertheless, he’s certainly not short of ideas, with several small projects in the pipeline ranging from comedy to horror as well as a feature far down the line. “I need more experience before I even attempt a feature,” he recognizes, “so doing a few shorts and joint projects with other people will help.”
First things first, though, with Between the Lines’ final months of post-production. Best of luck to Ashley and his collaborators – it’s a project we’ve been following for a long time and we hope it lives up to everybody’s expectations. You can expect more news on Between the Lines here at FXhome.com later in the year!
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