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Interview: Neil Oseman, director of Soul Searcher

Posted: Tue, 5th Jun 2007, 1:34pm

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Simon K Jones

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Last week we reviewed Soul Searcher, the impressive fantasy adventure from director Neil Oseman. Neil's presentation at the Sci-Fi London Festival impressed us so much we had to give Soul Searcher some coverage at FXhome.com, hence the recent review and the DVD competition (click here to enter!!).

We also asked him if he'd like to sit down and partake in an interview for the FXhome.com community. Being a top chap he kindly obliged, so read on to find out about the difficulties of working within the British film industry, the making of Soul Searcher and Neil's fantastic concepts for his next film...

What training did you have prior to working on your first feature, The Beacon?

I did a short 16mm training course when I was 18. At the time I was planning to go to university and study Film Production or something along those lines, but the DoP on the course told me that would be a waste of time, that no-one cares about degrees in this industry, and that what I needed was experience. That was the best advice I've ever been given.

A year later I went freelance. I was living in Hereford, which has a very small pool of media professionals, so in the space of my first three jobs I climbed from runner to director. After that I concentrated on DV lighting-camerawork and editing and directed my own shorts off my own back. So I'm primarily self-trained.

Of course, before all this I had made many, many amateur films with a Video-8 camera I got for my 15th birthday, so I had learnt the basics from doing that, and had something approaching a showreel to start out with.

Do you have a 'day job' in the film industry between working on personal projects like Soul Searcher and The Beacon?

I still making a living as a freelancer. Right now my main source of work is a new TV channel called theatre247.tv which involves shooting reports on opening nights of West End musicals. Free shows and free parties! What more could you want?

I do corporates from time to time too, occasional lectures in film-making and the odd indie short and feature here and there.

Soul Searcher had a long and at times difficult production. What kept you going?

Up to the start of principal photography, the fact that I believed it was going to be a really great film.

From the start of principal photography, it was the knowledge that if I left the country or killed myself then all the people who were giving their time for free to help out on the film would be really pissed off.

And, in post-production, the feeling that I'd come this far so it would be stupid not to see it through.

There's a clear love of 80s cinema in the film. What is it that draws you towards that era, and what were the particular influences?

I grew up with 80s films, simple as that. I think what I love about the era is that there were some really visually imaginative films, but they had to put it all on screen with traditional techniques. There's something about opticals and miniature work and back projection - it's like you can see the sweat that went into it. With CGI you can do anything and it all seems so easy. I'm sure it's not if you're the guy at the computer actually doing it, but that's the impression it gives.

The lighting and colour scheme was strongly influenced by Terminator 2 and Aliens, Highlander and The Crow were big influences too, plus we tried to get a bit of Back to the Future in there, and of course Ghostbusters.

Action and adventure movies in the 90s and 2000s have gone a very different route to the 80s classics. What do you think of the changes in those genres over the years?

After Jurassic Park we were inundated with appalling CGI in the cinemas which ruined a lot of the genre films of that time. And just as we were starting to come to terms with that, The Matrix happened and suddenly every film had crappy virtual camera stuff in it too.

How did you go about securing DVD distribution for Soul Searcher through Wysiwyg Films?

After spending a lot of money going to Cannes and realising just how horrific the film industry is, and all the meetings I had over there ultimately coming to nothing, I got an email from Wysiwyg after they spotted Soul Searcher on Mandy.com's film market.

You've been described as 'the UK's Robert Rodriguez'. What do you think about that comparison - and the implied responsibility?

On the one hand it's flattering. On the other hand I hope I don't start churning out rubbish like he's been doing since Desperado! All he seems to care about is making a film "cool". That's what I did with my first feature, and it carried on into Soul Searcher to some extent, but I'm maturing now and I'm really trying to get away from that and concentrate on the heart of the story with the next film.

I don't think there's any responsibility attached to the comparison. After all, he shook up Hollywood and became ridiculously successful. The film industry couldn't care less about me!

Do you think the British film industry is interested in supporting this kind of genre movie?

No. They're scared of spending the money, and never believe me when I tell them I can make these films for less than their formulaic Richard Curtis movies.

Has Soul Searcher 'opened doors' for you in the industry, particularly with regards to funding future projects?

No. It gets me into meetings, but no further. I've been trying to get my new film funded for over two years without success.

Can you tell us anything about this new project?

The Dark Side of the Earth, which might get funded when Hell freezes over, is set on an Earth that no longer spins, leaving one side in constant daylight and the other in perpetual night. A group of survivors from the daylight side build an airship to travel to the dark side and find Old Father Time, to ask him to start the world turning again. You can read all about my frustrations trying to get it off the ground at http://www.darksideoftheearth.com.

If you're for some reason not incredibly excited about The Dark Side of the Earth, check out some of this concept artwork (you can find more over at the official website):

We'd like to thank Neil for the great interview. Here's hoping that the British film industry will one day decide to try something different and support projects like The Dark Side of the Earth.

Posted: Tue, 5th Jun 2007, 6:58pm

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Mellifluous

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Good interview and exciting to see your coverage of Neil! He stayed at my house when we screened Soul Searcher at my uni and Neil gave an inspiring talk about lighting afterwards, I'm sure you can imagine (so much so that pretty much everyone present were rushing to buy film lights a few days later). He's also been called "the Spielberg of Hereford" razz :
http://film.guardian.co.uk/features/featurepages/0,4120,1440159,00.html
Posted: Tue, 5th Jun 2007, 8:56pm

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Videoace123

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Great interview! I read it twice! Seriously!


Awesome,
VIdeoace
Posted: Tue, 5th Jun 2007, 10:15pm

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Redhawksrymmer

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Great interview! It's cool to read about how Neil has evolved from creating 16mm movies to create movies that are now available on DVD! Good job smile
Posted: Wed, 6th Jun 2007, 1:51am

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ben3308

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Rating: -11

Despite all that this Neil Oseman guy has said, he makes a total ass out of himself with this:

Neil Oseman wrote:

After Jurassic Park we were inundated with appalling CGI in the cinemas which ruined a lot of the genre films of that time. And just as we were starting to come to terms with that, The Matrix happened and suddenly every film had crappy virtual camera stuff in it too.
I'm not a fan of CGI blockbusters so much, but I'm sure we can all agree that not only is Jurassic Park one of the best, most significant demonstrations of how to sparingly use CGI, but bullet time in The Matrix virtually re-defined how actions sequences are done these days.

Maybe this guy made one movie, and it probably took a lot of resources and talent, but you can't just flat out diss Jurassic Park and the Matrix, not when they're so well-made. Come on, that's bullsh!t. I'm aware he's not only speaking of Jurassic Park, but he's implying it was a precursor for bad movies, and that just ain't right.

I'll have to wait and see Soul Searcher, but so far this Neil Oseman hasn't really done himself any favors in this interview. It's not even as if he's made it big or anything, he's just a freelancer. I mean, even I'm a freelancer, and I'm far from anything special. wink

On to the next interview, chaps!
Posted: Wed, 6th Jun 2007, 3:15am

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Axeman

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I didn't take his comment as implying anything negative about either of the movies he mentioned. After Jurassic Park...Jurassic Park opened the door to heavy use of CGI in movies, and regardless of how excellent the CG in Jurassic Park was, it was followed by some pretty trashy computer work, in many movies. And still is. Then the Matrix happened, yielding the same effect. A brilliantly used effect was poorly imitated by other films left and right.

It seemed obvious to me that he wasn't dissing Jurassic Park or the Matrix, but rather, the myriad of cheap imitations and other films which did a rubbish job of employing the technology they pioneered.
Posted: Wed, 6th Jun 2007, 8:08am

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Simon K Jones

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Yeah, I suggest reading more carefully, Ben. As Axeman says, Neil doesn't criticise Jurassic Park or The Matrix in the interview. It's the slew of crap that came after them he dislikes. If you disagree with that assessment, then it's probably because you were too young to truly appreciate the way film changed or properly appraise the genre movies of the time. Or you simply weren't paying attention.

But that's besides the point. Neil is perfectly entitled to dislike Jurassic Park and The Matrix. Simply because you disagree with someone doesn't make them 'a total ass'. It just means they have a different opinion. But, then, I suppose this is illustrative of your misplaced superiority complex that comes to the fore every-so-often.

I'd say the ass were yourself, sir.

It's not even as if he's made it big or anything, he's just a freelancer.
'Just' a freelancer? Like 90% of the industry, you mean?

Last edited Wed, 6th Jun 2007, 8:30am; edited 4 times in total.

Posted: Wed, 6th Jun 2007, 8:08am

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Dalemations

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I interpreted the remarks about the films following Jurassic Park and The Matrix the same as Axeman. There was no 'dissing' of those movies. That was a great interview and I have huge respect for anyone that can get a film like this produced. I'm going to order the DVD now biggrin
Posted: Wed, 6th Jun 2007, 8:19am

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Joshua Davies

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What on earth are you talking about ben3308? You really think we would post an interview with someone who dissed Jurassic Park!?

From what I've seen of Soul Searcher it looks like a great film and I expect we'll see even greater things from Neil in the future.
Posted: Wed, 6th Jun 2007, 8:27am

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JackPot

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I was at the sci-fi fest, and it was great hearing about all the practical effects neil produced. Techniques which obviously should not be forgotten!

The new film looks really exciting, hopefully neil can find some funding from somewhere. Like Sollthar he has shown what can be done with nearly no budget and passion for a genre/era.
Posted: Wed, 6th Jun 2007, 12:04pm

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ashman

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Brilliant interview! Good luck with your future project Neil, sounds fantastic. I'll be keeping an eye on your progress.

All the Best
Ash
Posted: Sun, 10th Jun 2007, 10:15pm

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Plainly

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That's a great interview! I'd love to see Soul Searcher, it sounds like a great movie and, of what I've read, it seems like I could learn some filmmaking techniques out of it. Yay! smile
Posted: Sun, 10th Jun 2007, 10:46pm

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Sollthar

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ben wrote:

It's not even as if he's made it big or anything, he's just a freelancer. I mean, even I'm a freelancer, and I'm far from anything special.
Ah, Ben's just grumpy because no one takes him for as important as he himself does. wink

Great interview which rang some deep bells inside me. Congrats to Neil for having the power to stand everything through and going his way. I hope I'll get a chance to see the film one day.

And good look to him for his newest project!


"Never give up, never surrender." , Captain Jason Nesmith
Posted: Mon, 11th Jun 2007, 6:24pm

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Rockfilmers

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And good look to him for his newest project!
The project sounds interesting. Some great imaginitive work.

By the way sollthar, it's good luck, not good look.
Posted: Tue, 12th Jun 2007, 5:40am

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ben3308

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schwar wrote:

What on earth are you talking about ben3308? You really think we would post an interview with someone who dissed Jurassic Park!?

From what I've seen of Soul Searcher it looks like a great film and I expect we'll see even greater things from Neil in the future.
I don't doubt Soul Searcher is good, as I've aforementioned, but from the way I read it, he was disparaging two really groundbreaking films which are far from criticism, especially by a mere independent filmmaker.

The "just a freelancer" line meant that someone of his stature, though commendable for undertaking a big production, is in no place to criticize JP or the Matrix.

After re-reading, though, it appears I've misunderstood Oseman's remarks. My apologies, hopefully some of you can see where I was coming from. wink
Posted: Tue, 12th Jun 2007, 8:17am

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Simon K Jones

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ben3308 wrote:

I don't doubt Soul Searcher is good, as I've aforementioned, but from the way I read it, he was disparaging two really groundbreaking films which are far from criticism, especially by a mere independent filmmaker.
I could criticise Jurassic Park and The Matrix for hours, as they're both absolutely chock full of flaws. I still completely love Jurassic Park, despite its flaws, and The Matrix is pretty good too, but they're hardly above criticism.

The "just a freelancer" line meant that someone of his stature, though commendable for undertaking a big production, is in no place to criticize JP or the Matrix.
I've never really bought into that argument. You don't have to be a professional filmmaker in order to critically appraise professional films. It's the same way you don't have to be a great footballer to admire (or criticise) a particular quality of footballing (etc, etc, etc).

Sure, having experience in those areas can offer new or differing insight, but that doesn't mean that somebody outside of that particular industry has no right to voice their opinions.
Posted: Tue, 12th Jun 2007, 8:25am

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ben3308

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The way I read Neil's interview, is that by criticizing blockbuster movies that were revolutionary while responding to questions which hyped his own film, it appeared to me this guy was condescending upon the flaws of Jurassic Park by saying that he wished to "rise above" such garbage; and that consequently connotates arrogance- a trait I'm not particularly fond of in fellow filmmakers.

Obviously, though, you don't have to practice something to be a critic. Roger Ebert criticizes movies all the time without actually making some of his own.

I'm still trying to figure out how I read this whole review wrong... crazy
Posted: Thu, 21st Jun 2007, 5:35am

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ben3308

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Ouch, minus ten. Why that many?
Posted: Sun, 24th Jun 2007, 10:51pm

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JackPot

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un - - lucky
Posted: Mon, 25th Jun 2007, 12:25am

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SilverDragon7

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ben3308 wrote:

Ouch, minus ten. Why that many?
People just don't like your mean comments, do they?
Posted: Mon, 25th Jun 2007, 2:44am

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ben3308

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"Mean", or 'thoughtfully substantiated reasoning that was realized as flawed and subsequently conceded'?
Posted: Mon, 25th Jun 2007, 2:47am

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SilverDragon7

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Thoughtfully substantiated reasoning that was realized as flawed and subsequently conceded.
Posted: Tue, 26th Jun 2007, 3:32pm

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Plainly

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-10 is still a bit much for one bad comment.
Posted: Wed, 27th Jun 2007, 5:51am

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ben3308

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It's minus eleven now.

I think rating down someone who doesn't go with the crowd on his opinion of someone is childish, but whatever. Boys will be boys.
Posted: Wed, 27th Jun 2007, 5:56am

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SilverDragon7

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Rating: -5

If I were a Gold User I'd put it down, not because it was a Thoughtfully substantiated reasoning that was realized as flawed and subsequently conceded, but so I could annoy you.
Posted: Wed, 27th Jun 2007, 6:24am

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ben3308

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I guess my whole statement about "thoughtfully substantiated reasoning" is a running joke now, I presume?

And ouch, a minus one for you, too. I'll send you some force to remedy that...
Posted: Wed, 27th Jun 2007, 6:41am

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SilverDragon7

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Oh yeah, it's a joke.

But who minus 1ed me.
Posted: Wed, 27th Jun 2007, 3:05pm

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Mellifluous

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I recommended people to skip your post, because the statement you express in it goes totally against what the ratings system is all about. I hope it doesn't influence any Gold users to rate Ben down simply because of that sentiment. If people rate Ben's post down, they should do so simply because they disagree with it.

Edit: Back to on topic?
Posted: Wed, 27th Jun 2007, 7:58pm

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SilverDragon7

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ben3308 wrote:


And ouch, a minus one for you, too. I'll send you some force to remedy that...
You didn't have to give me 50 force, you know.