Darker Days - Simon Drake

On Friday 4th February Director, Producer and Actor, Simon Drake presented our Media Production students with a guest talk offering a unique insight into the film industry. Including an exclusive summary of the production, post production and distribution process for his latest full-length feature film ‘Darkest Day‘ and brilliant tips for budding Dv8 film makers.

Simon explained his journey into the film industry, from making films in his bedroom at the age of 16 to working on Harry Potter and BBC film sets in his late 20’s. He also explained his route of progression from making tea, work experience, set design, runner work, acting and finally directing and producing. Simon encouraged students to get as involved as possible because something as simple as making tea can offer you the opportunity to get a promotion, especially on a smaller set!

‘It is all about being open minded and working with what you have. You have the passion, otherwise you can’t commit to the prices and you won’t be able to do the 24 hour shoots.’

Simon discussed the process for the making of ‘Darkest Day’ after we watched the latest American trailer. The film was created using a total budget of £1000 including post production but the film was years in the making! ‘Darkest Day’ is a homage to ’28 Days Later’ and Simon said he chose this genre and theme as ‘Zombies are in fashion’. He began as an extra on the original project which started as a short ten minute film but later evolved into a full-length feature film with Simon taking on the role of Assistant Director. Simon recommended the 30 minute ‘making of’ section of the DVD to Dv8 students as it explains the equipment he used in further detail along with how they worked around financial, technical and logistical issues as a team. A key example of this is that due to a limited amount of actors Simon found that he only had 3 real soldiers in total and therefore needed to duplicate the actors to look like an army – this was done using CGI effects. But it is important to note that Simon and his team taught themselves how to use the software as they went along!

Software and Hardware used: HD camera with a lens adapter as original camera was dropped in the sea. Premiere + After Effects (Click here to buy the film on Amazon)

Simon also described the film distribution process and showed us that once a film is sold to a distribution company it is re-branded and packaged to suit the chosen market. ‘Darkest Day’ is a perfect example of this as the poster was redesigned and as was the trailer to suit the new American market. This meant that the poster included additional features and characters that aren’t even in the film. The trailer on the other hand had much faster paced editing and post-production techniques to make the film look action packed and dramatic.

4. DV8 TALKS _ Simon Drake - Film Director

Key tips from Simon:

  • Post production: The post production can easily be rushed if people lose enthusiasm and momentum but the final push is vital to the success of a film. ‘Be a perfectionist – Push it to its full potential! However, it is common for people to prefer the filming process as it is social and post production can be isolating and more mundane but it needs to be finished properly for it to be commercially well received.
  • Work experience: Build relationships and learn as much as you can.
  • ‘Don’t fall at the last hurdle because the audience won’t thank you for rushing’.
  • Never show a distribution company a half finished film – first impressions are important.
  • Anyone can make a film, even with a low budget, if you have the passion and the drive to succeed.
  • 90 minute feature films and genre films in general are more sell-able than short films.
  • Be practical with your resources.
  • After the review process- Guardian and print reviews – Simon Drake amended and re-edited the film, drawing from that feedback (ready for the American release) – He encourages students to learn from criticism but maintain motivation.
  • Ignore people when they say ‘Why isn’t your film finished yet?’.

Questions from the Dv8 Media Production students:

Do you enjoy post production?

“Yes – You have to, but it does take all of your time and energy. So you have to still love it.”

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: Organised/ Paranoid – Therefore Simon prepares in advance for things to go wrong.

Tip: Preparation – manage your expectation, allow for mistakes and back up your props.

Tip: Know when to compromise and where your limits are and adapt to problems as there will always be something

What inspired you to get into the film industry?

Simon likes making films that aren’t often in British cinema and he enjoys the social aspect of meeting new people and finding unusual film locations. 

Tip: Building relationships with locations management teams and network because you never know when you will need that contact again!

What directors do you take inspiration from?

Danny Boyle/ Christopher Nolan/Jackie Chan/ Stanley Kubrick / Catherine Bigelow/ Steven Spielberg/ James Cameron

Ultimately many of these directors offer profoundly different takes on British cinema or are British directors working in America

Simon claims that you can also learn from bad directors as you can establish their mistakes and create a discussion or draw inspiration for your own project.

Tips: Look into director’s commentaries and ‘making of’ features as they will have tips to help you.

Take themes from any films – learn to be receptive and analyse, basically take on board everything you can!

We’d like to say a big thank you to Simon for sharing his top tips to succeed in the film / media industry.

If you’d like to begin your journey into one of the creative industries, why not apply to join a Dv8 course in September!

Quick links: Introduction to Music, Media & Digital | Music Production | Media Production | Fashion & Design | Live Events & Promotion | Paid Internship Programme 

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