Here I pick the brains (!) of the great and the good, as well as the dark and demented souls, who have dedicated their mortal existences to the art of the motion picture.
Joby Stephens and Adam Kirley are the producer and writer/director respectively behind the recently released short fan film ROGUE TROOPER: THE QUARTZ MASSACRE. Based on the classic comic strip written by Gerry Finley-Day and drawn by Dave Gibbons, Rogue Trooper first appeared in the the legendary British anthology comic 2000AD in 1981.
Set in the far future in the midst of a galaxy spanning war between two rival human factions, the Norts and the Southers, the strip centred on the exploits of the eponymous character, a ‘Genetic Infantryman (GI) bio engineered to survive the toxic environment of Nu Earth, a strategically vital planet poisoned by decades of chemical and biological warfare. When his fellow GI’s are wiped out in a Nort ambush, Rogue is left to wander the ruined landscape in search of the traitor responsible accompanied only by his bio-chips – the downloaded personalities of three fallen comrades.
Here at the The Stricken Land, we are big 2000AD fans, and after the success of the JUDGE MINTY and STRONTIUM DOG fan films, we got very excited when we heard about a Rogue Trooper short being in the works, and both Adam and Joby kindly agreed to our interrogation. Read on…
TSL We think THE QUARTZ MASSACRE really succeeds in distilling the spirit of the original strips from the early 80’s. Tell us a bit about yourselves and how you came to put together a Rogue Trooper short.
AK I’ve worked in the film industry for 18 years in the stunt department. 12 years as a stunt performer and the last 6 years as a stunt coordinator. I was a big collector of comics as a kid, In particular 2000AD characters. I always thought Rogue Trooper was a great character and would make a great film. Myself and Joby have talked for over 10 years about making a short film of the character and then we both had a window of time between projects so we fast tracked the production.
JS I’ve worked in various roles in the film, tv and games industry for over 15 years and first worked with Adam on a short film called Project One about 14 years ago. Adam has always mentioned and talked about Rogue Trooper as one of his favourite comic books. Seven years ago we found a location that could potentially work and then two years ago we recce’d the location with Damien to talk ideas through. Schedules and timings dictated the rest and when we saw a window of opportunity early last year we decided to go for it. No production is easy, but this one certainly was a challenge we enjoyed!
TSL Considering it’s a 6 minute independent fan made film, THE QUARTZ MASSACRE has some impressive looking production values. How did you go about putting together the props and visual effects?
AK That was the main goal all along. If we we’re going to make Rogue it had to look right. We had a long journey with the VFX and ended up finding what I referred to as Our “Wizard” Steve Green who has made a couple of 2000AD fan films himself, Judge Minty and Strontium Dog. He was a perfect fit for this project because he knows the subject matter so well so building the environment and effects was a painless process.
JS We tested ex-army NBC suits we could pick up online, came up with concepts for the Norts helmets and tubes on mood/idea board and arrived at a look which was just about achievable in the few weeks we had before filming was to take place. We wanted Gunnar, Helm and Bagman to all feel and compliment each other in style (and rightfully so!).
I remember spending quite a bit of time discussing Gunnar with Adam. We had a really nice mood board and a few rifles that would work, yet they would all be easily recognised. The awesome guys at Airsoft World in Scotland agreed to bastardise and 3D print parts to create a unique practical firing Gunnar from our ideas. A completely unique one-off! I remember Rogue’s helmet being the last piece of the main jigsaw puzzle to sort. The first design we had to completely scrap due to the look just not being right. The bulbous style from the comic books sadly wouldn’t work.
I remember watching a documentary on Channel 4 and spotting a presenter wearing a kayak helmet that with some imagination looked very similar to a style of Rogue we had seen in a comic book! Luckily the brand and name were on the helmet so we purchased two bright blue kayak helmets.. after some design and modification to complement the already formed Bagman we finally had Helm. Mike Lawson did a fantastic job bringing Helm and the GI chips to life!.
Time wise we cut this very fine, and the first time we had Bagman, Helm and Gunnar together with the chips was one day before filming, in fact, at one point we had Gunnar being made in Scotland. Bagman (a foam and fibreglass version) being fabricated in Rochester in a garden shed and Helm was being created via the two blue kayak helmets I sent up north.
TSL Even though the film is a not for profit adventure, did you approach Rebellion (publishers of 2000AD and the owners of the rights to Rogue Trooper) before embarking on the project? Have you had any feedback/blessings from them since the film went live on YouTube?
JS We organised our costume, props, cast, crew and equipment within weeks – our main aim was to just get it filmed! Even going into post as the months dragged on I was worried it might not see the light of day. I felt until we actually had something, a finished product, that was when we wanted to approach Rebellion. Personally, I hope Rebellion have enjoyed it! It certainly works as a proof of concept and feedback from fans and non-fans has been really positive. Of course, there are things we would have loved to include but just didn’t get the chance to, but one thing I know and think everyone involved should be proud of, we’ve introduced the character to thousands of new people, and hopefully gained Rogue some fans along the way.
TSL Veteran actor James Cosmo of GAME OF THRONES fame provides the film’s opening narration. How did he come to be involved in the production? Was it a bit daunting to work with such a big name?
AK We had a final edit of the film that didn’t have an opening narration and I felt that people that weren’t familiar with the character needed a short introduction to get them up to speed so we worked on a version with just the text and then felt it needed to be narrated.
James Cosmo was my first choice to voice the narration and I am lucky that he is a family friend. Thankfully he was very supportive and agreed, I think our recording session at his home lasted under an Hour with the first take being the take we used. Was a pleasure working with such a Pro.
JS I’m not sure Adam is phased by anything. I’ve seen him do some ludicrous things over the years.. Personally it was more daunting to ask Damien to go back into make up to get sprayed with blue paint again on the 2nd day at 6:30am.
TSL What were your experiences during the shoot itself? The film is very much an extended action sequence, as we’d expect from such a grim tale of war in the far future, was the action choreography difficult to pull off? I noted that the Norts were all played by professional stuntmen
JS Over to Adam for this one!
AK Our main aim was to be as prepped as we could be prior to the shoot. We had visited the location numerous times to block out various camera positions and action beats. I worked with Damien Walters and some of the Norts stunt guys in a gymnastic gym on the hand to hand combat scene about 6 weeks before the shoot which gave us the framework of the fight. We also had a Prep day with everyone involved so we could block out the action with the performers and cast.
Our biggest challenge was time, action always takes time to shoot and we only had 2 days. Myself and Joby were very aware of this so I had to make a few creative changes on the fly in order to make our days without compromising the final product. Also having Professional British Stunt Registered performers made my life so much easier.
TSL Any future productions in the pipeline? A sequel perhaps or maybe another of 2000AD’s pantheon of characters? Or maybe your own original material?
AK I don’t think I will re-visit RT as a short, Id love to see it made into a feature someday whether I’m involved or not. I have a few other ideas I’m working on, keep scaring Joby with the scale.
JS Why Rogue Trooper the full feature of course…just need full support and a decent budget! I jest (I will continue to dream). I’m looking forward to the next challenge! Adam mentioned something to me about trenches…
TSL Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us. All the best for your future endeavours!
AK Cheers, Just wanted to thank our crew again. This couldn’t have been made without their time, passion and professionalism.
JS Thanks! Massive thanks to everyone that helped on this. So many people gave up their time and helped bring this to life.