Letia and Matt Clouston of Forewarned Films are a director/actor duo who embody the spirit of independence, collaboration and passion that often come with filmmaking. Geeks know them for their fan film set in the Batman universe, The Demon in the Dark, in which we see how threatening Batman looks from a villain's perspective. Before their panels at Shanghai Comic Con, Letia and Matt sat down with us to talk about how anyone can pursue their passion.
How did you do all the cool VFX (visual effects) in The Demon in the Dark on just a 5,000USD budget?
Matt: Basically, we wanted to show that you could do things very, very cheaply and very, very quickly. So many of the films that come to China are very big films like Transformers with huge budgets. We had no training on VFX at all, no education, we learned it all on Youtube. Basically every time that I would think of something to do - for Green Lantern, ‘how do I do an energy ball.’ And online, in the new age of animation, there’s somebody who will tell you how to do it. It might not be exactly what I wanted, but it showed me enough that I could convert it to what I needed.
Whenever I’d watch something, I’d be like ‘I wonder if I can do that.’ And I’d go online and see that those things could be done. It was me being very hyper late at night wanting to do something and trying it out.
Letia: The artists that I know who are incredibly good at what they do have no problem sharing what they’ve learned. That’s what’s great about the tutorials on Youtube - there are people who have worked so hard on learning that particular thing but have no problem sharing it with other people so they can learn too. I think the creative world is about sharing your talent and your art so other people can learn to create as well.
M: I’m an actor and because I’m very hyper I don’t like waiting around for people to hire me so I was very excited to make projects on our own. We obviously don’t have 100 million dollars but we wanted to make a film that we loved. There’s a lot of trying, a lot of coffee, a lot of late nights.
L: We have a desk in our bedroom and he would work and do VFX work while I slept and he would sleep and I would do sound work.
Why is the relatively obscure Secret Six the focus of The Demon in the Dark?
M: We wanted to pick characters that aren’t well known. There’s no way we can do a Joker.
L: Not what Heath Ledger did.
M: We picked characters that haven’t really been seen. What that did for us was when people were watching, they don’t know who they are, they don’t know what their powers are, so it’s a surprise each time.
When you see Batman in the films, he’s a hero. But to the villains? They see him as a scary monster. So we wanted to show that perspective.
Why did you becoming interested in creating films?
L: I just loved storytelling and I think a lot of the time comic book characters are seen of as just comic book characters and not actually stories. There are stories there that have meaning. That’s what interests me about comics - the people - who they are and what they want. It’s not just about explosions. I love the interactions between the characters.
What would you do if you weren't artists?
L: I would die.
M: Basically. If I could do anything else, I would. I would in a heartbeat. Our industry is so hard to work in. I would absolutely do anything I could, if I could. But I can’t. This is the only thing I think about. I wake up in the morning thinking about it, I go to bed thinking about it. I want to tell stories.
Money will fall through, people won’t be able to do something. We’ll get very disappointed. But then we do a film like this.
We could only shoot very late at night. The only place open was in Chinatown. We were in this restaurant at four o’clock in the morning. And all of us there eating dinner in the morning and being there to create this, these are the moments that keep inspiring me, keep us going forward. These are the ones I think about when everything else is crap.
L: I think everyone in our industry is a little bit insane. I worked on a couple of big TV shows and we worked hundred hour weeks sometimes. What were we doing? But we love it. There’s something that drives you there. There’s something about the passion of it, the camaraderie, the work of making a story happen.
M: There’s nights that we’ll come home at six o’clock on a Friday and be exhausted, and Monday we’ll be like ‘Yeah! Let’s go back, let’s go back, we’re ready.’
L: What’s wrong with us?
M: What’s wrong with us? This is the way it is!
Rejection is a huge part of life for anyone making an artistic career. How do you deal with it?
M: We always joke ‘ABC’: Always keep creating. Just keep doing it. What we were showing with our short is you don’t need somebody else’s approval, you don’t need somebody else’s help. I know people who have shot films on iPhones. You just get your camera, you get other people you want to work with, and you do it yourself. And somebody will notice. If you’re getting rejected when you’re starting off, just keep creating. That’s all you can do. You can’t control anything else. All you can control is getting out in the world.
Mistakes teach you more than anything. There was this time where we were doing a short film that had special effects in it and 75 percent of it was already completed, and we made a mistake on one of the effects, but the mistake looked so much better than anything else that we had to go back and redo all the other effects because of that one mistake. I remember doing it, and it was a total accident, and she was looking over my shoulder and we both went ‘Oh no, it’s good.’
What are you looking forward to seeing at Shanghai Comic Con?
L: Nathan Fillion. We love him.
M: There's the cosplay, that's always exciting.
What will you be doing in Shanghai outside of Comic Con?
M: Eating. As an artist in LA I don't get to do a lot of that.
How have you changed through being an artist?
L: We’ve learned so much from the time we started doing this. You’re constantly growing. As an artist you never master anything.
Matt will be presenting at 'Monsters, Magic and Machines - Making Your Own Movies in the Age of Information' on Saturday November 5 at Shanghai Comic Con. Letia's panel is 'From Script to Screen: Bringing Heroes to Life" on Sunday 6. Get your tickets to Shanghai Comic Con through Time Out Tickets.