Writer/director Tom de Ville had no idea when he wrote the script for his short film Corvidae just how long it would take to bring his dark fairy tale to life. In fact, when he and his fellow producers Nick Hudson and Alex Wolpert joined me to discuss the film in a recent interview, I was surprised to learn the 11 minute which debuted this weekend at Fright Fest in London was over a decade in the making.
“I actually came up with the idea and wrote the script 15 years ago after I read an article about how smart crows are and how they can actually hold grudges,” de Ville explained. “I was fascinated by that idea and I turned it into a story about a girl who helps a crow and they help her in return.”
The script sat on a shelf for almost 10 years, but it was never far from de Ville’s thoughts, and a few years ago, when a friend told him she knew someone who was looking to produce short films, he excitedly forwarded the script to Alex Wolpert who then forwarded it along to Nick Hudson.
The men were knocked out by what they read, and it wasn’t long before the film was in production, and de Ville found himself in the director’s chair.
“I loved the fact that it was so evocative and brooding,” Wolpert said. “It wasn’t crude; it came across beautifully on the page. I was really rattled by it.”
“That darkness spoke to me,” Hudson agreed. “I had a German mother who would find the most terrifying books to read to me when I was a child, and the script was very much like those stories.”
de Ville was actually ahead of the game when it came time to start bringing the pieces of Corvidae together. Early on, he’d had concept art drawn up by both Brad Kovar and Dave Lupton.
The talented artists seemed to intrinsically understand the story that the writer was trying to tell, and much of their work such as Lupton’s bully masks and Kovar sense of movement and environment translated directly to the screen. The artwork also served them all well when it was time to talk casting.
“One of the things I like most about Nick and Alex is their commitment to working with the best people,” de Ville said. “I remember Alex, during our casting meeting, saying ‘What about Game of Thrones They’ve got some great child actors on there.’ As soon as he said it, Maisie Williams popped into my head.”
Game of Thrones had only two seasons under its belt at the time, but Williams was already proving herself a talented actress capable of expressing a great deal of emotion in a single look. That talent would be key as her role, and the film itself, were almost completely silent.
They sent the script to her agent who passed it along and after a Skype meeting with de Ville, the young actress agreed to come aboard.
“Everyone expects this tale of us camping outside her home to try to get her involved in the film,” Hudson laughed. “But it was really by the book, and a lot of credit goes to Maisie for seeing it and responding so quickly. We were pretty ambitious, but so was she.”
Still, there were more challenges ahead for the first time director, some of which he had not anticipated at all.
“I like the idea of a silent film because it seems more filmic in its visual nature,” the writer/director pointed out. “And I love the idea that the lack of dialogue makes it seem a bit more universal, but I, rather foolishly, also thought that lack of dialogue meant that I wouldn’t really need a sound department!”
“We really had to heighten sound even more,” Hudson agreed.
“It’s true we had to make up for the lack of dialogue in all kinds of ways,” Wolpert also chimed in. “But it’s nice that people around the world can watch it without having to read or resort to bad dubbing.”
The men lucked out again, though, as sound designer Vincent Watts and composer Adam Norden joined the project. They instinctively understood the needs of the film, and used their considerable gifts to heighten the already intense film.
Norden’s theme for the central character, Jay (Williams), is especially good with its ability to encapsulate a multitude of emotions throughout its variations in the film, climbing from hushed somber tones to an almost primal shriek as the story’s events unfold. Watts, meanwhile, fills each moment with just the right amount of natural and ambient sounds to flesh out the world of Corvidae beautifully.
Now, after almost five years in post-production, working on the film’s completion as time permitted around other projects and as technology progressed to meet their needs, the three are excited to release their film into the world, and all three pointed to the things they’ve learned and why they’ve come to love the art of a short film.
“In one sense, it’s always been a great medium to develop material. We believe that a short has potential to go to the next level,” Wolpert explained. “[Corvidae] has been a fantastic exploration of the material that showed me that it’s got real legs and it has the depth to develop it further.”
“With a short, you’re not worried distribution based on box office performance. I think that’s kind of liberating,” Hudson added. “For me, it’s a nice experimental way of telling compelling stories.”
“It was a real process but it was one that I’m so glad that I could go through it because I learned an incredible amount,” de Ville pointed out. “It gave me so much confidence to do other things. That’s the joy of making short films.”
Corvidae made its debut this weekend at Fright Fest in London and will soon be hitting the road for showings on the international film festival circuit. Check out the trailer below!