The story of Wilderness

Written By Liam Hall


During the easter break of 2016, The Falmouth School of Film and Television filmed their first ever feature-length film: Wilderness. The shoot lasted 12 days during the holidays but had been planned further back than that dating to May 2015 when the project was first pitched to the higher ups of the department.

Writer Neil Fox had been writing and producing short films for a number of years as well as developing a number of feature films ideas in this time. When the opportunity to make a feature length film came around however, he soon realised that the films he had writing over the years were perhaps too elaborate for the filmmaking opportunity presented.

A change in approach was needed, fortunately inspiration soon came his way: “I was inspired by a screening of John Cazzavetti’s Opening night (1977) at the Close-up cinema [an arthouse cinema in London] and I realised how rare it is to see such raw emotional dramas” Said Fox who is also the film’s producer. “I was a huge inspiration for the film hence why I just wrote about two people just analysing their relationship”

Wilderness centres around John, a touring jazz musician, who quickly falls heavily in love with a woman called Alice. Over the course of a romantic weekend together however, interactions with friends and strangers threatens to burst the purple haze of their desire for each other. At first glance the film sounds quite similar to the plot of La La Land without the music.

Fox quickly dashes this comparison as there is really little in common between the two films besides similar plot elements: “Wilderness is much more of a jazz film than La La Land is in structure in terms of the writing and production process.” The script for the film in the end was only 60 pages long, which is very short for a feature film. “The film is based around motifs and how there change and develop throughout the shooting/writing process.” It’s a process similar to the structure of jazz piece with soloists riffing off a motif and changing it.

The practices of Jazz was not the only influence though. The film had an extensive rehearsal process more akin to a theatre production. “Justin and I have worked in theatre before and loved working with actors,” said Fox. “The dialogue and essential story was heavily developed by the improvisations and interpretations of the script by the actors” It a daring process to take especially when working on your first ever feature film project, and especially when working on a project as ambitious as Wilderness.

Neil is a lecturer on the BA film course at Falmouth university and the film was completely financed by the film department and was filmed with a mixture of professional filmmakers and film and Television students. Fortunately what could’ve been a difficult process working with students went smoothly. During the interview Neil stressed how useful trust and professional dynamics with film crews are when working on a film set:“One of the most important parts of filming is getting on with the crew, respecting their role and just allowing them to do their jobs.”

A stressful part for many a writer is worrying how their vision and ideas will be represented on the screen, and this is an issue that Neil also used to have at the beginning of his screenwriting career, although he revealed it doesn’t always remain this way: “I’ve been working with Justin [Doherety, the director] for a long time so I’m less stubborn [when it comes to presenting his vision], I’ve realised there are so many things that need to change in order to get it [the film] made… I was on set as a producer as well as a writer so changes can be made easily.”

As previously mentioned Neil is a lecturer at Falmouth University but as well as this he manages the acclaimed film podcast ‘The Cinematologists’ as well as running a family which has recently welcomed young girl. Balancing his life can sometimes be difficult: “It’s been especially hard the last couple of years as the podcast has grown, and the film has taken up a lot of time. A lot of what I have taught has be reshaped by going out and filming again so there is a lot of overlap in that and I think I am now a better teacher because I do this stuff. The biggest change has definitely been having a daughter as all I want to do is spend time with her”

Neil and Justin have now been touring the film over the past year around a range of festivals whilst winning many awards along the way. The Poly screening on Thursday looks like to be one of the last screening before the team looks into more widespread distribution. It is doubtful to be the last film they film together though as they are working on another project with the projected filming date of 2019.

The film was almost completely shot in the Falmouth area and Neil is glad he has been able to prove many naysayers wrong when he wanted to produce a film with the university. “There are a hundred ways to make a film not just one way, which is a dangerous idea and this project I think is trying to prove that, by making something with a small number of people.” The film has supported local independent film makers and former students and Neil is hopeful other Universities will soon follow suit in supporting students by giving them this opportunity.

Wilderness is showing at the Poly at 19:30 April 19th along with a Q&A with director Justin Doherety and writer Neil Fox.