Crowdfunding has very much become a staple of film finance and as something that I used to have a big hand in, I’m always keen to chat to filmmakers to find out more about the projects they’re choosing to reach out for help with. As ever we’re really keen to shine a light on clients past and present so today we have Sophie Black of Triskelle Pictures (who we currently have on our Submission Slate with her short Songbird) to talk about another project she’s got on the go – her fan film all about Poison Ivy.
First of all, tell us your name and the title of your project, and a bit about it…
I’m Sophie Black, and I’m the director of the project. I’m also in the process of making Ivy’s costume, which is a mean feat but incredibly fun, too! We’ve discussed various names for the film, but at the moment we’re simply calling it ‘The Poison Ivy Fan Film’. The story’s not canon and we’re not affiliated with DC at all, and we wanted to make that clear from the offset, so the working title makes a lot of sense.
The story is inspired by the comic books set in Arkham Asylum (such as Cast Shadows by Ann Nocenti, and those which were guest-written by Neil Gaiman), and so the film is set almost intirely inside Ivy’s cell. It revolves around a conversation between her and Bruce Wayne; he visits her to find out whether or not she’s been involved in a series of plant-related murders that have been taking place in Gotham city. But through their conversation, Bruce learns that Ivy may be of more use to him in this case than he first realised.
Tell us about how the idea came about…
It came about through a mutual disdain at the lack of Poison Ivy in recent Batman films. She was featured in Joel Schumacher’s 1997 Batman and Robin, and most recently in TV’s Gotham, but neither of those interpretations are true to the comic book appearances. Everyone involved in the film is a huge Batman fan, and we want to do justice to a character who we love dearly. Apart from the comic books, the only interpretation of Ivy we’ve really enjoyed is in the 1992 animated series – and that was more than 20 years ago!
Superhero films are a whole business of their own dominating the market and providing sequels, prequels and spinoffs. Why do you think they are so popular and not just restricted to the physical form of books now?
Superhero stories – as with the medium of film – are a form of escapism. There’s so much injustice in the world, and every day you hear of some terrible story on the news; as human beings, we feel powerless, but I’m sure we’ve all dreamt of rising up to impact justice in some way or another, even if it’s just righting a wrong close to home. That’s the appeal of Batman in particular; he’s human, with human weaknesses, but he puts on a costume to become a better version of himself, and to help make the world a better place.
Moral codes aside, the world of superheroes is often a fantastical place. The comic book visions of Gotham are particularly beautiful to look at, with their lush neo-noir artwork (a style we’re keen to replicate with our film’s cinematography). As a fantasy fan, these incredible, supernatural characters have always appealed to me.
And we have to ask, do you have a favourite superhero?
Poison Ivy has always been my favourite character in the DC world; she’s seen as as a villain, but she’s more of an anti-hero. She does bad things, but from her perspective, she never takes an ‘innocent’ life. Most of her victims are businessmen who destroy rainforests and areas of endangered plantlife in order to build condos. Her methods are wrong, but her motivation is not. If she was alive in the real world, I’m sure she’d want to put a stop to the palm oil industry, which is currently destroying natural habitats as well as the homes of human tribes.
I have to add, the fact that she’s female has always appealed to me. It sounds like a cliche, but when I was a little kid, it was so inspiring to see her in Batman: The Animated Series. Ivy was there in the line-up alongside big, brawny, powerful male characters; she was petite, curvy and without obvious muscles, but she held her own through her intelligence and skills. She was beautiful, of course, but she was never vain – she used her sexual appeal to highlight men’s weaknesses, so it made her even stronger. All of those factors were really inspiring to me as a young girl, and to many other girls out there.
What draws you to the medium of narrative fiction?
Storytelling is important, and film is the only format that combines all other creative mediums in order to transport the viewer to a complete world. It’s escapism, yes – which we all need from time to time. But it can also help people to understand their real-life problems, or to make them aware of world issues in a more palatable way, as I’ve pointed out in my previous comments.
I think that people forget how long the process is for creating any film project, what have been the highs and lows so far?
Myself and the two cast members/producers, Aislinn De’Ath & Robert Dukes, have been working on this project for a very long time. We first started work on the film in August 2015, but other commitments got in the way – such as my fantasy short film Songbird, which took up most of my time in 2016 and 2017! We’ve never stopped loving the idea of a Poison Ivy fan film, and we still think there’s a gap in the market for it today – it’s just been a matter of finding the right time to make it.
Financial matters are always a consideration in independent film. We need to make this film the right way – to do justice to some brilliant characters – so it can’t look cheap. At the same time, as with all fan films, none of us are allowed to make a profit on the material, so we’ve had to work with a limited budget. We spent a few months contacting private investors, and we had a good response from them, but we weren’t able to raise quite enough through those people alone, so we’ve had to turn to crowdfunding. This has also taken time out of our schedule, as we’ve had to push back the shoot another month to allocate time for the campaign – but the good thing about crowdfunding is that we’ve finally brought the project into the public eye, and it’s been lovely to hear peoples’ responses.
This is very much angled as a film for the fans, what do you hope they get from this?
Every comic fan has a very clear vision in their head of who these characters are, and what their world looks like. The problem is that all these fans have different visions – which isn’t helped by the fact that there are so many different interpretations of Ivy in the DC comic world alone. We want to acknowledge all the variations of Ivy in our film, whilst still bringing her together into one complete package – that’s not been easy, and it’s involved a lot of research, particularly in terms of her costume, make-up and hair. We know we’re not going to please everybody, but we want every Batman and Ivy fan to get at least something out of this film. There’s even going to be some Easter eggs hidden on the set for the uber-fans to spot on repeat viewings!
It’s also a matter of making this the best film it can be, in terms of visuals and also performances. The characters are already great – but we’ve made sure that we have brilliant actors with an incredible chemistry to do the characters justice. There’s a skilled team working behind the camera too – such as Sarah Jane Lyon, our make-up and body artist, who is resident at the National Opera Society – all of who are on top of their game.
Tell us one thing that you’re super excited about on this project…
It’s a dream come true to be bringing one of my favourite characters to the screen, even if I have to do it outside of the studio system – and to be making this film with such a wonderful team makes it even better. Every day we get something new ready for the project, and that always brings a new wave of excitement, like “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!”
Poison Ivy’s representation has always been a little hindered by being a (sexual female form) side-narrative in the existing films – tell us how your film will be different, and why her story should be heard…
It’s been really interesting to research Poison Ivy as a character, as an adult, compared to the way that I saw her when I was a child. As with many of the Batman villains, she has a traumatic past. Her physical condition is the result of a series of experiments done on her by a man that she loved; she had her heart and her sexuality used against her, which is why she uses it as a weapon now. She has full control over it, so that it can never be used to hurt her again. That’s why she’s so seductive – it’s a defence mechanism, like the decorative eyes on a butterfly’s wings. She doesn’t actually want to be loved as much as she wants to be left alone.
A lot of the characters in DC put on costumes to hide their identity, whereas Ivy has reinvented herself as ‘Poison Ivy’ to escape her past, to leave her ‘weaker self’ behind – and to forget a time when she was hurt. The abuse she suffered has had a lifetime affect on her psyche, and that side of her story really moved me. It made me really want to look after the character, and it gave me an extra incentive to present her in the right way.
The Asylum setting is a key part of this film; Ivy wants to be free, away from society, away from the cities, but she keeps coming back to her cell, and she’s locked out from the light. That’s something that has really inspired all of us, but it’s inspired actor/writer Aislinn in particular. I think her performance is going to be really special.
There’s always been great female characters in the comic book world, for those who looked for them. Granted, they’ve been better developed over the years, but they’ve always been formidable. It’s only now that we’re starting to see them in on screen – just look at Jessica Jones, Wonder Woman and the characters in Black Panther – so this to us feels like the perfect time to present Ivy as more than an over-sexualised tree-hugger!
And I hear that her costume is something special?
As I said, we’ve tried to develop a look which pays homage to so many classic Poison Ivy costumes from the past. But, at the same time, we need it to be palatable to the post-Nolan-era modern audience, who tend to prefer more realistic adaptations. That’s really hard when your character is so otherworldly! So we’ve come up with a costume that’s reminiscent of the classic corset shape whilst still being a natural part of Ivy’s body, and we’ve even been developing some new methods and materials in-house to help us achieve this. We were honoured to have the help of veteran costume designer and corset specialist Jema Hewitt, who created the costume pattern for us.
You’re stepping into the world of crowdfunding to help finish the project, have you run a campaign before?
I’ve crowdfunded five films previously (three as a director, two as a producer), some of which had multiple campaigns! It’s a medium which has had a varied reach in the past. My first campaign was run while ‘crowdfunding’ was still a new format, so it gained interest easily. After then, when the market became oversaturated, things got harder until Triskelle Pictures’ following grew. It’s always such an honour when people support our campaigns, and even more so when you see repeat funders. Some people have donated to my campaigns constantly ever since Ashes in 2012 – these people live on the other side of the world, and I’ve never even met them in person – and that is such an incredible feeling.
You’ve opted for Indiegogo as your platform of choice – any reason?
I’ve used various crowdfunding platforms in the past. The new one that people should be aware of is LiveTree, because it’s run by members of the film industry, and they help to associate your project with relevant businesses. We chose Indiegogo this time round because it’s so user friendly and it has a wider audience; with this campaign, we want to reach out to general fans of the material as well as film industry bodies. The ‘keep as much as you earn’ function was also appealing, because we’ll do whatever it takes to get this film made.
Tell us about some of the rewards that are up for grabs…
We’ve had a series of exclusive merchandise made especially for this campaign, tailored in particular to Batman and Poison Ivy fans who want to expand their collection. We’ve also thought about Ivy as a character with the merchandise – which is why we’re offering a packet of seeds along with a digitial copy of the film for people who donate £30 and over!
Along with the usual rewards like signed photographs, concept art postcards and posters (our poster was designed by the brilliant graphic artist Adam Blakemore of Strelka Design), we’ve also thought outside the box. One example of this is the candles we’re offering; they’re handmade by The Phoenix Workshop, scented with a unique blend of fragrances to homage Ivy’s signature pheromones, and there’s only five of them available in the world – so people need to snap them up quick if they want them!
Head on over to Indiegogo and check out the other rewards they have up for grabs. Get some goodies in return for helping a filmmaker out! Generous folk CLICK HERE