Laura Jay and the making of Mordred

The making of a movie is magical in itself.  Stories, myths, legends, and tales brought to life through the miracle of film add moving art to our lives.  Art is a blessing, and vision a gift.  The Powers That Be gift some of us more than others, and one of those who they have deemed worthy is Laura Jay.  She is making a story of the legendary Mordred come alive.   Take a look at this project through her eyes as she shares the manifestation of dream.

For those of our readers not familiar with you, can you do a brief introduction of who Laura Jay is and what you are doing?

Laura Jay - used with permission
Laura Jay – used with permission

I am a 36 year old female (I cant really call myself a girl, and “woman” sounds far too “grown up”) from Brixham, a fishing town in the Southwest of England. I have been acting now for 20 years since the age of 16, and directing theatre and film since the age of 20.

How did you begin your career in this field?

Directing really came about through going to film school, and then from the need to set up dramatic projects from scratch. So while acting is my first love, I probably direct more, these days, in order to get local projects off the ground. It stresses me out sometimes, because I miss out on an awful lot of acting, I am trying to redress that balance this year.

Acting is something I always wanted to do. I lived in a small village before moving to Brixham, and had no chance of doing anything, and I literally used to become physically ill over wanting to be involved in performance and theatre/ film. Once I was allowed to head out by myself (when I was 16) I used to walk twice a week to another town where I could get a ferry and a bus, to go to another town in turn where there was a youth theatre group.

When I turned 18, my mother and I moved to Brixham so that I could go to a local college to study drama. I learned a lot of good things and was also one of the few to take the optional film-making class, but I ended up leaving. I couldn’t fit in, where most of my fellow students were there to do drama as an “easy option”, so there was a lot of messing about. I was really disillusioned, and when I went on to university/ film school for my undergraduate degree, with the hope that at degree-level students would take their work more seriously, ( I had, for a while, given up acting.)

However, working on fellow students films, and then living in the city, so that I was able to get involved with community theatre, I soon got my acting mojo back. Over four years, I worked myself into the ground, and completely destroyed my health.  Less than a month after I finished my Bachelor’s degree, at the same time as playing a major part in a production of Les Miserables, and getting my foot in the door at the local BBC radio studios, I had a nervous breakdown and had to move back to Brixham.

There, as health improved, I started looking at local theatre groups, but found them un-adventurous, and for people who only wanted to do amateur theatre as a hobby. I met up with some other local people, who felt as frustrated as I did.  And one evening, while more than a little drunk, I suggested we start our own organisation. And that’s how the South Devon Players was born 10 years ago.

 You have previous works, can you tell us about them?

Previous works in this field have always specialised in historical and mythological subject matter. My student films were always strange mash-ups of history and fantasy – like a pair of lovers who first met in a lifetime in the French Revolution, and then in the 21st century, he couldn’t understand his obsessive feelings for the girl, and ended up as her stalker.   I did a small Arthurian film over two days for my final degree piece, and all sorts of odd things.

Filming Day 2- Mordred and the bandits
Filming day 2- Mordred and the bandits credit Tim Cartwritght – used with permission

When years later we started the South Devon Players, we found we all shared a love of historical subject matter so that became our theme. Often (not always) we have explored local history – a local highwayman most notorious for robbing the local “hanging judge”, a Puritan vicar embroiled in a quite comical but true scandal in the 17th century.

Local folklore links between a nearby town and Troy, we have also looked at the story of a huge storm that destroyed most of our towns fishing fleet in 1866, and the impact that has had on the town to this day (extended breakwater, lifeboat station, etc) … We have also done Shakespearean shows, medieval shows, 1920s cabaret,…

The film itself, Mordred, is a home grown and financed venture.  What was it like to work on them that is different that working on this film?

Mordred, is our first major film as a group. We have done a couple of shorts, and dramatised trailers for theatre shows, but we are combining this as a film and stage show for the first time. It is a lot harder logistically to do as a film than as a stage show, but it also has its benefits.

As a group who exists to showcase skills (most of us are trying to build careers in theatre and film), film reaches a much wider audience with the internet and film festivals. We have also found that the calibre of people applying to be involved changed. Whereas locally a lot of people see theatre as something to do as a hobby or “drop in social ” club and sometimes balk at rehearsing, line learning etc, with film being involved we have a lot of new people who are a lot more interested in career development.  So  our core membership has massively expanded. The atmosphere now is one of the most productive we have ever had, and that is saying a lot as the core theatre people have always been absolutely amazing.

Arthurian lore seems to be the sparkle in the back of your mind then. That heart’ s wish.

The idea for Mordred came from something I have always noticed in dramatic adaptations of Arthurian legends. Depending on the version, Mordred is King Arthur’s illegitimate son or nephew; he usually appears as a fairly one-dimensional “bad guy” in the latter half or third of the adaptation, but doing in-depth reading, especially of some of the really early stories about him, you realise that there is going to be a much more interesting, complex person.

Some early legends, for example, speak of him being charming, compassionate, trustworthy and likable. How then does this tie in with the young man who rebelled against, and ultimately kills King Arthur? It was these questions, leading to more research, then a lot of writing, and yes, some imagination to fill in the gaps, which led to the idea for this story.

Here in the Southwest of England, there are a lot of Arthurian legends, and reputed links to Arthurian sites, so it seemed like an ideal project. It is a dark story, and a tragic one, but it was important to portray both Mordred and Arthur as good men, who became pitted against one another for ideological reasons while both genuinely wanting the very best for their people.

How heavily does the connection to the history of Devon and Cornwall play when casting and writing this film?

Mordred first day of filming - credit Tim Cartwright, used with permission
Mordred first day of filming – credit Tim Cartwright, used with permission

The connection to the history and legends of Devon and Cornwall is strong. Both for logistical reasons and financial reasons, we have had to sometimes skirt around 100%.

We have used the historical landscape strongly in the story.

 The film is set in the early 6th Century, which from our reading of legends, is as close to when it could have happened, is as known, using date timelines from the Annales Cambriae. At that time, the Romans had quite recently left Britain so there was still a strong Roman influence. Devon and Cornwall had reverted to its form as the Celtic kingdom of Dumnonia, and the coasts were under attack from invading Germanic tribes (the Saxons).

We have as far as possible worked with known locations that existed then and original place names from as close to the period as possible. Then we have overlaid the drama across that landscape.

Costuming must have been quite the task, then, with the fusion of cultures. And the sheer fluidity of the time seemed to lend a darkness they would have just shaken off. Was location coordinated to show this mood as well? Or am I completely off my chain in my question?

That saved us actually. We have been linked with some re-enactment groups and have been able to meld in some late Roman stuff that legitimately could have been left behind. We have some great re-enactment teams involved, Morvleydh, The Warriors of Tintagel, being two, who have helped.

We have had to compromise a few things, for sheer availability of things, fabrics, props, etc,.  But we are trying to keep a strong historical feel to it. Locations are sorted out to look the period – yes, which is fun – even in remote places you have hikers, or planes flying over, of background roads, so it is real hard work to find the ideal places for that.

You have had some challenges in this project, from weather, to funding, to location issues. As a Pagan filmmaker, do you find that focus of magickal will has made a significant impact on your perseverance?

As for focused will, I think if we didn’t have that, it would not even get off the ground, and I think that awareness of magickal links to what we are doing, has kept us going in the tough times. A few of us feel that there is a strong element of “meant to be“, with how this project is unfolding.

Many of your cast and crew are Pagan and Pagan friendly. Does this add an extra flavor to the feel of the production?

I keep the answer deliberately vague, as there are people of several different pagan traditions within, or linked to, the project, and all are deserving of equal respect (smiles). I do think that having several Pagan cast (and the rest are certainly not concerned by this), does add a level of knowledge, and characterization, to the production. There is frequent depiction of Druids, but while nothing involves evangelising, and it is taken “as read” as “the characters are Pagan” I think it means that people depict their characters and interact, in a more realistic manner for the period, than someone treating it as “weird and exotic” which all too easily can happen with Arthurian legends.

Did costuming also present a significant financial challenge for you?

Costuming is in some ways a massive challenge, we wanted to keep it as accurate as possible, but have had to compromise on some fabrics, and colours (for example, black as a colour didn’t exist the, but we do make some use of it). We have worked as much as possible with recycled materials, from charity shops and Freecycle, and places like that which have actually been the best source of the fabrics we needed.

Any personal dye alterations with plant dye? I only ask  because some shades are hard to reproduce artificially.

Tea-staining, things like that. Unfortunately we haven’t had the possibility for setting up plant dyes, because of the massive amounts of work involved. As well as rehearsing, costume/prop making, huge amounts of time have been invested in fundraising for the film, crowdfunds, Ebay, a burlesque show, a talent show, yard sales, you name it. Then there are rehearsals, publicity, location scouting, and it takes more hours than exist in the day.

The martial training had to be intense. Would you like to touch on the financial and human costs associated with learning period combat and weaponry?

The physical training is quite hard, there are three fight scenes; two Saxon raids, and then of course the Battle of Camlann between Mordred and Arthur at the end. We have been lucky to have a team of historical reenactors training our actors on Sundays, and several of our actors have also been undergoing fitness training as well in their own time.

Weapons -Credit Tim Cartwright
Weapons -Credit Tim Cartwright

They have had to learn to fight with short swords, seaxes, short-swords and round shields, and spears, – as general techniques, and then specific choreography for planned character fights. What is really good about when it is set, is that we can have female warriors as well, so the girls get a really good look-in as well. 

Everything is real (though blunted blades) other than a couple of “training yard” scenes, where wooden swords are being used.

How hard was it to Foley?

Not too bad so far. We are aiming very much for on-site sound, and with the weapons will be building up a small sound library. But it is too easy for that to sound fake, so we are going for the on-site sound (which is why we have to be so careful of locations where we don’t have modern sounds in the background).

The South Devon Players Theatre & Film Company has established chops, as we call it here, so how much did that help when the call was put out to help finance your project?

We had some professional grant writers working on grant applications, but with current policies towards arts, in the UK, eg, removing drama as a secondary school subject etc, funding for the arts is highly “unfashionable” – the grant writers were helping other creative organisations, as well as us, they have said that there is little trouble getting grants for most things, but it is next to impossible for creative organisations so we have had to raise everything ourselves.

So on the funding, yes, the film is finances in a lot of weird and wonderful ways. We applied for the usual grants of course, but got turned down for being an arts project, a heritage project, and apparently not giving new people opportunities in the performing arts (even though that is our raison d’etre) . Talking to other organisations, there is no funding for the arts or sports, so we have had to concoct other ways to fund raise.

This has been with whatever we can pull together from our group – yard sales, a talent competition at the Pirate Festival, a burlesque show, ebay sales, crowdfunding, school and museum and social club talks, a scifi convention, so its been totally manic, and honestly, exhausting. Members have also contributed from wages, or from their unemployment money even in some cases, we are so determined to make this project happen.

You have quite the cast. What kind of pre-production  comradery stories can you share? Any fun silliness?

The camradery is great in the group. There is a lot of humour, people meet up sometimes for social events in free time. Though now production is underway, that happens a lot less.

New, and existing people, seemed to “click” very well. people are really loyal to the project – they have put a huge amount of time and effort in, and I think we are all fully determined to see it through.

a damp director and two cast, on set, during a passing downpour — with Rich Sandford, Hayley Tink Rushton and Laura Jay - Tim Cartwright
Credit – Tim Cartwright

It is really nice that people are super-supportive of one another.

For a shoot a couple of weeks ago, one chaps motorbike broke down, on his way to filming, and immediately others of the crew went to pick him up, get his bike to safety, he was put up overnight until his bike could be collected for repair. And that’s the kind of support that exists in the team. People really do look after each other

Does having a younger actor, Reece Whitehouse, pose any special challenges?

Doing a project like this, with an age range of literally 10 – 70, is a challenge, especially as this script contains string language, strong violence, and implied sexual violence, as well.  So for the younger people involved, like Reece, it was really important to make sure that both they, and the parents, understood what the project involves.  Because with a small community centre to rehearse in, and when it goes to stage, even though they are not involved in those scenes they will still see or hear them being rehearsed. We also have a designated safeguarding officer on the crew as well. It’s a grey area, which we have covered by being upfront about content, and boundaries, as possible.

Was there any push back against your production locally?

Actually, there has been no local push back against the project, in any noticeable way. Sometimes when things are tough, you do feel that everyone is against you, and you do get the odd bits of small town gossip – like some people thinking that it would be a children’s fairy tale production, and things like that. But overall, there has been no major negative reaction.

You also are all united in raising funds in a wide variety of ways. What are some of the ones that folks here in the United States can use to pitch in their support?

We are in the process of setting up a Patreon account, so if anyone wants to contribute from over the pond, the link is found there as “The South Devon Players Theatre & Film Co is creating Historical themed film & theatre productions, training”. Its still new, so we hope that it will come to be useful, as time goes on.

Finally, if you would have chosen a patron deity for this production, which would you have selected?

The patron deity, well that would be hard. Several people have had interesting encounters and co-incidences with crows in the preparation for this production. This has resulted in a few interesting discussions, depending on peoples interpretation of the crow.

Interestingly, in Cornwall, where we are doing a lot of filming there is a legend that King Arthur became a raven.  And while the crows are of different species that have been encountered, it is an interesting connection. In the woods next to the castle where we are filming Camelot, there are lots of crows nesting (reference King Arthur/ Raven legend: John Rhys book “Celtic Folklore).

We feel that there is a powerful link to past spirits in this project, and other cast members have felt this too. But whatever tradition or interpretation, crows are most definitely linked to this project.

Thank you for sharing this with us. I am honored, once again, to have had a chance to bring some of your work to this side of the pond. May the light of the Lady and Lord give you strength to cross every fyord.

The cast of this project:

The Pendragon family
Mordred – Rich Sandford
King Arthur – Guillaume Rivaud
Morgan Le Fay – Hayley Tink Rushton
Anna – Lizzie Jordan Moulds
Guinevere – Megan Tarrant
Duran – Reece Whitehouse
Gawaine – James Scott
Agravaine – Darius Frost
Young Mordred – Joe Evans (Tagging Mum Amanda Graham)

Other Warriors of the Inner Circle
Galahad – Edward Stewart
Lancelot – Ritchie Crane
Bors – Tim Cartwright
Bevedere – Mark Harris
Percival – Andrew Horigan

Other Dumnonnian / Merryn- based characters
Gitta – Julie Tetley
Lynette – To be cast
Eslyd – Laura Williams
Owain (was Oswald!) – Lino Carlino
Melwyn – Poppy Louise
Merlin – Anthony Webster
Taliesin – Jon Ian Dredge
Derwyn – Laura Jay
Kelwyn – Jo Burgess
Andras – Clare Parker
Kensa – Jodie Marsh
Naythen – to be cast
Iddawg – Paul Potham
Callum – Tor Hudswell

Saxons etc
Cynric – Chris Barnicoat
Eadwulf – Dave Trowt
The saxon interrogated at Isca – Kevin Pengelly
Bandit 2 – John Harding: Wrestler & Actor
Creature – Steven Andrew Stapleton
Saxon raider from start of film – John Harding: Wrestler & Actor

You can follow the project by visiting their

Website:
http://www.southdevonplayers.com

Twitter:
https://twitter.com/sdevonplayers/

Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/sdevonplayers

Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/sdevonplayers1

Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtmOdhXgmhWX2tzzP…

If you would like more information on this film, please contact them at  southdevonplayers@gmail.com or telephone them at 07855 090589 (leave a message for a call-back).

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