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Making Sparks

4 May 13 words: James Walker
"Research is what you get when you read the good issues of Hellblazer"

Adrian Reynolds and Jack Dempsey - photo by Dom Henry

Adrian Reynolds and Jack Dempsey - photo by  Dom Henry
 

Writer Adrian Reynolds and director Jack Delaney have teamed up to produce Making Sparks, the world’s first app-delivered genre serial. Set in the present but reaching back to WWI it involves illegal fights, occult mischief and, most shocking of all, a meaningful role for a black actor...

What is Making Sparks?
Adrian: It’s a seven part serial going out exclusively on mobile phones and tablets. It is
notable for being the world’s first app delivered genre serial. It was created by a writer who has lived in Nottingham twenty years - me - and a director born and raised here. It’s an ambitious story done with minimal resources to a very high standard. Also, there’s some quality swearing.

Where does the title come from?
Adrian: There’s an expression that you’ve probably not come across before unless you’ve
fought on the Somme which is, “nobody takes the third light.” It works like this: you’ve been
killing some Germans and you want a break so you light up a fag and pass the cigarettes
around and then you spark up. Problem is, there’s a sniper in the distance and by the time
the lighter has reached the third person he’s homed in and takes aim.

So other than giving up smoking, how do you survive WWI?
Adrian: There’s a supernatural element to the script as one of the characters sells his
soul to the devil. In normal circumstances an audience may find it hard to sympathise with
such a decision but I think if you’re in the trenches then you could be forgiven in times of
desperation for imploring the Lord of Darkness to bail you out.

Once you had the plot in place, how did yougo about casting?
Jack:
I knew Merv Lukeba, a brilliant, Congo-born actor from Skins, through an anti-hate
crime commercial I’d planned a couple of years ago. It fell through but we stayed in touch.
He was feeling really disaffected as he was consistently being typecast in black thug roles. When I spoke to him about our idea he jumped at the chance, even though the pay cheque was next to nothing. He plays the part of Perry, the grandson of the soldier from WWI.

Adrian: The very notion of having a black soldier from WWI is something different, a part
of history that gets forgotten. Perry’s heritage is part of his character and we’re proud to have created a more meaningful role for a young black actor.



So the story links the past to the present…
Adrian: Yes. Perry, like his grandfather, is a soldier. He’s been fighting out in Afghanistan
and he’s troubled by it, as you would be. Then a package arrives from his mother which contains the lighter and slowly he’s led into this world of illegal fights and occult mischief.

Did anything exciting happen on location?
Jack: (laughs) When we were filming Perry’s flashbacks to Afghanistan we got permission
to use this old building. What we didn’t realise was that inside there was a right wing
religious group called the Church of Fire on the Mountain. They liked to dress up in masks
while chanting and came out to find us dressed in camo gear, armed with AK47s. It was a bit confusing for all of us as I didn’t know if our art director had drafted them in as part of the set and they didn’t know if we represented the start of the apocalypse. It was a bit of a
stand-off. 

You decided to deliver the serial through a mobile app rather than traditional broadcasting…
Jack: It’s traditional TV material crammed into seven episodes, each five minutes long. The reason I wanted to do this with an app is once people have downloaded it you can draw them back to content rather than it all being there in one go as with a film. You can’t do that with other media.

Adrian: In a way, it’s going back to the dawn of cinema. The cliff-hanger serials. That for me as a writer is brilliant. Writing is all about emotion and so the challenge is how you emotionally engage the audience with what you’re doing. If we can make them laugh, scare them and get in a few swear words then we’re doing our job.

The medium is the message - how have you utilised mobile technology?
Adrian: It’s a linear narrative so we’re notexploring it to its full potential. We wanted to present the audience with content that they’re familiar with but in bite size pieces. More people watch TV now while interacting with a mobile phone, so this is perfect for filling up time during the advert breaks.

Jack: The medium is the money. Making a traditional film you’d spend 100k, try to get it to Sundance where only 1% get in and then at Sundance only 1% of those get picked up. If you’re lucky to be chosen the money from that 1% will go the distributors and financiers - which will take years – meaning you’ll be flat broke as you work on it. If you’re lucky you might see some money down the line once everyone else has recouped their costs. With an app it’s shorter turnaround. It’s free as well, we make our money from some advertising - YouTube style.

Adrian Renolds (centre) and Jack Delaney (top right) with the cast of Making Sparks

Adrian Renolds (centre) and Jack Delaney (top right) with the cast of Making Sparks

 

What are the benefits of working with smaller, independent organisations?
Jack: I got the director’s cut and we own the rights as well which you never get with larger production companies. We didn’t have any interference. The executive producer came down for one day, looked at the monitor for two takes and left. Which is how it should be, really. 

Adrian: I’ve dealt with the BBC and for my sins written episodes of Doctors. There’s craziness going on behind those walls. I’ve suggested storylines before that have led to the entire BBC getting involved; all of which takes a long time, which is the reality of writing a series for the big boys. So I’m all over opportunities like this without bureaucracy and red tape.

So you no longer have the patience for patient-led drama? 
Adrian: In terms of Doctors, the only one I want to write drives around in a Tardis and the BBC are not going to give me the keys to that. Whereas this kind of stuff is our baby and we can abuse it as much as we want. 

Do smaller projects create a different ethic and level of creativity? 
Adrian: I am massively influenced by the British comics and graphic novels creators of the last twenty years or so, in particular the radical idea of writers owning their own work and profiting from it. Thanks to digital technology we have things like the Creative Rights Movement which is basically a punk attitude and so lack of funding means we’re always trying to find ways to collaborate, which in turn feeds into creativity.

Jack: Starting off small means we now have a product that we can use to pitch for larger
scale formats, such as hour long broadcasts, or extend to a web series. Also, working on
a smaller budget meant we had to be more innovative when shooting and find creative
solutions. 

And how did you research the voodoo elements of the narrative?
Adrian: Research is what you get when you read the good issues of Hellblazer, online
forums and want to do something other than low budget naturalistic drama. It also helped
that I was possessed while writing it…

Making Sparks is available for download from Apple App store and Google Play store.

Making Sparks website

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