Sci-fi filmmaker Neil Johnson, one of the most prolific names in home entertainment, returns with another DVD treat this month – Doomsday. We caught up with Neil to get the 411 on this apocalyptic time-travel adventure!
What’s Doomsday about? In a nutshell…
Doomsday is a time-travel film set between now and 400 years in the future. It tells the story of a man who is thrust back in time, infected with a terrible disease. He is pursued by a hybrid human, who destroys the cities of York and London in an effort to destroy him. People are already complaining that it is not as big budget as my other films, but others are saying how refreshing a film it is compared to everything else. I know people like to watch it more than once to see what is really going on. It came out of a low point in my life. My best friend died, as well as a few other terrible things happening. I was stranded in the UK for a few months, so I decided to make a film from a script that had been kicking around. Darren Jacobs, who was starring in another film, Starship:Rising and the sequel Starship: Apocalypse (December 2015), helped me by finding some other amazing British actors, like himself. The film was shot with relative ease across England. One of my smaller budgets, but it represents a great freedom in being able to decide to do a film, and not needing anyone to green-light anything. In contrast, doing my recent 2 Starship films was a more painful birthing process. The films cost a bit, and myself, being the guy who did the world’s first digital film, wanted to do a film almost entirely on green screen, and have it finished in 4K resolution. These are massively epic stories, and a few have commented since that maybe these films are too epic for such a modest budget. The point is, I always try and improve my films. I know the films that are currently in post production, Rogue Warrior and At The Edge of Time are both miles above Starship and Doomsday in so many ways. I haven’t peaked yet… because I know what films are up my sleeve. I am a late bloomer. All first borns are painful to get off the ground, but after 14 births, you know the drill intimately.
How did you pitch it to the cast?
I made sure to tell them that it was a character-based film, which it was. In reality, the amazingly underrated actor, Darren Jacobs, was kind enough to recommend some other great actors to me. (talented people ALWAYS know other great talented people), and always useful because they were all friends to start with. It was amusing to be shooting a sexy-time scene with Darren and Amy Pemberton, while her boyfriend Richard O’Bryan, (who played Erebus-7 in the film) was watching on. Was a little awkward for me, but in reality, these 2 professionals did exactly what was asked. And again when using Alain Terzoli as the lead, you can’t help but feel for him when he is thrust back in time. Alain Terzoli truly immerses himself in the character. It was a difficult character, because people in the future do not speak the same as we do. It is the same as if you were to go 500 years into the past. Day-to-day language is quite different with the evolving generations. And there is a wonderful scene at the end of the film in a burnt out church which Amy Pemberton and Helen Soraya. No words are spoken, but the pain of the moment is written all over their faces. And then there was Ben Trebilcook, who is primarily a screen-writer, but I could smell his acting chops a mile away. He gave an amazing Dr Who-type performance. I think we as humans would much rather watch people interact with people, instead of ogling over the visual effects. When choosing actors, I always go on my gut instinct and RARELY audition. It is all about whether the person is truly honest with themselves. Always very interesting too, is when actors aren’t the best actors, they are also the ones who create the biggest problems on set. When they think the world owes them something and they start complaining about things not being up to their standards, you KNOW they are going to be problem actors.
Speaking of, was it important to you to cast fresh faces in these parts?
At the time, Darren Jacobs was cast in my other film Starship: Rising and Starship: Apocalypse (and more recently, Time War: At The Edge of Time) but for the rest, they were all fresh. It was such a welcome relief to work with such a talented cast. It is one of the few of my films that I can happily watch over and over. Usually it is hard to watch your film after you have spend months or years making it, but I love so many of the character moment so much that it makes me warm to relive these moments. And I love the scenery!
Do you ever cameo in your own movies – a’la Tarantino?
I have done so, only because I have had to. In the first film, I played a demon. I was covered head to toe in latex and blood. Had a rash for 3 months after that. Second film, To Become One, I played a choir master. Was easy to direct the scene because I had to conduct the choir at the same time. Third film I played a naked-Christ-like man in the desert, because the actor chickened out, so I stepped in. In Nephilim, I played Gortak the future warrior, In Alien Dawn I played David Coverdale (and cut 90% of my scenes because my acting sucked), and in Starship Apocalypse I played Gortak, the starship Captain. All cameos are VERY minor roles. I did do a lot of stage performance and singing in my earlier years. I would rather be directed by someone else. That would be glorious.
How do you think you’ve improved as a storyteller and director over the years?
I have made every mistake under the sun. I am the worst. I fail EVERY time, but I learn from my mistakes and try and improve every way. My first film’s lesson was to trust your instincts, and don’t be afraid to wear more than one hat. My problem is, if you hire someone to a department head-type role, who cannot do the job as well as you can, then you should NOT hire them. Always hire someone better than you. My second film, To Become One saw the chains coming off from all the late 90’s Kevin Smith-type films that we were all into. Interesting that he has finally stepped away from himself. If you look at tusk, it reminds me a lot of To Become One. My third film, Battlespace taught me to focus on characters. The lessons on THAT film were massive. If you can get your hands on the director’s cut of that film you will see the amazing documentary, “Lightning in A Bottle”, an honest look at how that film got made. People like the documentary more than the film. My sixth film, Humanity’s End, taught me to NOT overspend, and to be sure you enforce your will heavily on everyone, and not to pay attention to other people’s egos. There are dramatic differences between Starship: Rising and Starship: Apocalypse, so you can see a strong progression there. Starship: Apocalypse is really more fun.
In your opinion, what’s your best movie?
I cannot answer that… Probably somewhere between Humanity’s End, Doomsday and Starship: Apocalypse (though you need to see Starship: Rising first). My best films are the ones coming soon.
And would you say there’s a movie amongst your filmography that you’re not as proud of?
All are my children. Some are more experimental than others. I am proud of everything, but you always have to put budget to help the film be put into perspective. Certainly there are other people’s productions that I have been involved with, that deeply embarrass me, but I cannot name names.
Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter with Tracey Birdsall is coming next and this truly is a leap ahead in anything I have done. I have punished that woman, more than any other actor in my entire life. After this, At The Edge of Time is going to really be a game changer. It is something that I have been writing for 15 years. It is like nothing else I have done, except for Doomsday, which could be seen as a kind of prelude.
If you watch nothing else then watch this: The Making of Doomsday:
Here is the trailer link to Doomsday:
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