EXCLUSIVE: 35 Years in the making – Black Angel: A Conversation with Roger Christian
Black Angel, a crucial part of the Star Wars legacy and long-lost national treasure, is to be made into an epic new feature film with an all-star cast, nearly four decades after it was first screened as a short alongside Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in 1980.
Ahead of the announcement that Black Angel will be made into a feature film, building on its 35 year legacy and mythology, The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali had the honour of speaking to Director Roger Christian.
In our interview he tells us about the inspiration behind the film, the influence he had on John Boorman and his hopes for the future…
Where did the inspiration for Black Angel come from?
I grew up with King Arthur, Norse Legend, Far Away Tree and everything that they got me through my youth. And I always wanted to tell stories of medieval or ancient world of epic legends and things. And really my inspiration was Kurosawa, he became my mentor. I really liked his rogue samurai against evil movies, and he filmed them really down on dirty, they were almost like documentaries like documentaries, he filmed in some incredible locations and landscapes. And so I kind of conceived this epic.
When it came to pass, I had to make a short film on where I knew that George needed one for Empire Strikes Back; He calmed me with the Star Wars universe the short that I know they didn’t like.
I had a twenty five thousand pounds grant from the British government to make it with, so I took a few little moments which seemed like a sketch of an ideal, that’s all I could afford. I actually went with a crew of nine people, four actors and two horse which I spent all my money on bringing them from London.
I was really enamoured with Charkovsky at the time, 35 years ago. He made every film related to the sub conscious not the conscious and I though you know I’m trying to tell this story here and I’m trying to do it in in kind mystical way. That’s what I’m going to have to do, so I just chose landscapes that fitted the drama, and I made the film like.
The cinematography of the film is just really cool…
Yeah, it was the first time ever Roger Pratt hadn’t made a film before, but I knew he had huge talent and we went to the Electric Cinema when it was running, they were doing a retrospective on Kurosawa and we watched three or four a day. Just absorbed ourselves in what he did.
I was really worried about showing the film again, I’ve had so many requests over the years, it was a slow pace and was a different era. And people would remember it fondly, so from there – you know what it’s like seeing something you saw a long time ago.
And I think it relates to a time call past. And a lot of students in Hill Valley in Scotland came and talked to me and interviewed me. And I interviewed them about pacing and everything and they said “no we love it, you get a chance to absorb the drama through the vision.”
I kind of gave in and now I’m glad I did.
And I’m glad did too because, I heard about it but I haven’t seen it until I was emailed me, so it’s a good thing because it’s great. And I’m looking forward to whatever is announced on the second because that should be a lot of fun. And very good.
Yeah it will.
So obviously your background is within Star Wars franchise, you worked on those. So when thinking about the film was there ever an idea in your head to to tie it closer to Empire Strikes Back?
No I had written Black Angel and I had it mapped out so I knew what I could do for the craft. And I was to trusted.
I was just sitting on the step of the theatre watching everyday just absorbing because you know you learn and suddenly I had a phone and say “What are you doing?” And I’m saying I’m trying to make a short film and said to me what it is all about. And i told him that he said “Send it to me tonight” And he called me back so i had to send George I’ve got til Friday to decide and he ordered us to get a film made.
And I got the OK about a day later from George who connected to it because it’s mythology. That’s really what Star Wars is, it has such a close affinity to myth and legend.
I always wanted to make films like this, and I keep trying to make films like this because it is wanted. Now I’m like the hottest thing ever since Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have ignited the world audience for myth and fantasy and to see that they way that they should be told and a real way.
You only had small cast and small budget for. Did you get done everything that you wanted to do would be short film?
No I wanted bigger fights and I wanted so much more out of it, I would’ve made a Kurosawa film if I could’ve done. They gave me unused negative to use for the short film. So I could film one to show, I had one take and then I had to move on to another scene, I couldn’t afford more than two takes, but in the end it fulfilled what was needed.
I think the legend of the negative being lost and then found again created such demand and it’s wide at the scene then a huge article on what they called Reddit said to been filmed Black Angel and keeps coming up and Ars Technicaa ran a huge article on it.
When the negative was found and I took it to Hill Valley, that was the first time it had been shown in America. Some the Star Wars people were there and all this stuff.
And that was the point where J.J [Abrams] was launching the new ones, it’s the same as Luke clutching his hands and looking at the twin suns and his destiny in his hands, and the same as King Arthur pulling the sword out of the stone. And I thought “You know what, this is the moment now that I got to take this, and make a huge epic of it.”
I was in London after I took it round Scotland, we ended up in a 400 seat cinema. I think I got the entire press for the Glasgow Film Festival, it became like the heroes journey; took it to three other seminars in Scotland, and we had 2 hour Q and A’s everywhere.
I just got an email this morning from a student, who said “you really inspired us, we are going to make our own medieval film now.” That’s what it’s all about.
So on the way down I met Carnaby Films in London and we talked about another film actually and then Alex, the Executive said “we want to do a fantasy, what do you have and what could we do?” So I told them about my original story, a huge epic story, that had everything in it from Politics to Drama to Romance and by the end of the conversation we were making Black Angel, it’s in its forth draft now and we are shooting this year.
Excellent! I cannot wait to see that! And obviously there’s been a great inspiration to a lot of people including John Boorman with his Excalibur. How did it feel when you got that call?
I love John Boorman, when I switched over to direct, John was one of my biggest supporters and Jeremy Thomas, these people really pushed me and John called me and said, “I need you to come with Roger to Theatre Seven in Pinewood to show the crew Black Angel.” I was driving down with Roger and I pretty nervous.
We showed the film to the entire crew, and John turned to me to say that’s what want. I said John I had a crew of nine people. I could take my one camera wagon and do it right now, you’ll have a crew of 200 and you won’t be able to do that. He said “good point, but i really love the vision, that it really inspired me. Would you mind it might created an underwater sequence, in the film?”
And I said “John I’m honoured.” To me, John Boorman was one of the film directors with real balls in England. And went out making what he wanted, amazing films.
Oh definitely and nobody else has come close to touching the legend of King Arthur the way that he did.
I know and that’s it, so I loved him, John is a great human being and really a supportive man.
So obviously with the announcement which is going to be on June 2, Would that spawn a franchise do you think or you just focusing on the first one you see and it goes?
Well it’s interesting because I had a whole huge story and i work with them right. And we did and 80 page treatment we worked it all out and I sat and wrote this film over about five drafts. And it ended with my Nostradamus producer coming onboard. And that i made with Nostradamus that he actually producing and he came on board. And i waited the same with Nostradamus and it remains in right after the revolution, went away and made a huge epic for very little money.
It was only then that I realised these characters was so powerful. They wanted another part of the story and i realised I’ve setup a perfect moment that should be told.
So I’m hoping it is appealing there is certainly an audience for this type of legend now. And my kind of speech going into making the film. And this was very much in Carnaby’s interest is really go down and dirty. And in a way I’m going back to the way Star Wars was made with a low budget, it was a tough film to make, Alien was a tough film to make and Jurassic park first one, these films stay in the memory, they were very real, down and dirty and I’m going to do the same with this.
There’s a lot of Cinema now-a-days, and to me Gladiator stands out as a pinnacle, it’s a film that absorbs the audience into that world. Absolutely a true passion with this to do the same thing again; no armies, no huge CGI armies. I gonna keep it as real as I can.
Game of Thrones has ignited a passion across the world for this kind of adventure, which means to me that I can make my passion project; the film I always wanted to make, 35 year after making the first one, now I can really do it the way I want.
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