ANDREW GARVEY talks to James Campbell, director of ‘Ripper’, a Batman fan film set in Victorian London
Despite what some people will tell you, Twitter isn’t just for abusing celebrities and politicians and posting meaninglessly dull updates on your every waking thought and dead (mine’s @AMGarvey by the way and yes, that’s what it mostly consists of). But more helpfully, Twitter’s a great platform for promoting creative projects.
It was a retweet from someone or other that alerted me to the existence of ‘Ripper’. A non-profit fan film pitting Jack the Ripper against a late-nineteenth century Batman sounded like a great idea. And shoving the entire thing through a ‘giallo’ (the dominant Italian horror style of the 1970s) filter made the entire thing even more intriguing.
Made in the north of England and uploaded to YouTube on February 1st of this year, it’s been viewed (at the time of writing) by over 85,000 people. Personally, I’m a big fan of the film. Yes, it’s version of Jack the Ripper is very much the top-hatted fiend of cinema cliché but are you really going to complain about strict historical accuracy in a film with Batman in it?
Anyway, have a look for yourself, above and read our interview with the film’s director, James Campbell.
ANDREW: Going right back to the beginning of this project, why Batman and Jack the Ripper? Where did the idea come from originally?
JAMES: Originally this was going to be a final project at University, but it quickly became too big and needed a much bigger budget. But the initial idea came from me wanting to possibly do something with Jack the Ripper, but also give a real Italian horror/giallo vibe and have a synth heavy score to go with it.
I was a fan and I wanted to see more. I remember sitting in my bedroom and seeing my graphic novel collection and noticing ‘Gotham by Gaslight’ and thought… I’m gonna put Batman in it too. Then I asked my house mate Judd (who was studying costume design and props) if he would be up for the challenge. Of course he was as he has the full Micheal Keaton Batsuit in his room. Once I knew I had someone to build the costume I went for it and quickly contacted my producer Adam Bouabda and we put the wheels in motion.
I wanted to ask you about ‘Gotham by Gaslight’. It’s a great concept but I remember feeling let down when I read it. It felt like a missed opportunity and I actually think your film does a better job with the idea.
Thanks! There is no way of hiding the fact that it certainly inspired our film, but there is no similarity in story or characters to be honest. I do enjoy it and love the artwork, costume design and concept. I mean who doesn’t… Jack the Ripper versus Batman!
3) Once you’d decided on Batman vs Jack the Ripper, where did the idea of doing it in a giallo style come from? Did you consider other approaches?
I’d started to watch Italian Horror a few years back after a friend suggested I watch ‘Suspiria’ and that was that. From the very beginning I knew exactly want I wanted to make, and I knew it would also not be for everyone as giallo is a bit of a niche, but I thought it was cool and something different.
Most fan-films are kind of the same – yes some are really well made nowadays, shot well etc., but I desperately wanted to make something original, which is somewhat difficult when you’re dealing with two characters like Batman and Jack the Ripper.
I thought the POV giallo vibe with the black leather gloves was perfect Jack the Ripper and other shady characters we had. I also wanted a distinct visual style with vibrant colours that would accompany the synth score and hopefully standout from other short films and fan-fiction.
Can you tell me about the crowdfunding campaign and how that experience was?
The crowdfunding campaign was both a tough and amazing experience, as we would have times when no money was going in and we were getting closer and closer to the first day of shooting, but we kept persisting with it and prepped as normal. Then we had an amazing bit of luck take place as a friend of Adam Bouabda’s (producer) just won the lottery and so kindly put in a sizeable amount along with another local businessman, and that basically paid for the first batch of filming.
Once we had a trailer for the pick-up campaign it was a lot easier, but still going slow, even though we’d had some great press from some genre websites etc. Our next piece came in the shape of one Kevin Smith (massive Batman fan) who generously re-tweeted us and donated £500 to our campaign. Our twitter basically went a little crazy for a few hours and we managed to gain another £1,300 over-night – which was amazing.
How long did the project take from start to finish? How many days filming did you do and what locations did you use?
From the initial idea to release it was about 18 months, but we wanted to take our time and try to make something that had high production values and generally looked professionally made – which thanks to our Director of Photography Mike Staniforth I think we achieved.
We were very fortunate that we had two great local North East locations in Hartlepool and Teeside that could double for certain Victorian buildings, alley ways and pubs. That helped us greatly and with the help of Charlotte Harman (Costume Designer) and Rebecca Wright (Production Designer) we could recreate our Victorian world for ‘Ripper’.
How did you end up with such a quality lead as Bruce Payne? I’m guessing not just because his name rhymes with Bruce Wayne…
Once our initial Jack the Ripper pulled out a few weeks before the first batch of shoots, we wanted to take our time, choose the right actor for the role and make it as good as possible. So after the first shoot I reached out to a director friend of mine who put me in touch with a casting agent who put out casting call for us and we were blown away by the interest from some quality actors.
But once I’d seen Bruce on there and I am such a fan of ‘Passenger 57’ and his performance especially it was a no-brainer to me… and yes, his name is pretty cool too!
You’ve mentioned production values being so important and they’re a really strong point of the finished film. How much did everything cost and how, as a fan film released for free on YouTube, do you make some of that money back?
We wanted to try and nail the era and overall production value, and we believed we could achieve this with the locations at our disposal but also the talented crew. Our budget was around the £12,000 mark, and we wanted almost all of that to go on-screen; whether that is on acting talent, costume, props or locations.
That’s the benefit of most other Batman fan-films is that they’re set in the present so almost any city can double for parts of Gotham, but when you want to create a dark, gritty, Victorian London it’s a little bit more challenging. I’m very pleased with what we achieved with the shooting time (five days) and budget we had, and think it certainly stands out from most fan films.
Myself and Adam put our own money in, but we were investing in something a little different and would hopefully be something that we could show investors for upcoming projects. My idea for ‘Ripper’ was to make something cool and something that crew members could use as a showreel to show off their skills.
Batman and Jack aren’t the only recognisable characters in the film. Did you consider bringing in other characters as well?
I always wanted to have a few nods and references from the DC Comics world in there to keep the fans happy, but it’s also finding ones that work in our world and setting… Obviously (I hope) there’s a little nod to Dr Crane/Scarecrow which you get a glimpse at but I’m really wanting to use that character again and I have a few ideas about which other ones I want to bring in.
Great! Does that mean there’s a sequel on the way?
I actually have a trilogy planned out in my head but it will depend on the overall success of ‘Ripper’ and where our careers go from here. I would love to shoot ‘Ripper 2’ late 2016 – all being well.