The Thunder Child
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Damon Dark: The Adrian Sherlock Interview
Describe your birth and childhood.
Well, I was born in Geelong, Victoria, (Australia) on Christmas Day, 1966. Geelong is a seaport town, about an hour by car from Melbourne.
My Dad studied for the textiles industry but ended up working for the Ford Motor Company which was and is based in Geelong. My Mother was pretty much a housewife and mother. I'm the oldest of five children, a brother and three sisters. When I was eleven, the first of my two youngest sisters came along, and my Mother suffered a terrible and long-term illness.
I was followed around the school yard by groups of taunting kids making Space Invaders sound effects at me. Generally, I was persecuted for my love of SF in a way that is hard to imagine today, and yet that persecution only made me cherish and defend it even more.
My younger brother certainly influenced or encouraged me, because when I was 16, I convinced my parents to buy me a Super 8 mm film camera and I began to make a series of space opera films in which I cast my little brother as a teenage action hero of outer space, who came and went from contemporary Geelong in a space ship and had such things as teleport bracelet and blaster with which to fight an array of rubbery green aliens. These were shot in sequence and edited in camera, a tricky thing to do. I had surprisingly few total disasters and learned a lot of no budget ways to achieve visual effects.
But I collected the swap cards like a boy possessed and still have most of them to this day.
UFO came on as reruns and used to frighten me with its eerie aliens who would float up from under the water, gets white shells removed from their eyes and die on the operating table. Creepy show! I then discovered Doctor Who beginning with Tom Baker's first season episode "The Sontaran Experiment". I couldn't get over the realism of the creatures, compared to the rest of TV aliens at the time. I became a huge Who fan and stayed one.
It was amazing to see an SF hero get so much character development and to realise that a hero could have weaknesses which were psychological and emotional. I wanted to draw this aspect into my own writing, but I was also impressed very much by the dark, spooky, surrealistic stuff and the idea that SF could delve into the world of film noir. "Timelash", about time standing still, "The Long Sleep", about aliens bringing the dead back to life, "Mindbender" in which the aliens cause surreal hallucinations and "Reflections in the Water" in which the hero meets an alien copy of himself and his friends, all resonated deeply with me. I could see these stories as multi-layered, like Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner, where the stories worked as both tales of battles with aliens, but also as representative or emblematic tales of human psychology, reflecting our fears and obsessions and inner demons.
It had to hang together clearly in my head before I started. I'd already written a full length movie script in 1990 and a few others including "Maddox" and "Dark Reflection" before I ever made anything. Maddox became a part of the Channel 31 series, the pilot Timeslip I wrote in one sitting and took about an hour to write (I was focused that day!). The unproduced script I wrote for Ed Bishop, "Shadowfall", was written in 1996 and went through a few drafts with input from Ed's letters. That script has now been done as an audio play.
On "Maddox", friends fixed me up with actors they knew and I auditioned a lot of girls for Vercuca in the "Maddox" serial. Niobe Dean was absolutely perfect and I offered her the role on the spot when she came and read for me. She went on to be in Star Wars: Broken Allegiance, and has become something of a cult figure. I'm not surprised at all, she was talented, professional and very photogenic, very pretty and cool. Most recently, I asked my friend Robert Trott to play a baddie for me as he has a great look and is very talented. I picked Viv Perry from a short film I'd seen her in, a fan adaptation of Robert Sheckley's 7th Victim. I offered her a role without even meeting her, I was so confident that she would be great. She was a scene-stealing actor and looked great, again a very cool, very attractive and photogenic lady with a lot of ability. I've always come from an actor's point of view and I take casting quite seriously, along with costume, because I believe the characters are what we watch for and I value actors very highly in a film.
To my utter amazement, the copy he showed me had been taped off air the very night I saw it screen in 1978, with one of the very first VCRs. The episode didn't air in Australia again until 1995. I am happy to tell you, it was even better than I remembered and I watched it many times over that day. Brilliant.
I had 33 minutes of 16mm film and shot this stuff early mornings on the weekend when everything was deserted and Damon is like the lone human wandering through this deserted suburban area and he gets stalked by this dead body which comes to life as a zombie and Damon ends up killing him. In the later half, he was supposed to meet up with the menace who was behind it all.we shot 22 minutes, up to Damon killing the zombie after a fight scene in a playground.
I shot it silent with the idea that we'd hear Damon's thought voice on the sound track later, a voice over. This was an economical solution.I had it all planned, but neither the camera man, a film maker I had met, or I understood the risks of over exposing the film. The lab report came back with everything right but the exposure levels. It was good material, but washed out and I had no money to reshoot. Devastating. And the camera man and I fell out over it, which I accept the responsibility for. I lacked people skills in those days, to be blunt about it. But you learn from painful experiences.
The early Damon Dark video stuff was shot with a hired camera and camera man. "Maddox" was shot with a borrowed Hi 8 camera. I own my own digital video camera now and that's been used for all the stuff this decade!
In the end, the money to get him here fell through and while I tried to come up with alternatives, I think Ed was concerned that he didn't want his fans to be cheated in any way. I totally appreciate that point of view. He took a dim view of celebrities cashing in on their fame in certain respects, I think, he didn't believe in taking from the people who enjoyed his work.
I respect that and again, I have to support that. He was a generous and genuine human being and I was very deeply saddened when I heard he'd passed away. The encouragement he gave to me was priceless and he did that despite how disappointed he must have been when our project fell through.
My character was a comical take on Beatles manager Brian Epstein. This gave me the acting bug and I studied drama for two years in Melbourne at a small privately run drama school. I got an agent and was soon doing extras work and bit parts in all kinds of movies and TV shows. I brushed shoulders with Max Von Sydow, Tom Selleck, and Peter Graves. I met Graves when I worked twice on the revived Misson: Imposssible. It's fascinating to me that I met Peter Graves and asked after his former co-stars Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, because they starred in Space:1999, the show which replaced UFO. Sometimes it seems your childhood heroes are so close you can touch them, and that's a phenomena that I've always found exciting and humbling at the same time.
Outside of acting, I've met two Doctor Who stars (Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy) and one of my school teachers went to school with the man who is now married to Katy Manning from Doctor Who and I ended up meeting Katy and telling her that.
I also used the State Government Offices building in Geelong, which resembles and inverted pyramid, as Damon Dark's secret Headquarters.
The camera man achieved the lighting with a single light by lighting it from the side and the make up was by a couple of brilliant girls from Geelong's Faceworx Salon. They were make up teachers and knew it all but this was a rare chance for them to work on a film and they did great. Very professional.
Editing was the biggest let down and this was a problem I encountered continuously, there was no digital computer editing around in those days (1997!) unless you had big bucks to throw around. Now I can recut the film for nothing on my home PC and polish it to perfection.
He popped down, did his part in one day and left. I was very grateful, as I am to all my actors. They are all wonderful people and they do great work and deserve way more recognition than they usually get.
Bloopers were few and far between, oddly enough. I'm pretty organised as a rule. But when Susan and I walked through the office door to find our future corpses, she stood on my foot with very sharp heels, so you see Damon Dark say "My God, Candy, look! You've stood on my foot!" That made everyone laugh but me!
One of the most enjoyable days was when Karl Siemon (Director on "Maddox") and Niobe Dean and I just drove around Melbourne all day with a video camera and shot scene after scene in all these different locations. That was magic, we were in the zone. I think the three of us did great work that day and it was the type of indie film making I'd love to do a lot more of.
The last day shooting Maddox he's on a beach, the UFO's meant to be in the sea and Maddox has super powers and he's got arms in the air and shouting "I am Simon Maddox, I am a God!" It was an incredibly hot sunny day, the beach was crowded with sun bathers and there was even a plane filling the air with sky writing and as Andrew shouting "I am a God!" some passing teenager shouted back, "Jesus loves you!"
I also had a laugh when Susan and I were made up as corpses. The horror and blood make up was so over the top, I said, "Let's go to the local drive-through and get lunch. We can do a beckoning wave to the girl in the drive-through and say 'Room for one more, room for one more.'" (It's from an old Twilight Zone episode).
I think my ex-girlfriend Jennifer was the one who contacted Aussiecon and they were happy for me to screen "Maddox" sight unseen. Looking back, I was foolish to do what I did, but I'm still proud that so many people saw it and not all of them failed to see its potential. While a bit of a train-wreck, that was a better learning experience than a year of film school. Pain is a great teacher.
Actually, Karl was great, he got call sheets organised and emailed or posted out to people. But it was a case of read through, run through, shoot it. It was very much a case of getting it on screen any way you could. I was told by a famous film Producer once, "get your film made, get your idea out there, any way that you can, just get it done and get it out there." I agree with that. So many things started in cheap, rushed productions, but if the idea had potential, it grew over time into something bigger and better.
I've learnt a lot from putting stuff on You Tube, I think the net has provided a great new playground in which to reach and audience and experiment with what a film maker and story teller can do. You also get feedback. I've had a lot of four and five star ratings and some great enthusiastic comments from people. Some of my subscribers are also film makers, many of them are very talented and clever people, too. I've had some negative responses at times, too, and that's also good because it forces you to work harder and try new things to try to reach the audience and please the people.
At the end of the day, I think of how Gene Roddenberry's own father apparently apologised to people after they saw the first ever episode of Star Trek because he thought it was so bad, or how the actors in the first ever pilot ep of Doctor Who said "we all thought we were going to be back on unemployment the very next week, it was so bad." My first ever reviews said "Damon Dark failed to make the grade." But in all these cases, it's persistence, it's developing the potential of your creation and making it grow until you find a way to make the thing exciting.
A comic book character like Superman started on radio, then became a low budget TV show and the TV show was such a success it ended up being made into a movie in 1977 and by then Superman's father was played by Marlon Brando who was arguably the biggest star in the world at the time. In the pilot for the TV series, Superman's father was played by someone I couldn't name and have never heard of. But that is what happens, things have humble beginnings and they grow and progress. The first ever Bond novel didn't sell too well, it's just been made into a hit movie about half a century later. I hope I live to see Damon Dark become a huge success.
I'd love to see other writers get a chance to write SF adventure stories by writing for my character, I'd like to see it proliferate in all kinds of media. I've got a book waiting to be published, and two of the adventures on You Tube are basically audio plays with pictures added. I see no limits and I see no reason why this idea can't go on and on. A guy who probes into the unknown and fights the forces of evil. That's Damon Dark. His world is shadowy and full of aliens and menaces from beyond. That's a basic idea that you can do almost anything with.
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