An EXCLUSIVE Interview With Writer/Director Kirill Proskura ("A Shadow of Dara")

Twenty four year old Estonian writer/director Kirill Proskura first discovered his love for film when he was a little boy, when Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings powered across his television screen.

"The original trilogy is like a bible," Proskura said during our chat last Saturday.  "For a kid who was not really told how all this film stuff works, seeing orcs and hobbits was a bit surreal."

While his native Estonia was not a very friendly place for filmmakers, he pursued his passion in London, and later helped form White City Productions and was instrumental in the production of both short films, "Iscariot" and "A Shadow of Dara".

Kirill was kind enough to sit down and talk about both of those films, the unique difficulties he faced as a filmmaker coming from Estonia, and White City Productions, which is quickly making a name for itself in the field as a company that makes high quality sci-fi content on very limited budgets!

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FCSFR: Hi Kirill!  First of all, thank you for submitting your films to me.  I've enjoyed both of them quite a bit.  "A Shadow of Dara" and "Iscariot" were innovative in their usage of sci-fi, particularly considering the short running times!

KP: No worries.  I'm glad you enjoyed them. We tried to make them as short as possible as festivals like films that not longer than 15 minutes.

FCSFR: What do you think of short films?  Are you partial to them?

KP: I love short films.  I've been involved in making short films in various roles for four years now.

FCSFR: Let's talk about that a little bit.  How did you start working in short films?

KP: Began doing sort of short videos back in Estonia with a couple of friends.  That's how I realized that I like making films.  When I came to London, I went to college and university and started expanding my knowledge on film.

At first, I wanted to be involved as a cinematographer, so I cut some showreels from what I've been filming before and that got me working as a director of photography on various independent shorts, music videos and corporate videos for three years.

Then, ambitions kicked in and I started developing my own ideas and plans, and that's how White City Productions came around.

FCSFR: Some quick background information: where'd you go to university in London?  Also, were you born in Estonia?

KP: Been to City & Islington College and SAE Institute.  I'm originally from Tallinn, Estonia.

FCSFR: Great!  What was the filmmaking scene like there compared to London?

KP: Well, in Estonia there's none, really.  If films are shot there, usually it's companies from Russia or from other countries in Europe.

FCSFR: So it does not sound like a friendly climate for up and coming filmmakers.

KP: Not really, yeah.  London is far more advanced with independent films.

FCSFR: Was moviemaking something you have wanted to do since your childhood or something you have wanted to do relatively recently?

KP: I loved films in general since I was a kid, but an idea to make films myself came really randomly.  It was when one of my friends back in Estonia proposed to go to Estonian film university, but one of the points of admission in there was to have a film made.  So that kinda was a starting point, though we never went to that university in Tallinn.

FCSFR: So now, fast forwarding a little -- you've moved to London, you've attended university and studied film.  Talk to me about forming White City Productions and meeting Aleksandra Petrova, with whom you have collaborated with on a number of projects including "Iscariot" and most recently "A Shadow of Dara".

KP: White City Productions came around as I later wanted to make my own films.  Formed it with originally with Ewa Habdas with whom I worked as DP on her short, "A Mime is a Terrible Thing to Waste".

Met Aleks when she got me on board as DP for Iscariot.  This was before I took over a producing role.  Later, Aleks joined White City Productions as well and the three of us -- Ewa, Aleks and I have been collaborating ever since.

FCSFR: And Ewa Habdas and Petrova, you met them while in London?

KP:  Yup, met everybody in London.

FCSFR: Was your work on "A Mime Is A Terrible Thing To Waste" your first on film work?

KP: It was one of the early DP works I've done, but it wasn't the first one.  Hope no one will ever see my first ones. (Laughs)

FCSFR: (Laughs) So does that mean you'd prefer we not discuss those then? 

KP: I don't mind talking about them, it's just that they are my first jobs and some of the later ones are bad end products because either a producer or director didn't really care much.

FCSFR: Ah, I respect that.

As a director of photography, your role ties in pretty tightly with the director, so depending on who you're working with, that role can change pretty wildly.  But tell me a little bit about working on "Mime" versus the extremely audio-driven "Iscariot".

KP: As a DP, it was always adapting to the director's way of working.  Though the process of "Mime" versus "Iscariot" is kinda similar, you plan, you talk to the director about what he wants, how he wants it, and you plan the lighting set ups either by myself on "Mime" or with the gaffer on "Iscariot".  So there's always quite a bit of planning going on.

With "Iscariot",  we brought in our sound designer Gethin [Rhys Jones] a bit late after editing was done already, so Aleks wrote extensive sound design notes to him.

FCSFR: Where did "A Shadow of Dara" come from?  It seems like such a big idea, like an epic sci-fi story wrapped into a 15 minute film.

KP: The idea for it came when I was still in Tallinn. I was trying to write feature length at the time, so I created those characters and the world, but then forgot about it for a while.  When Ewa and I formed White City, she told me, "We need to make a short, let's find a script," and I was like, "Oh, I think I got something," and went to write a short script, massively re-doing the world in it but keeping same characters. Then after meeting Andy Mihov on "Iscariot", I gave him that script to see if he'd be interested, so he came back to me with an extended version, adding lots more info and Va-Aya.

FCSFR: Was this your first time in the director's chair?

KP:  I've done some sort of directing before, some kind of shorts but I wouldn't call them my best work as I still was figuring out things and realizing that sound is a massive thing that needs a lot attention.

FCSFR: There's a lot of big ideas in "A Shadow of Dara", not the least some hints of "The Matrix" -- points which I loved, by the way.

KP: Thanks.  The Matrix was inspiration.  When trying to come up with the short script I was thinking, "Let's blend The Matrix and Alien together and see what comes out of it."

FCSFR: Your film had really solid visuals and high production values.  If you don't mind my asking, what kind of a budget were you working with?

KP: Cheers.  It was 5,800 pounds.

FCSFR: How did you come across the grimy, underground locations for the film?

KP: (Laughs) There's a cool location in London, in the Hackney area.  It's a WWII bunker and the owners of it rent it out to people for various events.

FCSFR: It looked pretty authentic.  It gave a nice, grotesque future aesthetic.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting this production off the ground?

KP: The biggest challenge was, I'd say, the budget.  The rest went quite smoothly, surprisingly.

FCSFR: Would you say your pre-production stage was longer than other films you've been involved with? You had action choreography to deal with, special effects, alien languages, epic exchanges -- so much going on.

KP: Pre-production was definitely longer than any film I've been involved with, I think since we decided to go for it.  Pre-production took us 7 months.  But it all went super great because the people who were involved are mega-talented folks.  I'm sure cast and crew will go on to bigger things from now on.

FCSFR: Is "A Shadow of Dara" a small part of a larger narrative?  Will we see a  sequel, or a full length adaptation?

KP: Currently writing two features -- one for "A Shadow of Dara", and a second for another sci-fi.

In the feature length of "A Shadow of Dara", it will be the same characters and more, but as for the narrative, it'll be completely different.

FCSFR: Very cool.  So what's up next on your plate?  Are you working on another White City Productions film?

KP: We have a few films we'd like to make.  Currently concentrating to go to the next level and get one of the features we have in [the planning stages] off the ground.  And if time and budget allows, we might do couple of short films, but it'll be always stepping up the game from now on, even with shorts.

FCSFR: Excellent.  OK just one more question and then we'll be all wrapped up.  I know it must be late there in London. 

KP: 4:45am.

FCSFR: Holy cow, I'm really keeping you up.  Thank you so much for your time and all your very thoughtful answers, I'll make this quick.  

So, if you could go back to your university days offer your younger self one bit of advice, what would it be?

KP: I'd say, "Don't hope that somebody will help you get there, just go and do it yourself."

FCSFR:  Thank you again so much for your time, and I hope we'll see a whole lot more from you very soon. 

KP: Thank you as well.  Hopefully, fingers crossed!

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Thanks go again to Kirill Proskura for taking the time to answer all my questions with incredible patience!

If you haven't had the chance to do so, check out our reviews for "Iscariot" and "A Shadow of Dara"!

Also, don't miss the trailer for "A Shadow of Dara" below!

Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!