Dangerous to Know is a cerebral psychological thriller film from acclaimed author David Simpson.
Give us a bit of detail about yourself – background, profession, how you got into filmmaking and your current role
Most people know me either for my novels or my TEDx talk on AI and the technological singularity. I’ve got a Master’s degree in English lit from the University of British Columbia, and became an expert futurist because of the research required to write my Post-Human series of novels, as well as Dawn of the Singularity. The latter, I wrote for a video game company that wanted something to base a video game on—the game, Ashes of the Singularity, is built around the concept.
I got into Filmmaking after working temporarily with a local production company to develop a proof-of-concept short film to sell the idea of a Post-Human series of films to Hollywood. As I went through the process, however, I realized that there’s a serious misunderstanding in the conventional filmmaking world of the rapidly accelerating capabilities of digital cameras, both the hardware and software.
Most importantly, I realized that this misunderstanding was behind much of the astronomical budgets that keep most young filmmakers from believing that they could ever make their own film.
For my part, I knew I needed to take over the project and direct it myself to make sure that we were getting the most out the tech. My wife and I and one camera assistant shot the short, it was viewed over a million times on Vimeo, caught the interest of Filmmaker Magazine, who did a two-part story, and that caught the interest of Management 360 in Hollywood, who asked for scripts for the first two books in the series—which leads me to how my current film came to be.
Tell us about your film – how did it come about?
It was explained to me by my contact at Management 360 that, as the Post-Human project moved through the pre-production and then eventually the production phase, that I was going to lose more and more control. However, I’d get paid a lot, so who cares?
Of course, as any author or writer/director can tell you: I care.
So I set about deploying the method of filmmaking I’d developed to make Post-Human look way more expensive than it actually was to a full-length feature film. My reasoning was that, other than the VFX, which are still too difficult to realistically learn from scratch and do alone for an entire sci-fi feature (without it looking too amateur and taking a few extra years) every other aspect of what we’d accomplished in the short film was replicable in a longer-form narrative.
In short, I could make a movie…just not a sci-fi movie.
I came up with a concept for a psychological thriller set in the present, wrote the script, found stunning locations, found an incredible cast, and got to work filming it. The idea was to create something that would prove that I understood storytelling in film so that my voice would be taken seriously in Hollywood, but Dangerous to Know has become so much more than just that.
It’s completed—all 3,000 plus shots of it—musically scored and fully sound-designed in 5.1 Surround. It’s ready to be seen.
It also took 3.5 years and every penny I had, so we’re doing a Kickstarter to raise funds for distribution, getting it rated, and submitting it to festivals. The Kickstarter runs Dec. 3rd, 2019 to January 14th, 2020, and it was recently backed by The Shining sequel’s (Doctor Sleep) director, Mike Flanagan! We’re a long way from reaching our goals, but we’ve got better rewards packages than most Kickstarter movies (eBooks, audiobooks, a graphic novel version, the soundtrack, a digital copy of the movie itself when it’s released digitally), a chance to get your name in the credits, your name in the acknowledgments of the book, and more, so we’re off to a promising start (but we have a really long way to go!)
How did you find out about FilmConvert?
Early in the pre-production process on Dangerous to Know, my wife, Jennifer and I, were scouring online looking for the latest reviews, tutorials, and demos of both the filmmaking hardware and software available in early 2016. In the process of doing our research, we came across FilmConvert, and we loved the results other filmmakers were demonstrating when using it on their projects.
It’s almost impossible to overstate this: digital filmmaking’s maturity and the advent of software like FilmConvert has made it possible for filmmakers to film projects and make them appear as though they used the most expensive film stocks available.
I’m not sure that young filmmakers today realize how much of an impediment just getting their hands on any film stock at all was for aspiring filmmakers, even as recently as fifteen years ago! I’m reminded of the heroic story of a young Christopher Nolan, rehearsing scenes for his first independent feature film, Following; they had to run the scene through with the camera to get everything right beforehand, but without actually rolling. Why? They could only afford enough of the expensive black and white film stock to do two takes of every shot.
What a nightmare.
I have the utmost respect for the filmmakers that had to endure those ordeals, but I have no nostalgic desire to join them. I’ll take higher resolution, better sensors, unlimited ability to shoot takes, and the superior quality of shooting digital, all with the beautiful, perfect, precise illusion that the movie is shot on film—FilmConvert allows you to get your cake and eat it too.
Why did you decide to use FilmConvert for this particular project?
There were two main reasons, the second of which I’ll answer in the next question, but the first was that, quite frankly, FilmConvert makes our film look far more expensive than it actually is. The look of the movie matches how we feel about it: it’s a serious film, made with no compromises whatsoever.
While the average filmgoer may not consciously consider it, they’ve been programmed by a century of film as the unchallenged medium in movie-making. If one stops to think, we all regard the look of film as preferable. Television looks “digital” and cheap, while film is how they see the most famous movie stars and the most expensive Hollywood spectacles.
Film sends a semiotic (just a fancy way of saying ‘symbolic’) message that what the viewer is watching is of the utmost quality, and who wouldn’t want that for their film?
It’s hard enough to get people to take you seriously when you’re a first-time filmmaker. Why in the world would you make it even harder on yourself when you can access the look of virtually any expensive film stock you like? All of it inexpensively, and all of it while still getting every one of the endless advantages of shooting digital.
What was the particular look or style you were going for with your movie?
Dangerous to Know is a dark psychological thriller that veers into horror on occasion, and a major inspiration for the tone of the film was David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Fincher is one of digital’s great pioneers and is arguably the greatest technical filmmaker alive, so setting him as our bar of excellence, from the cinematography perspective, was a wise choice for us in the early going.
I’m also a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s ability to take a simple dialogue scene and twist and turn a conversation between two or more characters, using the implications of the words spoken and the circumstances in which the characters reside, to create moments that are more thrilling than you’d find in most mega-budget, CGI action spectacles.
Tarantino is a huge proponent of film. Fincher is a huge proponent of digital.
I went down the middle.
The palette I chose was Fincher-esque, steely and noir-ish, while I layered a Tarantino-esque film look on top of it all, to give the movie that extra “expensive and serious” look. It comes out looking something like Silence of the Lambs or some of Fincher’s earlier film work like Se7en, which are two more excellent thematic comparables for us.
While I act as my own cinematographer, my wife, Jennifer, is my colorist, and she captured the look we were going for perfectly. Over the 3.5 years of post-production, she refined her methods, and the marriage of the digital and film-look was achieved, in my view, to perfection.
Time and time again, people who see the film or even just clips of it, comment on the “color.” It’s strikingly beautiful, and, of course, it looks really, ridiculously expensive. The film stock alone would be many times what our budget was, had this been a movie filmed prior to digital film’s maturation.
Tell us about your workflow. What settings, film stock, camera profiles and tweaks did you use in FilmConvert?
I shot the film in 4K with the Sony A7sii and A6500, and on the Blackmagic Production 4K, along with the DJI Phantom 4 for drone shots. The camera profile of the Sony cameras was Cine4 and Film Dynamic for the Blackmagic.
The film stock we used was KD 5207 Vis3 with 25% grain for all of our shots. FilmConvert is on every one of your 3,000 plus shots in the film.
What other effects or tweaking did you use?
We pushed the Sony A7sii’s lowlight sensor to the max, and used Neat Video for the darkest shots, along with DaVinci Resolve’s native noise reduction to make the film look extra crisp.