Stockton Miller is a Barbadian filmmaker whose name may be familiar if you’ve seen his numerous VFX videos on YouTube – which normally involve monsters and creatures from horror and fantasy; he was the creator of those viral videos of a supposed werewolf in Barbados and a monster under a boat – or follow the Barbados Visual Media Festival, at which he has won several awards.
His latest project is a sci-fi film entitled The Land We Call Home, which will be screened at the Accra Beach Resort this evening as part of the aforementioned Barbados Visual Media Festival. We spoke to Miller about his path and career thus far as a filmmaker and about his upcoming film.
Zeitgeist: You are perhaps best known for your monster, VFX videos on YouTube. How did you get into that? What originally sparked your interest in VFX and why monsters specifically?
Stockton Miller: Most of my viewers on YouTube are mostly from America and they also do VFX. So it started when a friend who also [does] VFX sent me a monster CGI model that he made to use to collaborate on a video which went viral on YouTube and in Barbados. I got into VFX because of the types of movies I wanted to make and it’s not really specifically monsters it’s just those types of videos were getting the most views.
Z: Are you professionally trained or self- taught?
I had [a] 2006 HP laptop when I started doing VFX in 2011, with only 2 GB of ram. So when I bought Adobe After Effects and tried to install it I kept getting errors. I did some research and found [that] the laptop I had was not powerful enough, so I bought more ram and updated the laptop and I was able to use Adobe After Effects with it. It was still running slow, so it was very difficult – and still is even with this new laptop [that] I have now. I started messing around with the program first, then went on YouTube and watched some tutorials.
I watch a lot of movies. So [whenever] I see something I try to recreate it in Adobe After Effects and even sometimes on YouTube they had tutorials on how to do specific effects and I just continued that way until the program was like a second language to me. I [recreated] turning into a Super Saiyan doing the kamehameha, the hand glow like in Iron Fist, gun shots, explosions, blood, flying like Superman, heat vision, fast running like The Flash and much more.
Z: As a child growing up, was filmmaking ever something that you saw yourself doing as an adult? Was there another career path you’d considered taking?
SM: No, it was not. I started out in secondary school playing guitar and up to this day I still can, but I gave that up . I probably would have been a guitarist in a band.
Z: What are some of the films you’ve made? What were they about and what inspired them?
SM: The first film [I] made back in 2016 is called Daybreak. It is an action/drama about a young boy [who] [witnesses] his friend being murdered and is almost killed in the process. He is torn between doing what is right or [living] the rest of his life in fear. I was inspired to do the film because at that time a lot of unsolved shootings were happening in Barbados because people who [witnessed] them were afraid to talk to the police. So this film addresses that.
Z: Some of your films have won awards at the Barbados Visual Media Awards and you’re probably one of the Barbados Visual Media Festival’s most decorated filmmakers. How does it feel to receive that recognition from your peers?
SM: It feels good because we worked really hard on that film so it feels good [to] receive that recognition.
Z: The motion picture that you won Best Web Show for in 2014, was that Daybreak as well? If not, could you also tell us about that film as well as the film you won the 48 Hour Film Challenge with last year?
SM: In 2014 that was not a film; that was a three episode web series called Into the Darkness. Daybreak came after that [and] is a full length film which won [the] People’s Choice Award [in] 2016.
Into the Darkness was [an] experiment [that] me and three of my friends did because at that time, the place where we filmed it burned down and it looked like a scene from [an] apocalypse movie. So that was how we got the idea to do a zombie apocalypse web series for YouTube. It was honestly one of my favorite things [that] I did and one day I am hoping to remake it bigger and better.
The short film that won the 2017 48 Hour Film Challenge is called In Dreams which will also be showing during the festival on Saturday at the Olympus. The short film is about a guy trying to find forgiveness from a deceased friend after he died in a car crash which he caused.
Z: Speaking of the Barbados Visual Media Festival, you’re set to premiere your latest film project, The Land We Call Home, there this evening. What was it that led you to make the film?
SM: That goes back to one of my monster videos that went viral earlier this year. Well, two went viral in Barbados [and] they were shared around Whatsapp and social media at the same time. One was with a werewolf (remember the voice note with the woman claiming to see a creature up Waterford) and another one with a creature under a boat (also connected to Waterford somehow). I remember coming home and seeing a lot of messages and I was even contacted by CBC [and] I did [an] interview just to clear up [that] the videos were fake.
After that I was sent more models by some Brazilian friends to create a video, so me and my friend Krieg Thompson went to film the footage, but he told me: “Let’s make a short film instead.” And I thought that would be a better idea. A few days later I called three actors – Cherah, Brandon and Ishmael – about starring in a short film and a few weeks later, we filmed it.
Z: How did the decision to premiere the film at the festival come about?
SM: It is not really a “premiere”, it’s just a screening for cast, crew and invited [guests]. The full premiere will be later this year or early next year. I was getting some advice from the BFVA (Barbados Film and Visual Media Association) president, Damien Pinder, about the film and he told me I should submit it and I thought it was a great idea because I wanted to submit to a Barbadian festival before outside festivals.
Z: Your past work has almost exclusively been short films. Why the did you decide to make The Land We Call Home feature length?
SM: The short film was supposed to be 6 minutes long, but by the time I [finished] [editing] it, it was over 20 minutes long. Then I told myself I will just make it [into] a full length film and the rest is history. In 2017 we started to film a movie, but because of reasons I couldn’t control, we were unable to finish it and most of the cast from that film are in the film The Land We Call Home, so I felt like I owed them a film. I guess it was my way of saying sorry.
THE LAND WE CALL HOME TRAILER
Z: This film is Barbados’ first science fiction, feature length film. How does it feel to be making history?
SM: It feels awesome. From day one I wanted to be the first to do a sci-fi or horror film in Barbados. I was able to do the sci-fi, so the next one will be a horror.
Z: From conception to completion how long did it take to make The Land We Call Home? How long did it take to write, how long did it take to shoot and how long did it take to edit?
SM: It took about two months to film because I kept adding more and more to the script or changing a scene because the ideas were flowing. I was making a sci-fi film with so little [that] I had to make [do] with what I had. It took me about a week to edit because when I start editing, I never stop until I am done.
Z: How was production of the film? Was it fairly easy-going and smooth or were there a lot of bumps and setbacks along the way?
SM: Everything went [smoothly]. So [smoothly] that I was actually surprised. Based on the fact [that] on previous films I had so [many] issues, but everything went so well making this film. I guess working with like-minded people made the job easier.
It was all positive energy. Everyone had a job to do and everyone did their job. We had a lot of laughs on set [and] I would love to add a blooper reel at the end of the film, but…Sorry it’s not that kind of film.
Z: You mentioned in your interview with CBC that you had been in contact with American visual effects company Tippet Studios (whose work includes The Matrix Revolutions, Cloverfield, the latter three Twilight films, Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), how did that come about?
SM: I sent a screenshot of the model I got from a Brazilian friend because I was looking for the original maker to get permission. So they sent me an email basically letting me now that that monster model I [was] using for the film [was] copyrighted to a game and [that] I could be sued by the original owner. Hearing that really made me sad because I was thinking; “Well I guess no movie.” Then, a few seconds later, they emailed me again asking me to send them the 20 minutes of the film because they wanted to see it ([I’m] assuming they wanted to know what I was doing with it), so I sent it to them.
A few hours later [I] received another email from them telling me [that] they really liked it and instead of using a copyrighted model they [would] give me one of theirs to use so [that] I [could] finish the movie and [that they would] help me in anyway. So I accepted and I told them how each scene with the monster [would] look and they animated it to match back the scene. All free. And the rest is history.
Z: How did you feel when they offered to work with you free of charge?
SM: I was very thankful for that because I do not have the equipment (PC) to do that kind of stuff. We spoke through emails and I basically told them what I wanted and they made it happen. The only thing I had to do in return [was] to credit them “animation by Tippet Studios.”
Z: Now that the film is finished how do do you feel and what are your hopes and expectations for it? What would you like audiences to get out of the film?
SM: I feel good because this is the first of its kind and I really do not know what to expect, being [that] it is a sci-fi film. Sci fi is not a popular genre in Barbados, but I hope Barbadians enjoy this film. Right now I am working on getting this film screened outside [of] Barbados, because we need to show the world [that] we to can create great films.
Follow The Land We Call Home on Facebook here: The Land We Call Home Barbados.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview has been edited for clarity and the avoidance of redundancies.