Spotlight: An interview with Keith Barnfather ("Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor")
Keith Barnfather (Director) with Nabil Shaban
Keith! We're excited to hear more about your career and creative journey. Before we talk about the movie, please introduce yourself. What made you interested in storytelling and how did you start out?
I first started out in "the business" at BBCtv Centre in West London. At the time, the BBC was still producing virtually all its programming "in house". I worked in the Videotape Department (VT) and we were responsible for supplying all broadcast, recording tapes, editing tapes, etc., into the VT area.
It was an exciting time, with so much going on every day. Classic programmes like I Claudius, Top of the Pops, The Young Ones and Doctor Who being made. I learnt a lot.
Eventually I left to help start up Channel 4, a very different concern that did commission virtually all its programming from outside.
I left to form Reeltime Pictures in 1984 ... can't believe it's been nearly 40 years!
I've always loved film and TV, I wrote stories as a child ... I probably never grew up! To do this for a living now is both a joy and a privilege.
What kind of films/tv shows inspire you?
I am a lover of all visual storytelling. I do love to read too, but visual media has always inspired me most... both graphic/comic art and moving image.
Ahh, what films? I could go on forever! A Matter of Life and Death, Casablanca, The Shawshank Redemption, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Psycho, It's a Wonderful Life, Silence of the Lambs ... what can I say?
TV ... Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Soap, Hill Street Blues, I Claudius ... there aren't enough hours in the day! Oh, but most of all Star Trek and Doctor Who!
Over the years, you've directed hundreds of projects and produced a large number as well. What project(s) are your most proud of, and why?
Well I'm guessing everyone reading this who has directed anything will say they weren't happy with aspects of what they did. "If only I could go back and ..." goes through my head all the time. Plus, and I'm in no way complaining about this, I've always worked on tight budgets... so it has always been a struggle to squeeze every penny (or cent!) out of it.
But, I've produced and mostly directed over 150 hour-long episodes in an interview series called Myth Makers with the stars of cult tv... I'm incredibly proud of that. Reeltime also co-produced a drama called Downtime in 1996 based on characters and concepts from Doctor Who ... it had a stellar cast list from the programme and was directed by a retired BBC staff director, Christopher Barry. I'm very proud of that achievement.
Sil with Guards Monk (Jim Conway) & Peterson (John Michael Rooke)
Let's talk about your production company, Reeltime Pictures, founded in1984. What kind of projects do you produce, and what makes it unique, in your opinion?
Well a production company is a vehicle really, certainly at first. I set Reeltime up to produce business, training and our cult tv output. Over the years we've produced literally hundreds of programmes... working for clients like McDonnell Douglas and the NHS. It only becomes something bigger when it builds a reputation and a back catalogue that it owns. Reeltime has done that ... we are well respected in the business and, recently, have moved into broadcast work in the Greek speaking world... something my wife and partner, Anastasia has brought to the company. We've won awards and broadened out production portfolio.
Reeltime Pictures released projects like Wartime, Daemos Rising, and The White Witch of Devil's End. Can you talk about your fascination with Doctor Who and your involvement with the *Doctor Who Appreciation Society*?
Hah! Someone once said to me that I owed my success to Doctor Who! In many ways they were right. It inspired me to start thinking about working in film and TV. I was one of the founders of The Doctor Who
Appreciation Society (the first truly functional fan club for the programme) and I organised the very first Doctor Who convention in 1977.
There are very few TV concepts that are timeless (no pun intended - well perhaps!), I class Doctor Who and Star Trek as two of the very few. For Doctor Who you can place a story anywhere, any time and in any context. The lead character can live forever ... it's a perfect format. I love it.
Nabil Shaban's performance was fantastic and earned him the Best Actor award at the Actors Awards. What was it like working with this legendary actor, who played Sil on Doctor Who (1985-1986)?
What can I possibly say about Nabil? My respect for him as both an actor and human being is boundless. His life could be made into a film... and I would want to make it! When we made Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor, I knew I didn't need to worry about my lead actor. I was right. Nabil had learnt every line of the script - every line. I think he only asked once for a prompt. He spent 3 hours every morning being made-up and an hour every night being unmade! It was a pleasure and an honour to work with him. He carried that show.
What was the most tricky scene to shoot?
Well not so much tricky as holding out for what I wanted. We had one scene at the end of Episode 3 (of 4) which was, to all intents, a soliloquy by Nabil. The DOP wanted to shoot it from different angles with cuts... but I held out for a single shot on a jib ... 11 minutes I think - with one cut. Nabil did it in ONE take.
No-one makes television like that any more. I'm very proud of it and being able to do it too!
Is this your first collaboration with writer Philip Martin? How did you get him on board?
I already knew Philip ... we had done one of our Myth Makers interviews with him a few years before. When i emailed him, tentatively suggesting it, he was totally up for it. He knew we were trustworthy.
This is a very ambitious project, and you managed to create some retro classic 80's Doctor Who vibes. How did you make that happen?
Well, it was my brief, but the credit needs to go to Phil Newman, the set and costume designer, who managed to fuse modern looks with that classic 1980s vibe ... my only rider was that the sets shouldn't wobble! He did an amazing job on a threadbare budget.
We couldn't help but notice the excellent FX makeup Sil (and on Mistress Na). How did you approach that?
Well credit goes to two absolute professionals, Phlip Robinson (who created the new Sil prosthetics we used) and Begona "BB" Martin who did the creature make-up. Both worked miracles from the brief I gave them.
What was your biggest takeaway from this project?
Honestly? Script, script, script. Based on my experience with Sil, I asked for a re-write on Anomaly - our next planned drama production. I realised it needed to be more accessible to a general audience.
How was Sil the Devil Seeds of Arodor received so far, and what is the plan for distribution?
It has been an utterly incredible success. To date, we have received 37 awards ... I jest you not! I'm stunned it has managed to cross boundaries and appeal to so many diverse audiences and judges.
It's already available as a download, stream, DVD and Blu-Ray from www.timetraveltv.com. But I'd love to find a distributor who can see the potential to sell it to television stations that buy Doctor Who!
Generally, as a director/producer, when you're looking to hire an actor / an actress, what do you look for? Is it just talent, or are there other things you consider?
Talent of course. I always look for a core of experienced and reliable actors and then add new talent around them. With a tight budget I simply can't take the risk of having lack of experience (and confidence) in major roles slow things down.
What do you do in between productions?
Hah! I'll let you know if it ever happens! I know no other life!
Tell us about your future projects. What's on the menu for 2021-2022, and will Anomaly (the follow-up story to Downtime and Daemos Rising) be released soon?
Anastasia and I are hard at work on a number of documentaries in Greece and Cyprus right now, plus some very rewarding work for charities during the Covid-19 crisis. A rewarding and humbling experience.
The crisis has rather put a halt to interviews and dramas at the moment, sadly. But, yes, Anomaly will be our next drama production... the script is ready and we will start pre-production as soon as we can.
Where can our readers follow more of your work?
Reeltime Pictures Ltd and Time Travel TV (our sales arm) are both on
Facebook ... as am I.