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A new hope for Scotland on screen: interview with film director Roger Christian

Great news, film fans! It’s just been announced that a feature-length version of short fantasy film Black Angel is to be made. And director Roger Christian confirms that the stunning Scottish scenery which featured in the original will again be making a star appearance in his latest project

Roger Christian and George Lucas

Roger Christian and George Lucas

If you don’t know the background behind the original, then let us briefly fill you in. Christian rose to critical acclaim in 1977 after working on the blockbuster Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope for which he received an Academy Award nomination for set decoration.

Not long after, he was given £25,000 by Star Wars supremo George Lucas to create a short film to accompany the cinematic release of The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

There was only one place in the world Christian could shoot million-dollar scenery on such a miniscule budget – Scotland.

The fantastical tale of a knight returning to his decimated homeland, Black Angel has since become a cult classic, with the legendary Steven Spielberg describing it as “one of the most enigmatic films I’ve ever seen”.

To celebrate the announcement of a feature-length film, we chatted to Roger Christian about the making of Black Angel and his return to Scotland 35 years on.

 

Film director Roger Christian

Film director Roger Christian

Q. Why did you choose to film Black Angel in Scotland?
I was very influenced by Akira Kurosowa (The Seven Samurai) – his drama, his incredible landscapes and his action. When I wrote my story as a medieval fantasy, Eilean Donan Castle was always in my mind. It’s the epitome of a romantic castle, so it was always my target to shoot Black Angel in Scotland.

Q. Tell us about the shoot
I had a crew of only nine people and four actors. Most of the money went on bringing two dark horses up from England! I put the car on a train and got off at Stirling before driving over to Kyle of Lochalsh. I was just staggered by the beauty of Eilean Donan Castle and we went scouting for other locations. The owners of our guesthouse pointed me in the direction of this amazing waterfall in Glen Nevis. I also found these huge valleys full of fields from medieval times. There was no Google and no internet, so I had to rely on Ordnance Survey maps. We needed a mystical land and Loch Eck was just an incredible location.

Q. What time of year did you shoot and why?
These were the days before CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery). I wanted to film the skies at their most dramatic so we went to Scotland at the end of September and the beginning of October. It was just stunning. This was the vision I needed for the film.

Q. Tell us about the planned feature-length film
Black Angel the short was a mere sketch, but this is a huge epic. I’m sitting here with the perfect legend that has everything in it. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series are finished and I want to create a new epic for Britain. We’ll be shooting this year. Eilean Donan will be in it for sure, as will Glen Coe.

Q. Why do you think people enjoy visiting film locations?
I take pride in the fact that, with Black Angel, I was the first person to put Scotland up on the screen in cinemascope. Nobody had seen these images of Scotland on film and it created a huge interest in Scotland among film-makers, with Russell Mulcahy returning to Eilean Donan for Highlander. As with the Star Wars locations in Tunisia, films in Scotland give people icons for people to visit when they’re travelling. They become a centre of interest they associate with something they’ve seen in a movie.

Scottish locations featured in Black Angel


Opening scenes
Filmed just off the A87 beyond Loch Cluanie and into Glen Shiel in the west Highlands, near the Old Military Road at points and Battle of Glenshiel

Title sequence
A pan around from Dornie beside Eilean Donan over the water, pulling back from a long shot of the Black Cuillin on the Isle of Skye. The camera then zooms in on the striking peak of Biod an Fhithich across Loch Duich (beyond Eilean Donan) – itself not far from Shiel Bridge

Children “of the sickness”
Bernera Barracks in Glenelg in the west Highlands, with another wide landscape pan across the Glen More valley, looking east just out of Glenelg

Maiden on the shoreline
Jubilee Point at Loch Eck on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll

Waterfall
Steall Falls in Glen Nevis in the west Highlands. The action then rises above those falls and we emerge above Loch Duich on the Old Military Road near the viewpoint at Ratagan

Confrontation with the Black Angel
A clearing north of Dunoon in the forests around Loch Eck

 

Fancy visiting on-location film sets? Read about some top film and TV productions shot in Scotland, or check out our earlier blog post on the exciting rediscovery and re-release of the long-lost Black Angel film.

Comments

  • L

    The same Roger Christian responsible for Battlefield Earth, widely regarded as one of the worst big budget films of the last 50 years?

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