Before 'The Northman,' There Was 'The Neolith'—How This Indie Filmmaker Did It
On the moors of a desolate land where the silence of the wind reigns, a mysterious man challenges a pack of bloodthirsty savages whose thirst for dominance is thriving.
This post was written by Daniel Boocock.
I take it you’ve seen The Northman? What did you think?
I liked it myself. I’m glad it got made, particularly with its alternative approach and style. I hope it makes some decent money and continues to be received well. I wouldn’t mind having that kind of budget myself going forward. I could do something really special with that dough!
My short film The Neolith was made in 2020. Though somewhat different in certain themes, there are similarities even with huge budget differences. You can watch it here.
The Neolith has some parallels with The Northman, even for a short, albeit with a different kind of vibe. Both are ambitious and epic in scale. Big and bold. Single-camera, shot on location. But rather than being typically Viking, some deem The Neolith as being set in a different historical period entirely or even set in the future. Others think it’s a moment out of time.
The word "neolith" actually implies a new age. Take from that what you will. Ultimately, though, it’s left for the viewer to decide where it's set. From a filmmaking perspective, my intent was to make a spectacle with substance. Certainly not the usual kind of short. Actually preparing for and shooting the project was a crazy full-on whirlwind in itself. Imagine if The Northman and Valhalla Rising had a rogue kid… That’s kind of along the lines of what The Neolith is.
Credit: Daniel Boocock
Even with as much preparation as possible, The Neolith was always going to be a project that, metaphorically speaking, was like walking along a tightrope.
There was no help from any filming body. No industry or film business connects to get me going. I just took things into my own hands regardless of any let-downs or rejections and decided to proceed. Sacrifices were made, finances were limited, and the crew was minimal.
My approach was cavalier from the get-go, and others got on board with that. It was very exciting, though at the same time I knew everything was riding on me. Actors had to prepare themselves physically and vocally and fully embrace the actual surroundings. Certain changes had to happen on the fly if a boat couldn’t sail or a location was inaccessible or if the weather wasn’t right. Many times, we would either walk or sometimes climb.
The sweat would pour off us as we lugged all the gear on our backs even if it was freezing. Everyone fell down into bogs. I even fell into a loch dragging up a canoe. I just changed my shirt and socks and got on with it. Deals for access and items were worked out with the locals. Everything was high-stakes in the best of ways.
The Isle of Skye (where we shot) is beautiful, otherworldly, savage, and unpredictable. The weather is its own beast that can turn on you in an instant. It was the perfect location to reflect certain conflicts and dynamics within The Neolith story. Locations were set atop mountains. In actual lochs themselves or even wild pools. I used many boggy heathlands, green glens, and ex-volcanic black beaches. Large burning fires were set alight in the dead of night and real weapons used.
I loved every second of it. There was no fear at all. Creatively it was a big adrenaline rush. I couldn’t help but think what it must have been like for people to do these things for real. I’d love to do it again on an even larger scale. I’d create a cinematic monster!
Credit: Daniel Boocock
As a film, The Neolith is actually an allegorical tale. On the surface, it’s a direct kind of story with lots of dread, threat, and atmosphere, savages on the rampage doing as they please, though conflict festers amongst them as they come across something which poses a direct challenge. I didn’t want to make a typically standard blood-and-guts type of short. Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of that as an implication ,but if you look at The Neolith a little deeper, particularly from the outset, then you’ll spot that there’s lots of symbology and room for interpretation. Even from the very first frames.
The sparks, the sounds, the looks on characters' faces, the land, clouds, colors, music, darkness, and light throughout. It all implies something as an undercurrent for the audience to interpret in their own way. That approach from me was one hundred percent intentional. The Neolith is a very filmic piece with a little bit of mystery. It has scale and set pieces, though at times it can be intimate. As a viewer, you can take it one way or look at it in another.
Credit: Daniel BoocockThere were many highlights, having several close friends and family on Skye alongside me was great to share the experience with and see it all come to life. After the shoot, many esteemed critics loved the film. I had some memorable screenings with them but It’s a shame COVID hit when it did. Especially for filmmakers on the way up.
Stylistically The Neolith is totally different from other shorts. I wanted to change certain aspects of how shorts are typically identified and I’m happy with the result. My logic is, If this is what I can do with a little, imagine what I can do with more.
The Neolith sets the tone for the future and shows the potential of what can be done. I hope it motivates other filmmakers and film fans the way they have motivated me. There’s still a lot to do in terms of going forward, particularly in terms of hitting the highest levels. Though what I do know for certain is that on the right platform, with adequate resources and the correct personnel… cinematically speaking, I’ll be able to swing with the best of them.
Credit: Daniel Boocock
Advice to filmmakers
You should take things to the limit and that bit further if you feel your story requires it. The Neolith needed that approach, and it was worth it.
Break rules. Or bend them to suit you. There is no challenge too big, even if the resources you have are modest. If the skill and will are there, then it can be done. A little can go a long way to look like a lot.
Not trying is the real danger. Avoid potential collaborators who give you bad vibes, go for it with ones you bond with.
Ultimately It all depends on how much you want it. None of the greats got anywhere by playing it safe. If it’s in you to do it, then you will, regardless of what happens. It may take time but as long as an authentic commitment is there from yourself and you make a couple of moves, sooner or later you’ll find your way.