Stewart Sparke Talks The Creature Below
Stewart Sparke Exclusive Interview
The Creature Below will release via On Demand and DVD the 28th of February 2017. The
film is courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures. This upcoming Horror, Science Fiction film is best summed as a creature feature theme. Yet, there is more to the film than a basic premise.
Earlier this month we provided a review of the film. In this, our extended coverage, we present our exclusive interview with Stewart Spake. Sparke served as director and co-wrote The Creature Below.
The in-depth interview is divided into the following categories
• Creature Concept – Stewart Sparke offers valuable insight on the creature design. Revealed are the Influence on the concept. The special effects team that made it come alive on-screen is also delivered.
• Production -Sparke provides a wealth of information on CGI and its inclusion in the film. The cast and their contributions toward the film. Also discussed were the challenges of on-location filming.
• Narrative- The interview concludes with a view of the story narrative. Sparke offers his opinion on mankind pursuit of the unknown.
Stewart Sparke: You can find the film on Facebook at and follow on Twitter. Also as Dark Rift Films moves forward with more films in the future please keep an eye on our Facebook page and follows us on Twitter.
3. Creature concept
DecayMag: The creature concept and backstory is it an homage to H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu?
Stewart Sparke: Yes! It was early on whilst myself and writer Paul Butler were coming up with the story for the film that I introduced Paul to the works of Lovecraft and we both got really excited about drawing on the mythos for our film’s creature. I’m a huge fan of stories like Call of Cthulhu and Shadow over Innsmouth so a chance to bring a bit of that madness to our film was too good to pass up!
DecayMag: What is it about the allure of Cthulhu that serves as the definitive inspiration to the species in The Creature Below?
Stewart Sparke: Cthulhu, like Lovecraft’s other creations, was really appealing to us because beings such as these provoke such unfathomable terror when you really start to consider their existence.
I love horror stories that deal with unnameable creatures that have powers far beyond our comprehension. Just knowledge of their very existence has the power to terrify and make you think about your own place in this universe and can drive one to madness. Those are the horror stories that really scare me, not big jump scares and loud bangs.
Cthulhu has this great mystery about him and the power to incite a deep, foreboding dread and by drawing on these elements as inspiration for our creature we feel it gave us a much better starting point for creating our own mythology.
DecayMag: The Creature concept, can you share some of the talents that designed the many stages seen of the species in The Creature Below?
Stewart Sparke: So many talented people were behind the creature. Comics artist Lee Lightfoot did some great preliminary concept artwork based off a few of my ideas to start with. I wanted that Cthulhu feel that this was something beyond our comprehension but it had to start out like a believable creature from the sea so Lee drew some great concepts from the egg to the adolescent creature and eventually the more mature version. Our Practical Creature Effects team made up of Neil Stevens and Paul Wilkins then took these designs and put their own spin on it, working them into something that could actually become a practical puppet and interact with the cast. Visual Effects artist Jeff Blyth also had a great deal of input on how the creature should look for a few brief CGI shots in the film but overall we wanted to keep it an old school practical effect.
DecayMag: The creature is mostly offered with practical effects. Why the choice of this visual method instead of CGI?
Stewart Sparke: Myself and Paul are both huge fans of 80’s & 90’s creature features like Gremlins, Tremors, and The Thing and those films worked so well because the monsters were real, tangible things that felt alive on the screen.
We knew that having a real monster on set dripping with slime and grabbing the actors was essential to making it not only believable but also honoring what had come before.
Whilst we have some CGI shots in the film these were only used when a practical effect was beyond our capabilities and so we end up with a living, breathing creature that we hope you can actually believe could eat you alive!
DecayMag: The Creature below offers a rich CGI visual experience. What were some limitations (aside from a real creature) to production that was solved by using CGI?
Stewart Sparke: When writing the script we knew it was important that we show, not tell and Olive’s dive into the depths of the ocean to discover the creature was a key element we wanted the audience to share with her. Budget and skill limitations (this was our first feature film after all) meant that shooting our actress underwater was not possible and neither was creating another practical creature that could be shot submerged.
CGI is a tool that should always serve the story, never the other way around.
Jeff Blyth, who is a Visual Effects Artist based in LA kindly agreed to create some CGI shots for the opening of the film and on his advice we shot some live action elements of our actress Anna Dawson in a practical diving suit to be composited into Jeff’s underwater scenes. I’m really happy with how these came together and hopefully audiences will get a kick out of our journey into the depths. There are also a lot of subtle things hidden throughout the film that have some CGI which enhances a few creature scenes and really compliments the practical creature effects.
DecayMag: One of the highlight contributions were the cast. How did everyone come aboard on the project?
Stewart Sparke: We were very lucky to get such a great cast together for the film. Anna Dawson (Olive) and Michaela Longden (Ellie) tested extremely well together during auditions and we knew they would be believable siblings on screen as well as have the fortitude to perform some really grueling scenes in the film. The raw emotions they are both able to bring out during a scene are spectacular and we couldn’t be happier that they decided to join the cast. Daniel Thrace (Matt) is a longtime friend of ours and we had previously cast him in three short films and knew we had to have him on board right from the start. He had previously played a soldier in a First World War short film we made years earlier and that character demanded a rich emotional performance and Dan knocked it out of the park so we knew he could play the conflicted and sympathetic Matt in The Creature Below. The rest of the cast we found through an open casting call and we were absolutely delighted to find Johnny Vivash (Dara), Zach Lee (Fletcher), David Shackleton (Herbert) and Libby Wattis (Mrs. Jones) to round out our amazing cast. Each of them brought their own enthusiasm and really sunk their teeth into the characters.
DecayMag: Olive’s home appears small. How challenging was it to film in such confined quarters, especially the basement?
Stewart Sparke: Shooting the majority of the film was a big challenge. Myself and Paul actually used our own homes as Olive’s house and so shooting caused quite a lot of disruption in our home lives for two weeks. My flat is very small so we had equipment bags and crew filling up every inch and things got very tight indeed. We certainly got to know each other really well by the end of it! As for Olive’s basement laboratory, that was actually our production office which was a basement we had been renting for a number of years. You could only comfortably fit about six people in there so it became quite claustrophobic during the shoot.
This was all part of the learning experience though and very valuable in our development as filmmakers.
We had to think very carefully about camera and light placement as well as blocking scenes within the confined space. Again, as our first feature film we used what we had available to us and I’m sure many other first time filmmakers have done the same. It’s not what you have but how you use it!
DecayMag: Most directors scoff a the notion of a sequel. On how The Creature Below ends there seems to be an open door for a sequel. What are your sentiments about a sequel?
Stewart Sparke: You certainly could make a sequel to the film with the threads we laid out at the very end and I would love to explore the world we set up further, perhaps from another perspective. If the film was Alien then a sequel would have to be Aliens, much more action packed and on a grander scale and build upon the core mythology set up in the first one.
That said, I wouldn’t make a sequel to the film as myself and Paul have many, many ideas for other films that we are absolutely desperate to show to the world. The Creature Below is just the beginning!
DecayMag: Is it safe to say, based o the narrative for The Creature Below that human emotion (jealousy, greed, envy) is the real mutation?
Stewart Sparke: You can certainly say that! Even in the face of an unimaginable discovery that blows open her entire world, Olive can’t suppress her innate humanity. These emotions are raw and overpowering and part of what makes us human. The creature Olive discovers is beyond these primitive emotions; it’s true drives and desires are far beyond her comprehension and ours.
DecayMag: The Creature Below also touched on mankind’s obsession with the unknown, especially in nature. Please share your thoughts is mankind at times, opening Pandora’s box?
Stewart Sparke: I personally find the unknown intriguing but also terrifying. When you see these photographs and videos of bizarre and otherworldly creatures they are finding deep in our oceans it makes you think what else could be lurking down there or even out in the vastness of space beyond our planet.
It is certainly arrogant for humanity to believe that we truly understand the universe and particularly our place on our own planet.
In the film, Olive truly believes she is fully in control of what she is doing. This hubris drives every decision she makes and the consequences are shown loud and clear. This is very much a reflection of mankind as a whole and I believe that with any new discovery we must move cautiously because once the box is open, it’s very hard to close. This, of course, gives storytellers so much to explore and is a theme I hope to explore again in future films.