Updated: Jun 26, 2020
The first part of an ambitious Sci-Fi drama has been filmed in the middle of Sweden. The events of the film have their origin a summer day in 1947 and are inspired by the Roswell crash, the world's most famous UFO incident.
We have met the creator behind the project, Richard Tomson.
The Roswell incident is the most written-about and myth-enshrouded UFO event of all time. The story goes that a saucer-like spacecraft, manned by aliens, crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico, on the 5th of July, 1947. Sheep farmer William Brazel was the man who discovered the spacecraft on his land and reported the find to the local sheriff. According to the legend, the vehicle and the aliens were taken into charge of the American Defence Department and on behalf of the CIA who then covered up the entire affair. A sensational press release by the Roswell military airfield that a crashed UFO had been found was later withdrawn and replaced by an official explanation that what had been found was really the crashed remains of a secret reconnaissance balloon.
The coming Sci-Fi drama The Space Apart takes its inspiration from this story. But instead of being experienced by children.
Two brothers, 12-year-old Edward (played by Måns Henricsson) and 10-year-old William (Milo Kristiansson) live together with their father James (James Farmer) on a farm somewhere in New Mexico. One day while the boys are wandering around in a field, they discover a crashed UFO and stumble upon an injured alien whom they take home.
This is told to us by Richard Tomson, who has written, produced and directed the pilot episode of the series.
'The plan a series in five parts that describes how the meeting with this alien affects the boys' lives, from the time they are children until they are in their mid-60s.'
The first episode is about the day the boys meet the being from outer space and was recorded this summer in Sweden.
'The pilot episode is called Bob and gets its title from the name of the space creature. He is called Bob because in a scene where the boys give him some water to drink, he gargles something that sounds like 'Bob' in response to their question, “What is your name?”'
Jim Carrey kindled the dream of Hollywood.
Richard is born in Ängelholm, but grew up in Fagerhult in southern Sweden. As his everyday job, he sells outdoor furniture in the family concern together with his father.
'This means that I can be quite flexible and have time left over to do other things, for example, to work on films.'
Richard is a self-taught make-up artist and has previously been involved in a number of film projects.
'I produced a pair of bitten-off fingers and a bitten-off ear for Jonas Wolcher's Cannibal Fog (2014).'
His interest in film and theatre arose in primary school.
'As a boy, you are expected to like football and to be into sports. But I was more interested in theatre, I liked to horse around during lessons in school and to be in school plays all the way up to high school.'
It was in high school in Markaryd that Richard made the decision.
'I wanted to get to Hollywood. Jim Carrey was my great idol and I wanted to be exactly like him. After a manic period when I watched everything that he had made, I was convinced that I ought to also become an actor. It was a breathtaking insight when I understood that you could make a living and earn a high salary by being funny on film. To continue to study and end up in a mundane permanent job I thought sounded unbelievably boring.'
A new spark to make films
None of his classmates understood what Richard was on about.
'They thought I was wacky to dream about Hollywood. The only one who understood me was my friend Max Malmquist who wanted to become a rock star.
'We were two eccentric figures who dared to be different and to stick out from the rest with our crazy dreams.'
Richard had experimented a little with making his own short films and sketches at home.
'But the technical side hindered me. When I began, there were no mobile phones or digital cameras. I had to film with my grandfather's old video camera. It wasn't possible to edit afterward, rather I had to tape the scenes in chronological order. Film a scene, press Pause, and then set up and rig the next scene before we could continue. And it was tough having to do it all myself. Friends almost never had the time. They wanted to play sports and dedicated themselves to their own interests.'
Richard remembers that it was hard to continue.
'I became disappointed in that the filmed material didn't match my expectations, compared to how films looked on TV and videos. In the beginning, I was quite naive, but realized in the end that it requires so much more to make a film than just to have a story.'
Instead, he tried to apply for acting jobs in other productions. That was also a way of getting into the business. Acting didn't require any technical gadgets or demand desperate attempts to convince uninterested friends to participate. In that way Richard could get together with film people who were looking for like-minded people for their projects.
However, except for a few appearances in a number of amateur films and a small role in the Swedish comedy-thriller Fix and Numbers (2011) it was not to be for Richard.
'I was a little too wimpy then and to move to Stockholm where the larger roles and films were wasn't anything I felt interested in. Hollywood was more tempting, but it required money to go there. So in the end, I ended up on the treadmill with a mundane job.'
So the dream died a little then?
'Yes, you could say that. If you don't know someone in the field and if you live in the middle of nowhere like Fagerhult in Sweden it is difficult to go further. Social media didn't exist back then either, so it wasn't so easy to make contacts.'
Richard had to bite the bullet and take an ordinary job.
Later when I became a father, the dream of a life in Hollywood felt even more distant.'
But the desire to tell his own stories was great enough that Richard would make new attempts and continue to aim at getting film work in some way. That compulsion has also led to The Space Apart being in full swing today.
Fairy tale figure becomes genuine alien
It all began with a bedtime story, seven years ago. Richard was tired of reading the same books over and over again to his two kids.
'It was then that I had the idea of my own story about a couple of children who meet an alien. When my son and his half-brother asked what the alien looked like, I didn't know what to answer. You couldn't just google a picture of an alien. That would have scared them out of their wits, and I didn't want to do that,' he laughs.
Instead, Richard began to build his own creature from outer space, a life-sized bust with 'a quite neutral appearance', sculptured in clay.
'The kids were pleased to see what Bob looked like. But they had an objection: “He doesn't move.” That was the moment when I began to create a more detailed story. With time, the idea to make a film out of it arose.'
Richard points out that The Space Apart' doesn't specifically concern the Roswell crash.
'But the plot takes place in the same sort of world where another UFO has crashed and where the boys find another alien which only they know about. One reason that I didn't want to specifically place the story in Roswell is that we simply cannot recreate the settings here in Sweden. That would have forced us to use green screens and CGI and I would prefer not to do that. I prefer to work with traditional effects. Now the story takes place on a farm somewhere in the USA. The year is still 1947 and those who are a little knowledgeable can make the connection to the Roswell incident themselves.'
The idea to make a miniseries instead of a film developed afterward.
'The ambition was to tell the story from a longer perspective and really follow these boys throughout their lives. I recognized that it would be better to make a series rather than a feature film where you have to compress the characters' life destinies in a more contrived way. That is just about what happens when you make a film out of a book, you focus on the core of the story and you don't have the time to go really deep into the details or to develop the subtext, which often gets lost in a feature film adaption.'
Have you finished writing the script for the entire series?
'No, but I have the story in my head. I have written several of the key scenes but until now we have been entirely focused on finishing the first episode.'
The first episode is available for free as an audiobook at www.richardtomson.com. (There is also a teaser trailer there). But what began as a children's tale has developed into a noticeably more serious drama.
'A few people have pointed out that there is a certain similarity to the film Paul (2001) where Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play two comic-book nerds who come across an alien in the desert outside Area 51. But our story focuses more on drama, there isn't the same humor or the comical allusions to genre films and other pop culture.'
The film team expands
To bring a project like The Space Apart safely into harbor requires a whole band of diligent co-workers.
For many years Richard worked alone on the idea together with his friend Robin Andersson.
'He is the one who realized my visions and solved a lot of problems during our journey. And he is the one who has had the most patience with my crazy ideas, haha. Without him, I would never have come this far.'
As the project grew, more and more people became involved, mostly friends and friends of friends.
'To avoid ending up in a situation where you have a gang of friends who only meet and film when it is fun to do so and then everything dissipates out in the sand, we started an association. In that way, we had a little more of a serious image. Now we are a 'proper' production company and won't get lost as easily in the crowd of “cheerful amateur film-makers”.'
The core is a team of seven people.
'There is key personnel like a photographer (Jerry Gladh), a sound technician (Robin Andersson who also does the music for the series), a lighting designer (Joel Engqvist), a first assistant director (Fredrik Nielsen), a special effects designer (Lukas Pålsson), and a producer (Max Malmqvist). All have come to the project with the same goal – that we want to make films. We are cognizant that it is a gamble. No one knows what will happen or whether we will earn money with this project. The idea is to make as good a pilot episode as possible and to sell it to the public in order to obtain the financing for the rest of the series.'
The team has had weekly meetings and together discussed how to proceed in order to carry out the project,
'Everyone involved has volunteered with their time. We have financed the project through contributions from local businesses and from various sponsors. It doesn't involve any big sums, but people are interested and think that it is a cool thing. Everyone who wants to be involved can be involved in some way. Not everyone can be an actor, but many people are needed behind the cameras. And people think that it is cool that something like this is happening in this small community.'
With the world in their sights
The Space Apart is done in English and before the filming began, an open audition was held at the local arts center.
'Exactly 100 people came to the audition. It was a mixture of people, from seven-year-olds to pensioners.'
The reason for doing the series in English was of course because they were aiming at the international market.
'Sweden is too small for this type of series. And thanks to the fact that other Swedish film-makers have been successful abroad, it feels like it has become easier to be noticed, above all in the USA. They know that good films are being made in Sweden as well and that can also hopefully open doors for our project.'
Somewhere there is also the vague hope in Richard that they could perhaps even tempt Peter Stormare into the project.
'I don't know if it is possible but who knows? I shall make the attempt. In any case, there is a role for him.'
Richard became quite enthralled with Peter when he saw Hamilton (1998).
'Peter seems to be a cool and slightly eccentric figure, just like me, haha, And he is living my dream. He has taken himself from a little Swedish backwater all the way to Hollywood success.'
Do you still want to become an actor?
'The goal is to be able to work like Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, and Kevin Costner, who direct, produce, and act – without in any way comparing myself with them,' laughs Richard.
The '80's look rules
Richard loves '80s and '90s films.
'They have a special style that I miss today. It is the same tone that I want to achieve in The Space Apart, a mixture of E.T., Gremlins, The Goonies, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And with old-fashioned, traditional special effects.'
So it is really 'Old School' to the bone?
'Yes, on location, filming, I walked around with a t-shirt with the text 'Fix it in the post' crossed out. Everything I shot ought to be done right in front of the cameras, as they did in the past. I refused to listen to anyone who said “We can fix that on the computer afterward”. No, we fix it now, in front of the camera. That was my repeatedly answer,' laughs Richard and reveals that despite that, they have cheated a couple of times.
'There are actually two scenes where we used a green screen. We were up in a loft and needed to get Måns to balance on an unstable plank about four metres up in the air. I had to give in and we came to a solution on how to do it with less risk to the actors. Måns thought it wouldn’t be a problem to balance over the ledge. Had I asked him to do it, he wouldn't have hesitated. But his mother was present at every filming and didn't like the idea, so we had to shoot with the green screen in the end, haha.
'There was also a second scene where the green screen was needed because we wanted to have the children walking in front of our miniature UFO.
'To film the children in front of the model was technically impossible because it breaks the effect of getting the miniature to look large.'
Richard likes to experiment with practical special effects himself. Over the years, he has gone on a number of online courses at the Stan Winston School. (Stan Winston was the genius behind the special effects in, among other films, Terminator 2 Judgement Day, Aliens, and Jurassic Park).
Richard has also made a number of miniatures and figures that have been useful during the filming of The Space Apart. Among other things, he has made a full-sized animatronic bust of the alien Bob, which can move its eyes, jaws, and neck.
'The skeleton is cast in fibreglass. There are also separate parts like feet and skin made of silicone.'
Have you created all the effects yourself?
'I started out by doing all the practical things, but the digital ones Lukas in our team is responsible for. I also was in contact via Instagram with a guy in Gothenburg named Niklas Hermansson who runs FIXAS-Lifelike Creations, a company that works with animatronic figures (They have among other things worked on Alone in Space, 2018).'
Richard was fired up, not least when he heard that FIXAS had heard about his project and thought that it sounded exciting.
'So I traveled up to their studio and said hello. That ended with them being so interested in my vision that they offered to rebuild the puppet from the ground up.'
Richard 3D-scanned the puppet and sent it to Niklas who improved the anatomy.
'Anna Dalentoft at FIXAS then sculpted a new figure based on my design. She created the skin texture and even produced a pair of feet for the creature. Niklas and Anna afterward were present at filming as well. They handled all the 'puppeteering bits' and made Laurentsio Pettersson's hand up as well to match the puppet's appearance. Laurentsio has only four fingers so he is well suited to act the part of the alien in combination with an animatronic puppet.'
Flying Saucer in full scale
Richard has made his garage into a combination office, special effects workshop, and studio. He has also built his own design of a UFO there.
'It was nine metres long originally, but what I have built is a section of the vehicle that is 3.60 metres long and 1.5 metres high which stands out in the garden now. A problem was how to get it out of the garage, I didn't really think about the size of the garage doors when I built it. But it worked out with the help of a little effort and some helpful neighbors.'
The saucer also exists as a model in 1:24 scale which they used in some scenes while filming.
'We changed back and forth between the miniature saucer and the full-scale model. The reason I built a full-scale mode was in order to get close-ups with the children touching the UFO to look realistic.'
Scenes with the crashed saucer were also laborious.
'We filmed out in the middle of a large field where we had dug up a 30-metre long, 8-metre wide-furrow that the craft had plowed up. The saucer hung in a sky-lift and was to be placed at the end of the furrow. It was broiling hot and so windy that the UFO almost tipped over but I stubbornly decided to continue anyway. Towards the end, I think people were quite tired of me.'
Sometimes you need good fortune
The Space Apart is filmed with a Black Magic G2 4.6k with old Russian vintage lenses. This is so that the digital material would look analog and create that special '80s film feeling.
Richard didn't want merely to put on a digital filter in order to get that '80s graininess into the picture.
'That isn't enough. It should seem like it is filmed with real film. I have also talked with Skip Kimball who is the colorist on Stranger Things in order to get a few tips. And I think we have succeeded.'
The G2 camera in combination with the Russian lenses does the trick.
'Robin has even solved my problems with strengthening the analog look in post-production. So now we have that dirty '80s look with hair strands and corns of dust on some frames here and there.'
They filmed on a farm outside of Markaryd which was lent to them by the local council. That place turned out to be a gold mine in many ways, besides looking exactly as Richard had pictured it when he wrote the manuscript.
'The two sisters Michaela and Mathilda Johansson, who are neighbors, proved to be good seamstresses and so they have tailored all the clothes with a '40's style for the production.'
There is a dog in the manuscript, whom they also found at the Johanssons'.
'The rest of the team tried to convince me to write the dog out of the plot. They thought it was quite enough with two children as the protagonists. Everyone who works with film asserts that it is children and animals that are the hardest to direct. But both Måns Henricsson and Milo Kristiansson were fantastic and behaved like full-blooded professionals. And the dog did everything we required without the least difficulties. We nailed one of the key scenes with the first take.'
And their unlikely fortune continued.
'We needed a pair of older cars as well, a pick-up for the father and a police car for the sheriff. We all tried to get in contact with people who had old cars but no one seemed right. Then one day I told my father that we needed two cars for the scene we had planned to shoot in like three days. He took up his phone and made one call. And we magically had the perfect cars delivered by my father and his friend right in time for shooting.'
How will The Space Apart be released?
'First and foremost we are going to show the pilot episode at a gala premiere here at the local cinema for sponsors and everyone who has worked on the project. After that, the episode Bob will be uploaded on a streaming service.
'Which one, we don't know yet. But we will also upload the pilot on our site www.thespaceapart.com for free streaming in order to create a little 'buzz'. We will also market the project with a special Facebook page so that we can find our target audience.
Handpainted poster art like in the old days.
We have produced a fantastic film poster, hand-painted by Oskar Ankarudd, who has recreated the same feeling that made Drew Struzan's film posters so unique. Oskar was also found on Instagram and I loved his art the first time I saw it. So I contacted him and asked if he was interested and he understood right away what I wanted to make. I sent a sketch of my idea. And he sent back something truly amazing. I got the poster framed in my bedroom, so it’s the first thing I see when I open and close my eyes. I can’t wait to see what he creates for the rest of the series.'
Aiming for a premiere in 2020
They will possibly put the project up on Kickstarter in order to raise money. Richard names David Sandberg and his praised action-short film King Fury as a source of inspiration.
'He reached around $5M in his Kickstarter campaign and received an enormous amount of attention throughout the world, not least in Hollywood when he put the film on YouTube. Now he is making a full-length feature film version with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Fassbender.'
When we had this interview, the pilot episode had been rough cut and the team was doing the post-production work.
'We’ve done the music, sound effects and mixed the dialogue. That is the work that takes the most time. But we are counting on being ready with the first episode sometime in 2020.
An exact timetable for when the entire series will be finished doesn't exist yet. It depends a lot on the reception the pilot episode receives.
'But the idea is to try and raise a budget that covers the production costs and salaries for the entire rest of the series before we begin to film episode two. Hopefully, the pilot episode will attract both financiers and distributors,' finishes Richard Tomson.
On www.TheSpaceApart.com you can find current information about the series.
Source article in Swedish: https://hemmabiotidningen.se/nummer/e/2019/12/
Text: Thomas Nilsson
Translation: Sakari Lindhen & Robin Andersson
Photo: Joakim Sandström