Black Annis: Making a Monster (part 2)
The actual weather as John and Päären set off on a gear trek
The actual weather as John and Päären set off on a gear trek

Don’t forget to enjoy Black Annis and read Part 1.

Beauty and the Bleak

As framed in my head, we’d shoot three different setups for Annis: In her cave; close-up and scary; climbing over rocks on her way to steal a child. The latter I posted yesterday; the other two are still being edited (but should be finished Real Soon Now).

Of course, Annis is a creature of the night – some versions of her legend have her turning to stone in the sunlight — so I wanted a dark and gloomy day. I didn’t want to shoot at night time, because there’s just no light to work with and it would be actively dangerous. Instead, I decided to shoot day-for-night, which in large part entails hoping for a gloomy day or making sure that pale blue sky doesn’t appear in your frame at all. Luckily, I got all the cloud, gloom and mist I could hope for.

The location for the shoot, chosen after scouting first on Google Maps, then on foot, and then on foot again with my 1st Assistant John Aldred (partly to sanity-check my thinking, partly to work out how we were going to actually light the shots), was in the Yorkshire Dales, near Settle. Specifically, we were going to shoot in Jubliee Cave, a small and fairly unremarkable cave system just north of Settle town itself, close enough to civilisation that we could give our model and MUA somewhere warm to work but far enough away for us to not have too many interruptions.


It took John, Päären and I three trips to get all the gear from the car up to the location. A 1 kilometre hike up a reasonable gradient hill, carrying quite a lot of heavy bags, boxes and equipment was enough to take the wind out of all of our sails, so we staggered the trips: one person would stay behind with the gear whilst the other two fetched the next load and so on. And all the time we were working, the weather was rolling in.

The monster in the mud

The first shots that we made, once Lynn and Kiera had joined us on location, were in the cave. It took us a while to get everything set up and dialled in. I wanted the cave to be lit as though by moonlight, but we found ourselves trying to decide from which side the moonlight should actually come. When John and I had scouted the location previously we’d set up lights to camera left, but the rocks on that side of the frame looked so cool that we tried moving our “moon” to camera right. In the end though, it caused us too many technical problems, so back to camera left, sandbagged to all hell, it went — as Päären demonstrates here.

Päären as Annis

By now, the weather was really rolling in. Rain – a persisten mizzle – was getting everywhere. We’d wrapped our lights with plastic bags to keep the worst off, and the TravelPak battery was wrapped in a sleeping bag – originally brought along to keep Keira warm – to keep it from dying.

We shot no more than ten frames before I’d got what I wanted. Partly this was because we’d spent so long working out how to shoot exactly what we were after, and partly it was because Keira was barefoot in cold, wet mud, not wearing much clothing, and getting drizzled on.

Surround yourself with awesome people

I love having smart, resourceful people on my team. Lynn is a fantastic makeup artist, and without her Annis would never have come to be. Keira is an absolute trooper as a model, and she cares more about getting the shot than she does about her own comfort.

And the man who made it all work on the day; made sure that everyone was fed and watered and that Keira was kept warm; managed all the gear and made sure that I got exactly the images that wanted was John Aldred. On the day, he was absolutely immense, and thanks to him we had not only plenty of snacks to keep us going, but also a fire in the back of the cave to keep Keira and the rest of us warm. In fact, it almost got quite homely at one point.

John holds court by firelight in Annis's cave
John holds court by firelight in Annis’s cave