Introduction by Michael

Back in early 2016, Matthew came up with an idea for his latest short film: a fantasy-drama, narrated by poem, about a young boy called Odilo Fabian who grows a girl out of the ground. 

Over the next few weeks, I developed Odilo Fabian’s story so it was book-ended by scenes between a terminally ill child and her mother as they desperately try to rediscover hope despite their difficult circumstances. At the same time, the fable at the centre of the story developed into a whimsical narrative about a young man called Odilo in a town called Doubt, who uses wishes and dreams to resurrect his lost love, Alice. 

Featuring singing plants, a beating human heart that grows out of tears, and a vast ensemble cast, making Odilo Fabian or (The Possibility of Impossible Dreams) was always going to be a challenge.

Over the past three years, Matthew and I have tried to face that challenge head-on; there have been setbacks, budgetary constraints, and quite a lot of hard work – but we’re proud to share the film at long last. 

Writing the script by Michael

Odilo’s script quickly became personal for us. At the time of writing, it was our first project together. I was fresh out of university whilst Matthew had just finished his successful Stephen King adaptation, I Am The Doorway.

Without realising it, we wrote Odilo for ourselves. We were just getting going making films together, and the story was a reminder that faith is what gets you through the difficult moments. 

That message spoke to other readers too, and we soon gathered some international attention. Odilo was nominated for Best Script at the Birmingham Film Festival and won Best Screenplay at the California Film Awards and The American Film Awards.

Its crowning achievement, however, was a nomination for the Austin Screenwriters Competition in 2017. Austin Film Festival is one of the biggest festivals in the world; the competition had 9,000 entrants, and Odilo Fabian finished in the top 5 of the short film category.

It was absolutely unbelievable to fly over to Austin, Texas and we had the best two weeks possible. We were totally immersed in film (and food – so much food from Chick-Fil-A to BBQ brisket) and we got to see and hear from some of the people in Hollywood we admire most. Christina Hodson, who wrote Bumblebee. Martin McDonagh was also a highlight when attending the Austin Premiere of ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Most of all for me, I got to meet Shane Black – I mean, I got a selfie with one of my all-time favourite writer-directors. The whole trip was worth it for that.

We made great friends who we’re still in touch with and even though Odilo didn’t take home the ultimate prize, our script’s success in Austin set the stage for assembling an all-star cast.

Assembling the cast by Matthew

We started production on the film’s bookend scenes between the mother and her child. We cast Kacey Ainsworth (Grantchester, EastEnders) alongside Isabelle Allen (Les Miserables). 

It was an absolute delight to work with them. Much of the feedback we’ve received from festivals has centred around the emotional pull of their storyline, and Michael and I were delighted with their performances and delivery of the material.

Next in production was the main section of the film: Odilo and Alice’s story. Luke Brandon-Field, who had worked with me on I Am The Doorway and has since starred in Jojo Rabbit, took the title role whilst Louisa Connolly-Burnham (Call The Midwife, Wolf Blood) stepped in as Alice. They really worked well together to get our vision across.

“The most immediate thing that comes to mind is that Matthew and Michael both allowed me the freedom to work on Odilo’s character,” says Luke. “That helped me discover tidbits and idiosyncrasies regarding his manner and inner thought process. As an actor to get a script that is so richly developed in image and ideology and then to be given the autonomy to develop in a communicative cooperative process with the creatives was magical and thus really enhanced my experience of filming the movie.

“Michael’s rich script and dreamy story telling with my confidence in Matthew’s technique and professionalism made me fall for Odilo immediately. To top it off working with Louisa and rounding off the cast with the likes of Hugh Bonneville, Kasey Ainsworth and Patrick Bergin’s never seemed out of place nor far-fetched. When the Rowneys want something they make it happen.”

The cast was rounded out with turns from Shefali Chowdhury (Harry Potter) and Jon Campling (Final Fantasy IV) as well as Patrick Bergin (Sleeping with the Enemy). It was really exciting to work with Patrick; he has a rich history in Hollywood and shared some great stories. He really helped to beef up the presence of the townspeople, which was quite a difficult aspect of the film to nail down.

The hardest part of the casting process was finding the right voice for our narrator. As Michael mentioned, the entirety of the Odilo Fabian fable is narrated by poem and the role required an authoritative voice.

We wanted someone recognisable and Hugh Bonneville was one of the first names we considered but never dreamt that he would say yes. Needless to say, he was a top professional who engaged with the script from the get-go.

I recall us doing several takes and giving Hugh the thumbs ups, but he raised his hand and said he could do it better. The passion and dedication he showed was incredible, it was a real learning experience.

Below you can listen to Kacey Ainsworth on BBC Radio with Aled Jones discuss Odilo. We were so humbled that she talked about our little project in her interview:

Shooting the film by Matthew

To say that the production process of Odilo opened my eyes to new techniques and areas I’d like to improve is an understatement. I’ve always tried to be ambitious with the scope of my films. The art direction in my shorts has always been important to me and I’m good at working within tight budgets and filling the gaps with sheer will and determination, whether it be carrying a three metre boat across Salisbury town centre or wheeling a stack of four boxes on a wheel chair from Burgess Hill to Brighton. I’ve done it all so that my films look how I want them to. 

Odilo was the first time that I really felt the restrictions of a tight budget though. It was self-funded, and that presented difficulties when we were building a fantastical world. 

The logistics of filming were the most trying aspect of the production. Generally speaking, an independent film shoot would aim to complete eight pages of script per day. We had 3 days to complete thirty-one pages. On day one, we filmed from 9am to 10pm; we faced multiple issues with battery life and electricity outages but the team stayed focused and passionate about delivering their best possible work.

I do think those constraints forced us to be creative though and most of all, it led to some incredible things. Patrick Bergin came on board through reshoots and worked with us because he believed in the project and our work. Smaller roles, such as Odilo’s parents, were filled by the kindness of our friends and family; Susan and Graham Fleet, close friends of Michael, stepped in to help finish those scenes. 

Making a film, even one that’s twenty minutes, can be hard graft; making friendships and lasting memories makes it worth it. We can’t say thank you enough to everyone who went above and beyond to get this film made.

Editing the film by Matthew

To complete the film, we used some compositing and CGI effects. It helped lift the fantasy elements, which we felt were a bit limited when we watched the rushes. It was frustrating at times that we had to compromise and change elements of a script because of money, especially when that script was award-winning. It was necessary though, and we were focused on delivering the best possible film with the resources we had. 

Elliot Reilla, who graded the film, had an especially challenging job. “This film was shot on two cameras, one being the RED Weapon and a Sony A7s iii,” Elliot says. “Really these two cameras have very different colour profiles and this was both helpful and challenging. “Overall, we wanted the whole film to sit together nicely, and matching those two profiles is tricky. We initially talked about the film being much softer, mainly when it comes to light. But the process of matching these two pushed us to lean the film in a slightly more contrasted place.

“Overall it was a pleasure working with Matthew, he was great, I think we ended on a really strong note and I’m happy with the work we did. The depth of the rushes from the RED Camera was a gift when working on this film. A lot of deep greens and that pinky wash really brings it all together. The costume in film was also so helpful in bringing that colourful, very magical feel to it. We ended up warping a lot of the plants in the greenhouse to really sell the botanist feel, making them richer and unconventional colours. Those scenes still stand to me, and they’re probably my favourite shots.”

Final thoughts by Michael

Ultimately, Odilo Fabian or (The Possibility of Impossible Dreams) showcases some fantastic work from people we loved working with. The music is sensational, the acting first-rate, the make-up and costume is brilliant, and we love that we had the opportunity to bring our idea from script to screen for people to see.

Budgetary constraints did hamper the production process a little bit and, at times, our excitement too. But I have to really credit Matthew for his endless perseverance, and his ability to rally people together. There must have been 50 or more people involved with this project, and Matthew shepherded them towards the finish line. To risk sounding repetitive, we are very grateful to everyone who helped get this made. 

Of course, there’s no film in existence that finishes exactly how it started – the initial vision of the scriptwriter is never exactly what the audience sees. Even then, when the audience views the film, the story no longer belongs to the filmmakers. Different people take different things away from the same piece of work. 

In the end, what we created with Odilo Fabian is as close as we could get to our vision at the time. We’re proud of it and in a way, that fits perfectly with the message of our little film: even in the face of challenges, keep believing and always, always keep dreaming. 

You can watch Odilo Fabian or (The Possibility of Dreams) on Amazon Prime Direct now.