By Martin Bourassa & King Padmore / March 11, 2021  

An Interview with Darren Hall

The writer/director/star of THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON discusses the behind-the-scenes process of creating his much-anticipated interactive sci-fi film.

FMV WORLD: Hello Mr. Hall and thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions today.

Darren Hall: You're more than welcome! I'm delighted to have been asked to participate in this.

Could you tell us about how Tayanna Studios came to be?

The idea of starting my own little indie game studio came to me years ago, and I mean years ago. I'm talking around 1995 when I used to sit at home as a teenager and be coding away in Visual Basic - or at least attempting to! The internet was just becoming a 'thing' and I'd been enjoying the classics like Monkey Island, Phantasmagoria 1 and 2, The 7th Guest, The 11th Hour etc., when I realised that's what I wanted to do professionally - make games.

I'd been toying around with basic code since I was around 5 or 6 on the ZX Spectrum back in the '80s and the feeling you'd get from creating something — even if it's simply a tiny block moving from one side of the screen to the other — was incredible to me. I knew I wanted to create games for the rest of my life.

To me, you just couldn't beat sitting yourself down in front of your computer with a nice warm cup of tea or coffee on a dark night and getting lost in an engaging game, particularly a point & click and/or FMV game. As the years passed, and the older I got, this idea of my own little game company wouldn't go away. So, in the early 2010s I took the plunge!

Your first game, Calm Waters, was a traditional point-and-click video game. What made you decide to try your hand at FMV?

My main interest in games has always been the storytelling and narrative. This is why I was hooked on the games I previously mentioned - they all had rich stories (some more so than others). FMV is perfect for creating these narratives with wonderful characters.

It wasn't really until the rebirth of FMV with Contradiction: Spot The Liar! that I thought, "Hang on...this game REALLY works. They've made FMV wonderful again." As a fan of FMV I actually thought, "Why don't I make an FMV myself?" It seemed so obvious that I was amazed I'd never thought of it before, especially since I already had experience with filmmaking from my college days AND knew how to code a game. The two both clearly go hand-in-hand. Even to this day I'm shocked I never thought of it sooner!

In 2018, when you were in pre-production for The Dark Side of the Moon, you were quoted as saying, "I'm a one-man band trying to make a pretty good game." Was there anyone you wanted with you as part of this new challenge?

Back then it was just me, because the people I knew didn't know about or simply weren't interested in the production of video games; they'd rather just play them, and that's fine, but I never really had anyone to talk to about that side of things.

Now it's different. The person I'm closest to is my good lady wife, Lindsey. Lindsey had never played an FMV when we first met - but boy has that changed now! I think I'd have divorced her if she wouldn't have played them (laughs). Joking aside, the person I want by my side on this adventure now is her. She's actually the co-owner of Tayanna Studios — she came up with the actual name, which is a combination of our two children's names, Taylor and Annalise. She's always there to offer advice and say the right things if I have a mental block and is absolutely amazing at coming up with ideas. She's truly wonderful.

Tayanna Studios now though is far from a one-man band. We have Jordan Brown, who plays "Julian" in The Dark Side of the Moon and Kim Shepherd, who's been wonderful behind the scenes. Both Rupert Booth and Anarosa Butler are also part of the team now too, which is absolutely amazing!

Where did the idea for The Dark Side of the Moon come from? Were you inspired by certain games, FMV-related or otherwise?

Personally, I've always been a fan of - and PLEASE still be my friend after this - Sierra's Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle of Flesh. Despite its many faults, there's something charming to me about that game; something so engaging that I admired. Out of all the FMV games I played back in the '90s, that's the one that sticks out most to me. I think subconsciously the sci-fi elements of that have wormed their way into my wacky brain and were possibly some of the inspiration for The Dark Side of the Moon.

There's also my personal fascination with UFOs, aliens, and the unknown in general. I'm a huge UFO nerd and am constantly watching documentaries on the subject. I've always been attracted to that kind of mysterious stuff; it leaves so many options for storytelling. What if they are real? What if they do have hidden bases on the dark side of the moon? I find that the creation of the best fictional stories always begin with that one single question: "What if?"

Was it your love of UFOs and aliens that drew you to the science-fiction genre?

Ironically, I'm not a massive sci-fi fan. That sounds like I'm contradicting (no pun intended!) myself. Sure, I like my documentaries on UFOs and aliens but when it comes to general entertainment it's never really held my attention, apart from Phantasmagoria 2, which was more of a thriller up until the end. Dark Side itself very much plays out like a TV drama/thriller in the first two acts before the 'fun' happens, which I was very careful not to show too much of in the trailer.

Could you tell us more about what to expect from the game?

When people ask me this I've found myself saying the same thing lately: Expect to have fun.

The main theme of children being abducted is something that isn't generally considered 'fun', obviously, but I like to think we've managed to weave in pathos and humour and made it work. It doesn't take itself too seriously. It's just a fun ride with a lot of heart, which is always important to me.

From a gameplay perspective the player should expect to be going on an unexpected journey full of twists and surprises, hidden tunnels, secret messages, and cryptic puzzles. I really hope you'll all like it!


In your opinion, what will the fans be most surprised about?

I think they'll be most surprised about Rupert Booth's performance as Gedeon. He's a terrifyingly fun character who will have you laughing one moment and uncomfortably disturbed the next. I also think they'll be pleasantly surprised by how loveable Anarosa Butler is as Alyx (with a "y").

I'm also excited to see people's reactions to the interface itself because it's very much point-and-click AND interactive movie in certain moments where quick decisions present themselves and your choices count. I'm not sure if that's ever been blended in that way before.

You assembled quite a cast of well-known FMV figures for your game.

Rupert Booth and Anarosa Butler, yes! I KNEW I wanted to work with those two from when I first saw them in Contradiction. I remember saying to my wife, "We're working with these two. We need these two." And we made it happen! You just know when you see certain performers that they're perfect for the roles. I'm so humbled that they agreed to be a part of this adventure.

What are the biggest challenges when creating an FMV game?

I think the biggest challenge is how much time it takes up and how extremely tiring it all is. I still work a full-time job, self-employed (which gave me a slight advantage) but having to work AND film/code/promote at the same time is a huge strain both mentally and physically. In fact, when I was shooting a final scene we had to actually call it for the day as I was blacking out from exhaustion on set. Those scenes before I was passing out are actually being used in the game as the scenes called for Dean to be physically and mentally exhausted in that moment. I shouldn't have actually told you that; you would have thought it was just amazing acting!

Working as an indie developer and not an actual large team has its advantages but it also has a lot of disadvantages. It's been a fun but very tiring shoot.

How long did it take to shoot the game?

It took just under a year because of my work responsibilities and commitments as a father and husband, plus some of the cast and crew could only be there on certain days/weekends, etc. Hopefully any future games will be much more streamlined.

I have heard that sequels are in the works for The Dark Side of the Moon. If you were given an unlimited budget, what would your dream sequel look like?

I have an idea for a sequel and possibly a third. I'd never 'milk it' because Dark Side has become such a passion project to me. It's my baby. I know that sounds cliché but I have such a love for those characters, the village it's set in and indeed the universe in which they live.

Having a huge budget initially sounds like a dream come true but I think the heart of Dark Side was born from the fact that we didn't have a large budget. It's very much an exercise in character building and having an unlimited budget with fancy effects and over-the-top action sequences would possibly distract from that. That's not to say that there's no effects or action in Dark Side, but with an unlimited budget it has potential to drift away from the initial premise - the essence of what Dark Side is all about would be lost. I think even with a large budget I'd still keep the sequels the same in tone to the original.

During this project, you wore many hats: writer, director and actor. Which hat is your favorite?

I've actually enjoyed them all. Rupert asked me something similar a bit ago and at the time I said I prefer the writing and directing - being behind the camera - but thinking about it again recently, I did really enjoy the acting part.

I've acted previously, so it wasn't new to me, but it was wonderful to have Anarosa sitting down with me and giving me tips which I took note of. I like to think it shows in the finished product. She's such an extremely talented actress and a lovely person.

As long as people believe in and feel for my character of 'Dean Hamilton' then I'll go to sleep a happy man!

What part of this unique experience will stay with you the most?

The friendships created; that tremendous feeling of now being friends with people who you idolise. It's surreal in such a beautiful way.

On their last day of filming, both Rupert and Anarosa had to say goodbye to us. They'd been stopping over at the local hotel and in our house so we all became very attached and had such fun. Memories were being made every second, which doesn't happen in my life often enough, so it was so emotionally trying to see them go that I cried. A 39 year-old man and I was crying like a baby! Being the wonderfully warm and amazing people they are, I was immediately sandwiched by them both in the most memorable cuddle I think I'll ever have!

That moment will stay with me forever.  ★

Darren Hall can be seen in THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON available now.

Follow Darren on Twitter. Visit the official website for more information.

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