Behind the Scenes
An Interview with the Directors
Ian and Dominic Higgins
Tell me about yourselves.
Dominic: We were born and raised in Birmingham in the UK where we started our own design and illustration business. In 2003, we decided to fulfill a lifelong ambition and set up our own independent film production company producing short films.
Did you grow up Catholic?
Ian: Yes, our family has an Irish Catholic background and we were educated in Catholic schools.
Is The 13th Day your first feature-length film?
Ian: Yes, The 13th Day is our debut feature; previously our films had been no longer than 20 minutes!
What inspired you to make The 13th Day?
Dominic: Originally The 13th Day started off as a privately commissioned short film project which was to be a reconstruction of the actual miracle of the sun. It was a project that sprang from the devotion our investor (Leo Hughes) has to Our Lady of Fatima.
We were initially approached by the Producer (Natasha Howes) after she had seen some of our short films, which were currently doing the rounds in various film festivals. She felt that our visual style and our sensibilities would make us the right choice for this project.
When we were asked if we would like to get involved, we said ‘yes' immediately. We only vaguely knew the story of Fatima, but for some reason it resonated with us.
Ian: Once we started digging into the research we knew that this had to be a feature-length film. We spoke to the investor and convinced him that we needed to tell the story behind Fatima. There is so much more to Fatima than just one monumental event. The miracle of Fatima didn't just happen on the 13th of October in 1917. We were very lucky to have both a very supportive producer who shared our vision and an investor who was willing to take a huge leap of faith with us.
Other films have been made on the miracle of Fatima, why did you decide to make a new one at this time?
Ian: The time was right for a new telling of the story. Fatima still speaks to a modern world. It's a message that is even more relevant today than it was 90 odd years ago.
Dominic: For us, the previous film adaptations don't seem to do justice to the story. We wanted to create something that would touch a modern film savvy audience, speak to them. Today we have the means to create something on screen that wasn't possible a few years ago.
Stylistically, this film is quite innovative. Was there a particular mood or atmosphere that you were aiming for?
Ian: Our background is art and design. We've always been very visual filmmakers, but when you don't have much money you're forced to think creatively around problems. This is how we approached all the big effects shots in the film – problems that needed a creative solution as opposed to money being thrown at them.
Dominic: In creating the visual style of the film, we wanted to ‘paint a thousand words' with every frame. Our approach was to look at it as painters and tell the story through the visuals and like most paintings, the more you look, the more you see.
Dominic: Our aim in creating the look of the film was to tell the story on many different levels, the visuals being one.
While black and white not only helps create a sense of the period, it also conveys a particular perception of the world where so much is hidden. Only when the children are connecting to that spiritual light do we glimpse a world of color.
Ian: The idea of predominantly using black and white came after reading the countless eyewitness accounts of the Miracle of the Sun. They all describe the changing vivid colors. We knew that we had to set the story in a black and white world where color is a precious and rare gift. There are a lot of subliminal themes worked in through the visuals and in the sound.
We also made extensive use of "green-screen" technology. This is where you film an actor against a green backdrop and then, using special software, remove all the green in the image. You then end up with a transparent background so you can superimpose the actor into a different scene. An example of this is the shot where Mrs. Santos (Jane Lesley) is praying in the church. She was filmed against a green-screen and then added into a shot of a church interior.
What challenges did you face in the filming?
Ian: We faced numerous challenges during the whole process of making this film. Creating the scenes of the crowds was a big challenge. We created virtually all the effects ourselves and with a tight budget we were forced to think creatively. But of all the effects, what proved the hardest and the most testing was how do we portray Our Lady? The final effects are the results of months of experimenting with lighting, photographic and CG (computer generated) techniques.
Dominic: On location working with hundreds of extras most of whom did not speak English was also a challenge; fortunately we had a good production team in place and the unfailing patience and support of the locals.
One of the beautiful things about this film is that it was filmed on location. How did that go?
Ian: Although filming on location brought many benefits, it wasn't without its difficulties. There were language problems to overcome, working with hundreds of extras who speak a different language is no small feat. Thankfully, we had a great production team in place and the unfailing patience and support of the local people which helped everything run a lot smoother.
Dominic: A lot of the locations also presented sound issues such as local traffic noise and the odd farmer's tractor to work around. In fact, unwanted background noise was a continuous problem that plagued the entire production process, even the interior shoots. The interior sets were built in the UK, just outside Birmingham, and right next to the M40 motorway! This meant that although some location sound was good, a lot of the dialogue had to be re-recorded later in a sound studio.
The soundtrack/music for the film works well with the images. How important was that to your vision of the film?
Ian: With sound you can speak to people on a subliminal level, it's a very powerful tool for enhancing what you see on the screen. Through music you can inspire, unnerve, or move people to tears. The marriage of sound and image is what excites us the most when we set about bringing a story to life.
How important was research for this project?
Ian: The 13th Day is a dramatization of actual events and most of the characters that appear in the film actually existed, so research was crucial from that point of view. From day one, everyone on the team was committed to realizing this film in such a way that it kept as true to the actual events as possible. We found so many great ideas for a scene, hiding away in the pages of an old book while researching the script. It's like digging for gold. There are so many fantastic nuggets of information buried away, just waiting to be re-discovered. It's a really exciting part of the process.
Dominic: Yes, research was the key to every element on this film. In fact, it was during our initial research trip to Fatima that we decided most of the exterior locations had to be filmed there. There is a uniqueness to the place that goes beyond the rugged topography of the landscape and we wanted to capture that feeling, that atmosphere, on camera.
Ian: Thanks to trips such as this, we were also able to bring back plenty of video/photographic reference material for the interior scenes such as Lucia's house, which is still perfectly maintained as a living museum.
What do you feel is the most important message of Fatima?
Dominic: There is a line in the film which is a quote from Sister Lucia's memoirs in which she states, "I am told there is a language in the world in which the word Fatima means peace." In Fatima we find a peace plan and a truth that is universal, it speaks to everyone, regardless of your belief system or your faith.
What do you want viewers to take from the film?
Dominic: If people walk away from this film asking themselves "What if?" then we have done our job.
Ian: We want the film to give people hope that the world does not always have to be such a cynical place.
In making the film, were there any surprises? Did you learn anything new about the apparitions at Fatima that you didn't know when you started the project?
Ian: A lot of things happened during the making of this film, some were surprises while others were more revelations. Firstly, we learned that we had indeed a personal connection to Our Lady of Fatima. Our Grandmother, who passed away shortly before we began work on the film belonged to the parish of Our Lady of Fatima in Birmingham (UK) and we had ourselves attended mass there when we were very young.
Dominic: It gets stranger; the road the church is built on is called Higgins Lane.
Our producer Natasha Howes' Birthday falls on the 13th of May. In fact the number 13 was a re-occurring theme during the entire production.
Ian: We definitely feel like we've received a lot of help while making this film. We've encountered many struggles and setbacks, but we've always managed to overcome whatever's been standing in our way or been holding us back.
Dominic: The whole experience has been very grueling and has been a lot hard work. But, it's been magical.
Ian: As for what we learned through all the research, scripting and filming process we did get to know the people behind the story and they are what give the story of Fatima such an endearing and emotional quality.
Dominic: One of the most important things for me that I learned while making this film was that the true miracle of Fatima didn't happen in the skies over a field in Portugal, it happened inside the hearts of thousands of believers and non-believers and that was the lighting or re-lighting of a spiritual flame that spread out from that field and out across the world and it's still spreading today.
What relevance do the apparitions of Mary at Fatima in 1917 have for believers and non-believers today?
Ian: We're almost a hundred years on from the apparitions at Fatima and the world is no closer to peace. Why are we stuck on this endless cycle of destruction? We have been given a warning and only we (humanity) can put into practice the peace plan that was delivered to three little children all those years ago.
What impact has making this film had on your own practice of the faith?
Ian: We've always been very spiritual, and in many ways making this film has made us even more so.
Dominic: A certain local bard said it best when he wrote, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."