Channel 4 and Netflix have headed into the heart of darkness with youth drama Kiss Me First, by using the same vintage anamorphic lenses used on Vietnam War feature Apocalypse Now. The series uses state-of-the-art computer-generated virtual world sequences to bolster the story of a teenage girl addicted to a fictional online gaming site called Azana. However, its live action moments have taken their influence from Francis Ford Coppola’s classic.
Director Misha Manson-Smith (Dancing on the Edge) explains this was a “risky” decision. “We tracked down the lenses used on Apocalypse Now, of which there are only a handful left in the world. There’s only one set of them in Europe, so we had to get an extra set shipped in from LA in case we broke one. They are really fiddly and slow to work with and so are rarely used, but they have a totally unique, magical, dreamlike quality that we thought would sit well in contrast to the pin sharp animated sequences.”
The TV series, which is based on Lottie Moggach’s debut novel, was created by Skins co-creator Bryan Elsey and produced by Kindle Entertainment and Balloon Entertainment. It tells the story of 17-year old Leila, who, while in Azana, meets Tess, a cool and confident party girl who harbours a dark secret. In the real world, the two girls become friends, but after Tess disappears Leila decides to assume her friend’s identity and in doing so is quickly drawn into unravelling the mystery behind her disappearance. Leila is played by Taboo’s Tallulah Haddon, while Tess is played by The Night Manager’s Simona Brown.
Manson-Smith calls it “uncompromising and unrealistically ambitious”. “The biggest challenge was to maintain the audience’s connection with the characters as the action plays out across the live action world and the animated VR world. It’s a very different tone to most other animation – it’s visually stylised, but the emotions are very real and raw,” he said.
The action in the VR world was shot using motion capture, shooting in a warehouse the size of a soccer pitch with 600 cameras that capture data markers on the actors’ bodysuits. “It can be tough for the cast to work like this, so I approached it like staging a play in the round. Once they got their heads around that, they found it liberating – there are no marks to hit or camera moves, you just focus on the chemistry of the scene and if it feels electric, it’s probably going to work when translated to animation,” he added.
Elsey admitted that there was “a bit of a vertical learning curve to go on until I was able to understand what the hell they were doing”. “That was actually a very enjoyable journey to go on, and I was able to find a way of working with the animation studio, so that the vision is a shared vision. It’s myself, and Melanie Stokes, and Kan Muftic, the animation director. In a way, the process was a coming together of minds, and we’re all pretty happy with the results,” he added.
The show launches on Channel 4 in the UK at 10 PM on April 2, followed by an international rollout, including in the U.S. on Netflix.