ManFish follows Terry, a downtrodden middle-aged loner, who spends his days down on Canvey Island beachfront collecting seashells for his failing jewellery box business. However, his world is turned upside down one morning when a mysterious humanoid sea creature washes up on the shore.
With the help of his foul-mouthed and abusive girlfriend Tracy, they take action and do what any self-respecting Essex couple would do – knock the creature unconscious, take it home and work out how to make money from it. So… to chop it up and eat it or sell it to a zoo; that is the question?
We speak to ManFish writer and director Marc Coleman about making a film on a micro-budget, creating a sea creature and that time someone thought they were making a porno…
When did you first get the idea for ManFish?
ManFish was born out of pushing myself to write a bunch of feature film loglines in mid-2020 to see if I could pursue writing any of them. The idea being that if I wrote 50 loglines, maybe one or two of them might stick. Thankfully, the longline for ManFish stuck with me because I don’t think I had 50 loglines in me – I think I managed 16. The majority of the others are awful.
ManFish also fitted quite nicely into the DIY approach to filmmaking – no studio, no real money, two characters, a bunch of filmmaking friends and an empty house. It grew a little more than that in the development process but the base of that formula is still there.
What were your inspirations when writing the script for ManFish?
There were a few. I remember quite early on looking back at a Jon Pertwee ‘Sea Devils’ episode from Dr Who. There’s that great moment when some poor guy in a shoddy creature suit stumbles out of the sea to attack the Doctor. I loved the idea of that happening but somebody knocking it out, taking it home and trying to make money off of it
Creature from The Black Lagoon, Shape of Water, Splash and Ben Wheatley’s Down Terrace were all watched during development. I’m sure I subconsciously borrowed bits and bobs from all of those films but the ultimate goal was to watch all of those and then think ‘right, how would I do one of those films with no money?’.
What can audiences expect from ManFish?
I’ve been told on quite a few occasions now that people thought it was going to be a trashy B-movie but were pleasantly surprised when they came out the other end, which was what I wanted to achieve from the start. There are a few curveballs in there that I hope you don’t see coming and it jumps genres a few times. Ultimately, it’s Shape of Water meets Snatch, set on Canvey Island in Essex and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Oh, and there’s a bit where a humanoid sea creature smokes a fag.
“Ultimately, it’s Shape of Water meets Snatch“
What can you tell us about Terry and Tracy?
Terry and Tracy aren’t exactly based on people I know but do both share characteristics of people that I grew up with. Tracy was an absolute blast to write. She’s down-and-out horrible and a real bruiser. Emma Stannard, who plays Tracy, encapsulated everything that was written on the page and added more – she’s brilliant. We used to perform in sketch shows together many years ago and she was annoyingly funny then and even funnier now.
Dean Kilbey had a very tough job playing the downtrodden and sombre Terry, as Dean is naturally funny and has great comic timing. So for him to take on a role where everyone else around him was allowed to be funny was a huge challenge but I think you’ll agree that he absolutely smashed it. He brought so much warmth to Terry and really lifted him off of the page. A very hard character to get right and Dean really nailed it.
How did you go about creating the sea creature?
I took a mood board of creature heads (see below) – everything from Star Wars to Dr Who – to my production designer (James Walker) and my costume designer (Nik Corrall). We all sat around and talked about who our manfish is, what he is, where he’s from etc. Once you build the back story, it’s much easier to work out what he should look like. The key was he should never look like a muscular god-like figure from Atlantis – he had to be the opposite to fit into the world and narrative.
Once we had those things in place, the guys did a fantastic job in designing a beautiful looking creature on paper – James designing the suit and Nik, the head. We then took it to Steve Braund of Mind Magic Studios who did the most amazing job sculpting, mounding and painting the creature head, and in record time.
I still remember going to Steve’s studio to pick the head up and couldn’t believe what he’d created. He’d really captured Nik’s original drawings and added his own touches too. Once I had the creature’s head in my hands I couldn’t wait to get into production.
At one point, the creature had a comb-over – we abandoned it though just before filming. I do miss that comb-over…
What was the most challenging aspect when shooting ManFish?
The usual micro-budget filmmaking restraints – time, money, Covid. The film was shot in late March 2021 so we were still under a lot of restrictions in the UK at the time and thought we’d be shut down with Covid at any moment. Luckily, we tested daily, took every precaution we could and came out the other side.
I do remember the police turning up to the house location at one point. I think a nosey neighbour had seen lots of people coming in and out of the house over the course of a few days. We were filming on the driveway with the manfish and the officers got out of their car, asked what we were doing, took one look at Matty Noble dressed as the creature and got straight back in their car and left! It was very surreal.
There was also a guy in Canvey Island who was watching our shoot on the beachfront and kept telling passers-by that we were “filming a porno”. That was fun…
What is your favourite scene in ManFish?
I think my favourite scene is the first time the manfish sits at the table with Tracy and Terry. It was an absolute blast to film and that scene really sums up the film for me. It’s a fantastic image, captured beautifully by Dann Emmons, our cinematographer.
It was also a nightmare to film as Matty who plays the manfish just kept making the cast and crew corpse. There’s some really good behind the scenes footage where the creature’s eyes accidentally pop out into his cereal. Dan Allen, our editor, did an amazing job cutting it too. It’s always fun to watch.
What do you hope for audiences to take away from ManFish once the credits roll?
I hope ManFish can show audiences that the DIY filmmakers can make something just as entertaining and interesting as the big-budget productions. The Indie film scene in the UK is really pulling out all the punches at the moment. There are so many brilliant films out and coming out soon, and I hope our film will make people want to watch more films that are maybe a little different, a little rough around the edges and a little weird. Weird is good, long live weird…
ManFish will be showing at Picturehouse Stratford on Friday 20 May as part of Sci Fi London. Find out more here.