Thirty-five years after it screened alongside The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, fantasy short Black Angel is getting the feature-length treatment.
Roger Christian (Nostradamus, Battlefield Earth), who won an Oscar for his set decoration work on the first Star Wars (where he, among other achievements, helped design the first-ever lightsaber), is returning to write and direct the adaptation of his first-ever effort as a director.
“It’s my passion project, has been for 35, 36 years,” Christian tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I guess ‘patience is a virtue’ is a true saying.”
Originally commissioned by George Lucas, who Christian claims “hated” it, the 25-minute Black Angel — about a Crusade-era knight on a quest to defeat an evil force and free a captured maiden — was shot in Scotland on a shoestring budget of just £25,000, much of which the director claims was spent on “two big horses.”
It never appeared on home video after its brief theatrical run, but it went on to be seen as a significant influence in subsequent fantasy films such as John Boorman’s Excaliber (1981). Adding to the overall mystery, the negatives were considered lost for three decades — only to be discovered in 2013 in Universal’s U.S. archives. The film has since screened again at various film festivals.
“It kind of happened — serendipity of the universe — as J.J. [Abrams] was about to start filming [The Force Awakens], so it became this legendary story of a lost piece of Star Wars history,” says Christian.
The feature-length version of Black Angel, which is expected to go into production later this year, will have a marginally bigger budget of “around $15 million,” says Christian, and is being backed by London-based sales and distribution banner Carnaby International. “I can make a huge epic film with that,” he adds. “I’m going down and dirty, I want the audience to smell the blood and the sweat and the tears. I’ll be doing fights in mud and rain.”
And in Rutger Hauer and John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings), Christian already has two swords-and-sandals favorites lined up for the cast, although he says more and younger castmembers will be announced later. “These kind of faces fit into this ancient world so well; they’re powerful actors and I need that,” he says.
The eight-week shoot will take place again in Scotland, plus Hungary, Morocco and Belgium. “They’d be hurling haggis at me if I didn’t shoot in Scotland — they kind of own Black Angel.”
Backing up the production, a 45-day crowdfunding campaign has been launched on Indiegogo that is aiming to raise $100,000, offering perks including opportunities to be an extra in the film and a weeklong mentorship in postproduction with the audio department. An actual two-frame film negative from Star Wars: A New Hope given to Christian by Lucas is also up for grabs.
“It may seem a small amount, but it all helps, and I think it’s very important to build you fan base, and that’s what [crowdfunding] does,” Christian says.
Although Lucas commissioned the first short, he isn’t involved with the full-length version of Black Angel (Christian says he’s actually busier than ever since selling his Star Wars universe to Disney).
“But I sat with George for about an hour and went through the film, and he said you’re doing the right thing keeping it smaller; he said that was a very important lesson.”