Outer Banks Is Another Planet In Feature Film 'Sol' [Interview]
Of the many dozens of award-winning blockbuster movies made in North Carolina in the last 30 years, very few have been made locally here on the Outer Banks, making the sci-fi thriller Sol, filmed entirely in Dare County in 2009, a very special cinematic treat for anyone who loves this area.
When we first caught up with writer/director and Asheville, North Carolina native Ben Carland in 2012, Sol had just had its overseas premiere screening in London and he was about to start working on his followup feature, also to be filmed in North Carolina.
Read on for our full interview with Ben Carland, as we discuss what inspired Sol and why it had to be made on the Outer Banks!
“I’m from North Carolina” Carland says of how he first got the idea for the film. “I lived out in L.A. for a while working in film, and I was home in North Carolina, camping out on the Outer Banks one winter with a couple friends. I had never been out there so far, but I was looking and around I thought it would be a really cool location, and I was curious if I could write a movie around sort of how minimal everything was on the Outer Banks.
“I spent a couple months writing the script for it, and I actually spent the majority of the spring of 2009 going all up and down the east coast looking for a location that not only had the look that I wanted but also was logistically possible, and that’s what brought me to Nags Head and Hatteras Island. They were both really striking places, but also not so far off the beaten path that we’d have to boat everything out or something. It was easy enough to work at.
“To me, when I was out at the Outer Banks for the first time, I just felt like it was just so desolate that it felt like a different planet, so I thought this is a really great setting for that. So I kind of wanted to write something around it that would be a really compelling story about some young adults that get stranded on another planet.”
Once the director found his perfect location, production on Sol began in September of 2009 in Nags Head.
“The majority of it was shot at Jockey’s Ridge” said Carland. “We spent about three or four weeks at Jockey’s Ridge and then another week or two weeks all along the Hatteras shore. It depended on what we were filming that day. Sometimes we needed the ocean, other times we just needed a couple smaller dunes. We spent an awful long time hiking around Jockey’s Ridge.
“It’s actually kind of ironic that we ended up shooting there, because I wasn’t locked in stone to any location by the time we started trying to find a place, and I went everywhere, like all over the country. It’s really ironic that I ended up back in North Carolina, where they had easily the nicest community and the best resources to work with. It worked out perfectly.”
The natural landscape of the Outer Banks is actually a character unto itself in Sol, as a group of players in a futuristic competition try to survive the harsh elements of the unknown planet they find themselves stranded on.
“We were filming mostly in October and November,” recalls Carland, “so you can see in the film there are some days where the clouds and the wind are just so aggressive looking on screen. It was really kind of challenging to shoot in, but it looks great on camera, so hopefully that’s what matters.
“It was the tail end of summer when we first got there and starting shooting, so it was really hot when were first getting into town and setting everything up, but by the time we were leaving, it was freezing cold. We kind of got the whole gamut of what the climate can be like.
“It was very serendipidous that it ended up working that way (filming on the Outer Banks). There are so many logistical things to consider when you’re planning where you can film, like is there a place to put everybody, are we nearby to supplies, there’s just all kinds of stuff like that.
“I was talking to the (NC) Film Office when I was scouting North Carolina, and they pointed me to Jockey’s Ridge. I had been driving 12 hours straight that day, and I got into Nags Head and pulled into Jockey’s Ridge right as the sun was setting. I walked past the visitor center and got to that deck where you can just see all the big dunes, and I was like, ‘Yes. This is perfect’. It took like five minutes.
“It seriously beat the pants off all the other places.”
While the plot of Sol may sound somewhat familiar to fans of The Hunger Games, which was also filmed in North Carolina, Carland tells us that he came up with his story long before Katniss and Jennifer Lawrence were household names.
“It’s funny whenever people go, ‘Hey, that kind of looks like The Hunger Games, because we actually shot it and wrapped production on it before The Hunger Games was even green lighted” Ben explains. “So it’s funny when that comes up. If it reminds people of another story that impacted them, then that’s great for a section of people.
“I didn’t have that many influences. I’ve read people talking about Lord of the Flies, and I can definitely see that. When I was writing it, I didn’t really look at another story as inspiration. I just kind of see elements of things that I really agree with or hope to connect with people on.
“With Lord of the Flies, you have a collapse of order and what happens with people feeling abandoned or stranded when there is no law or anything like that, and that was a big theme for me. I think that’s just a really interesting situation to put people in.
“Writing it was a little daunting, being that it’s such a harsh setting and everything. Sometimes you think this is what’s best for the story, but then you’re also thinking I have to actually go out and shoot all of this. Sometimes it felt like digging my own grave.”
The all male cast of Sol gives some pretty powerful and often poignant performances, and Carland told us he searched long and hard for the perfect group of actors.
“We put a lot of time into casting” he said. “It was a film with a small budget, so we had to be very careful and conscious with a lot of the choices that we made, so we spent a lot of time casting. Five members of the cast were from Los Angeles and one was actually from North Carolina, which was cool.”
For a low budget independent film, Sol looks amazingly good, thanks in part to the unique landscape of the Outer Banks, but also to the clear dedication of Carland and his crew to deliver an epic experience for movie fans.
“It (the budget) was about $250,000 for the movie, and that includes post and the whole nine yards” Ben said. “That’s a lot to raise for anybody, but when it comes to a film budget, that is still incredibly challenging to work with.
“I get asked how much it cost all the time, and I’ll say, ‘Well, how much do you think it cost?’ They’ll say, ‘I don’t know, $5 million?’ (laughing) So that’s funny to hear. It’s very nice to hear people figure that it cost way more than it did.
“I guess the polish that it has on it is the result of a lot of hard work from lot of people pitching in a lot of energy.”
Once filming concluded in November of 2009, it would be two years before Sol was finally released via numerous online streaming platforms.
“It was really cool for me when the film had wrapped up and we found our distributor and had our first trailer come out,” Carland remembers. “I went to a lot of meetings. People would see the trailer and they’d call me in, and they would say, ‘So, you filmed this in North Carolina and you had only this much money? How did you do that? We wouldn’t know where to begin.’ These were people that were far more well-known and established than I was. It’s cool when people who work in the same field see what a challenge that is and are impressed and enjoy the ride.”
Aside from the all the visual benefits the area provided, Carland says the best part of working on the Outer Banks was the local volunteers who helped make Sol a reality.
“Half the time we were shooting, it would just be a sandstorm in the morning and another horrible storm in the afternoon” recalls the director. “I just remember thinking, ‘I can’t wait to be editing’. Once we were editing, it was like, ‘Man, we had so much fun at the Outer Banks. Let’s go back.’ When we were out there we had such a blast. It’s just a cool community.
“It was pleasantly surprising. We had posted just a couple listings that we were going to be there filming and if anyone wanted to come by or be an extra, and we got a whole bunch of good stuff out of the extras. They were really fun to work with. We had some people that came out and worked a day or two, but then we had some volunteers that were there every day working every bit as hard as the crew and just being pleasant. As far as moral boosters, they were just nice to be around.”
In the spring of 2012, Sol premiered overseas at the London Science Fiction Film Festival.
“I was here shooting another project so I couldn’t be there,” Carland tells us, “but it’s really cool getting emails from people I’ve never met before in the U.K. saying, ‘Hey, I saw your film in London and it’s really cool. Where can we get a copy?’ From London, we’ve had a couple other festivals contact us. There’s this little web of festivals we got picked up on over there.”
It has been two since our initial conversation, and Carland is currently putting the final touches on in the editing room of his second movie, Shadows on the Wall, which was filmed in western North Carolina. We will have more on Shadows in the coming weeks, but Carland did give us a brief preview of what to expect.
“If I could have my way, I would shoot everything I ever do around North Carolina,” he said. “This one is also science fiction, but it takes place largely indoors.
“When we were trudging through the dunes we had like a mile long walk some mornings, and we were daydreaming about how fun it would be to see a movie that set entirely in an air conditioned environment.
“It’s a sci-fi film, and it takes place in present day this time, but it still introduces a lot of stuff that we hope will be new for people to check out. I always have to add a little element of sci-fi to anything I do. I think it just makes it that much more fun.
“It plays on a lot of established sci-fi genre rules and then turns them on their heads.”
You can watch the official trailer for Sol in the player below, and then click here to choose your preferred streaming platform to watch the full movie!