• Kieran Burt

Desert Sky: An Interview with Director David Hartstone and Star Lexa Gluck


Writer Kieran Burt chats to David Hartstone, the director of Desert Sky, and Lexa Gluck, who plays the lead character, to discuss the short film…


What inspired you to make the project?

David Hartstone (D): Both myself and Lexa come from a creative background, and during the time of the pandemic, things were looking bleak and felt dangerous and scary, but within that we knew there was magic. I wanted to develop a dynamic, complicated female heroine for Lexa. So that’s where the first seeds of the idea were planted. A dangerous, scary, bleak and desolate world, with magic bubbling under the surface.

Lexa Gluck (L): David and I have been looking to do something that was larger than life, sci-fi, and inspired by Laura Dern and Jurassic Park. We wanted a really strong and complicated almost anti-hero. As a woman turning 30, societal pressures of being a mother and having a family, but still feeling like there is so much more of yourself to find. So putting my experience into a different world and bringing our audience to this spectacular location but still dealing with relevant feminine issues - that’s what really inspired me.


One of my favourite effects in the short was the elongating of the motorcycle’s headlight to give it an otherworldly feel whilst on a budget. Were there any other effects like that?


D: Yes. The project was driven by necessity and that breeds innovation. We were planning to CGI out the bike, and create a whole new transport, but the simplest execution ended up being the most effective. Plus, the bike looks really beautiful - once we got to set, we realised we couldn’t edit it out.


We are completely self-funded, we did a lot of fundraising to make this happen. We had to leverage the story and the world to get people who were willing to give their time. We couldn’t have done it without everybody who was involved, because everyone brought their genius and dedication in a way we couldn’t repay or thank enough.

It was just a three day shoot, but those three days were a lifetime. When we got home, we wanted to go back and do it again

L: One of our set-pieces inspired the ending of the film, once we went out on location…


D: As an indie filmmaker you have to stay malleable. When you find an actor, you tweak the script. When you find a prop, you tweak the script. When you find the location you tweak the script. Everything gets changed to fit the intense time, budgetary and safety restrictions. We were out there in very wild conditions, during a pandemic. Keeping everybody safe handling 30 to 40 mile-an-hour wind and sandstorms. There’s a lot of risk but a lot of reward.

L. It was such a dream to shoot on location and bring the whole team out there.


D. It was such an adventure. It was just a three day shoot, but those three days were a lifetime. When we got home, we wanted to go back and do it again.

Even though we’re on this other planet, dealing with enchanted flowers and all manner of sci-fi concepts, we’re still dealing with the complexities of humanity

What’s it like having your film premiere at the Dancing With Films Festival?


D: Dances With Films has been a dream festival of ours for years. We would look in on the festival, thinking that we had to make something good enough to get there. Every year we challenge ourselves to push a bit further. Desert Sky is our most ambitious project so far. This is something that we have wanted for a long time.

L: I’m really excited. This has been such a passion project and my favourite role to date. I'm really excited for everyone else to see the film and hear their reactions. I’m looking forward to seeing these beautiful cinematic shots that David and our amazing Director of Photography Stephen Vanderpool composed. Every shot is like a painting. I’m really happy with my performance, it’s really dynamic and it shows a different side of femininity and the strength and grit needed to survive a desolate landscape.


You mentioned wanting to show a feminine side and relating the film to earthly struggles, and this explores the effects of parents separating on their child. Was there an intent to dive into that?


D: It’s a tale as old as time: two households, both alike in dignity. We wanted to show two worlds apart, and people having to trade lives. It’s about being split, and family and trust and love. Those themes for me are really important and I want to explore them in different types of genres.


L: Even though we’re on this other planet, dealing with enchanted flowers and all manner of sci-fi concepts, we’re still dealing with the complexities of humanity, what is best for ourselves and what is best for our children. It’s the reflection of the younger generation and older generation, dealing with these family dynamics in a heightened situation.

Desert Sky is always something that we are coming back to - we have a lot of this world planned out

Does the labelling of the short as a pilot mean we get to see more of the world? And if not, what comes next?


D: Desert Sky is always something that we are coming back to - we have a lot of this world planned out. We have several projects in development; our dream is to make a feature film, that’s at the top of our list. But we have lots of ideas and lots of places for our characters to go.


Desert Sky is showing at the Dances With Films festival