Montage of actors

Westlake Films Remastered Part 2

Sometimes you look back at old work and marvel where you found the time and the energy to make so much material. Recently my friend Kevin Hiley has been remastering the best of Westlake Films and putting them on Youtube. Upscaling them to HD and correcting a few flaws, although resisting the urge for any George Lucas style revisionism, I’m glad to say.

Two men. One deserted station. In a place that might as well be the middle of nowhere.
A comedy about the sheer hell of other people.

The best ideas are often simple ones. This comedy short was written by John and Kevin, and edited and directed by Kevin Hiley. It was great fun to make, even if it was a long day, I can’t remember much waiting about. Most of the story is conveyed like a silent movie, with a nice escalation of events. It really felt like an isolated location and for most of the day we completely alone and uninterrupted. The scene where the two rivals start walking, then break into a race to the other platform was a spontaneous moment between myself and Nigel. For a while this film was one of our most viewed videos. We were only slightly disappointed to discover that many of the viewers were railway enthusiasts clicking on it to see a now defunct station on the Settle and Carlise line, rather than watch our creativity.

Only George “Shuttle” Kipper stands between Earth and the fiendish Emperor Vorkon in this thrilling tribute to the Saturday matinee serials of yesteryear.

A personal favourite of mine, because it’s one those films where everything clicked and cast and crew were on top of their game. It’s also good to see a few more fresh faces in the cast. I loved the old Saturday Matinee serial which BBC1 used to show in the summer holidays. Especially the first Flash Gordon serial which has a glorious free for all adventure vibe that is reflected in the way the people of Mongo look like they just told the extras to go into the costume store and grab whatever they fancied, a look we recreated in Emperor Vorkon’s court in a local church’s multi-function room. It was great fun to return to that world of sputtering firework rocketships, BIG acting, and cartoonish fight scenes. I play three roles in this episode, Eddie the reporter, the cave monster, and a courtier in a feather headress and drooping mustache. I also provided the *spoiler* for the cliffhanger, a scene which has always got a big laugh wherever we’ve shown it. I’m particularly pleased with how the clunky robot turned out, a real credit to John, Rebecca and Kevin’s crafting.

A young radio astronomer discovers an incredible secret behind our universe, and faces a terrible choice.

A great little short film that packs a lot into twelve minutes. I was not involved directly with this film, which Kevin Hiley produced whilst studying an NVQ Level 3 in Media Production, together with Rail Rage. John Isles, the lead in this film, would later undertake the same course himself. It holds up pretty well, an entry into that genre of mysterious organisations working behind the scenes to protect our world. Nigel Peever is at his sonorous best as the enigmatic stranger. Jodrell Bank is always a great location to film at.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton was one of the bestselling authors of his day and a pioneer of the historical romance and science fiction genres. Filmed at Knebworth Castle and elsewhere, this is a short biographical novel about his life and works.

For many years I have had a hilarious book on my shelf called It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: 101 Funniest Opening Sentences from the Worst Novels Never Written. It is an amusing collection of deliberately bad opening sentences from imaginary novels and contained a potted biography of the man who first wrote those infamous words. There was something about Lord Bulwer-Lytton that stayed with me and inspired me to write this script and present it. Man of Words is another example of something I had planned as a simple talking heads documentary, turning into a much more elaborate and entertaining film thanks to my friends. One of our most polished films, alongside Deconstruction, it involved getting permission to film at Knebworth, together with dramatic reconstructions filmed at Brodsworth Hall and Gardens (near Doncaster), Mawdesley, Lancashire, and some follow-up scenes at Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds. We were blessed with a sunny day for the filming and our major complication was that the grounds were also hosting a lavish wedding, which we had to film around. Once again Lisa Hiley’s large collection of period costumes was a lifesaver, and they, together with Kevin’s skill as a graphic designer and cameraman, gave this production a gloss which belied its tiny budget (mostly taken up with travel and catering costs). Once again Alistair Lock lent us his dulcet tones reading the excerpts. At the time we felt that if the right people saw it it could open a possible professional direction for Westlake. That did not happen but it is still a film I’m proud of.

A man goes to visit an uncannily accurate fortune teller.

A great example of a one day film shoot producing a very polished little film. I can’t remember why I was not involved in this one, probably a double-booked weekend as usual. My only contribution was buying the tarot cards, which in those pre-Amazon days necessitated quite a search around town to find a suitable set in time for the filming.

The history of the Space Race, from the Wright Brothers to the Space Shuttle.

Something of a follow-up to Man of Words in spirit, Carl Bowler pursued one of his own fascinations in this short documentary. My main memory of this was the sunny day’s filming at Jodrell Bank, and our race back to Manchester to see Rik Mayall on stage as The New Statesman that night.

Carl Bowler explains why an Australian film about competitive ballroom dancing means so much to him.

Lately we have been thinking of creating more film appreciation vlogs like this one, a genre the internet has opened up in the last decade. I’m a big fan of BBC2 ‘s Moviedrome series and love the idea of creating introductions similar to those which Alex Cox and Mark Cousins used to deliver. As it is Carl , Rebecca and Kevin have been the people to actually get some made. We started with Scott Pilgrim and followed up with Strictly Ballroom. I am hoping to film on for The Keep this year. Carl does an excellent job of selling this cult Australian comedy drama.

If you have enjoyed any of these films, there are a host of other productions to be found over at Westlake Film’s Youtube Channel. Hope you enjoy watching these movies and stay tuned to the blog for more news about future projects. All the best for now.

Auton, K9, cosplay Doctor, Cybermen

Westlake Films Remastered Part 1

My friends and my experiences writing, acting and gophering have been a big part of my creative life. Looking back we have created quite a varied body of work on a micro-budget. Now Kevin Hiley has decided to give our ten generally accepted best productions the remaster treatment. HD upscaling, picture and sound fixes, and in some places new FX and music. If you have never seen any of these films, there has never been a better time.
With ten of our films getting producer/director Kevin Hiley’s love and attention, I’ve decided to break this article into two posts so that I can properly write about them.

A distant human mining colony on a moon-sized asteroid is devasted by a Cyberman attack. Chinon fears he is the only man left. Soon his thoughts turn from survival to revenge.
A gripping homage to the monochrome years of Doctor Who.

Still our most ambitious film. Not only did we travel to Scotland for several days, filming in the TV studio at Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Kelvingrove Park, and then the beaches of Argyll, we hired transport, employed actors and even a make-up artist to create our protagonist’s wounds. Took me years to pay off that credit card, but I don’t regret it because the film is a gem. I still think it is unlike any other Doctor Who fan film I have seen, with the harsh monochrome noir lighting and its nihilistic atmosphere. I remember we were surprised ourselves when we watch the first assembled cut at how tough it was. Shuttle Saves the World and Auton Diaries 2 are funnier, perhaps more accessible, Man of Words is glossier, but Deconstruction remain our most complete film experience.

Some of the cast and crew at RSAMD back in 2001.

It was a film where we pushed ourselves and overcame quite a few unexpected obstacles. For example the battle scenes had been planned out but we realised we were fast running out of time and had not got nearly enough footage. Between Kevin, Tim, John and myself we came up with the idea of throwing out the storyboard and going handheld and improvising close quarter, fast cut fight scenes. The test footage of the fight between myself and John in a hotel room was sight to watch in itself.
The script was based on a short story by Tim Reid published initially on a fan forum called Timelord. We used to write chain stories, called Random Fictions. Many of them didn’t work but the ones that took off were often alot of fun and I learnt a lot about writing from the ones I contributed too. Maybe I’ll post the best to this blog at a later date?

What happened to old Doctor Who monsters when the original television dried up in 1989? Spinoff videos are one answer but every actor knows that this business has as many downs as it has ups. A comedy about the rich inner life of one thesping Auton.

For a little while I seemed to be Bill Bagg’s go to writer for the wackier ideas. This short was made as an extra for the Auton 3 DVD. Auton 2 had already featured a funny skit written by Paul Ebbs in which an Auton with the personality of a fruity old English actor described his resting years. After discussing several ideas, John Isles and I decided that the best follow-up was a film about the return of Doctor Who and how it affected this monster.
Initially I had envisioned a much simpler set-up of the Auton being interviewed in his garden, with a few photos. But John and Kevin pushed me to be much more adventurous, so we ended up with a foundry (filmed at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry), a theatre, and a recreation of the famous high street invasion from Spearhead from Space. I have made no secret of the fact I think this film is a lot more successful than Do You Have a License to Save This Planet? as comedy, because I kept much more control over it.
Playing the Auton was quite a gruelling experience. As other actors who have donned monster costumes on film over the years have commented, there was little visibility in the mask, and under the bright lights in the theatre I nearly collapsed from the heat at one point. But there is also a freedom in being an anonymous masked alien in public places, (Huddersfield mainly) and I felt free to mess about and react to be public ‘in character’. Mind you, I do remember taking my mask off at one point, only to hear a couple sat nearby jokingly cry out “Uhgh! What a hideous monster!”

Meet Dave Smalls and his robot partner K9. Together they fight crime! And sometimes commit it too. This week, Dave received a mysterious phone call and stumbles into a fast food conspiracy that not even a dog with an IQ of 900 may be able to digest.

The opening titles of K9 and Company are some of the worst ever seen on a BBC programme. When I was given a homemade K9 prop by a family friend, my initial intention was simply recreate them with a chavvy idiot detective replacing the polished, capable Sarah Jane Smith. Once again my friends convinced me to go further and write a whole mini-episode. The ideas came pretty fast, and luckily I had met a talented Manchester actor called Charles Allen-Wall, who was more than happy to be the bloke. Equally happily Alistair Lock agreed to provide his fabulous K9 impression to my words. It was also fun to welcome back Nigel Peever as the villain. Looking back I’m impressed we got it all filmed in a relatively quick time, using our regular locations of the Black Bull pub, my house, and a local Bolton church. The best of our films usually have a clear central idea and that’s exactly what this one has. One of the few films we have made to be mentioned in a commercial publication- Doctor Who Magazine.

We’ll make a Third Doctor out of you yet! Welcome to a very special school for training the very best Intergalactic Dandies.

Tom Baker may be the most recognisable Doctor, but I don’t think there is another incarnation with quite so many clear foibles to impersonate and gently rib as the Jon Pertwee regeneration.
As we have grown older and busier, the opportunities to make films have decreased. And when we do get together, it has to be scripts we can pull off in a day. This is one of the best examples of our later work, just lots of fun and silliness as we improvised ideas around the theme of the Third Doctor’s era. It was Jonathan Miles’ idea initially. Jonathan is a keen cosplayer and provided most of the costumes, whilst I brought the old Auton gear out of wardrobe for one more airing.
I’m particularly fond of Carl Bowler’s Worzel Gummidge character and the classroom scene where he’s just a bit out of sync with the rest of the students.

These are the Doctor Who films that Westlake Films has revived. Next time I’ll take a look at our varied output away from the TARDIS.

Young woman in wheelchair

Dead Guilty

As Bolton Little Theatre’s new season hoves into view, so does my side job of making promotional trailers for the plays in the 2017/18 run. Sometimes an idea for the trailer comes to me easily and other times it is a real struggle to think of a 30 sequence that will sum up the story and make it appetising. It’s a bit similar to writing in fact.

With Dead Guilty, the psychological thriller by Richard Harris which opens our season in September, the idea took a while to land, then I thought about a close-up on Julia’s face. She is the main protagonist and it is a story in which she is confined and oppressed. I thought she could give a speech to camera taken from the script. With the help of director Peter Scofield and actress Kim Amston, I developed this idea into a series of mid-length and extreme close-ups of the whole cast, delivering selected lines of dialogue. It took about two hours to film, using the Forge studio theatre. A lot of that time was taken with finding interesting angles to film Kim in Julia’s wheelchair, followed by several takes of each line. The result has been well received and hopefully will sell a lot of tickets. If you are intrigued then please visit Bolton Little Theatre’s website

Now I am turning my mind towards the second play Rabbit Hole. I have vague idea, again using actors rather than a slide show. Below is the trailer for the whole season, which is a good example of the latter style. Thanks for reading.

Video

Going behind the scenes of “The Rivals”

Bolton Little Theatre’s next production will be Richard Sheridan’s famous comedy about a clash between greed, snobbery and romantic ideals in 18th century Bath. The play is most famous for giving literature one of its most famous comic characters – Mrs Malaprop, a rich pompous dowager who frequently mangles the English language as she lectures all and sundry. “She’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile!” Sheridan probably based her name on the French phrase “mal a propos” meaning “poorly placed”. Although many comedies had used mixed up phrases before this, including Shakespeare’s, malapropisms has become the popular description of such jokes.

Last week I took my camcorder down to the theatre to interview director Jolyon Coombs about the challenges of staging the play and talk to some of the actors

Hope you find it interesting. “The Rivals” is on 5 – 12 March 2016 in Bolton.
You can book tickets and find out more from the website by clicking here.

 

The Thrill of Love

Last night I was watching the rehearsals for Bolton Little Theatre’s next production – The Thrill of Love. It is an excellent play by Amanda Whittington, probably best known for her award winning play Bollywood Jane, and based on the true story of Ruth Ellis. Ellis was an ambitious young woman who for a while had a profitable career as a nightclub hostess in post-war London. But she became infamous as the last woman to be executed in the UK, following her conviction for the murder of her ex-lover David Blakely. The play looks back at her life and the crime, following the investigations of Inspector Gayle as he interviews people who knew and the flashbacks conjured up by his questions. It is an excellent piece from the scenes I watch and cleverly staged too with its small cast.

I was at the rehearsals to film a promotional video for the BLT website and other social media haunts. In the past I’ve tried to film prior to rehearsals but this time I was working in parallel with them, catching actors to answer a few questions whilst they weren’t on. I was a little worried that the noise of the rehearsal might be too distracting but in fact it helps with the atmosphere of the interviews. Thanks to both Kimberley’s, Nicola, Tara and Sandra for sparing the time to filmed and Peter for understanding why he was not included in this video, despite his pivotal role in story. Despite their nerves, all the participants had perceptive comments to make about the play and Ruth’s history. Considering the speed it was edited, I’m pretty happy with this promo.

The Thrill of Love will be staged between 7 and 14 November 2015 at Bolton Little Theatre. For more information, please visit the website (which I maintain) http://www.boltonlittletheatre.co.uk

More adventures in poetry filming

Well my good intentions to write more have not been bearing much fruit lately. However my poetry promoting video work has continued apace with two interesting commissions.

First up was North West England’s contribution to the International Beat Poetry Festival. Held at the Bolton Socialist Club on 9 September 2015, it featured not only a line-up of top local poets, but thanks to the modern wonder of Skype, transatlantic contributions from Frank Messina and David Amram. I filmed the event and have uploaded a montage and individual performance videos, which have been pleasingly popular on Facebook etc. I was relieved the sound recorded as well as it did, thanks in part to Brad’s sound system. It was a well attended event with a great atmosphere and a feather in the cap for its organiser, my friend Scott Devon. Editing the montage was pretty difficult. My first cut was nearly eight minutes and I needed to get it closer to three! So in the end I went for a quick fire, one sentence each approach.

Following that I got together with Potting Shed Pete again to record a third poem of his, this time inspired by his past experiences at certain open mic nights. A certain snobbery from a section of the audience about his down to earth material and ebullient performing style. Initially I had considered filming on location at Bridgewater Hall but in the end we went for a simpler empty classroom.

At the next open mic event, also at Bolton Socialist Club on 8 October 2015, I will not only be filming, broadcasting the event live on Periscope, in case you have that app on your phone. Starting at 8pm GMT. A brand new experience for me, which I’ll let you know about!

Helping Potting Shed Pete arrive on social media

I first met the performance poet Potting Shed Pete about a year ago, when he came along to Bolton to appear at Scott Devon’s monthly open-mic evening George’s. He’s an engaging character, with a fully worked out stage persona of a cheerful Northern bloke in flat cap and white gloves. Most of his poem’s are light-hearted observational fare, but occasionally he’ll reveal a more serious side to his work, which is more effective by the contrast.

A little while ago he got in touch to ask if I could commit a few of his poems to video so he could use them to promote himself. I’ve plenty of experience of filming poets for Live from Worktown and related projects, but these videos are the first I’ve made entirely under my own steam. I think they’ve turned out pretty well. Especially the sound, as I used a cheap tie-clip microphone and a separate Olympus dictaphone to capture it, rather than rely on the camcorder’s mic which also picks up reverberations from the room. Standard practice of course for professional cameramen but it’s a taken a while for me to learn to do it by default.

In addition to the videos I also created a YouTube page for him which you can visit here. Please give them a watch and I hope you enjoy them.

Whilst I still think of myself primarily as a writer, these video jobs are satisfying as another creative string.