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.

Westlake Films has a new home on the Internet

One constant that has threaded through my creative life for more than ten years now has been Westlake, a group my friends and I formed to make short films, for our entertainment and hopefully for others. Through this group I’ve been able to write scripts and see them turn into actual videos. Not to mention opportunities to act, produce, be a microphone boom operator, a cameraman, a gopher and to get stage punched and kicked far too often!

Now we have a new website, thanks to the diligent efforts of Kevin Hiley and Andrew Crines, and you can find it right here at http://westlakefilms.blogspot.co.uk/   Many of the films have been re-digitised with improved picture and sound quality for this new site. You can stream them on YouTube or download them for free!

Over the years we’ve made original stories and documentaries, comedy skits, fan films (mostly about Doctor Who) and music videos. It’s been a great learning experience, as well as a lot of fun.

Here’s a few of my recommendations if you have not tried Westlake before:

In the Fan Films section

K9 and Bloke – an affection send-up of the awkward Doctor Who spinoff that tried to make the Doctor’s robotic pet a leading star. Charlie Wall plays a shabby PI who solves local crimes with the aid of a long-suffering K9. Written by myself and guest starring Nigel Peever.

In the Films section

Memories of the Mill – John Isles talks to his grandfather Frank Brook about his working life as they tour a preserved steam driven mill in Burnley, in this nostalgic documentary.

Help Wanted – a short ghost story inspired by the tales of the great M R James. A thief’s life becomes a nightmare when he violently robs a church. Written by myself and featuring great music by Peter Wicks.

In the Haberdashery section

The Unoriginal Adventures of Robin Hood – a wickedly funny mash up of a couple of BBC fantasy shows which were on air at the time, written and performed by the cast.

This is just a small selection of what you can find. Hope you enjoy it and we would all would love to hear your thoughts.