That sounds like quite a Christmassy sort of heading doesn’t it? But in fact this post is really belongs in Halloweentown because it concerns a tale of vampirism. I’ve mentioned before that around the turn of the century I was involved with the now defunct timelord.co.uk, which was for a while quite a hotbed of creativity, producing fan fiction writing, videos and audios including Deconstruction. Not surprisingly several of us wanted to movie into original fiction, and one of those projects was a trilogy of audio short stories called Monsters, produced by myself. I put out the call for contributions and three worthwhile stories were sent to me – Blue, Monster’s Bar and When the Bells Ring Out. I then put out a call for readers from the online voice acting community. The three tales were uploaded to the old Phantom Frame website, moved to the Westlake Films site for little, and were also released on a double CD, but they have long been unavailable.
Recently a friend of mine James Leeper told me he was keen to hear “that vampire story” again and encouraged me to dive into my collection of old backup DVDs and find the master copy.
So here it is, a modern day vampire story, written by the talented Mark Ritchie and performed by Steven Anderson, with music by Dave Holmes. “Police detective Steve loves movies about vampires, but even he can’t believe it when his latest murder case seems to point to a real life undead murderer.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!”
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.
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.
Top writer of cult TV and film matters Paul Ferry has just compiled a list of his favourite Doctor Who fan films. I’d agree with a lot of the choices – “Resurrection of Evil” and “the Millenium Trap” especially. He also kindly singles out “Future Investment” for praise, a film I appeared in. He is too modest to mention it but the group he belongs to – Timebase – produced some superb fan films too, especaily “Phase IV”.
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.
For the past few years, my friends and I, under the guise of Westlake Films, have made some kind of comedy video to tie in with Christmas. This year’s production, made despite all kinds of problems and completed against the clock by director/editor Kevin Hiley, is Santa Claus Conquers the Mayans. Written by John Isles, it features a Mancunian Santa and his Chief Elf in a race against time to stop a deadly boardgame from destroying the world. A plan that involves robbery and Mexican wrestling.
As well as helping to make the film in general assistant category, I also make a couple of onscreen contributions, playing a dubious Australian TV historian and providing the opening narration.