Whilst ambling around the dealers’ room (Bartertown) at this year’s SciFi Weekender, I inadvertently stumbled onto a film set! Director, Martin Gooch, was filming some vox pop-style interviews as accoutrements to his latest film project, The Search for Simon: a science fiction comedy concerning alien abduction. Ever the introvert, I protested most silently as I was invited to provide a snippet of my own to camera. No guarantee it will make the film, but I was nonetheless highly intrigued about the project – especially when I heard about its amazing cast (not me), the challenges of its funding, and how Martin Gooch is reaching out to fans of science fiction to get involved with creating this film.
So, I thought I would catch up with Martin and ask him all about it.
The crew of The Search for Simon on location.
DS: You’ve been the creator of around 20 short films prior to The Search for Simon. This time, you are making what you describe as a Foc-U-mentary. What exactly is that?
MG: Ah well! A Foc-U-mentary is not a mocumentary, neither a film or a drama, but a documentary with scripted drama, real life people, actors and archive footage all meshed together like a mix tape (showing my age), but with film. It's not a found footage film either, so I hope something new!
DS: The plot of the film, as I understand it, is that you are David, trying to find out what has happened to your little brother, Simon, whom you believe to have been abducted by aliens. What else can you tell us about the story?
MG: This is a British science-fiction comedy movie in the grand tradition of Hitchhikers Guide. But it's also a movie about more human failings like obsession and addiction, not to drugs but to behaviour and lifestyle. We have tried to create real, well-rounded characters that the audience will relate to and believe in.
DS: In the film, will you be the ‘eye’ behind the camera as you go round interviewing people to try to find out what has happened to Simon?
MG: Sort of. It's a proper movie, with a complete screenplay, so we have been off shooting scenes all over the place, but as the main character is on the trail of his Abductee Brother Simon, I wanted the interviews to feel real, and if you script an interview, it never ever 'feels reel' so I have interviewed a great deal of people, in the hope of finding some pearls of wisdom and nuggets of truth!
DS: Is the story one which is fully formed from the outset, or will the narrative arc depend on what comes back from production?
MG: I was travelling to a lot of places promoting my last feature film - DEATH (AKA: AFTER DEATH) and had been filming some pieces to camera, and I realised in my edit suite that I had a subtext that was connecting all the things I had shot. I sat down and wrote the story to the film quite quickly (about 2 months - if that is quite quick!) Then my friend, the excellent writer Simon Birks, came on board and we finished off the script.
DS: Science fiction and comedy fans will be thrilled to see some of the cast you have signed up to play parts in the film: you have Tom Price, who we know as PC Andy in Torchwood, and who happens to be a very funny stand-up comedian as well. (I once did a gig with him in a bright pink pub that had been converted into a bead shop-cum-theatre. There were pictures of Jimmy Carr everywhere. And lots and lots of beads…) Then you have Carol Cleveland, the star of many a Monty Python sketch; Simon Jones, who we know and love as Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Ace Doctor Who companion, Sophie Aldred, and Games Workshop co-founder, Ian Livingstone CBE(!!!). Was it your approach to find cast members already quite well known for their humour and science fiction connections?
MG: As I child we didn't watch much TV and hardly ever went to the cinema, but we did watch Blake's 7, Doctor Who and listened to HHGTTG on the radio, so now I was making a SF movie I just though how wonderful it would be to be able to work with these incredibly brilliant actors who were so much a part of my childhood. I know many of the cast and crew were as excited about meeting these people as I was.
We were not allowed to watch Monty Python! So I didn't see any of that until I was about 18! But as an 'eccentric British film maker making eccentric British films' Monty Python felt like a second home and Carol Cleveland was a perfect choice for the role of a mother whose son is obsessed with UFOs!
We also managed to get Jasper Fforde the writer to come along to the set for a day (he took fabulous photos for me) and Robert Rankin might even have a cameo! We are filming with Chase Masterson (Star Trek) on Monday so very much looking forward to that!
DS: Ian Livingstone may seem a strange choice for the cast as he’s known for his entrepreneurism rather than acting, but you’re working with him on another film project now, aren’t you? Is that a spin-off project from this one?
MG: Several years ago I approached Ian to say I wanted to write the screenplay for DEATHTRAP DUNGEON the (arguably) best Fighting Fantasy game book. He said yes, so I did. We've had it optioned in Hollywood, and are now trying to find a home for it in the UK. It's a perfect British fantasy world and it would be great for it to be made as a British production rather than selling it off to Hollywood like Lord of the Rings, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Tomb Raider. I think we'd do a much better job.
Ian played a cameo in my last film DEATH, and was not only great fun to work with, but highly supportive of our work and a great morale booster! So we cast him in The Search for Simon too.
DS: What made you want to do a science fiction film?
MG: I love genre movies. SF, Fantasy, Comedy, Western, Ghost, Mystery and so on. There are many, many British directors making the same movies, and I just feel that we should be trying to do different, weird, and under the radar movies. We can't out-Hollywood Hollywood, we just don't have enough money, and there is enough depressing material on the TV to last a lifetime so let’s entertain people and try to do it in a new, imaginative and hopefully exciting way.
And where would you rather spend your day? In a terribly depressing concrete jungle, or watching attack ships on fire off the shoulders of Orion?
DS: You have a page on Indiegogo to gain revenue for the film. Why is crowd-funding the way forward for you?
MG: Crowd funding is ESSENTIAL these days! It is the new model for funding. Unfortunately making movies is very hard work. Even with the latest digital technology which has enabled us to make movies much more cheaply and quickly than was once the case.
Movies are a strange breed of the arts where creative people and business people have to come together to get things done. Almost all the other arts can be done by you and your friends or on your own, and the problem really is that Business people don't trust film makers (due to box office flops) and film makers don't like business to tell them how to cut their movies - which is why many films have the studio cut and the Directors cut. The studio paid for the movie, and so got it their way. But the director never got to finish the movie his way.
This is why crowd funding works - because you, the creator, retain creative control. The audience get to see the movie you imagined in your head all those months (years?) ago, and not the movie someone in accounts dreamed drew up on a spread sheet.
Once you have carved a path through the development of a screenplay, battled with pre-production, fought with every possible weather on the shoot, actors dropping out, locations closing, crew going on holiday, wrestled with your rushes in the edit and given birth to your beautiful new Movie, you then have to get it out to the world, be it in the cinema, DVD, Festival or VOD or whatever comes next - (direct implant into the brain maybe?), it all costs money, and if you don't have a war chest for the movie, even if it is the best film ever it will disappear without trace!
We don't want this to happen!
DS: How can people help or get involved?
MG: Ever wanted to see your name on the big screen? Want to be part of British Science Fiction Film History? Like parties?
Then click here.
Movies need money - and to do this we set up out Indiegogo page.
Here is the short email address for the campaign -
http://bit.ly/WFJhhv - - for Twitter
Tell your pod family, clone brother and everyone about it, and become part of something wonderful!
DS: And finally, when/where will people be able to see The Search for Simon?
MG: Our WORLD PREMIER will be at the BFI Sci-Fi London Film Festival on the 3rd of May 2013! We will be screening at NFT1, so get your tickets now!
Images courtesy of Martin Gooch and The Search for Simon