From Author to Actor…For A Day

From Author to Actor…For A Day

When I was a lad I was convinced I was going to grow up and become a famous Hollywood superstar. I was in all the school plays, the local amateur dramatics group, a weekend theatre course…and, in all honesty, I wasn’t that bad. No, seriously, false modesty aside, I was actually pretty good. Maybe, in a parallel dimension, if I’d pursued it more vigorously…who knows?

But life, with its twists and turns and knocks and its general rollercoaster ride nature, had other plans for me. It seemed I was destined only to watch the silver screen, rather than appearing on it. Until there came a day, a glorious day, a day that will surely go down in the annals of Hollywood history, when my friend Ben said “fancy being in a short film?”

Now, this was not something out of the blue, Ben and I have been film enthusiasts ever since we’ve known each other, and we’ve talked for years about making our own films. We’ve got scripts waiting to be developed, lofty ambitions and we’ve even toyed around with various names for the production company we will obviously one day co-own. My favourite is Ben And Dave All Star Studio Productions. That’s right, BADASS Productions.

Ben has always been more interested in the whole filmmaking process, whereas most of my talents lie on the other side of the camera, although I like to think I contribute to the writing as well. But Ben is very much the driving force, and he told me about the short film he had come up with. A man (me) wakes up on a beach, stranded, confused, and forced to use his (fairly inadequate) wits to survive. What follows is a short chronicle of his buffoon like attempts to build a shelter (badly), construct a bow and arrow (which ends up being more dangerous to him than to any of the completely safe wildlife around him), and to go spear-fishing (the results of which need to be seen to be believed). It’s around eight minutes long, and damn me if Ben and I aren’t absolutely over the moon with the end result.

I shall save details of the day we spent filming for a future post, suffice to say that when Ben said “fancy being in a short film?” what he should have said was “fancy getting up at 4 in the morning to spend the day either being cold, wet or a combination of the two, with a stroll through an honest to god swamp and a dip in the sea off the coast of Southport at 8 in the morning to really freeze your *******s off?” At least it would have been more honest.

In spite of the hardships of the day, though, the end result was something we were both very, very pleased with, even in its rough format, and once Ben had worked his editing magic on it, it was something else entirely – a masterpiece. Watching that 8 minute slice of entertainment for the first time, I suddenly how Michaelangelo must have felt when he looked up at the roof of the Cistine Chapel, how Capability Brown’s heart must have swelled to look out over his first landscaped garden, how the Spice Girls must have been over the moon to hear Tell You What I Want, What I Really Really Want, I Really Really Really Wanna Zig A Zig Ah booming out of their speakers for the very first time…but don’t take my word for it, watch it yourself and bask in the glow of a complete moron trying to survive life in the wilderness with nothing but a Hawaiian shirt, a surplus of damp earth and faintly woebegone expression. Oh, and you get to see me eat a pine cone. A scene Ben made me shoot 8 times. In a row.

You can find How I Survived the Island on YouTube here, and I really hope you enjoy it. Any feedback will be immediately passed on to my partner in crime, and a more detailed narrative of the day we spent filming will be on this site shortly. For now, a few piccies:

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Writer, producer, director, editor…all hats that this amazing filmmaker wears. The one, the only, Ben Lingham!

 

3No expense was spent on crew, the star being forced to carry his costume, props and a camera tripod for about seven miles. OK, it just felt like seven miles, it was probably only two. Or maybe three. Distance is hard to judge at 6 in the morning.

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Yep, he made me climb over a wire fence.

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The infamous spear fishing scene. I performed all my own stunts, don’t ya know. Oh, and that water? Freezing. Another scene he made me film over and over and over and over again. Sometimes I think he doesn’t really like me. Wait, no, we’re British, mocking and forcing your friends to endure physical hardship is how we show love.

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Can you see the stick poking out of the bottom of my foot? Looks even more impressive in the film. How did we do it, you ask? Trade secret, I’m afraid. Although I can tell you that the first of the surgeries on my foot went very well.

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And finally, a glimpse into the glamorous culinary experiences of intrepid movie-makers. The venue? Ben’s car. The cuisine? Ham sandwiches and crisps. Which were delicious, by the by.

I do implore you to check this little screen gem out, we put a lot of hard work into it, and then Ben put about a million times more into it after that, and it wouldn’t be much of a post if I didn’t also shamelessly remind you that my novels are all available on amazon (preview chapters and links are available on this site), reviews so far are good, and the sequel to Realmborn is currently at 32 of approx. 50 chapters, so is coming along nicely.

Been a while, but I’m going to say it anyway. Stay Frosty, People.

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Zombie Bootcamp…Good Idea or Not?

Zombie Bootcamp…Good Idea or Not?

On Saturday I had the “pleasure” of attending RAM Training’s Zombie Bootcamp, near Droitwich here in the UK. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve only put quotation marks around the word “pleasure” as I’m pretty certain that enjoyment isn’t the main thing you’re supposed to get out of this type of activity.

My various bumps and bruises would be inclined to agree.

In spite of the pain and exhaustion, though, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this event. It was well run, the instructors were enthusiastic and authentically ex-military, and the zombies themselves were…well, they were large, incredibly strong men who threw me and my friends around as though we were rag dolls. Very painfully. Which, I must admit, is what we had paid for.

(It is worth pointing out at this point that at no time were we misled about the kind of damage we might be taking. We knew what we were getting ourselves into, we’re just that stupid)

I was attending this event for a friend’s stag do, and it made a nice change from the “start drinking at noon, keep drinking till we fall over, wake up realising we ended up in a strip club and spent far too much money” type of stag party. We were booked in to the evening session (assuming that doing it in the dark would be more authentically scary), and arrived on time (unusually for us) and sober (ish). We were greeted by an instructor who proceeded to verbally abuse us (again, you know what you’re signing up for, and it’s all part of the fun), especially our stag, who was in a dress and feather boa, and myself, in one of my usual Hawaiian shirts, and of course anyone who spoke up, backchatted, looked a bit funny…basically our whole group was in trouble.

After signing a form that basically said we waived our right to sue them under any circumstances, including the off chance that a real zombie apocalypse occurred while we were there and we were all turned into members of the walking dead, we trooped inside to get geared up. This was the first awesome part of the experience.

Kevlar body armour, as used by actual soldiers – check.

Bulletproof helmet, as used in real combat – check.

Knee pads, as used by extreme sport enthusiasts and anyone who keels down a lot – check.

Elbow guards, as used by anyone who wants to look like a bit of a tit – check.

OK, the elbow guards didn’t look massively macho, but the rest of the gear made us feel like Green Berets, even with my bright orange shirt hanging out of the bottom of my Kevlar vest…

We then had a quick briefing, followed by some Public Order training. This was where the Bootcamp part of the experience was felt most keenly, as we paraded up and down with enormous riot shields and rubber batons, learning a few drills, repeating orders back to our instructor with childish enthusiasm and volume, and then being forced to do more push ups than most of us had experienced in a loooooong time (think north of ten). There was another stag group participating on the same evening as us, and mock riots followed, the two groups taking it in turns to beat each other silly with the rubber batons.

All in all, a good introduction to the evening. A bit of fun, getting to play with actual riot gear, whacking a complete stranger on the backside with a rubber baton…what more could you ask for on a Saturday night?

Our group was then first to do an “exercise”. This involved us being kitted out once again with the riot gear, being bundled into the back of a van and driven to another part of the compound (industrial estate) where we quickly formed up in a line, as trained to do a full twenty minutes previously. Immediately there was a “casualty” to be checked, and I, in my ridiculously chosen bright shirt (might as well have had “target” tattooed on my forehead) was chosen to go and see if said fallen soldier was still breathing.

He was not. He was, of course, a zombie. One who proceeded to vomit blood all over my helmet, visor, body armour, shirt sleeves, arm, ear, jeans and shoes. Please believe me when I tell you that this blood is not that easy to clean off, especially when ignored for several hours…and in a facility where the only mirrors are the ones in the sun visor of the passenger seat of your car. (Also no showers on site, should you choose to stay over, which we did. Take baby wipes.)

After so effectively vomiting blood all over me the zombie proceeded to drag me to the ground, whereupon my friends beat the cr*p out of him with their rubber truncheons, rescuing me from the clutches of the undead…and just in time for another couple of the biggest, burliest zombies you’ll ever see to come lumbering out from behind cover to attack our little group.

They were big. They seemed angry (possibly because we were constantly hitting their legs, arms and torsos with rubber truncheons). And they were extremely strong. They genuinely did pick us up and hurl us through the air. Sometimes we landed on the conveniently placed sandbags designed to cushion our falls, sometimes we missed and landed on the inconveniently placed gravel which seemed designed only to incur maximum pain on any body part it came into contact with.

I hit the gravel. A lot.

Of course, I was being enthusiastic, and giving it my all, really getting into the spirit of the whole thing. Otherwise what’s the point? This did, though, make me something of a target. I’m not the biggest man in the world (about 5’9″ and around 12 stone), I was getting up quickly and attacking these beefy zombies again and again, and I was wearing an item of clothing that I have been told makes the word “garish” feel small and insignificant.

I forget how many times I was airborne that night, but it was a lot. And it was worth it. When the exercise came to its conclusion one of the instructors declared “not a bad effort, there, lads, especially you, Hawaiian Shirt”. I felt like Arnie, Sly and Dolph rolled into one (and if you don’t get those references, I instruct you to go and watch every 80’s action movie ever made). I was a warrior!

A short break followed, and then some mandatory training on the paintguns we would be using in our next assignment (here’s the trigger, here’s the safety, try not to shoot anyone in the face). Then it was back on the van, back to the encampment, back into action! Only this time, we had firearms…

Split into two Fire-Teams, we proceeded to clear rooms, shout gung-ho phrases and pepper the broad chests of some suspiciously similar looking zombies with paintballs (they were now equipped with goggles, though in the darkness and at the speed we were moving, this detracted in no way from the overall atmosphere). Each Fire-Team was accompanied by an instructor, who kept the whole thing moving along nicely, and occasionally threw a “grenade” (firecracker) into a room before us, adding to the illusion of being in an actual war-zone. Eventually our two teams met up, and at the end we lined up in two ranks and let rip at an oncoming horde of the undead.

Whereas in the first exercise it seemed that an almost infinite number of blows with a baton was required to down your reanimated foe, in the second (and in my opinion far more fun) exercise the walking dead went down after three or four hits in the chest. This made the whole thing more satisfying for me, and I think a very sensible way round to order the activities. The zombies beat the living hell out of you in the first round, and in the second you get to shoot at them at close range with paintball guns. Fair enough.

Finally, having survived our experience, we retired to the bar, where one of our instructors was doubling as a barman, along with a much more attractive barmaid (no offense to our instructor, of course, fine figure of  man but not my type), and we drank for a few hours while reliving our evening. And playing beer pong. And eating pizza and kebabs from a local takeaway. And occasionally groaning with pain.

The sleeping arrangements were zombie-apocalypse chic, bunkbeds in a dormitory, very much bring-your-own-sleeping-bag-and-pillow-and-anything-else-you-think-might-make-you-more-comfortable, but as we didn’t stop drinking till nearly three and breakfast was at eight, it wasn’t like we spent long in the beds anyway.

Speaking of breakfast, it was served at a nearby café, and was everything you could ask for in a full English. Hearty, well-cooked, and served with a mug of tea.

All in all I had an excellent time, even if I could barely move my left shoulder for the following two days, though this is not something I would recommend for the faint of heart (two members of the other stag party had to sit out the second activity, I believe) or the ridiculously unfit. I was shattered by the end of the first exercise, which was pretty physically demanding, and I’m not in bad shape. Not great shape, but not bad.

The instructors were entertaining, just abusive enough, but friendly when all was said and done, the zombies were suitably terrifying and violent, but also restrained (they could easily have crushed me like a grape if they’d wanted to) and the whole thing was a great experience.

Pros – the equipment was authentic and top notch, the action was physical enough to feel real without being overly dangerous (minor bumps and bruises occurred, obviously, but at no point did I feel in actual danger), the staff were all great in their respective roles.

Cons – I’m still feeling the bruises 5 days later…definitely not for the fragile. Could have done with some real ale in the bar.

Overall I would recommend this to anyone who wants something a bit different as an experience, especially fans of zombie horror. And only if you can take your sense of humour with you.

More writing news next time, hope life is treating everyone well.

Stay Frosty, People.