Michael Chandler talks us through the ins and outs of his refugee-themed drama.
As regular LWLies readers know, we're interested in much more than Hollywood conjecture and mindless celebrity tattle. That's why each week we'll be profiling an up-and-coming filmmaker, posing them important questions about how they managed to get their grass roots project off the ground.
Who are you and why have you made a film?
My name’s Michael Chandler, a young(ish!) London-based film-maker by night. An ex-radio DJ and current manager of charities by day, it took a while to clarify that film-making was my main love – though at the age of six I was already writing my first film in my head, and had drafted my first feature film synopsis by the age of 15.
AK is my second short drama – after a break from filmmaking due to life commitments. I originally drafted AK in 207, following my second visit to Sierra Leone, and inspired by some of the tales of hardship and courage following the civil war.
Towards the end of 2011, a year since my last short film, I decided it was time to start planning the next one. Limited by having no budget, few resources and even less time due to a new, challenging full-time job, I intended to make it a simple short, utilising talent and locations I had access to. I revisited and developed the AK story.
Having recently met Julian, I thought he could be the perfect person for the role, and planned the shoot with him clearly in mind. However, as I broke down the story into shoots, developed the storyboard, and reviewed the filming requirements, I soon realised this may not be as simple as originally hoped.
What’s your pitch?
Home is Sierra Leone; now a long way away.
As distant memories merge with past demons, AK's hopes for the future start to crack.
Not everything is better here.
AK is a short drama about a young Sierra Leonean man who lived through the conflict as both victim and perpetrator, and now finds himself a student in a foreign land, London. Lost, alienated and isolated, AK’s mind starts to blur the lines between the past and the present, memory and reality. AK becomes haunted and tormented by his ‘debul’, which increasingly threaten his hopes, goals and dreams.
Shot in both English and Krio on location in London and Sierra Leone, AK is the second drama written and directed by Michael Chandler and starring up-and-coming Sierra Leonean actor Julian Sandi. The film mixes reality with fantasy, and features dark, exciting Krumping from young east London talent from the Think Big Project.
What kind of experience do you have?
AK is technically my second short drama written and directed by myself, (first was The Fall, which was successful at festivals). I’m experience in making short documentaries (Stay Sailing, about pirate radio) and was involved in making some award-winning campaign films for charities such as Shelter and Sierra Leonean charity WAYout. I’d done two short films for Marie Stopes/WAYout in Sierra Leone, shot in Krio, so was familiar with shooting in two languages, useful for AK.
What makes your film stand out from the crowd?
I think both the use of Krio and on location shoots – both in and around Elephant & Castle, and in Sierra Leone, helps bring a real authenticity to the film. Also, the use of a fantasy/nightmare sequence later in the film, featuring young raw dance talent, brings a real edge and brings something totally different, original and unique. There were moments where we weren’t sure if that particular section worked, but in hindsight I’m so glad we kept it in as it adds another level to the film.
Where are you in the process?
We’ve just completed the film finally, giving it a final grade and sound mix. This is after a traumatic four months editing process – so long due to several technical issues along the way - lost files, a corrupt timeline which wouldn't render three quarters of the edit. Several moments of absolute despair. Now, onto the really difficult bit. Getting it out there!
Tell us about the highs…
The highs were numerous, included seeing the actors bring the story to life – Julian really WAS AK, and made this film work entirely on his shoulders. But also seeing the unexpected range, energy and talent the four youth from the Think Big project brought as well – both to the fight scene and to the dance sequence – that was really exciting.
Secondly, doing the first few edits, bringing Andy’s music in, and seeing that this film - shot in drips and drabs here and there with snatched time - come together and actually starting to work.
Finally, this point now. Having finished it. Getting it out there. Having a film, with some great pics thanks to Iain Weir, to promote.
And the lows…
The aforementioned editing issues really were torturous, all the more frustrating because they came so close to the end. But there were several frustrations along the way – mainly due to my over-ambitious shoot. By the end, the production included over 20 separate locations in two countries, in two separate continents. Over 10 days and nights shooting, including several night shoots (with no lighting rigs whatsoever).
A shoot during which the DOP/Sound Recordist soldiered on through pneumonia, the lead actor also had health concerns, and the rest of the cast and crew had their own substantial commitments, from work to school, to filming around the world, and my own full-time job - a bit of a scheduling nightmare.
Not having any budget whatsoever also made it a challenge, making it an exercise in extreme guerrilla filmmaking – grabbing shots where and when we could – in shopping centres, buses, tunnels, rooftops. Nerve-wracking, but also fun.
And it has to be said, that its only thanks to all those that were involved, that gave their time and energy, that made it happen. Including Julian and Hazel, who pushed me on with their passion and determination when I was shattered or bewildered, so major thanks to them.
What advice would you pass on to anyone following in your footsteps?
Three pieces of advice:
1) When starting out, make it simple!
2) Plan, plan, plan as best you can. You can get some pretty good stuff through guerilla film-making, if you plan and put in the work before you start shooting.
3) Get a team round you that believe in the project and will follow you anywhere
What are your hopes for the future?
That AK gets festival recognition and gets out there generally. I’m already working on my next short (a simpler affair than AK), and am developing three feature scripts at present – fingers crossed for those. Also keen to collaborate with other film-makers on other projects.
I also hope that the talent involved in AK get the recognition they deserve and go on to fulfill their potential.
Follow Michael and the AK team at akshortfilm.com