Monday, 27 July 2009

Cheeky Monkey Pictures! .. some notes

Notes about the background of Cheeky Monkey Pictures! by Adam Manning

My friends and I have a common background of a great interest in films, especially particularly spectacular science fiction, fantasy and horror. We were also brought up in the 70s and 80s, a golden age in many ways for science fiction on British television. As a group we also enjoyed fancy dress parties and several of us are keen on role playing games. With an additional interest in computers, graphics, electronic music, video cameras and all manner of gadgets, making a film in many ways now seemed an inevitable progression of what came before.

At a party back in the summer of 2001, our director Matthew McWilliams and I were talking about snippets of film we had seen and the subject of fan films came up. He had heard of some Star Wars ones and I had heard of some Doctor Who ones. Matt was keen to produce a Star Wars one but Lizzie Whiting, his beautiful girlfriend who plays Romana, and I were ardent Whovians and talked him round. If truth be told Matt had been a huge Who fan all along and has gone out and promptly bought huge amounts of video tapes since starting this film. In fact we've all become even greater fans of the series than before since starting this project - it is in many ways an act of love for the series that gives us so much enjoyment.

So that was established: we would try and do a (very) short Doctor Who fan film just for the fan of having a project to work together. But what would be the plot? Somehow it befell me to come up with the idea. I have always been a BIG Dalek fan. They bring out the Doctor's nature to me - pitting the extreme individualism of the Doctor against the collectivized mentally of the Daleks was a wonderful way of illustrating his character. I was always very excited when a Dalek story was on.

It also became clear, without really putting it into words, that I would play the Doctor. I have always been a big fan of Tom Baker's Doctor but there was no way I could play it like him. I don't physically look like any of the proper Doctors either so some sort of imitation was out straight away.

In late 2001 my wife Alison, who plays the Thal soldier Loran, and I went on a sort of second honeymoon to St Lucia in the Carribean. On the trusty British West Indies Airways jumbo over there, I read a Who novel called "War of the Daleks" which I greatly enjoyed although its somewhat convuluted story is rather controversial with the more academically minded Who fans. It was the initial depiction of a huge battle between the Thals and Daleks on a planet populated by an innocent primitive people that excited me.

Another source of inspiration was Lizzie. She once told me that when she had been at university at Oxford, she had belonged to a student organization called F.A.F.; Friends Against Fungi, a somewhat tongue in cheek support group for people who detested mushrooms, toadstools and so forth. So in some way, she insisted, fungi had to feature in the film as evil beings of some description.

Well with those strands running through my mind, I settled down on the beautiful beaches of St Lucia and it was there that the basic plot, involving diabolical machinations from the Daleks, was conjured into life. I didn't think we could manage a huge battle scene, so the extent of the story was scaled down dramatically.

I wrote out an outline for a first episode and Lizzie turned it into a script. We then rehearsed the whole thing a couple of times during the summer of 2002 and shot the whole of The Galentor Incident on one day in September 2002 in the New Forest, England.

Somewhat elated over the whole thing we decided to continue with our little story and finish it off, so we needed a second episode. I wrote it up in script form in early 2003 after getting approval from the rest of Cheeky Monkey Pictures! and then we set about shooting it! So The Galentor Incident became the name for the first episode and the whole story was renamed Tyranny of the Daleks, which was more in keeping with the normal naming for Dalek stories. I thought the word tyranny was very appropriate when referring to Daleks. The aim of the story, if there is one, is to depict the evil of the Daleks and the terrible consequences their plans and deep rooted greed for power can have on those unlucky enough to be in their way, even indirectly.

The following three episodes are much more ambitious and features sets and interior scenes for the first time. Having made one set, I am quite clear why so many fan films are shot in forests - its so much easier!

We had of course watched all of Timebase's films - anyone who is interested in Who fan films will instantly know who they are. Three of them, Steve Palace, Paul Ferry and Neil Johnson, very kindly agreed to help us out by travelling all the way to Southampton to be in our largest day of filming involving over twenty actors. They were excellent performers and we are very excited about seeing them in the three remaining episodes when they are finished.

Filming eventually finished in summer 2005 and now its onto post production. Its a lot of work but the end product makes it all seem worthwhile. We are very lucky to have a number of friends who are happy to get involved and play a role in the film. Filming is a great social occasion and this sums up the whole fan film ethos to me. With fan films, the process of making the film itself is far more important than the eventual film. It is a chance to get together with friends, have lots of fun, do something creative and hopefully, fingers crossed, come up with something you will get a laugh and enjoyment from for years to come. No one should be working to a deadline, no one should be worried too much about the quality of their performance and no one should spend all their money or time making it. To me these are the most important things. The whole activity of making and putting it all together is the most important performance or experience; not the end result.

Which is not to say that we don't like our film - we love it. Its thrilling to see the results of all your hard work on the screen. We are proud of it, although we are novice amateurs and have never done anything like this before.

Episodes 1,2 and 3 are now available to view and Episode 4 should be available during 2009!

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