'From Leicester to Hollywood' is a wry comedy about the urgent realities of independent film-making - and also a love story. In this Blue City we know about the power of stories. What with our king buried under the car park and our 'fairytale' football triumph in 2016. This film has also bided its time in post-production limbo. But with some nifty footwork by HIVE Films, it has come back stronger and with a special added ingredient. This mockumentary-with-charm now boasts a voice-over by Warwick Davis, a long-term fan of indie cinema. It's a perfect fit. A veteran of this genre, he brings exactly the faux-earnestness and genuine warmth needed.
This is a low-budget/ NO budget movie. Its story-within-a-story is an 'under-dog' narrative of guerrilla film-making. A down-at-heels director, (formerly a logistics manager) is persuaded by his charlatan producer to make a movie for the record-breaking low of £43 to get 'guaranteed PR'. In the real world, the support of Leicester's Phoenix cinema seems to have helped - the arts complex features often as a location in the movie - offering the right vibe for this 'from-the-ground-up' indie film. In places, it evokes fond memories of that bio-flick about the legendary B-movie director Ed Woods - such as inserting a snow scene into the film just because it happened to be snowing in Leicester that day - 'a backdrop' money couldn't buy' intones Davis' voice-over.
I enjoyed the pastiche/homage style of filming. The snow-scene is shot as a colour-tinted music video, camera circling our woolly-hatted heroine. Other episodes include an art-house love scene with heroine in red dress wading through a rape field ablaze with yellow. But the dominant style is that of shambling mockumentary realism, a little dog-eared and smoke-stained, shot in empty pub function-rooms and warehouse floors. Writer Rod Duncan has revealed that actors' improvisation was crucial to the film's naturalism. Sometimes his writerly bon mots needed to be cast aside in favour of a muttered-in-the-moment authenticity. But scenes always had their 'through-line' which the actors could hold onto when letting loose - as in the wonderfully expletive-strewn 'Not the Blue Ray' scene. So glad that scene makes it into the trailer.
The film-within-the-film is an 'epic romance' shot in Leicester's side streets and by-ways. Rhys Davies, the real RD, coaxed beautiful performances out of his actors. In the 'talking heads' documentary interviews, Olwyn Davies evinces a sweet fresh naturalism and James Murton totally nails a gently self-mocking portrait of an up-for-anything student actor who sheds clothes at the drop of a clapper-board. His performance is unself-conscious but deftly comic throughout, as understated as The Office's Tim. But a comedy needs its grotesques. Sylvana Maimone's Producer is deliberately stagey. A woman always performing herself, she could have stepped straight out of the PR-spun world of Twenty-Twelve. She also reminded me a tad of Frasier's agent Bibi, whose voracious amorality I always adored. A rather more tortured soul is the film's protagonist, the mock-Director played by Christopher J Herbert. He serves up the cringing realism of a character whose ambitions for his hand-crafted film are 'epic' but who cannot bear to be fixed by the camera's gaze himself, delivering his CU lines into his straggly face hair or faux-leather hat. Yet he carries the film by making the viewer care about his 'journey' from pitch to premiere.
Indeed the film has a lot of heart as well as hip indie wit. It conveys the underpaid, possibly never paid, passion of guerrilla film-making. And it even draws us into the fictional romance of the two 'leads', cast because they have the vital 'chemistry' of just-found-each-other lovers. In Duncan's clever script, their passion waxes and wanes in inverse order to the scripted romance. But the film creates a genuine lump-in-the-throat moment in a moving climactic scene between Olwyn Davies and James Murton. Although Duncan jokes about the script being mangled and tossed away in the editing room, in fact, the shaping of the story arc is one of the film's most satisfying elements. It is beautifully patterned, working through an elliptical orbit which perfectly counters the mockumentary's air of shambolic realism.
Can I also mention that this film was a 'crowd-funded' venture in which local people invest in home-grown film-makers and where the production calls in favours and conjures small-daily miracles to keep the cameras rolling? Suresh Dippy's suitably dour Editor literally eats, sleeps and lives on the mixing board in a 'borrowed' editing suite. It's a precarious business as this indie-comedy explores but HIVE productions have by now mastered their guerrilla art. FLTH more than re-pays the investment and offers a finely crafted indie gem that will tickle your funny bones and make you care not only about its lovers but the guerrillas behind the cameras. All we want to complete the story arc is a carpeted procession of director Rhys Davies, writer Rod Duncan and actor Warwick Davis to pick up the Oscar. What are the odds? 5000-1? Bring it on.