LondonSWF: Proposals and Zombies… True Story!


‘I was going to quit… When at LondonSWF, I met the love of my life, and we ended up producing and selling our first film together…’

It was raining. He grabbed her hand, smiling as if he knew her from before.

Rachel was wet. Shy. Lost.

He looked at her, speaking with his French accent.

‘Hi, I’m David Marantz’.

‘Hi, I’m Rachel Hillman’.

They had no idea that this magic moment would change their life forever, becoming the catalyst of their filming career.

During her first London Screenwriting Festival, in the garden of Regent’s University, Rachel was inside the ‘tent of love’, in front of her future husband, and the co-producer of her first movie.

It was 2016.

At that time, Rachel was a daughter who had just lost her father.

And a broken writer who only wanted to quit because her passion for writing had almost vanished.

Before meeting David, Rachel came from nowhere: a cosy medieval English town south of London, called Guildford.

Years passed and Rachel’s dream of working in the cinema industry seemed out of reach.

Even if she was living in London, working for a facility house which broadcasted Discovery Channel…

And even if she had connections in the film industry and the free time to create.

Rachel wasn’t filming anything that she had written, except for her first short film.

Probably you know the feeling: you have something to express, but you’re stuck for words.

And you can’t put your finger on what the problem is.

When her father died, the grief became her obstacle, but also what spurred her to join the London Screenwriting Festival in 2016, hoping to find a reason to pursue her dream.

When your parents become old, your youngest dreams seem insignificant compared to the problems of real life.

But they are important.

At the Festival, Rachel needed to answer these questions: Why keep writing? What’s the point?

And when you are in search of inspiration, or a reason to keep going, life gives you a charming French screenwriter prince to show you the way…

To be fair, David isn’t a prince, but just a dreamer like Rachel who wanted to write and express himself. His passion inspired her so much that she ended up working with him on her first movie.

The exciting and vibrant atmosphere of the festival and the precious lectures that Rachel attended during that weekend pushed her to give herself another chance as a screenwriter, and filmmaker.

Rachel started to chat with David, and they shared ideas and scripts.

At that time, she was living in Guildford, taking care of her sick family.

For her, David was just a friend from Paris, and probably their story would never have progressed if it hadn’t been for the London Screenwriting Festival.

In fact…

When Rachel discovered that the LSF organized a Christmas gathering, she invited David to come.

It was in December 2016 that she started to feel a sparkle between them.

‘He was inspirational, supportive, kind. Until I sent him one of my scripts…’

Rachel’s story was about a God who wants to quit his job.

When she read David’s comment, she couldn’t believe his message…

This doesn’t make sense, Rachel’, David said.

He definitely wasn’t trying to make a good impression…

Because of his honesty, Rachel realized that David could become a real friend.

So, in April 2017, she packed her bags and visited David in Paris, with the ‘excuse’ of brushing up her French.

With the help of the most romantic city in the world, Rachel and David became a couple in February 2018, the same year they decided to produce a film together.

But they didn’t know which script to choose.

David had written a script about a young girl in a devastated world trying to save her little brother, who was becoming a zombie.

The title is Alive, and it ended up being streamed by Amazon.

‘When we chose to produce Alive, we didn’t even consider that the film could become a success. We just wanted to produce something together, and join our forces, love, and passion to make our dream come true’, said Rachel, during the interview.

In fact, before Alive …

They had never produced a feature.

They knew nothing about budgeting, planning, or directing.

They studied books, and then they learned by experience.

But they decided to give it a try, anyway.

So, how do you start to make a movie?

Don’t film the entire movie straight away.

Instead, plan only a weekend of shooting. Here’s why this decision could save you lots of money.

‘We did a three-day test shooting to see if our goal was possible, and how much money we needed: from costumes, lights, cameras, transport to excellent catering to feed the actors, and make them comfortable.

The truth is…

‘The success of those three days of filming was a test not only for our career but also for our relationship…’

Would Rachel and David have stayed together?

Were they a solid couple?

Will their love satisfy their expectations?

And were they in harmony to work on their dreams together?

When they filmed 5 scenes in 3 days, in August 2019, just to see what the result would be, their love passed the test.

Everyone on the set worked well together. The test went exceptionally well which is what spurred David and Rachel to keep going.

Rachel looked at their finances and thought: ‘Guess what? Nobody is going to do this for us. It’s up to us.’

In fact, life isn’t like a fairy tale. Nobody is coming to save you and give you the life you want.

You have to work for your dreams.

That’s what they did.

‘We emptied our savings, believing that this movie was an investment for our career, and for everyone involved in the project.

We started filming in November only at the weekends, because we had two children and two teenagers in the story.

When you are on a budget it’s important to respect your schedule or you’ll spend more than what you expected.

That’s why I put aside an amount of the budget for unexpected events.

But you can’t foresee what life has in store for you…’.

No one could ever have imagined what happened next…

After a few weekends filming in January and February 2020, COVID-19 hit, and Rachel and David had to interrupt their filming.

During the last weekend of shooting, Italy and France were already in lockdown.

England was next.

They were stuck.

Not knowing when they could get back to their life…

In that period, you probably felt the same.

The future was a dark never-ending tunnel without an exit.

But Rachel and David had a beacon to follow.

The Internet.

Instead of despairing and complaining, Rachel and David used that time at home to find solutions to finish their movie.

They made two choices.

Choices that changed the destiny of their project forever.

First, they needed to find the last location to shoot the most important scenes of the film.

That location would have cost them a third of the budget by filming for seven days.

They needed a cabin lost in a forest.

But the only place they found available was in the middle of nowhere, in Devon.

Surrounded by bilberries, oaks, and hollies, on a carpet of bluebells, Rachel and David were going to film the most important scenes of that movie.

‘But the location was far away, and we had to pay for the transportation and the hotel for our crew. That’s when you need the money aside for emergencies. We took a trip to Devon to visit the location and figured out if it was possible to shoot there’, said Rachel.

Because ‘the world is a small place’, Rachel discovered that she had a common connection in the cinema industry with one of the owners of the land. This coincidence helped her not only to have the freedom to shoot the movie but also to have a discount.

The second choice they made was one of the most important pieces of advice you can hear if you want to attract producers, agents, and investors to sell your movie project…

While they were stuck at home, Rachel and David decided to create the trailer of Alive, using the material already shot.

She created a profile on IMDb to show the trailer, also adding the cast members and all the information she had about the project.

That’s how Rachel and David attracted agents and producers who were interested in their film.

And that’s why this is a smart move you can make to promote your project…

Some of the cast members were already part of other important projects, like Sandman, Downtown Abbey, and Doctor Who.

Thanks to those connections, their IMDb page started to attract visitors.

‘Among the agents who contacted us, was the perfect one who would lead us to Amazon.

Great… but our movie was still incomplete.

We started filming again in August 2020.’

The making of the movie Alive: The secrets, the lost scenes, and the mysterious guy with the gun…

Shooting a film is never how you imagine it…

Especially if you are working on a low-budget project, you don’t have a producer assistant and your set location is a crumbling cabin in the middle of a wood with no locks or doors to leave your precious equipment.

So, every morning the routine was the same: getting up at 4. a.m., having a shower, having breakfast, and then loading all the equipment into the car.

They were almost halfway through the film when David discovered something weird on his memory card…

‘Every time we finished recording, David was checking the memory cards, creating a backup on three different hard disks, because we had only that opportunity to film, and we couldn’t lose a scene.

One day, after the recording of one of the most important scenes, Rachel discovered that the memory card we were using was compromised.

We lost the footage of the entire day.

Luckily, David noticed in time, so we managed to shoot some of the scenes again.

But not all of them.

We were down in the dumps.

We had lost time and money.

Our savings.

We tried to salvage the memory card by using special software, but it didn’t work because we needed an old version of the MacBook.

A guy from our crew helped us.

He had the old MacBook version but we saved only three videos.

Our movie was starting to become too expensive, and we only had that week to shoot in Devon.  

So, we gave everything we had: time, energy, and money.

But it was worth it to get to where we are now. ‘

Especially because one of the most expensive resources they needed, was also one of the most crucial to complete the film.

In fact, they were prepared for any surprises…

Except for him.

Simon.

‘We hired Simon as our ‘gunman’, not knowing who he really was behind his humble and cryptic smile…’

In a movie scene of Alive, as you can see also in the trailer, there’s a character who is holding a sniping rifle.

In the UK, you need a license to have guns on your set, even if they are unloaded. Also, you need a weapons master, sometimes credited as the armorer or weapons specialist to coordinate, and control the use of weapons on set.

David and Rachel’s movie is a zombie apocalypse story, so they needed different scenes with guns.

That’s when Simon Atherton got involved in the project.

When they called him, they knew nothing about who he was, except that he could help them in some way.

‘Simon was kind, and when we sent him the photos of the gun we needed, he said he had it, and he could help us. But he asked for more money than we expected to spend, saying that he needed to be on set.’

David and Rachel decided to trust him. It was like a blind date.

‘I won’t ever forget the first time I saw him’, said David, ‘The zombies were putting on makeup for the scene. Rachel and I were with our director of photography when we saw a sixty-year-old man looking at us with cold eyes.

Simon surprised us.

Not only did he provide the weapons as he promised, but he also coordinated the action scenes, giving stuntman advice to actors on how to use the guns safely.

He was amazing, professional, and resourceful.

Then we figured out who he really was, and why his experience improved our action scenes.’

When David asked Simon when he started his career, he left them speechless.

Simon was a weapons master movie star.

He started his career providing the guns for Raiders of the Lost Ark

As a gunsmith, he had created the weapons for the movie Fifth Element.

When he also started to craft swords and shields, he was hired on the Braveheart set.

The gun Simon used in Alive was previously used by Brad Pitt…

‘Making your own movie is a surprising and incredible experience, with turning points, eccentric characters and intense emotions.

One of the experiences that make your life memorable.

We met lots of wonderful people who inspired us and helped us grow professionally.

I want to thank everyone who worked to make our dreams come true.

We were happy and satisfied just for having completed our movie, and for the harmony that we built in our relationship. Most of the writers stop at the screenplay. When you produce your own written project, you gain a new perspective of the story, and this helps you improve your craft.

The next chapter was unexpected…

The agents Alex Nohe, and his business partner Jeff Dowd, who inspired the character of the Dude from the Big Lebowski, helped David and Rachel reach out to Amazon.

Their film was distributed on VOD in the US. And now you can watch it on Amazon Prime, UK.

On the last day of filming, the main male character Neil Sheffield asked Rachel and David about their plans for the following week.

It was at that moment when they realized how much time had passed.

‘We are going to get married’, said Rachel. It was March 2021.

After 18 months and £60,000 invested, Rachel and David completed their first film together.

Alive wasn’t only a turning point in their career, but also in their life.

After marrying David, Rachel said ‘goodbye’ to England, and moved to Paris, where now they live together, writing and planning their next project.

‘We know we can do more together, and we should.’

That’s the reason why they continue writing.

Life is like filming: you have to deal with the chaos and keep finding solutions for unexpected problems.

Even if obstacles will keep hindering the path towards your dreams, you can’t quit, because you love what you do and just can’t stop doing it.

Instead of giving up, Rachel chose to attend the London Screenwriting Festival, changing her entire life.

You can make the same decision too and move a step forward towards your dreams.

Get early access for LSF 2025, by buying your ticket at a special price.

Change your life now by clicking here:
https://www.londonscreenwritersfestival.com/tickets/

Julia Campisi

 

 

 

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