AMY JAMES-KELLY CHATS ‘LAST SUMMER’ & FUTURE PROJECTS 132

Amy James-Kelly is not only talented but hugely ambitious. Having first come to notable public attention starring in Coronation Street and Jericho, she’s now added the titles of writer, producer and director to her resume thanks to her impressive independent film Last Summer, described as a project “with a history” and one which “addresses current themes and issues.” TITL caught up with Amy to find out more about the production process of the film, the importance of crowd-funding in its creation and what other projects she has in the pipeline.

TITL: Most people will likely know you best for playing Maddie Heath in Coronation Street from 2013-2015, but what exactly made you want to branch out into film-making, producing and directing?

Amy James-Kelly: A lot of my friends have done similar things and because I missed out on the whole going to university experience where a lot of people will do film studies, make their own stuff, that kind of thing and take all that they’ve learned over those years and put them into practice later in life, I didn’t get to do those things.

But I’d heard the story of Last Summer as it was a play my mum had been involved in. This all stemmed from a conversation had with me while she was washing up and she was reminiscing about this play that she did. As she was telling me, I had a mental image of what would later go on to become the last shot of the film. It just kinda happened and I thought ‘I have to do this now.’ It was always something I thought about doing, eventually – having a go at writing, directing and generally film-making – but it wasn’t until that moment that I said to myself that I was definitely going to do it.

TITL: You had a bit of trouble trying to get the backing and the funding for the film. Do you think, given all those problems, now that the film’s done, that you were able to make it at the right time? Do you think Last Summer would have had the same relevance and impact two years ago as it does today?

AJK: I am so glad we did it this time around. The quality’s better – all aspects of the film are better. The script was edited a lot and I feel like by the time Last Summer finally began production, I’d grown as a producer and was more comfortable with that role than I might have been had we tried making this film when we first began looking for backers and funding. I was learning things throughout the whole process, and I’d learnt a lot of lessons from when we first began working on the film before the problems started to arise, which proved immensely beneficial in the long-run. I think it was a blessing in disguise that the film didn’t work out first time round because it has ended up being ten times better.

TITL: How easy or hard was it to bring everyone in terms of the cast and crew back together after the funding and everything fell through first time around?

AJK: I think we managed to get about 50% of the original team back – some were unavailable and a few others simply decided it would be better if we parted ways. I’m really lucky that, myself included, on the team, there are 5 of us that all go to acting school together and we all have a similar interest in producing our own work, acting, writing and everything like that. It’s just really great to see that individuals from acting school, can do and are doing something outside of class to help them grow not only as actors but as people. We all just thought ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We got together and we were all throwing around different ideas – it’s been really great having that unit of people who are in the same boat as me, so to speak, and who understand what it is I’m passionate about and why.

In terms of finding the other crew members, that wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. There are loads of Facebook groups around these days where, once approved by the page admins, you can simply put a post up explaining who it is you’re looking for and a little about the project you’re working on, and receive responses from people all over the country, including industry professionals with all their own gear, who are willing to jump on board with you. I think social media is going to launch the next generation of film-makers.

TITL: What would you say your team all brought to the creation of the film?

AJK: The film would have been completely different if one member of the team hadn’t been a part of it. I’m so lucky to have worked with them all. We had people who are very much industry professionals and some people who are just starting out, all working together towards the same goal and I think that really comes across in the film as well. The professionals brought their experience and the newer individuals brought their enthusiasm – when that came together, it was amazing to watch and be involved in. It was fantastic to see someone who has like 100 film credits pass on their advice to someone who was standing on their first ever set, or show them how to do something a certain way.

TITL: Last Summer was largely crowd-funded – did you expect the reaction and support that it got?

AJK: After what happened first time around, there was always a worry that the same thing would happen again. I kept telling myself that it was going to work and it does stun me, at least once a day, to think that there are people out there who not only put their own money into this project but also sent me messages telling me they were excited to see it, or who had been following my progress. There were people I hadn’t spoken to for years getting in touch to pass on their well-wishes and support and that touched me, it really did. To think that an idea I had as a result of a conversation with my mum was all-but brought to life mostly by people I don’t even know is mind-blowing.

TITL: How big would you say the impact of social media has been in general in terms of how it helped get the film made and its promotion?

AJK: Social media is and has been an invaluable tool to myself and the Last Summer team, as made evident by the crowd-funding campaign launched to help get it made. People have obviously always made films and started their own production companies etc. long before social media existed, and full credit to them because I don’t know how I’d have done it, but I relied on social media a lot; I relied on people sharing news about the film, posting the crowd-funding link and things like that. I had people who donated to the film living in the States, in Sweden – if social media didn’t exist, there’s no way I’d have had the ability to reach them.

TITL: You wrote on your crowd-funding site that a lot of the money donated by individuals around the world would be going to Reuben’s Retreat. Why that charity/organisation in particular?

AJK: I’m an ambassador for the charity and I’m always trying to champion them whenever I can. They’re a group of people very close to my heart. I always try and do something with and for them every year, be it the Manchester 10K or sorting out their stationary cupboard laughs One if the filming locations, Howard Park, is right beside the retreat, and it wasn’t until I was at the retreat one day just helping out, that I went into the park with Nicola, Reuben’s mum, and I just said “Oh my God, this is perfect.” Everything I’d pictured in my head was suddenly visualised right in front of me, and I knew that, if we were going to work so closely to the Retreat, then we had to give them something back. They helped us out so much – they sorted out our catering on the first two days and I felt bad about seeing them help us as much as they did, but the Retreat team just said to me: “We know you’ll always give something back.”

TITL: You held a screening in Manchester – how did that go?

AJK: It was amazing. It was so great to finally show people the finished product – I’d seen it about four million times in various stages of post-production – and that was the first time the majority of people had seen what myself and the team had put our time, energy and passion into creating. I was nervous…I was so scared, and when I stood up to thank everyone, my mind just went completely blank. I had to type something up later and send it to everyone – I have no idea what I ended up saying.

TITL: So what are the plans for the film now? Are you looking to get it out to a few independent or even major film festivals?

AJK: Film festivals are the main aim, yeah, and I’m also wanting to get it onto DVD for people.

TITL: What sort of message do you want people to take from Last Summer, both in terms of the production and the film itself?

AJK: The film itself is hard to say without giving anything away. There is a message with it, but it would give the story away. As for the production, certainly in regards to people who want to do something like this, I think the main message is that they simply need to tell themselves they CAN do it; that it can and WILL happen. Simply convince yourself that nothing can stop you and that the project you’ve been dreaming about will become a reality. It’s as simple as that. Self-confidence, and confidence in others, in the team you’re wanting to and going to work with, is key.

Absolutely anybody can be a part of this industry – actors, producers, directors, writers – they might all come from different walks of life, but when they’re all set on making something a reality, and bringing an idea to life, none of that does or will ever matter. Plus, the feeling you get when you finally achieve your dream and bring your idea to life is amazing.

TITL: Now that Last Summer is out there and your baby has flown the nest, so to speak, what’s next for you?

AJK: Off the back of Last Summer, people who worked with me on that, or who have just caught wind of the film, have got in touch asking if we can collaborate, and that to me is really, really exciting as I never expected it to happen. I honestly thought that this would just be a little thing that I did, and obviously, I always wanted the kind of reception that it’s had, but I never expected that people would love it as much as they have and to get the reaction and response that it did at the screening in Manchester.

I’ve also had messages from people in my acting classes getting in touch saying ‘It’s so cool to see someone from class doing something…let’s do something together.’ As for what’s next, I’m in the early research stages of a short film I’m currently doing with a friend of mine and I’m producing a short film that one of the guys on the team is doing.

TITL: What do you say to people out there who think actors and actresses should stick to those specific roles, rather than branching out into producing and directing as you have?

AJK: I think that’s really blinkered. This industry is so accessible and everyone works so closely together. It’s so easy to have an interest in another aspect of being on set, and just networking or picking up the skills and knowledge you need to give those aspects a go. If you have an idea and you want to turn it into something, need it be a play, a film…whatever – there is nothing to stop you. I think directors can try acting, actors can try directing…anyone can try anything and no-one should be able to or want to stop them from doing that.

TITL: Now that you’ve found your producing/directing feet with Last Summer, can you see yourself going back to TV in the near future?

AJK: I’m currently working on Harlan Coben’s Safe with Red Productions for Netflix. I think acting is always going to be my first love – I eat, sleep and breathe it and I get a really big geeky kick out of it, but I’m definitely going to continue making projects like this – I’d start one again tomorrow.

To keep up to date with Amy James-Kelly, follow her on Twitter. Header photo credit: Lee Johnson Photography.

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STOLEN CITY TALK NEW SINGLE “LAST NIGHT” & ARTISTIC INSPIRATIONS 66

With Ireland’s globally successful music history – here’s looking at you, U2 and The Script – you might think that up and coming Dublin trio Stolen City would be feeling the pressure. Instead, the three friends, Sean, Dave and Ian, are paving their own way in the industry. With big plans in the works for the coming year, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with the band to find out more about their musical influences, their thoughts on social media and their dreams of touring the world.

TITL: First of all, please introduce yourselves and tell us a little about your role in the band.

Stolen City: We are Stolen City, we consist of 3 members Sean, Ian (Bailey) and Dave. Sean is the lead singer and rhythm guitar player of the band, Bailey is the drummer of the band and Dave plays rhythm guitar and mandolin.

TITL: How do the three of you know each other/how did you meet?

SC: Sean and Dave met in college in Dublin where they were both studying music, performance and production and formed an instant friendship that they never thought would turn into what it has. They started performing together as a duo early into the year and with continued success decided to form a band. They invited Bailey into the band and have been together since.

TITL: Which bands and artists are you most inspired and influenced by and how do those artists impact the music you make?

SC: We have so many different influences and bring so many different styles into our music. Sean`s influences mainly come from singer-songwriters and solo performers such as Foy Vance, JP Cooper and Gavin James. Dave’s influences are mainly bands such as Mumford & Sons, The 1975 and The XX. Bailey brings a style that mainly comes from his favorite band, Green Day, and he also loves Swing and big band music.

TITL: What would you say is your unique selling point as a band?

SC: Our unique selling point is our music. There`s nothing like it in the market today and it`s something completely unique to us and we are so passionate about it.

TITL: Is there a story behind your latest track “Last Night”? Can you recall where you were when you wrote it?

SC: “Last Night” is a song we wrote in early 2017 to put on our EP but when we recorded it and heard it back it was too special to us to just release it on our EP so we saved it to be released on its own as a single.

TITL: Have you an album in the works and if so, is there anything you can tease us with about it?

SC: We can`t say exactly what we do have in the works but there is something coming towards the end of this year. However we can tell you that we are spending a good amount of time in the recording studio and writing music this year.

TITL: If you could collaborate with any other band or artist, who would you choose and why?

SC: Oh god, that`s a really hard question to answer there`s so many incredible artists out there at the moment. We all have different answers Sean would love to collaborate with Gavin James, Dave would love to collaborate with Mumford & Sons and Bailey would love to collaborate with Green Day.

TITL: Of the shows you’ve played so far in your career, is there one that stands out? If so, which is it and why is/was it so memorable for you?

SC: Dave and Bailey`s favourite show was definitely a festival we played in Co.Mayo Ireland called “Band on The Strand” there was a crowd of over 4,000 people where we played a set of our original songs and got an incredible reaction and had the crowd so interested in the show we put on.

Sean`s favorite show was a more intimate gig we played on the main stage in Whelan`s Dublin. There was a sold out crowd on the night and we were the headline act. We played a full set of our original songs and had the crowd singing them back to us it was amazing and unforgettable.

TITL: For those who haven’t seen you live yet, how would you describe a Stolen City show?

SC: A Stolen City show guarantees to entertain – it`s full of surprises and fun. We are extremely energetic and really know how to get a crowd going. Trust us if you miss a Stolen City show, you are missing something special.

TITL: If you could play one venue, anywhere in the world, with three artists/bands living or dead, where would it be and who would be on the bill?

SC: Oh this one’s easy we would love to play Red Rocks Amphitheatre and on the bill would be Queen, The Beatles, Ourselves and Thin Lizzy.

TITL: Will you be hitting the road again later this year?

SC: We will be hitting the road again this year if all of our plans fall into place but we can’t say dates or venues yet.

TITL: You’re earning yourselves a considerable following on social media, notably Twitter. To what extent has that impacted/boosted your career?

SC: Social media boosts our listeners, fans, friends and also opens up opportunities for us all around the world because it has such a broad spectrum and such a wide reach it really is incredible and drives us to work harder and harder every-day.

TITL: Given the success of Irish bands such as U2 and more recently, The Script, do you ever feel any pressure to ‘have’ to follow in their footsteps and achieve the same levels of popularity and success they’ve earned over the years? Or, are you more a ‘let’s enjoy the ride while it lasts and see where it goes’ kind of band?

SC: We don`t feel any pressure at all to follow in the footsteps of other bands because we`re so different. We really believe that what we do makes a difference not just to us but to others and that’s all we can ask for. We work harder than anyone out there we push our limits and we are not afraid to take risks and we will hopefully make our own pathway to success.

TITL: Finally then, where would you like to yourselves 5 years from now? What’s the long-term objective for the band and what would you have to achieve in order to turn to one another and say ‘We’ve made it.’?

SC: In 5 years’ time we would love to be touring the world and we would love our music to be reaching millions upon millions of people. We are confident in what we do and we know if we push ourselves and if we work hard we will someday get to where we want to be. For us to say “We`ve made it” we would have to play a sold out show to thousands of people who know every word to every song, that`s the dream and that`s what drives us.

Check out the video for Stolen City’s new single “Last Night” below and for more information on the band, give their page a like on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

Y.O.U.N.G. OPEN UP ABOUT NEW SINGLE “EXPOSURE” & SOCIAL MEDIA 61

With an array of artistic and musical influences between them, Manchester quintet Y.O.U.N.G. don’t quite fit into any particular genre, but they certainly don’t seem to mind. Having earned themselves a considerable following throughout 2017, largely thanks to their impressive live performances, the band are starting 2018 on a high – one that’s set to continue when the group release their debut album later in the year. ThisIsTheLatest caught up with rapper and keyboardist Ben to find about more exactly to chat about how the band came together and what fans can expect from them in the coming months.

TITL: How do the five of you know each other/how did you meet?

Ben: Jamie and Chez actually worked at a music studio. I met Chez’s dad when at a film festival with my uncle Wiggy, who did choreography for Take That and 911. He invited me down to meet the boys. We connected as mates and gave a few tracks a go. It felt great, but looking back these tracks were awful. Haha! We all agree! Eventually there came a time where we needed a drummer and a bassist, luckily for us we knew the two lemons for the job. Grae has known Chez from primary school, same with tom. We’d all worked for the company teaching kids drums in schools, all of a sudden we we’re all playing in the same building we all trained. It was like some fate shit.  We jammed it felt good, more energetic, so we became, officially a 5.

TITL: What would you say Y.O.U.N.G’s unique selling point is?

B: The combination of musical elements. I don’t hear rap on guitar like I want to hear it nowadays. Every rappers trappin’. Of course guitars and rap isn’t new. But the way in which we do it, I believe is unique. Come watch us I’ll show you!

TITL: How different/similar are your personal music tastes and how have you been able to bring those influences to the table in order to create your sound?

B: We like a lot of the same things, but it’s evolving all the time as we listen to new things. It’s not always what you think. For example, recently Chez has been listening to lots of reggae, whereas I have been jogging to Slipknot. Our sounds are slowly merging over each other over time. For an idea to get into a song we generally just go on the strength of the idea; you can’t turn up to rehearsals and start playing folk and talking about the Norwegian charts….but if the bassline gets me, then I’m in, wherever it came from! We all have to feel it or we don’t do it. It’s actually quite easy to bring our influences to the table, no one’s getting a guitar thrown at them for trying something in practice. We just try bring strong ideas to rehearsals, some things work, some don’t. The songs are coming together nicely at the moment though, I believe they always will.

TITL: If you were to say you sounded similar to any band or artist, which or who would it be?

B: I’ve read Lethal Bizzle vs Twenty One Pilots – I’ll take that, although I prefer to think of myself more rap-wise as a young Method Man with a sprinkle of Will Smith. Just a sprinkle. I can’t act.

TITL: Tell me a little about your latest track “Exposure.” Is there a story behind it?

B: It’s just about outing people who need outing. We all feel it.

TITL: Which song do you wish you’d written and why?

B: I don’t wish I’d written any song, that belongs to someone else. I’m sure we’ll have ours.

TITL: You’ve toured fairly extensively this past year – any favourite shows or highlights?

B: We did a Sofar sounds acoustic gig in a front room somewhere in South London. That was an experience, insence and Jeremy Vine sat cross-legged in the front row. We even got him on an improvised ”oooops there it isssss’, as we decided to do a song which I haven’t even done a rap for yet. Give me time fellas!

TITL: You’re heading back out on the road in February and March. For those who have never seen you before, what can they expect from a Y.O.U.N.G. show?

B: Energy, moments of madness, chaos, the proof of practice, all undercut with some off the cuff light hearted tongue in cheek.

TITL: You’ve also got an album coming out. Is there anything you can tell me about it? Any favourite tracks perhaps?

B: Just that we’re all very proud of it. Happy to be a part of it. Every moment in each of our lives leads us right to our first album release. Deeep! I’ll be weeping like a baby if it does well! My personal favourite track is “What I Gotta Do”, because the rap is easy to shout, and sometimes on Monday mornings, I like to shout.

TITL: What impact has social media had on your career so far? Do you think you’d have the following and support you do without it? How big of a part do you think it’ll play as you move forward?

B: It impacts it greatly. It’s nice to have a platform where people care what you say. But for me, it’s just a pathway to attract people to the music. If I wasn’t in a band, I’d really be trying to cut it out pretty much all together; when you are on there you aren’t here. It’s all about the moment for me, and sometimes social media can help you miss that. I know at least me and Chez wouldn’t mind being born with no phones and no internet. It’s nice on some levels, fans can connect easier, and so maybe it’s easier to feel part of something. However, it’s hard to say if the number of followers would be the different with or without social media. If people were still coming to the gigs I like to think word of mouth would spread. There’s almost too much for fans to look at now, everyone’s someone, everyone’s verified. I wouldn’t mind if it was just like, I won’t update you all what I’ve been doing all week, I’ll see you and 10,000 others on that park at that time and we’ll all talk about it then.

TITL: What’s the ultimate career goal for you guys as a band? Whose career would you most like to emulate and why?

B: We want to have enough money own a zoo together, with big giraffes and lions. Or maybe a coffee shop in Amsterdam if we can’t afford the zoo. Jay-Z and Beyonce. We 4 can be jay z, and Jamie can be Queen B.

TITL: Finally then, with so much new talent around, as we head into 2018, if you had to give music fans one reason to listen to you rather than your many counterparts, what would you say?

B: FREE FOOD FREE FOOD FREE FOOD. Now I have your attention, LISTEN TO YOUNG, the music will do the talking.

Check out the video for “Exposure” below and for more information on Y.O.U.N.G., give their page a like on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Header photo credit: Carsten Windhorst.