AMY JAMES-KELLY CHATS ‘LAST SUMMER’ & FUTURE PROJECTS 210

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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RJ WORD TALKS “WHAT YOU NEED”, SOCIAL MEDIA & HIS DREAM SHOW LINE-UP 35

Having just released the video to his new single “What You Need”, RJ Word is certainly well on his way to making his mark on the music industry. Currently working on a number of singles, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with RJ to chat all things inspiration, ultimate compliments and what he’d most like to be remembered for.

TITL: Has music always been your ambition, or, growing up, did you consider exploring other avenues? Ultimately, who or what made you realise that music was the right path for you?

RJ Word: Growing up I studied music and acting. I still consider myself an actor, it’s just not my primary focus at the moment. Music gives me more freedom to create. A song can be anywhere from 90 seconds to 10 minutes and can be made considerably faster than a film. Also, you just can’t beat that feeling music gives you. There’s nothing like it.

TITL: Which bands and artists are you most influenced and inspired by and is there one in particular you might say you sound similar to?

RJ: Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake have all influenced me a lot, but hopefully I don’t sound too much like any of them.

TITL: Is there a story behind your new track “What You Need”?

RJ: I wanted to make a disco inspired record with some more modern rhythmic elements. We came up with this.

TITL: Are there any EP/album plans in the works, and if so, what can you tell me about how they’re coming along?

RJ: Just working on more singles at the moment, but that’s going really well. I have a couple songs I’m really excited about.

TITL: How easy or hard do you find the song-writing process? Do you find it often depends on the subject matter and other such issues?

RJ: Some days it can be a little tough to get started. But once you’re in the zone it’s just fun, unless you’re writing something about a heartbreak that just happened.

TITL: In your mind, what makes a song truly great and which song would you say is the greatest ever written?

RJ: It’s half lyrics/melody and half production, so both have to be spot on to make an excellent record. The songs that stand out in my memory are the ones that do something different and unconventional. That’s where the magic happens. It’d be impossible for me to name a favorite.

TITL: Do you have any upcoming performance/tour plans?

RJ: Not right now. I’m mostly focusing on writing and recording for the next couple of months.

TITL: If you could perform with three bands or artists, who can be living or dead, who would they be?

RJ: That’s a tough one. Most of my idols are legendary performers and to be up next to them would be really intimidating. But my dream set would be to do a show with MJ and have Quincy Jones conducting a full orchestra live along with us. Depending on if you count the musicians in the orchestra, that’d be way more or one less than 3 acts.

TITL: What has been the nicest thing someone’s written/posted about you and your music and what would the ultimate compliment be?

RJ: When people say online that one of my songs is the best they’re ever heard it’s always nice. But I’m so critical of my work that it’s hard for me to seriously take that to heart. The ultimate compliment would be for someone I really respect in the industry to just say they liked it.

TITL: Both personally and professionally, how do you feel about social media? What impact is it having on your career and your ability to reach an audience, and do you believe it’s possible for upcoming bands and artists today to achieve success without it?

RJ: It’s been amazing tool for me professionally but something I have never used personally. I like my privacy too much. Being able to share my music with the world and grow a fan base, the way I have, can be directly accredited to it. So yeah, it’s very important to me. I think it’s still possible for an upcoming act to blow up without using it directly. But if their fan base is growing they’ll be using socials to talk about them. So at least indirectly it’ll be used. It’s a big part of how the world today communicates.

TITL: Finally then, five-ten years from now, what do you hope to have achieved from your music career? What bucket list items do you want to have ticked off and if you could be remembered for one thing when it comes to your music, what would it be?

RJ: I’d love to have toured the world, have some records I’m really proud of and have worked with some of my idols. I have no clue what I’ll be remembered for yet. At the moment my goal is to make what’s on the radio musical again. Getting away from all the loop based tracks and repetitive samples. I’d be okay with being remembered for that.

Check out the video for “What You Need” below and to keep up to date with RJ Word, visit his website, give his page a like on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

CELEBRATE EARTH DAY WITH SOME EYE-OPENING, THOUGHT PROVOKING VIEWING 38

The world we live in is vast and beautiful, filled with places and sights that can quite literally take our breath away. In celebration of Earth Day, which takes place this Sunday, April 22nd, Fandor have put together a collection of some environmentally and globally focused programmes and documentaries for people to watch if they want to see and learn more about this wondrous planet we all share. For those readers in the US, all the programmes below can be streamed via Fandor, which until April 30th, is half price and costs just $5 a month or a fantastic $45/year for new subscribers.

Great Wide Open

This five-part documentary series, directed by Fandor’s Chief Creative Officer Jared Leto, sees the Oscar-winning actor and musician focus his attention on some of America’s most beautiful National Parks, which he explores with some of the best known and inspirational adventurers who have explored them. Episode 1, titled ‘The Conquistador’, sees the star and American climber Tommy Caldwell belay together at Taft Point in Yosemite, episode 2, ‘The Dirtbag’, features landscape artist, expedition climber and award winning film-maker Renan Ozturk who joins Leto to explore Yosemite Park, and episode 3, ‘The Rockstar’, stars Alex Honnold and includes a hike across Matthes Crest and a night climb up Cathedral Peak. Episode 4, titled ‘The Wolfman’, features Yellowstone Park and Douglas Smith and Episode 5, ‘Independence Day’, sees Leto celebrate the 4th of July with Sasha DiGiulian at Devil’s Tower.

Queen Of The Sun: What Are The Bees Telling Us?

Over recent years, bee numbers around the world have continued to fall, and this Taggart Seigel directed, 2010 film takes viewers on a journey through an exploration of the impact the disappearance of bees has and continues to have on our world. It also looks at the mysteries and complexities of bee-hives, and tells the story of how scientists, bee keepers and philosophers, all of whom have struggled with the declining bee numbers, are working to make things better again.

No Impact Man

Conducting research for his next book, author Colin Beavan began the No Impact Project in November 2006. This documentary, directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, sees the newly self-proclaimed environmentalist, no longer able to avoid pointing the finger at himself, leave behind his liberal complacency for a vow to make as little environmental impact as possible for one year. No more automated transportation, no more electricity, no more non-local food, no more material consumption, no problem. That is, until his espresso-guzzling, retail-worshipping wife Michelle and their two year-old daughter are dragged into the fray. An eye-opening look into the impact just one individual can – and does – make on the Earth in a year, NMI, an official selection of the Sundance, Silverdocs and LA Film Festivals in 2009, also highlights the highs and lows that can come with making such a drastic lifestyle change.

The Pearl Button

The ocean contains the history of all humanity; the good and the bad. The sea holds the voices of the Earth and those that come from outer space. Water receives impetus from the stars and transmits it to living creatures, ourselves included. Water, the longest border in Chile, also holds the secret of a mysterious button that was discovered in its seabed. Chile, with its 2,670 miles of coastline, the largest archipelago in the world, presents a supernatural landscape. In it are volcanoes, mountains and glaciers. In it are the voices of the Patagonian indigenous people, of the first English sailors and also those of its political prisoners. Some say that water has memory. While water may not speak like we do, this 2015 film, directed by Patricio Guzman, shows that it does have a voice.

The Bear

The story of a young cub and an adult grizzly as they join forces to survive the perils inherent in their mountain habitat, this 1988 feature from Jean-Jacques Annaud, sees the two bears further develop a bond that can only make them stronger, with their friendship being put to the test as they must work together to overcome a deadly enemy.

Homo Sapiens

Ever wondered what might or will happen to the Earth when you or I are no longer here? Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s 2016 film asks this question and many others, as it, and he, explore the finiteness and fragility of human existence and the end of the industrial age. Many of us might think about the future, but this work showcases those thoughts from an entirely different, life-changing potential future viewpoint.

Portrait Of A Garden

Captured over one year, POAG, directed by Rose Stapel, tells the story of two friends, an 85-year old pruning master and the gardener and addresses their own concerns about the ever changing landscape and world around them, and how it will affect the beautiful space before them. A documentary that can and will likely make anyone who loves the outdoors, even just being in their own garden, think about how it may look a few months or years from now, it’s a beautifully shot and beautiful to watch piece of work.

If A Tree Falls: A Story Of The Earth Liberation Front

Directed by Sam Cullman and Marshall Curry and focusing on and addressing the events of December 7th 2005, when federal agents conducted a nationwide sweep of radical environmentalists involved with the Earth Liberation Front, an organization the FBI has called America’s “number one domestic terrorism threat.”, If A Tree Falls tells the remarkable  but true story of the group’s rise and fall, as told through the transformation and radicalization of one of its members, Daniel McGowan. Mixing a coming-of-age-tale with cops-and-robbers style thriller, the Sundance 2011 award-winning and 2012 Oscar-nominated film interweaves a chronicle of McGowan facing life in prison with a dramatic investigation of the events that led to his involvement with the ELF. Using never-before-seen archival footage and intimate interviews with cell members and individuals involved in prosecuting them and the group, it’s a hard-hitting, eye-opening piece of work that asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism and the way we define terrorism.

Fandor are also marking Earth Day this Sunday with an Earth Day Everyday movie list, which you can check out here. Whatever you get up to this Earth Day, enjoy it and be sure to take a moment to appreciate the great, wide and beautiful world we live in. Header photo image taken from opelikaobserver.com.