By the people

A new short film casts the community of Leeds as the actors portraying a dystopian future in the city during civil war

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“I think they made me executive director because I rang all the actors and did all the stunts,” laughs Alan Lane, artistic director of the Yorkshire-based Slung Low theatre company. “And, to honest, I’d like to spend the rest of my career doing just that.”

Lane, obviously joking, is speaking about his work on new short film The Good Book. Charged with assembling and readying the 100-plus cast, his role was pivotal. Along with Brett Chapman – “the real director”, according to Lane – he helped steer both professional actors and a huge number of enthusiastic local amateurs toward producing a dystopian short that is both dramatic and disturbing.

Set in a future Leeds, The Good Book tells the story of a society divided between loyalists of the powerful Queen Bear and radical followers of Galahad. Avalon is a young woman desperate not to take sides, but as civil war begins, she must undertake a dangerous mission to rescue a precious relic from destruction.

Slung Low itself was founded 20 years ago. Based in the Holbeck area of Leeds, the collective has produced numerous epic productions in non-theatre spaces. The Good Book is its first foray into film and is presented under the newly formed Leeds People’s Theatre banner.

“A lot of what we’re doing is so new and very, very exciting,” explains Lane. “As regards casting, for example, there really wasn’t any. The deal was if you want to be involved you turn up and work hard and you’re not a dickhead then you’re in and it’s up to us to make you look good! In other ways the process didn’t differ from putting together one of our plays as it’s always about gathering a large group, some professionals and some citizens, then working together on doing what is a pretty difficult thing. But the main point is this is a community film – not a film with lots of extras – made by and for the people of Leeds. It’s a political act as well as a creative one and it’s great that we got a film crew who fully understood that.”

James Phillips, writer of The Good Book, is also keen to emphasise the benefits of working alongside passionate non-professionals.

“It’s an incredible asset to know you can make a piece of work with genuine scale, and the philanthropy of a community cast allows this. You write differently, not because you are prevented from doing things but because new possibilities are allowed. You make your work about big ideas, but real ones, then you can take advantage of the gift of having the talent and time of so many at your disposal.”

One major difference between rehearsing and shooting a short film and staging a play did become apparent to Lane though, and it’s quite a surprising one – the 107-strong cast of The Good Book gave up two weekends to take part, while those in a typical Slung Low production give up around three months. The executive director believes this led to a democratisation of proceedings.

“There is something of a privilege issue here. We absolutely appreciate the people who can give up that time to take part in our plays but lots of people can’t because of their hectic lives. The short film format meant that different types of people could be part of it.”

And in the spirit of democracy the film is now being premiered and streamed online for free.

Lane says: “The only genuine problem we’re finding is with the dystopian storyline, as it’s beginning to feel like reality keeps racing us to come up with the most dystopian of futures imaginable.”


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