British bus driver’s amateur stage show of Ridley Scott’s Alien accidentally makes it to a famous London theatre! With awkward acting and special effects requiring more luck than judgment, will their homemade homage be alright on the night? It’s a very warm, uplifting, joyful story.
Having its World Premiere in the Documentary Spotlight section at SxSW 2021 Online, we talk with ALIEN ON STAGE directors Danielle Kummer and Lucy Harvey!
Welcome to SxSW! Is this your first SxSW experience?
Thank you it’s a pleasure to be here, yes it’s our first time!
So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past!
Daneille Kummer: I have been working as a videographer for a number of years, doing lots of work for theatres and live performances. I have made a few short documentaries, and short narrative films. This is the first time making a feature film.
Lucy Harvey: Instinct and optimism told me to make this film. It’s my first go at doing something from scratch. I used to work as a costume stylist for film and studied and taught film theory. I much prefer being a director, it suits me, I get to use all my creative skills.
How did the ALIEN ON STAGE documentary all come together?
DK: A series of chance encounters, lucky breaks and an opportunity too good to miss got us to the point that we decided to make the film. The filming process was simple and lo-fi. I think we filmed for 8 days in total. 4 days just the two of us with borrowed equipment, interviewing the cast and capturing their lives and rehearsals. For the final show we had five cameras and lots more strategic planning. We filmed the following year’s West End show too. It was another lucky break that they were asked back as we had a chance to get all the pick up shots to make the backstage edit even better. After a very drawn out process getting footage prepared and organised the momentum ground to a halt, life and other priorities took over. Travelling for a year then spending a year paying off debts. 4 years later we cut a trailer, organised a Kickstarter Campaign and successfully raised 10,000 so we could focus on editing it one chunk with two assistants and enough money to commission original graphics, original music, pay the music library license, audio mix, grading etc. We had a rough cut screening seven months after we won the Kickstarter. Seven months after that we submitted the final edit into film a couple of festivals and got accepted by Frightfest in the U.K. Our U.K premier screened in Oct 2020, That was an amazing experience, the film was so well received, it gave us the confidence to submit to SXSW, so here we are eight years later!
What keeps you going while making a project? What drives you?
DK: Believing in the story and what you are creating is really important. Finding a connection to what is being told, and not losing sight of the big picture. We were really lucky with this film, and the contributors are such wonderful, genuine people, they keep us going, we really wanted to do them and their amazing project justice by showing it to the world.
LH: The craft of filmmaking is wonderful. I really enjoy the process. I never lost my drive because I truly love the story and the process. I was driven by the absolute belief that everyone will benefit from seeing such a positive experience and that I owe it to the people in the film to do the best job possible. I don’t think I would be so driven if I didn’t love it or believe in it.
What was your biggest challenge and what was the moment that was the most rewarding to you both?
DK: As a low-budget film, it was challenging not to just be able to take the time we needed and focus on the film immediately. We had to figure out how to fund it, and also support ourselves at the same time. It also meant wearing lots of different hats and doing lots of roles, which was hard at times, not being able to focus on just one thing. But ultimately because of that, it meant we learnt a huge amount about the filmmaking process, what to do and what not to do next time! The most rewarding thing has been hearing people’s feedback on the film, it feels amazing to know that you’ve given people some enjoyment, especially in this incredibly difficult time that we’ve had this year, to know you’re brought people a bit of joy and happiness to people is a wonderful feeling.
LH: There was nothing challenging about actually making the film. The challenge was getting the money to secure a dedicated team of editors. I don’t know how to use edit software so the biggest reward was to see all the ideas I had in my head when we were filming, and all my paper edits converted into a timeline of footage. Being able to work on the footage with a team of editors was hugely rewarding.
I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of the doc and how it was made.
DK: Obviously, we had an amazing opportunity to use the original film Alien as inspiration for the look and feel of the film. We loved the juxtaposition of the Wilts and Dorset bus station and Nostromo Spaceship from the original film. We used the opening sequence to play up to this idea. We also used motion graphics and elements of space throughout the film. We worked with a fantastic production company in Canada, Definitive Film, who added some wonderful elements to this final cut, like a model bus flying through space, and created the mother computer screen plates, in a really great way that helped to elevate the film.
LH: I have now learned that the style of filming trying to catch live action with one camera is called run and gun, Danielle did a great job of pointing the camera where it needed to be to capture all of necessary moments. Danielle also nailed it when it came to setting up all the cameras for filming the final show and we lucked out with the added B-Movie horror effect of the Go-pro camera on the Xenomorph. We also made our homage to H.R.Giger and Ridley Scott with our opening sequence in the bus garage. The design of the graphics throughout is to keep a nod to the original Alien but also maintain a lo-fi D.I.Y comedy, sci-fi vibe.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW Online?
Manning Twitter in the hope that anyone watching will tell us about their experience while they’re watching it. We miss not being in a cinema so we’re hoping to get the audience response virtually. We’re open for a live chat on our profile after the screening so we’re looking forward to hopefully meeting some people on there.
Clearly this is such a different time with virtual festivals and online screenings. How do you feel about releasing movies in this current format and how do you feel audiences will see most films in the future?
We have mixed emotions. Online means you have a wider reach as you’re not limited by capacity or location but we still long to have the cinema experience with our film. We don’t think online festivals can replace that. Hopefully the future will be a balance of both options as both have benefits.
Where is the movie going next? More festivals or a selective release?
We have been accepted into a few more festivals around the world. We’re not sure we can announce them yet? But being in SXSW has certainly opened up other festival opportunities.
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or work in the business. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into filmmaking, especially now as things are evolving at such a fast rate?
Only do it if you love it. If you have any personal insecurities, work on letting go of them as they will only get in your way. Be fearless and don’t give up.
And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen?
DK: It’s too hard to name a favorite movie of all time. But the last movie I saw in a cinema was SAINT MAUD, written and directed by Rose Glass. It’s scary and thrilling in equal measure, I screamed a couple of times and a really great watch. I can’t wait to be able to go to a cinema and watch a movie again!
LH: How can anyone answer this question with so many incredible films out there? The first one that springs to mind in a film festival context is seeing Richard Linklater’s WAKING LIFE at the B.F.I in London with a Q&A with Linklater afterwards. Ooof! What a mind meltingly wonderful experience that was.
This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to www.sxsw.com!