My Summer Vacation: Acting and Adventure

My Summer Vacation

The film I worked on this summer has now been made available for public viewing on Vimeo. It was filmed in July around Sidmouth, England with an intimate cast and crew. I worked with some brilliantly talented people and hopefully will work with them again. The experience was another life changer for me.

I had given up the idea of ever working in a profession that I’d been hooked on since my teen epiphany that this was the ideal occupation for me. When I reluctantly turned my back on it, I knew that I would never have the chance to prove that I still had the chops for this type of work. I was wrong about that, just as I’ve been wrong about many things in my life. One thing I think I’m right about is, I have always honestly believed that people are born to be actors, writers, directors, et al. I still do.

Just as there are people who have certain party tricks; like being able to imitate Christopher Walken or John Wayne after a couple of drinks, there are others who have a talent that they were born with. They enter the world as a sort of idiot savant. The ability; the talent, exists already. All they need is the opportunity to develop the skill required to polish and hone that innate talent. Like the joke goes, it takes practice to get to Carnegie  Hall.

My month of July 2013 (my summer vacation, if you will) was filled with excitement. Not only did I get to step in front of the camera for the first time in years, I also got to prove to myself that I had not lost the urge, or the ability, to act. It was still a part of me and though I’d turned my back on it, the creativity had not left me. Nor had the imagination needed to “pull it off.”

The end result was a project that I could take pride in. All because Natasha Harmer took a chance to use an old out-of-practice actor, who could have turned out to be  a ham or an actor who could not act. She writes a blog titled Films and Things, which was the name of the production company incidentally, and if you haven’t already, you should go check her out.

For those of you who want to see the film, Once Bitten, Twice Shy, just click on the link. Once you’ve seen it, drop by and let Natasha “Tash” know what you thought. Personally, I think that every single person attached to the film did a bang-em-up job, but I could be a little prejudiced.

My Summer Vacation
In Mandela House July, 2013

The second thing I did in July was to travel to South Africa to track down a couple of sources who’d turned our paper, the Las Vegas Guardian Express (guardianlv.com) onto the news that Nelson Mandela was no longer with us. Despite the huge smoke screen thrown up by the world’s press, based on news released from his children who have their own reasons for not acknowledging the great man’s passing, we received information that was disturbing and obscene. We’d been told by quite a few sources that the man was really gone.

I will not go into the story, you can follow the above link to see the articles written by myself and other journalists in the paper. I was chosen, at the last minute, to fly to the country and search for the truth. I have written about my experiences and will be adding more of what I learned about the country  in the paper itself.

I met people in Johannesburg who watched over me in this dangerous area of the world and treated me like a long lost family member. I travelled around the local areas, saw where the poor lived and the rich. I went to Pretoria visiting  the hospital where Madiba was interred.  I spoke to fellow journalists who were camped outside the hospital waiting for the next act in this tragedy to unfold.

This trip was another life changing event. It  made me realise that I was addicted to the adrenaline rush. The feeling of hyper-reality that comes with the territory of increased heart rate and focussed vision. Johannesburg emits a feeling of underlying danger, somewhat akin to working in the prison service when there is trouble brewing from certain elements. You are on edge and, seemingly, aware of everything going on. Afterward, you are exhausted by all of the hyper-awareness.

I have been incredibly lucky in the time following my near brush last year with the grim reaper. I have, in essence, rediscovered myself. I’ve learned that there are some things in me that will never change. The actor in my soul will never die and my yearning for adventure, aka adrenaline addiction, will always be a constant companion. I have also rediscovered my love of writing.

I’ve written about all the above mentioned  things before, but, I’ve been a bit lackadaisical with my blog of late. My  work for the paper has pretty much overtaken everything in my life at the moment. But I will remember to make time for my inner actor and will soon be preparing a showreel to see if anyone else would like to hire an old “not-so-out-of-practice actor again.

Until then, my summer vacation with its adventures in acting, world news, and dangerous surroundings will be in my memory book. If I close my eyes, I can see South Africa unfold before me just a vividly as the day I arrived. It is amazing that the end result of being so close to death has made me feel more alive than ever before.

I have been truly blessed by whoever, or whatever, is in charge. I thank all of you lovely people who take the time to follow my little blog and who leave comments or like my efforts. May you all find what makes you feel truly alive in your lifetime.

Michael SmithMy Summer Vacation

United Kingdom

18 October 2013

81 ‘likes’ in 3 days?! :D Once Bitten, Twice Shy (again)

81 ‘likes’ in 3 days?! 😀 Once Bitten, Twice Shy (again).

BAPartists Interview AKA Lydelle Jackson & Cezil Reed & The Taking

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Lydelle Jackson
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Cezil Reed

On the 9th of March I did a review on the soon-to-be-released Indie “Art-House” Horror Film The Taking (just click on the link if you missed it) and the creators of the film (BAPart Films) graciously accepted my request for an interview.

BAPart Films is a partnership of Cezil Reed and Lydelle Jackson who both formed this company under the banner of BAPartists (which the pair started in 2009). The company makes music videos, commercials, short films and now feature films.

The Taking is their first feature film together. The film was written and directed by Cezil and Lydelle who went to the same middle school and used to bounce ideas off each other. Cezil was in film school while Lydelle majored in graphic design.

In the interview, the guys tell us about making their first film, their plans and what they’re going to do next. So everyone, meet Cezil and Lydelle aka BAPartists:

  MikesFilmTalk: What gave you the idea for the story of the film? *note: Both the guys answered questions but their answers will be “labelled” as BAPartists.*

BAPartists –  Hmm, lots of things kind of gave us the idea for the story, but mainly it derived from a dream that Cezil had were his soul was stripped away, and to him it was the most terrifying thing ever. That dream stuck with him for a while. He’s always sort of been afraid of things like that, ya know, evil things like: demons, curses, and mayonnaise. So that dream or fear of his was the seed idea that eventually turned into The Taking.

  MikesFilmTalk: Did you have a list of actors you wanted to work with on the film?

BAPartists –  We’ve created lists for other projects in the past but for The Taking we actually didn’t have a list. We just knew that the nature of low-budget movies like ours was not going to be welcomed by “name” actors. Especially, when you are a relative nobody and your shooting your first feature. Rather, we decided to focus on finding as many of the strongest actors in the Northern Virginia area as possible which worked out well for us. Although we did end up importing John Halas (Carl) from NYC, Alana Jackler (Jade) from New Jersey, and Lynnette Gaza (The Grandmother) from Chicago.

  MikesFilmTalk: Did you get them?

BAPartists – All the actors that we wanted, we got. We always have to remind ourselves of how lucky we were to get such talented cast and crew to participate in the film. Especially since we were barely paying (if at all), the shoot was in the rural woods; long hours, little food, sweltering heat, and simple items like mosquito repellent or bottled water were treasured luxuries. It was just super low-budget all the way around. It ‘s astonishing that everyone stuck with us through principal photography, and for the following year of pick-up days.

MikesFilmTalk: I really enjoyed the imagery and the sound of the film. How would you describe the film and does it bother you that you’re being put in the art house pigeonhole? 

BAPartists –  Thanks! Yeah, we really wanted to create a film where the sound design and music really worked side by side with the visuals. Often times sonics are under utilized and under appreciated…We really wanted to make something where the sound was equally as prominent and bold as the visual experience. Our sound designer, Craig Polding, did a wonderful job. Lydelle’s younger brother, Leland Jackson also known as Ahnnu in the underground music scene, scored the film…Anyways, back to your question! How would we describe the film? Good question…How about: A searing gambit of visuals with intellectual muscle and big ol’ ox balls..?

To answer the second part of this question, being pigeonholed into the art-house category is both a compliment and scary. We do think that we can have very strong art-house sensibilities when we want to flex that muscle, but we are also very controlled and believe that we can cook up some amazing shit in any genre. It may sound cocky, but we believe it. So, while we find it to be a compliment, we are going to be sure to try our best not to be pigeonholed. How do we accomplish that? Well, our next film will be a much more market-friendly action film! We have a lot to share to the world from horror to comedy and don’t want to get stuck in one place!!!

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MikesFilmTalk: You  guys have known each other for quite some time and you started BAPart in 2009.  What prompted you to start your business together?

BAPartists –  We had been hired to write a script for a very well-off friend of ours who is an aspiring actress. This friend wanted us to write a feature-length script and she would take the lead role. She was also going to fund it and give us writing and directing credits. Not a bad deal, right?! Well, we spent almost a year and a half writing this really amazing script, but due to a lot of creative differences we all decided that then was not the best time to work together. Nonetheless, we’re all still great friends! However, after that disappointment, we decided that we needed to depend on ourselves to make our first film. We weren’t rich, but we had full-time jobs and so we began to just save our paychecks while starting development on The Taking script.

MikesFilmTalk: Do you see yourselves working together, say ten years from now?

BAPartists –  The plan is to work together until we are old and grey, so ‘yes’, we do plan to be working together ten painful years from now.  Without the creative synergy between the two of us we wouldn’t be The BAPartists. It’d just be Cezil Reed and Lydelle Jackson. The BAPartists moniker is meant to be a sign to our audience that there’s a particular sort of brand, flavor, angle to expect from a BAPartists film.

  MikesFilmTalk: I read your interview on The Horror Chronicles (great interview by the way) is your next feature going to be a vampire love-story?

BAPartists –  You know, we do want to do our vampire love-story, however, we’ve been given an opportunity to take on a more mainstream project and so we’ll have to explore that opportunity before anything else. For now the vampire love-story will sit on the back burner for a little while.

 MikesFilmTalk: You’re getting a world premiere date announced at the Sydney, Australia A Night of Horror Intl Film Festival. How exciting is that?

BAPartists – Man, it’s so exciting that it makes my nose bleed! We’re so eager to see what the audience will make of The Taking. We’re really confident in the film but it’s still surreal at the same time. I think the best word to use in this case is “anxious”.

MikesFilmTalk: I’ve seen your music video Trew Music “Incredible, Fantastic Experience” and your Ecko Life commercial; your special projects “Behind the scenes Ciara and Sorry; your short film The Glimpse and they all have the same great mix of imagery and sound. What prompted you to go into making a short film and then a feature-length one?

BAPartists – We see short films, music videos, and commercials as a healthy way to practice our craft. These short form video projects also allow you to experiment a lot more than a feature would. Those experimentations may help you find something that you decide you want to implement into larger projects too.

MikesFilmTalk: Out of the two of you, who is more of a writer and who is more of a director?

BAPartists –  We do everything in tandem. So we write equally and direct together as well. However, on set Cezil is more of the director while I’m more of a creative producer. This combination seems to work really well for us. In post-production we go back into co-directing how the editing, sound design, music, color grading, et cetera will work.

MikesFilmTalk: I love the Crime Fighting section on your website. Whose idea was that? 

BAPartists –  Haha, actually, when we were designing our site Cezil said “It’d be cool to have a little joke on the site too.”…”a few gin and tonics later, I (Lydelle) came up with the idea for Crime Fighting.”, so again, teamwork works!

 MikesFilmTalk: I’ve had a lot of people asking me where they can see the film. So what is the date of The Taking’s world premiere? 

BAPartists –  Well, we’ll be premiering The Taking at A Night of Horror International Film Festival in Sydney, Australia on the evening of either Friday, April 12th or Saturday, April 13th. The date will be announced very shortly.

 MikesFilmTalk: And finally, what is your next project going to be?

BAPartists – We were fortunate that some folks at a production company saw a copy of The Taking and really liked it. They’ve offered us an opportunity to make a more mainstream yet ‘different’ action film. It’s an opportunity that we can’t turn down and we’re really excited to take on the challenge of creating something that is both very marketable and yet still remains very artful, especially in the action genre. So, if all goes well, our next film will be an action film based around an alcoholic modern-day ninja. Can’t give ya any more details than that at the moment but trust me, it’s gonna be awesome!…we hope.

  MikesFilmTalk: Thanks a lot guys for taking (Get it? Get it?) the time to talk to Mikes Film Talk and I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more of your work!

BAPartists – Haha! Thanks to you too, Mike! We like ya because you have good taste in things…like, horror films.

Here’s the movie’s website which will give you some more information about the film thetakingmovie.com. They also have two websites devoted to their company: www.bapartfilms.com and www.thebapartists.com.

And finally, here’s the trailer:

Remembering T2 on the Big Screen: Wow

While writing the blog-post for Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “life story” I was filled with nostalgia about the time I’d gotten to see a “sneak premier” of the film, T2, weeks before its proper cinematic release. I thought, while reviewing his book that it was a shame that I’d not remembered this before as I could have taken part in mistylayne and Andy’s
Nostalgiathon 2012. But even though I missed the metaphorical boat for their project together, I thought the least I could do was give their sites and the project a mention and a link.

In 1991, I lived two doors down from a young engaged couple. In a few years, with a great recommendation from the young lady I got a job where she worked delivering papers. Her fiancé Donald was a local government agency employee. He was a bit of a “Jack-the-lad” character; full of energy, good humour and a hazy sense of morality.

One day he came round the house where I was cutting the grass or painting the front of the house (I don’t remember which). He was grinning from ear to ear and so full of excitement he was practically dancing.

“Do you like Arnold Schwarzenegger?” He was sort of hopping in place while he asked the question. I stopped whatever it was that I was doing and replied in the affirmative.

“How,” He paused for dramatic effect, “Would you like to see his latest film?”

“Sure,” I said it so fast that he almost had not stopped speaking yet. “What is it?”

Donald’s grin got even wider, “It’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, mate!” His energy level shot up even further. “The sequel to The Terminator, innit!” He stopped suddenly. “You have seen the original Terminator, haven’t you? Please tell me you’ve seen it mate.”

I replied that I had and that I’d loved it.

That set Donald off again in another paroxysm of joy. “Great! How would you like to see it two weeks earlier than anyone else in the country?”

“How’d you pull that one off?” I asked.

“Easy mate, I entered a competition and won two special preview tickets to the Odeon’s showing of the film. Since it’s a preview there are a limited amount of tickets and I got two!”

I thought for a minute. “What about Nola?” Nola was his fiancée and they lived together. “Won’t she want to go?”

“No mate, she can’t stand Arnie! I was a bit lost because here I had these great tickets and was going to wind up seeing the film on me own. Bit of a downer; then I thought of you and the fact that you like Predator and Commando and I thought, ‘yeah! Smithy will go with me to see it!”

We were both excited now. I hadn’t been to the cinema for ages and now I was going to see what was promising to be the cinema event of the year.

On the day of the preview Donald and I went together to the Odeon with our “prepaid” tickets. We joined the queue of people who had purchased their tickets already and waited to get in.

One of the newer cinemas on offer.

*Just a side note about English cinemas “back in the day” and how they worked. When I first got to the United Kingdom, you could still smoke in the movie theatre. You had a smoking side and a non-smoking side. You always knew which side was which because the smoking side had ashtrays attached to the seats. You also had to buy your tickets in advance. People would stop by the ticket sales window earlier in the day and buy their tickets. You would then come back and show your ticket to go in. Folks would get there early to go up to the “pub” in the cinema and have a pint or two or a short. You’d then head for the screen when the movie was about to start. You also had a young man or woman who stood down in front of the screen with a selection of sweets and bags of popcorn and sodas for sale. They would go away when the trailers started and the first feature (if there was one) and come back out before the main feature started. It was a lot different in those days, no multi-screen, just good old-fashioned huge screens; one or two if the cinema was bigger. I still remember watching Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi in a tiny theatre in Thetford that put an intermission in the middle of the film where they came out and sold ice creams and so on. When the lights came up clouds of smoke hung up near the ceiling. In the late 80’s smoking started being banned in theatres although you could still smoke, you had to do it in a smoking room and you could listen to the film while you had your fag (cigarette). Probably the longest side note ever, my apologies.*

The atmosphere in the theatre was electric. Excited bubbly conversations whirled in the air and people discussed the first Terminator and how they couldn’t wait to see the sequel. A lot of “I’ll be back’s” were heard and delighted laughter over rode every other sound in the lobby. This level of excitement in an English movie theatre was unheard of back then. Movie goers fit the stereotype of quiet and reserved. If there was a funny scene in a film, reserved chuckling might be heard, if you strained to hear it. Loud American guffaws meant that a “yank” was watching the film with his American friends.

Low key reactions was (and still is too a large degree) the order of the day. Where in an American movie theatre, people will gasp loudly, shriek, scream, laugh loudly and hysterically and “boo” the screen. Movies in the states are more of a celebratory party rather than a civilized viewing of the feature.

Terminator 2 though brought a different type of English film fan. These guys were every bit as loud and as excited as their American counterparts.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.


When the film started, the audience applauded and cheered. When Arnie strides up to the bar owner to snatch his shotgun from him, the audience went nuts. The entire film was treated like the overblown spectacle it was. T2 was bigger than the first Terminator. It had a bigger budget, better effects, a totally kick-ass score, and not just one Terminator, but two. And Robert Patrick as the T-1000 knocked it so far out of the park that no-one, apart from the Schwarzenegger himself, could match his performance.

I saw grown men weep at the end of the film. I saw them through my own blurred vision as tears streamed unashamedly down my own cheeks. Donald and I both looked at each other, crying like little (as Arnold himself would say) girliemen, and we did a painful high-five. We both agreed that this was the best terminator film ever and that they would never top it.

Sad to say, we were both extremely accurate in our visionary prediction that the film would never be equalled or beaten. T3 was abysmal and T4? Well, this post is pretty long already if I wrote about everything that didn’t work in T4, I’d have to write it in instalments.

Every time I re-watch T2 I remember the excitement of that day and how the cinema audience went wild during the film. It is the only other film that I have watched in an English cinema where the audience (in tears yet) stood up and cheered when it had finished. *The only other film to elicit anywhere near the same type of response was J.J. Abrams 2009 Star Trek.*

As I left the cinema that day, I realised that the industry had gone around another corner, reached a new milestone. All because James Cameron was one helluva movie maker who had vision and the guts to put that vision on-screen; he broke a lot of records with T2 and changed the way films would be made from that point on.

He also, to a huge degree, changed the way that I viewed films.

Unh-unh-unh!



Zulu (1964): Epicness of an English Sort

A kind of ‘retro’ retro review today. My daughter and I watched this magnificent film again last night. It is an eternal favorite in this house and has been for a long time.

For those of you who might live under a rock or perhaps on some planet where television signals don’t reach, Zulu is a 1964 historical war film depicting the Battle of Rorke’s Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War. It was produced as a joint venture with Stanley Baker‘s production company Diamond Films.

Cy Enfield directed the film (Cy was blacklisted in Hollywood by the HUAC who decided that he was an ‘sympathiser’ to the ‘red peril’ that the industry was hysterically trying to stamp out in the 1950’s. Enfield left the USA and set up shop in the UK IN 1951). The film’s producers were Stanley Baker, Cy Enfield and Joseph E Levine.

The film was shot on  using the Super Technirama 70 cinematographic process, and distributed by Paramount Pictures in all countries excluding the United States, where it was distributed by Embassy Pictures. The Technirama was obviously good choice as the film still looks magnificent. The colours are rich and full and the film feels panoramic to the extreme.

All the exteriors of Zulu were filmed in South Africa. The interiors were filmed at Twickenham Studios in England. Michael Caine(in his first ‘starring’ role, “Introducing Michael Caine”) writes about the experience in his first Autobiography, What’s it all About?. Caine talks about how abysmally the ‘locals’ were treated and how Stanley Baker was furious about it.

Stanley Baker
Stanley Baker and Michael Caine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He also talks about the ‘spies’ the South African Police had mixed with the local film crews. It was a deplorable time in South Africa’s social and political history.

Caine also writes about the weeks of waiting by the film crew and cast because of rain. He also talks of his own personal trials and tribulations on his first big role.

*If you haven’t read Michael Caines Autobiography, I strongly urge you to do so. He talks a great deal about Zulu and other films he has worked on and well as personal aspects of his life. He was a firm favorite of mine before he wrote the book, after reading it, I became a firm devotee of the man’s work.*

Despite the political problems faced by the production crew and (in some cases) the cast. The film was finished and shown to rave reviews and huge box office returns.

There were a few folks who were less than delighted by the portrayal of some of the ‘real’ characters in the film. The screenplay was adapted from an article about Rourke’s Drift written by John Prebble. Cy Enfield talked to the Zulu historians to get a picture of the battle from ‘both sides’ and he and Prebble came up with the finished script.

Historical license was taken with some of the characters in the film to either enhance their story or to make it more poignant. The Wittes and Private Hook in particular were changed to fit the mood of the film and to make the character cinematically more interesting.

Some things were ‘made up’ for the same reason. There was no instance of the two groups ‘singing’ at each other and the Zulu’s did not, in fact, ‘salute the soldiers’ for their bravery. But in true Hollywood style it looks brilliant and moves the film on nicely. In other words, “If it wasn’t like that brother, it should have been.”

The cast list was a compilation of some of Britain’s finest actors:

The action scenes are brilliant considering the Zulu tribesmen had never acted before. Since Stanley Baker viewed the film as a western, the producers brought in a western film for the tribesmen to watch so they could see how the action sequences were to look and how to ‘die’ on film.

Historical picture of Zulu warriors from about...
Historical picture of Zulu warriors from about the same time as the events at Rorke’s Drift (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film opens and closes with the magnificent voice of Richard Burton (who was a close friend of Stanley’s) telling, firstly of the massacre of British troops at the Battle of Isandlwana and at the end of the film he details a brief history of the Victorian Cross and which of the men who fought at Rourke’s Drift were awarded the Cross.

This epic film about an out-numbered group of British solders (150 soldiers and 4000 Zulu warriors) and their desperate battle to keep from being overrun by the Zulu’s and their eventual ‘victory,’ is a true timeless masterpiece.

I defy anyone to watch the film and not come out in gooseflesh at the ‘train noise’ the advancing Zulu warriors make as they approach the Drift or to see the scenes of the Zulu chanting and striking their cowhide shields as they prepare to charge the soldiers. These scenes alone are worth the price of admission (so to speak).

The makeup, the costumes and the set all scream out with authenticity although the river that Chard is to build a bridge over is laughably small and looks more like a dammed section of a small creek. I do know there were some technical problems with the actual river and unfortunately it shows.

But water difficulties aside, Caine absolutely knocks it out of the park in his first starring role. At the beginning of the film you cannot stand his character and by the end of it you like and admire the man. Baker is as resolute and as firm as an oak tree, using his engineer skills to build a way to defend the Drift with wagons and ‘mealie’ (corn) bags.

Nigel Green as the colour sergeant also trumps the rest of the cast, but James Booth (as Private Hook) who did not even get to film outside of England comes a close second to Green in performance.

If you want to see a film that shows ‘how they used to make em’ watch Zulu. In fact, if you are an aspiring young film maker, I would make it a requirement to study this film. Well, this film and Terminator 2: Judgement Day on how to make a action movie work.

Cover of "Zulu"
Cover of Zulu

Michael Smith 12/10/2012

As a postscript I just realised that I have not mentioned the exquisitely epic score and soundtrack by the magnificent John Barry (perhaps better known as the creator of the ‘Bond’ music). Mea Culpa to the estate and survivors of messer Barry (3 November 1933 – 30 January 2011). How could I forget when the music was playing through my head while I wrote this.

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Cover of T2: Judgement Day