So off the bat, Ashens and the Quest for the Gamechild was released in 2013, it got over a million views on Youtube, you managed to release a DVD/Blu Ray of the film. Considering its success, was Ashens and the Polybius Heist something you had been planning since Gamechild’s release?
So we wrote GameChild never expecting a sequel. Didn’t even occur to us at the time (laughs) due to the way it was funded and the way it was put out and obviously it was far more successful than we thought, people were like “aw we want another one.” We thought “could we do another one? We probably could.” So we talked about it and sort of came up with- well I say a very loose idea, it was literally just “Heist!” So yeah we started looking into how to get it funded and all that kind of stuff. Obviously, the idea became more focused, we realized how incredibly difficult it was to write heist films even if you try and keep it simple so that was fun. Then it took basically… five years to get to a position where we could actually fund the film separately and then all that fell through at the eleventh hour but we managed to sort something out, obviously (laughs).
As you said the success of GameChild was actually kind of surprising. One thing I noticed was that the Indiegogo campaign for Polybius Heist actually surpassed the whole budget for GameChild. How did it feel knowing that not only had your popularity grown but that people also liked the first film so much that they wanted a second one?
Well firstly it’s always fantastic to make something that people want more of, that is always the best part. As for budget, we were really lucky in that this time it looked like we had a bigger budget but we actually didn’t. For GameChild about fifty-five percent of the budget came from the IndieGoGo campaign and about forty-five percent came from Google as a sort of incentive that they were doing at the time so we had about double the crowd-funded budget whereas this time we did not have double but it looks like we do.
Yeah I would agree actually. I was really impressed. I figured some of it would have been the budget but also the experience gained in the time between that allowed for better production value. For example, the opening house looks great and the Ashens Collection Agency building looks amazing.
Yeah, locations are fantastic. If you can get a good looking location, shoot from multiple angles, that’s a great way to make your film feel better, your production value can come along a lot from that because actually building sets and things you have to keep very much to a minimum on a small budget because of costs, so yeah. I suppose effectively we managed to make a film that was sort of a notch up from the first film, well it’s sort of two notches up from the first one I feel but for very little extra money which I think is a massive pat on the back for the entire crew.
That was an astonishing building. Same town hall they shot some of Alex Rider in recently and if you’ve seen Bohemian Rhapsody, Mike Myers’ character in it, his Office is the exact same room as Ashens office. Literally the exact same building. It was being renovated shortly afterwards so I don’t think it’s properly available at the minute.
Oh wow, that is actually really cool!
Yeah, it’s such a weird thing but it’s been used in several films just because it looks so good and it was available to rent.
Amazing. So we spoke a bit about GameChild and the success of that, so moving onto Polybius Heist one of my favourite parts of the film itself is actually the opening sequence. The Bond-esque title sequence. The parody song is of Chris Cornell’s ‘You Know My Name.’ With so many bond songs to parody I was wondering if there was any significance to that at all?
No, it was something that came about organically, we sat down and thought “we will parody something this time” because it sort of fit with what we were doing and the song sounded a bit in that direction and we thought “oh this is good, actually this fits really well, run with it.” By the time we put all the visuals together as well, it just sort of has this great feel to it. It’s reminiscent of something without being a direct parody, we keep it just below that level if you don’t then you just turn into one of the Scary Movie sequels.
Yeah, I would agree that it isn’t a direct parody. It did take me a minute to realize what it was doing.
That’s great, that’s what we’re going for. You want that few seconds of “what does this remind me of?” then it gets thrown right back in your face!
So sticking with the opening title sequence there are so many references to Mission Impossible, the Bond films, the Italian Job. Stuff like that. So I was wondering what were some of your biggest influences for the film outside of those examples?
As you absolutely correctly say the intro sequence… It was one of those things we were looking at like “oh, we can have almost sort of little flash-forwards to bits that would happen in the film” but obviously you can’t do that much or you spoil everything, so you have to keep it very loose so some of them are a kind of parody of very famous heist film sequences.
When we were writing the film me and Riyad Barmania, the director and co-writer of the film, watched so many heist films. ALL the heist films (laughs). At first, we were trying to work out the heist archetypes but I think it gets deeper than that over time. I think the big ones for us are, well obviously, Oceans Eleven, because it’s such a powerhouse. People still talk about that as sort of the prime heist film of recent years, there are a hundred sequels, and it’s great! I think I had to watch it three times before I spotted the plot holes, there’s always one in a heist film – accept maybe ours, I’m waiting for someone to point one out and break my heart (laughs). Then Rififi was another one, a sort of early black and white film with a sort of film noir feel which Riyad loves, and I enjoy as well, so that was kind of in the back of our mind the whole time. As you say, not as something to parody or directly reference. There was another one, it was a comedy heist film called… I can’t remember what it was called, it may have just been called The Heist – an awful lot of them were – and it has Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken and William H. Macy as sort of old people who work in an art gallery and all the art’s being moved to another gallery so they decide they want to steal one piece of art each and it’s not a great film. It’s not awful or anything but there’s a few things that it did that kind of stick in your mind as “oh we must avoid doing that!” Sometimes a negative piece of information can be just as useful as a positive. Tower Heist was another one like that; started off very strongly and then kind of fell apart near the end but the part where they’re actually getting the crew together was quite good.
You make so many notes and watch so many films it’s difficult to keep track now! (laughs)
Oh, Thief with James Caan was another one we did. Less Heist-y perhaps than some of the others. I quite liked the personal level of it.
I think it is quite easy, unfortunately, to have missed so many classic films if you weren’t around when they were made. There’s so many from the 60s and 70s that I still haven’t seen because when you’re young you’re not interested in the old films, it’s when you get a bit older and start to get into film and there are so many of them that you’re always playing catch up.
So going back a bit, you mentioned your partnership with Riyad, how was it that your partnership started and what is it that makes your partnership so strong?
When we first met it was on The Proxy, an 8 part science fiction series. I thought that sounded pretty cool, a bit of acting, and I had done acting and writing before, but they were like “yeah! But it’s got to be ready in an incredibly short period of time” and I’m like “oh… I’m not sure that’s humanly possible” but yeah they brought on Riyad and he made it humanly possible; he wrote the whole thing, we went through the script, and then we put it all together and I was absolutely amazed at the quality of the crew. I thought “Clearly Riyad makes feature films and clearly the crew does as well.” That went well, we won a Media Week Marketing award. So yeah, that went pretty well and then later that year there was a summer party thing at Channel Flip and everybody was there and I was chatting to him and I said “so if you know all these people who make films, and you make films, could we make films?” and he said “well in theory we could” but we worked out we’d have about half, maybe 60%, of the money to make a film then the crowdfunding idea came in so I thought that could make the rest up, which it did, and away we go. GameChild was born. We then worked together on more bits and bobs through the years; a couple of random videos for sponsors over the years and obviously now we’ve done Polybius Heist. It’s one of those things where just kind of hit it off. We’re on a similar wavelength but Riyad is Canadian then moved to London so he’s very much into the sort of North American/Canadian humour but also he totally gets the British humour as well, I think there’s an element to that in Canadian humour. Obviously, I’m British so I get the British humour but in England, we grow up with a lot of the American humour and a lot of American culture in general. Although he pushes more North American and I push more British we both understand the core of both of those things. That’s kind of the core of it really, he understands one bit of it more than me and I understand one another bit so when we come together I think we have a good kind of idea of it. That’s why GameChild feels British but also has that kind of slightly more positive aesthetic. Riyad wouldn’t let me get completely miserable like so many British films do (laughs) but I wouldn’t let him get completely joyous.
Now that you mention that I think you guys have done a really good job merging both American, Canadian and British culture well. There are so many points where it feels kind of like classic Ealing Studios films, like The Lavender Hill Mob for example, and a little bit of Monty Python but you also get the American humour in there as well, as well as a lot of the American aesthetic of a Spy film as well so I think you’ve done a really good job on that one.
Aw thank you, I’m so pleased. When we were writing GameChild we always had this idea of ending it on a big party which is obviously far more of an American thing than a British thing but that was a really nice way of making sure that the energy and the feel of the film got upbeat enough by the end for a Party to make sense. That was a really nice thing to work towards.
Yeah, that is really lovely. It gives you something to work forward to as well when shooting it. So speaking about both your partnership with Riyad and the production of the film in general, you wore a lot of hats on the film; You were the lead actor, you wrote the film as well, you were a producer, and generally it is your brand that the film is under. How was it for you juggling so many roles on set?
Yeah a good crew is absolutely core to something, especially when you have very little money because of course then there is very little wiggle room for things to go wrong, and of course things did go wrong. Very seriously wrong at one point. Obviously, we got through it because now we have a film but yeah, I was worried for a few minutes there. By a few minutes, I mean about three days! But yea, it’s one of those things where you’re on set and you have to be very much in the moment of the acting and then producing stuff comes sort of after or between takes. It’s slightly easier for me because I’m very very familiar with the script which helps me immensely because I’m terrible at learning lines, I can never get them in my head so if I’ve actually written it I’ve got more chance of remembering (laughs). So that really helped because it meant I had to have slightly less prep time than if someone gave me a script blind. So that helps with acting. But the line producer does the producing, Riyad does the directing, I’m doing the acting so I’ll only come on for producing if something seriously needs to be done, really. It’s all down to the crew.
So as you mentioned there was a period on the film where there was quite a spot of bother and on top of that you had the COVID-19 Pandemic, Lockdown, having to finish it during all of that, how was it making through all of those struggles?
It was not too bad on set because you’ve got everyone working so it was a case of having to find a few extra shooting days which we managed to sort out, obviously (laughs). It’s just one of those things where you’re expecting- well, not expecting things to go wrong but you’ve got all your contingencies lined up so that you can see it through. The COVID thing obviously we had no contingency for because that hasn’t happened since about 1920 or something (laughs). On the plus side we were quite lucky in that nearly the entire film was done up till the very last bits of post-production so nearly everything that needed doing were things like the song recording and the animation. So basically everything else that needed doing was done by people who sit in a room on their own anyway, except lockdown came in just before the ADR day, so that couldn’t happen which was a big problem. We were quite fortunate though that these days most actors have access to a high-quality microphone because they all do bits of voice over at home. Considering how severe it could have been had it [Lockdown] came in earlier we were very lucky that it only slowed us down a bit really.
That is great to hear! So, obviously, managed to complete the film, you’re releasing it, how excited are you for the fans reactions?
It’s one of those things where obviously this is why you’re making the film so we’re all sort of super excited. Everyone who has seen it has really liked it which is sort of important for our nerves (laughs) cos you get so attached to the project that it’s kind of exhilarating and terrifying, cos once it’s out there it’s out there and when you’ve been sitting on it for seven years you know it’s going to be released one day but almost subconsciously you don’t believe it. We’ve only had one review so far and it got five out of five so we’re very happy with that. But yeah this is the joy and the terror simultaneously really. Let’s get it out there. I’m pretty sure everyone’s going to enjoy it, we’re so happy with how it’s turned out. Turned out better than I could have hoped really. It looks great, it sounds great, the film’s good. Yeah, it’s gonna be exciting.
Amazing, I hope that it goes well!
Thank you, that is really appreciated.
So, considering the success of GameChild, the hopeful success of Polybius Heist, and the upcoming 15th Anniversary of your YouTube channel, are there any plans for a third Ashens movie or maybe even something big for your Anniversary?
We have a plan for the anniversary. It’s not massive but yeah we’ve got something going on. I won’t say any more on that. As for a third film… we haven’t allowed ourselves anything more than a very loose idea of setting and possibly a slight change in genre but I’m not quite sure of that. It’s one of these things where it’s entirely down to how Polybius does.
Ashens and the Polybius Heist is available on digital now.