By Marty Mulrooney
The talented man behind MCPHONEY PICTURES is a full-time dad, part-time actor and creator of many clever short films. He also went to university with the creator of Alternative Magazine Online (that would be moi) – so I was understandably delighted when he reached out to share his new short film with me. AMO is therefore proud to present an exclusive online interview with Alexander Williams where we discuss all things Attack of the Killer Sock!
Hi Alex, thank you for your time and welcome to Alternative Magazine Online! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself please?
Yes of course Martin. Well as you know my name is Alex and I live in my home town of Liverpool with my beautiful wife and 9-month-old baby who is called Felix. Since leaving work to become a full-time dad, I decided to do some part-time acting whenever and wherever possible, having studied drama when I left school – it is one of my passions that I just love to do. And turning a passion into a job/career is the ultimate dream for everyone I’m sure! However, I also have a slight passion for filming. Or being honest it is a real burning passion! I film pretty much anything if possible. So that’s when I set up and built my own website (MCPHONEY.com) to showcase my short films and unleash them onto the unsuspecting public!
Of course it’s not that easy when you are looking after a 9-month-old baby, taking care of the house and doing part-time acting, to also create a short film based only on elements that you can find in your own home. However, so far I’ve managed to create a comedy cooking show/series entitled “Cooking with Uncle Joe”, which provides real recipes and step by step cooking tips but with a comedy element attached to keep viewers entertained whilst they do a bit of work in the kitchen, as well as create a few comedy/special effect shorts such as “The Amazing Talking Thumb” and “One Man and One Cup” (all available on YouTube and MCPHONEY.com)!
What have you been up to since we graduated from university – and where might AMO’s readers have seen you before?
Well since graduating to be honest I’ve been up to quite a lot and not a lot if that makes sense! I’ve got married to my amazing and supportive wife Christine and as previously stated we now have a beautiful baby boy. In terms of work, well I’m sure a lot of people already know that the film industry (along with many other chosen professions) is a very difficult industry to break into. So after numerous applications, interviews and meetings for jobs in the production field, I just wasn’t getting anywhere. It would always be “We would like to hire you but you lack the experience so we are going with someone else.” But how do you gain experience if you never get given an opportunity? It’s just an ongoing circle. So I then went back into the world of normal 9-5 jobs and did pretty well, including positions in Retail Banking and at The Ministry of Justice. However, I needed to be involved in production. Whether it be in front or behind the camera it was just something I had to do! It’s like having a huge fire inside you that yearns to be set free.
So having gone on to study acting when I first left school I decided to try to rekindle that career (TV acting), having already made a few contacts from when I first ventured into it at the young age of 18. Because at this point my wife and I knew we were going to have a baby and I would be required to be a stay-at-home dad (or house husband as the term now goes), it seemed the perfect opportunity as acting work isn’t usually an everyday job (unless you make it big of course) and this would give me plenty of time to look after the baby when he arrived too. And that was the plan. But of course there was still that other fiery desire to film as well.
So whenever I could (both before and after baby Felix arrived), I would grab my camcorder and film some sort of video. Anything from a parody music vid to a documentary or a comedy short. But I wanted somewhere to showcase them. Of course there are video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, but I wanted my own personal space. So I then went on to teach myself web design and was able to build my own website MCPHONEY.com. I felt you could have more influence with your own website instead of my videos just joining the hundreds of millions already out there on the web. Plus it would give viewers the opportunity to interact with me on a personal basis as they could read into how the film(s) were made and get to know a little bit more about me in the meantime instead of just leaving a simple comment on YouTube in the hope that I might reply.
So after marriage, a baby, and setting up my own website, little did I know how lucky I was going to be in the acting world. I started to obtain small roles in soaps such as Coronation Street and Hollyoaks, before getting minor roles in BBC and ITV dramas. But it’s adverts I’ve been the most successful in, especially car ones! Some of your readers may have seen me in the current 2014/2015 We Buy Any Car Advert as the guy on the balloon…
…and I recently just finished filming the new Hippo Motor Company Car advert for Sky Television.
So it’s been a very busy time indeed, sometimes too busy – but I wouldn’t change any part of it!
When did you first start recording your own films?
It’s actually thanks to my Dad and brother that I started venturing into the world of short films. When I was very young I was fascinated by sharks and that’s when my Dad showed me a certain film you may have heard of called Jaws. I was addicted from that moment. Apart from it being a great film I began to realise that it wasn’t just a simple story of a shark that eats people. It was more about an angry town and a character overcoming his fear of water to put things right. Of course I could go on a lot more about it but I’m pretty sure you have all seen the film.
Then my Dad brought me the original novel Jaws by Peter Benchley that the film was taken from and I was blown away by that even more. I was only about 6 years of age by this point but that’s when I started to write my own short stories. Obviously they never got published but it was my ambition to have a book made into a film one day. However, I found it difficult to maintain that passion because I was more interested in the way films were made and all the different bits and pieces that made them work.
A few years later my elder brother managed to obtain a small pin-hole security camera. It only shot black-and-white and didn’t record sound. Nonetheless it was something that recorded video! I then began to play around with it (whenever he wasn’t looking) and record some sort of short film. Unfortunately, a lot of them no longer exist but I did manage to find one entitled The Sad Man which, once the tape has been professionally restored, I shall be uploading onto YouTube.
At the age of 18 with what wages I had managed to put away I brought myself a Hi-8 video camcorder. At last a chance to begin making films in colour and more importantly with sound! But it just isn’t that easy. Doing a few mock news reports and some simple stop motion animations with toys was about my limit.
But then in the summer of 2004, myself and a group of friends rented out a cottage in Suffolk for a week. It was at this moment that I realised how much I truly enjoyed filmmaking. Taking with me my Dad’s camcorder (I had gone on to sell my own one unfortunately), I teamed up with a very good friend of mine Chris Evans and we made three very short films. It was basic stuff – about a man running away from someone or something. Chris was the man running and I was the director.
However, on returning from Suffolk once again my elder brother showed me that there were ways of transferring tape over to a PC and then being able to remove unwanted scenes/shots and add music and titles. Although I knew this was possible in Hollywood, I was amazed that we could do it on our home computer. You’ve got to remember PCs in those days were very poor. The one I tried to edit on was a 386, one of the first PCs to ever run Windows and even that was a challenge. However, I managed to make some adjustments to the films but most importantly learnt a few skills in the field of editing. With these new abilities we (Chris Evans and I) then went on to make a mockumentary style ‘making of featurette’ for the films and did a parody on the 1984 Christmas song Band Aid. Editing on a computer made the possibilities endless!
It was at this point I went back to college to do a crash course in A-Level Film, Media and Television production where I made the short psychological thriller “Two Many” before heading on to University to study Film and Media combined with Scriptwriting where myself and my team won Best Documentary Film in the Liverpool Hope Deep Look Competition – a very proud moment indeed!
In 2013 I decided it was time to make my short productions look more professional and not the camcorder, home movies that they looked like and so I invested in a whole new range of production equipment. I wanted to get the name MCPHONEY recognised in the world of film. Of course this doesn’t happen overnight but it appears the constant research, practise, time and investment is starting to pay off. MCPHONEY PICTURES is now an official YouTube partner and is gaining more and more subscribers every day. Now the ongoing journey continues with the release of my latest short – Attack of the Killer Sock.
Your new indie film – Attack of the Killer Sock – launched on Halloween. What’s it about?
Well first of all let me tell you that it’s not a comedy. I think a lot of viewers are expecting a comedy element as that is what my short films usually entail. However, I must warn you that it’s a serious piece. Of course from the title you can guess that a certain antagonist is a sock but like the film Jaws, this is not really just a film about a piece of clothing that kills, it’s more of a journey for our main protagonist and how he deals with the situation he’s in. But there is a moral to the story too. It hints at how we should be more honest and communicate with each other more. That is probably the hardest challenge that our protagonist has to deal with but he’s too stubborn to swallow his own pride and admit what is actually happening. Of course I could go on but I don’t want to give the game away. I just hope it provides a disturbing tale to get your teeth into on Halloween.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
I’ve always enjoyed a good horror film and have constantly thought about making one. However, I feel the film industry is getting increasingly full of horror films and has been for quite a while. Not that this is a bad thing of course, but you do see a lot of zombie/vampire/slasher films nowadays. So I wanted to come away from the typical “screaming girl chased by murderer / monster / boogeyman” and use elements in the process of the film to make the audience feel uneasy but without giving too much away.
A lot of people’s fears I find are a fear of the unknown and it was this motif that I wanted to work on. The basic angle for the film has been greatly inspired by the late ghost story writer M.R.James whose stories built up the tension and fear by scaring us with the unknown and creating a very disturbing state of mind. But he did this without blood and guts, it was done with the simple surroundings and everyday lives of ordinary people, which are then thrown into chaos by either finding a particular object or by a particular deed they have committed. Which just goes to show that it is not necessary to have ghosts rattling chains and screaming down corridors to scare you, but actually more of what you don’t see – letting the reader’s mind become terrified by itself because it doesn’t know what it is dealing with.
A classic 1963 film titled The Haunting and directed by Robert Wise is also another huge inspiration, as this sits along the same motifs by giving audiences glimpses into what they are dealing with through the use of sound and again relying on the mind to envision what is actually out there! Robert Wise also uses oblique camera angles to create a more deep sense of distortion which again keeps us (audiences) well and truly feeling uneasy and very afraid.
These are what gave me the idea for creating a sinister short film instead of the usual comedy/bizarre pieces that I have done before. However, my main problem was that I was doing this all by myself. Don’t get me wrong – I could have put together a small team but as previously stated when you have a 9-month-old baby, it isn’t that simple to arrange making a film whilst keeping him happy as well. So the idea had to be something simple. That’s when I decided to go with a sock. It was an ordinary, everyday object used by pretty much everyone in the world today, but giving the impression that it’s actually alive with an intent to kill you then brings elements of something far darker and haunting, which again is the feeling I wanted to create with the film. Was that a bad thing? Maybe, but it appears to have worked. Of course it was a big gamble which could have easily gone wrong and turned into a film that was being laughed at instead of enjoyed. But I’m hoping that the gamble has paid off!
How did you prepare for this project? Did you write a script in advance?
There was a basic script but in the end whilst filming was already taking place, I felt that there was a lot more story that could be told. So notes were made on what each scene would entail. However, when it came to the dialogue, this was all ad-lib. But this was again to help the character look more natural, like he was going along in his every,day life which I feel was one of the most important aspects of the film. The audience is watching a man go from his day-by-day living into a panic-stricken cry for help.
The music really adds to the suspenseful mood – who composed it?
The music is actually composed by Kevin Macleod and taken from his extremely useful website Incopetech.com. His site contains a vast array of music for all types of genres and he allows you to use them as long as you abide by his terms and conditions. I would highly recommend this website for anyone who needs help in scoring a film/production. Of course it may take some time finding the correct piece of music that works with your vision, but believe me he has some brilliant material that I have so far used in the majority of my productions. So I owe a big thank you to Kevin!
What equipment did you use when filming and what software did you use in post-production?
In the past when I have made a production I have just used whatever equipment was available at the time, ranging from the previously mentioned security camera and my dad’s camcorder, to a smart phone and my father-in-law’s camera. However, I was fed up of being limited to what that equipment had to offer. After a lot of research and speaking to another film maker you may have heard of called Stuart Bedford, I decided to purchase a Canon DSLR 600D as this was capable of shooting in Full HD (1080p) but also offered complete manual control over its settings, allowed lens changes and of course most importantly was within my budget!
Most shots were filmed using the standard 18mm-55mm lens. However, some were also filmed with a 50mm lens to give more of an enclosed and isolated effect on the central character. I also shot the entire film at 720p and at 50fps to give the production a more cinematic feel. I have seen a lot of indie horror films shot at 1080p which I felt took away the overall effect of the film’s story. Because it is shot in such glorious detail, the grittiness and solitude is lost because we are constantly reminded that it’s a film by how polished it looks! I hope that makes sense!
As for editing, I always use Adobe Premier. The dream of course is to use Final Cut however, this is something I may purchase once I have saved enough money to by a high-end Apple Mac computer. But if I was to purchase a Mac with the same technical capabilities as my Windows PC, then I think I would end up having to sell my house! Some shots needed to be edited in Adobe After Effects before being transferred over to Adobe Premier. This is where I had to teach myself how to create the effects in order to make them work, such as the final scene (without giving too much away) which is actually a composition of three different shots which all had to be matched up individually in terms of lighting and colour then masked on top of each other. Not an easy job when you don’t know how! But learning yourself actually makes it even more satisfying and you have also gained skills which can now be used if necessary in future projects.
I was really impressed with the composition of each shot, especially the use of selective focus along with the tight camera angles. It made seemingly everyday, mundane tasks take on a whole new eerie light. How did you go about planning these shots – was there any storyboarding involved?
To begin with I looked over a few of my previous shorts and decided that I wanted the audience to feel as though they were isolated with the character and not just watching the film from an outside point of view. Having planned where the initial/general shot would take place, I then stepped back and thought of how it could be changed to bring the audience in closer. It was almost thinking outside the box.
I also wanted to experiment with the use of focus techniques, having been unable to use this effect in previous productions due to lack of appropriate equipment. Most camcorders don’t allow a great depth of field and when you try to put it out of focus, it just doesn’t give the same effect seen on a professional camera (no offense to camcorder owners of course)! But as for storyboarding, there wasn’t any! I had the vision in my head but if that didn’t work when filming commenced I would play around until it did. Some shots were actually planned on being filmed in a totally different way with dissimilar lighting, but it didn’t look right – it’s difficult to explain but you kind of know what looks right and what looks out-of-place.
As for the tight camera angles, I wanted viewers to feel trapped and isolated with our central character. They are as involved in the story as the protagonist is, with their lives in just as much danger, with the exception that they (the audience) have no control over what is going to happen, only the character does. But personally I do enjoy odd camera angles and bizarre shots. Why be ordinary when you can create so much more feeling and un-ease with the abnormal?
I have to ask – how did you manage to make the sock drawer open on its own?!
Haha, well this is actually an old trick I attempted from when I was very young, back during the security camera days. I wanted to move a toy car without taking the time to animate it and my dad showed me that when using a very thin piece of wire and the correct angle and lighting, the camera can’t pick it up in shot. So I went along to a local angling shop (Bobs Angling, Tackle and Bait in Liverpool) and asked for the thinnest fishing line/wire they had. They were extremely helpful and gave me a few different lengths and sizes to play around with – and they didn’t even charge me. So I owe a great thanks to all the team and staff there! But getting back to making the drawer move – well, it was just a question of placing the wire around the drawer and changing the lighting so it couldn’t be picked up on camera!
How does directing yourself compare with being directed by someone else?
To be honest its very different… and not at all different if that makes any plausible sense! There is obviously less pressure when you are directing yourself, but there is also no-one to guide you because it is you in the shot and not you watching the action/scene on a monitor backstage. At the same time you know what you want so you know how to play the part – but again it is great being directed by someone else as you have to quickly adapt to what they want and try new on-the-spot techniques in order to satisfy their vision.
It’s helpful when a director explains exactly what they want the scene to show most and audiences to pick up on, then you can place your mind into the emotion/character and begin to feel what that character would do in the situation he is in. But this doesn’t always work and that’s when the director can quite literally direct you and tell you to either try something different or in some cases say “That was perfect!” However, when directing yourself you have to play the part how you think it would be and then watch the shot afterwards to see what worked and what didn’t. Does it require less/more movement, more/less emotion and so on. I have to say though I think I prefer being directed by someone else, especially if you understand and share their vision.
What’s next for you Alex – and how can AMO’s readers find out about your future projects?
Well I wish I could reveal all but that would be spoiling it! There are a lot of projects in the pipeline at present but of course it all comes down to finding the time to do them! I am currently playing the Sergeant in the forthcoming ITV series Home Fires which is due to air at some point in 2015. It is only a small role but a fantastic production to be a part of. However, the best place to keep in touch with all my goings on is through my website MCPHONEY.com. But don’t forget you can also keep up to date with me via my Facebook page which can be found at www.facebook.com/makingshortsnotpants and of course on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcphoney
Thank you for your time, I really enjoyed watching Attack of the Killer Sock and I can’t wait to see what you do next!