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Lost City

Starcross: Ash Morris and Nicola Monaghan

15 September 14 words: Eddy Haynes
We caught up with the director and writer of the short film with a current Kickstarter campaign

Ashley Morris

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What is Starcross about?
It's a drama about two twenty-somethings on a council estate and stars a cast of non- professional actors from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Why did you choose to use non-professional actors?
I like presenting people with the opportunity to do something different from their usual daily routines. I came from a disadvantaged background myself so I can relate to people from these communities. It also adds another level of rawness and reality to the film. I get much more from filming with a non professional actor, as opposed to a professional actor with an ‘ego’, who is probably more concerned with how their hair looks on film, as opposed to their performance.

What is the casting process like for using non-professional actors?
I handpick them; I sort of stumble upon them. I first met Jimmy in the YMCA - he had been stabbed two weeks previously, and I helped him. We built up a friendship. Since then I have been on the lookout for a project that would do him justice and also do the film justice.

You have mentioned before how you like films that "blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction" - what do mean by that?
In this day and age, films and documentaries can be very seamless. I am fascinated by films such as Peter Watkins’ The War Game and Punishment Park. Also, if you look at films such as Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home, you can see that it had a significant impact, leading to the creation of the charity Shelter.

In your Kickstarter you mentioned about the stigma around mental illness. Do think there is enough awareness about what it is like to live with mental illness? How does your film seek to represent it?
Starcross conveys how anyone is capable of doing what they want to as long as they have got the determination. I haven’t got any GCSEs or A Levels yet, I enrolled as a mature student, and now I am a university Lecturer. It is the same with Jimmy. He is put in a box saying he can’t do this, he can’t do that. Yet if he has the determination and sheer willpower to succeed, it will be a cakewalk.

Nicola Monaghan

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Do you think Nottingham is starting to compete with London in terms of creative success?
Nottingham has been exciting creatively for quite a few years. As a writer there is a real buzz about the place. There is the Nottingham Writer's Studio which was set up by writers. Also, there are a lot of creative people working in Nottingham and this makes it easier to network and get to know other creatives working in the city. I used to live in London but it does not have the same sense of community.

Was there a time when you realised you had really ‘made it’ as a writer?
I had that moment with The Killing Jar. I came back from a party in Radford, and I was sat down at coffee shop in town the day after. I started to write the first sentences and there and then I knew that the book would get published - I knew it was different, it had an energy that my other stuff didn’t.

How did you get  to know Ashley, the director of Starcross?
Ashley got in touch with me after seeing a short film that I had made with East Midlands based director Debra Haywood and after reading The Killing Jar.

What made you want to work on Starcross?
When I met up with Ash it become clear that we had a similar vision of the kind of films that we wanted to make, and the kind of stories that we wanted to tell. We started to talk about writing a love story. We brainstormed what kind of story that was going to be and that was where Starcross came from.

Did Ashley’s approach to filmmaking affect how you approached the screenplay?
Yes, I knew that his approach was very earthy and gritty. I am also in agreement with his documentary approach to fiction, because I try to take this approach in my prose writing as well. I was open to writing a revolutionary script which didn’t include any dialogue but instead, me and Ashley thought that using indicative dialogue in some scenes would work better for the film. This is where we tell the actors to say something that means this, rather than using these exact words - I think that comes across really well on screen.

The subjects that the film deals with are similar to the issues that The Killing Jar dealt with. What draws you towards dealing with these topics?
Due to the drama of those situations - when people are going through difficult situations, it is a very dramatic point in their lives. It is also because it gives voice to those who don’t often get heard in our society. When I sit down to write, I often have working class characters in my head.

The film explores the stigma around mental illness - how do think mental illness has been misrepresented?
I think estate life, generally, is misrepresented. We all have cliches about mental illness, and in fiction we often end up reinforcing each others stereotypes. A good example is Shameless - though really funny, its characters became caricatures in later seasons.

The film uses Kickstarter, a very popular service for independent filmmakers. What is your opinion of it, especially in contrast to traditional means of funding?
It’s a good idea; a lot of people have used it successfully to get some really interesting subjects off the ground. Traditional funding can be really hard, because it’s very competitive, it’s a long process and you can often give up a lot creative control.

Do you and Ashley have any plans to work together again?
I would love to work with Ashley again. He is very ambitious, one of those sort of people that likes to get stuff done.

To donate to the Starcross Kickstarter campaign, follow the link below.

Starcross Kickstarter

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