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The Comedy of Errors

Outlawed: The True Story Behind Nottingham's Craziest Action Film

13 June 19 words: Ashley Carter
illustrations: Raphael Achache

Seven years, over three hundred crewmembers, one Chinook helicopter, no budget and two directors learning how to make a film as they went along. For anyone that has worked in the Nottingham film industry over the last decade, the production of Outlawed took on something of a mythological status. Everyone knew someone that had been involved at some point, many doubted it would ever get completed, and the stories of firearms, exploding buildings and pissed off Council officials quickly became the stuff of legend. With the film now picked up for distribution, including a Netflix deal in the United States and a worldwide DVD release, we caught up with co-directors Adam Collins and Luke Radford to find out the truth about the most insane film production in Nottingham’s history...

“We were trying to figure out a way to end the film,” says Adam Collins, the co-director, co-writer and star of Outlawed, the self-financed, feature-length action film. “I knew it was going to be a big siege, and I looked out of our office window, and saw the Nottingham City Council building,” he remembers, “I turned to Luke and said, why don’t we just blow that up?”

The idea to destroy one of Nottingham’s most famous landmarks was neither the beginning nor the end of the Outlawed story. The seven-year odyssey started when Collins, a former Royal Marine, found himself caught between careers. “I was training as a stuntman, as well as trying to establish myself as an actor,” he says, “but my agent kept sending me out for roles that I was never going to get.” Unlike the majority of struggling actors, Collins found himself in the relatively unique position of having a new day job that provided him with a lot of down time, “I worked in anti-piracy, protecting commercial vessels from hijackings off the coast of Somalia. 90% of the job just involved looking out at the empty sea, and it could get pretty boring.”

Frustrated by the lack of opportunity, the actor utilised this time to write his own script. “By making my own film, I realised that I could play any role I wanted to. So, sitting in my cabin on the outside of the ship, and with a G36 assault rifle locked and loaded by my side, I started typing away.” The result was the first draft of Outlawed – the story of Jake, a former Marine on a one-man mission to save his girl from a corrupt criminal gang that has ties with the highest levels of Government.

It was on his return to the UK that Luke Radford, Collins’ co-director, first got involved. “I’d made some music videos and a short film, but I never really had any intention of directing an action film – I’ve just never been drawn to that type of cinema. But when the offer of making this big, loud Hollywood style action film in the vain of Die Hard or the Bourne films was put in front of me, I would have been an idiot to turn it down.”   

The process of making low-budget short films over a free weekend can feel like a Sisyphean task at the best of times, so how did the pair convince other people to get involved in something so ambitious? Time and again, the answer is sheer force of will. “We had no funding, but we wanted to make this huge action film,” Collins says, “Everybody was responding the same way, thinking it was just going to be this little weekend project like any other Nottingham short film.”

But the turning point came when Collins was able to use his military connections to secure the perfect filming location at Chilwell Barracks. “Initially, I was just after a locker to shoot a couple of scenes, but I ended up leaving with permission to film at this huge Afghanistan compound, including a full-sized Chinook helicopter.” Secured just one day before they were set to film the original locker scene, Collins immediately contacted Radford, and the pair re-wrote a scene to include the new desert location that night.

I knew that the film had developed a reputation, and people probably thought I was a bit of a twat, but we were just trying to make something amazing at any cost.

But with no budget – other than their own personal funds – no real industry standing and a script that was constantly changing, shooting was sporadic, until the pair reached a crossroads in the production. “I remember it vividly,” recalls Radford, “we had about twenty minutes of a pretty bad film, Adam was about to become a Hollywood stuntman, I was in the middle of doing a PGCE, and we were both exhausted. The film didn’t really work, even though we’d been working on it for two years. I said that we either had to commit to it properly, or just release what we’ve got and put an end to the whole thing.”

As was the case throughout the entire production, it was the borderline-insane relentlessness of Collins that kept the film in production. “We’d come this far, giving up at that point wasn’t really an option,” he recalls. “I knew that the film had developed a reputation, and people probably thought I was a bit of a twat, but we were just trying to make something amazing at any cost. There’s no reward without sacrifice.”

But, in 2017, when neither Collins nor Radford could even remember how many shoot days they’d actually done during production, they finally reached a stage where they were ready to stop filming and start editing. “The entire process was a huge learning curve, but the edit was the biggest,” Radford says. “When we first started out, all I knew how to do was drag and drop footage onto a timeline, but I know Premier Pro inside out now.”

Armed with an edit of the film, the pair embarked into even newer territory: trying to find distribution. “We went to Cannes with a trailer, having been contacted by a couple of distribution companies who had spotted the film on IMDb,” says Collins, “and one of them pretty much bit our hands off. They immediately said they wanted it.”

“It was literally two days after we’d finished the trailer,” he continues, “But then I had to teach myself contract law in two weeks, because, being first time filmmakers, we were at risk of being shafted by distributors.”

With a worldwide distribution deal sorted, and a world premiere at Cineworld Nottingham (at which Collins made his entrance by abseiling down the front of the Cornerhouse building) behind them, the pair are free to reflect on whether the seven-year journey was worth it. “We always just wanted to see how far we could take the whole thing,” Radford tells me, “it helped elevate us to the next level.” For Radford, the next level was the brilliant Saturday Night and Sunday Morning inspired short film I’ll Be Here After The Factory is Gone, which was released earlier this year to widespread acclaim, and for Collins, stunt performances in big-budget productions like Aladdin, Dunkirk and Game of Thrones, as well as Hood: A Legend Reborn, his directorial follow-up to Outlawed which is currently in production.

”There is always going to be a demographic for films like Outlawed,” Collins concludes, “it’s the 15-30 year old guy who gets a beer and a curry on a Saturday night and just wants to watch a shit action film.”

Outlawed will be available on DVD and VoD from Monday 10 June

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