Portsmouth gets in on the action

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While most budding actors start performing from a young age, Bill Pearson didn’t know it was what he wanted to do until he found himself with a role in a big-budget movie.

Now the 31-year-old warehouse worker has the title role in a new film being premiered this weekend.

Fit-Boy is a no-budget gritty urban drama filmed entirely in Portsmouth and directed by Bill’s big brother, Glen.

It is being screened for the first time to cast and crew on Sunday at the cinema at Action Stations in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

And that’s quite an achievement for the brothers, from Somers Town, Portsmouth.

‘With no funding and no experience or training in the industry, a couple of Somers Town geezers that didn’t really have much worthwhile going on in their lives have managed to pull off an entire film,’ says Glen, 35.

Bill and Glen’s showbiz career began with their hip hop group, Somerstown.

After seeing the films Football Factory and The Business, they were inspired to send a CD of their music to director, Nick Love.

‘I thought “I bet he’d like our CD”, so I sent it and he rang me,’ explains Bill. ‘He said he loved the album and he wanted to use one of the songs to promote his new film, Outlaw.

‘Then he said “Why don’t you come up with your mates and you can be extras”.

‘I really liked the whole experience. I had a script that they gave me. I saw that Danny Dyer kept messing it up. It looked quite easy. I thought “We should do something like this”.’

The pair began making music videos for their songs and their first attempt came second in a competition on Channel U. Their second did even better, scoring more than 21,000 plays on YouTube.

‘Now all the kids in Somers Town know our stuff,’ says Bill. ‘Every where I go, they sing all the songs to me.’

After discovering they had a knack for film-making, the brothers decided to branch out into a full-length feature film.

Civil servant Glen – who has a degree in aeronautical engineering – wrote a script in his spare time, then applied for funding and sponsorship from organisations such as the lottery, the UK Film Council and local businesses.

He wasn’t awarded any funding, but – undeterred – Glen recruited a cast and crew who would work for free, including his brother, who was unemployed at the time.

To save on costs they used baking paper as make-shift filters for the lights they bought from building sites.

Glen searched YouTube for a Portsmouth cameraman and came across Jason Pycroft.

Jason supplied his own camcorder and the actors all wore their own clothes and used their own vehicles. Editing and other technical production was carried out on a PC Glen bought especially for the job.

Learning as they went, the shoot only lasted six weeks. But Glen spent much longer on post-production.

He explains: ‘I had 60-odd hours of footage to trim and match the sound. I spent months doing my best to filter production sound, re-recording dialogue. I also had to sort out the colour and render it in Blu-ray.

‘It’s all I’ve been doing in my evenings and at weekends for over a year and a half. If I had any hair it would all have been torn out by now.’

Glen decided to hold a cast and crew premiere at Action Stations’ 275-seat cinema – one of the biggest large format film screens in the south – as a reward for all the unpaid hard work of his team.

‘They’ve been waiting a long time, so we thought we’d do something a bit special,’ he explains.

Glen says that up until this point he had ‘never really seen much beyond finishing the film and getting it out there’. But now his ambitions have grown.

He’s getting Fit-Boy classified and screening it to representatives from Portsmouth cinemas to see if they’ll show it. He’s also entering his film in festival competitions and hoping to secure distribution deals.

He’s certainly very proud of the finished product. Glen says: ‘Though some people might be shocked by some of the content, they’ll also be shocked by how good a lot of these debut actors are.’

Bill, who plays the main character Fit-Boy, adds: ‘It’s a no-budget film, but you’d never believe that. The locations and the actors really push the boundaries. It was hard but I’ve got total faith in my brother and I think he has pulled it off.’

The pair are already thinking about their next production together and other possible projects.

‘I started a novel about eight years ago,’ says Glen. ‘It was the story for our first album, which was a concept album. I’m thinking about turning it into a screenplay.’

There is also talk of a joint project with Rob Silvester, author of Rolling With The 6.57 Crew – a book about 1980s Pompey hooligans – who has a cameo role in Fit-Boy.

Whatever project they move on to next, Glen and Bill both now have the same dream – to make money making films.

‘I’d definitely like to be a filmmaker full time,’ says Glen. ‘It’s the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever done. If I could get paid so I can jack in the old civil service that would be brilliant.

‘One of my brother’s ex-girlfriend’s once told him to forget his “stupid pipe-dream” of being an actor and to work hard in the warehouse job he was in at the time, so that one day he could make supervisor.

‘Well, if the film gets the exposure it deserves, I’d like to think I’ve helped make his “pipe-dream” a reality and someone else at the warehouse can get that promotion.’

POMPEY REFERENCES

Fit-Boy is packed with meaningful references for Portsmouth people, with recognisable filming locations as well as colloquialisms.

Glen says: ‘The film is not just very British, it’s very Portsmouth. People from the area will really get it.

‘There are landmarks like the Guildhall and the Spinnaker Tower.

‘We filmed one scene in Ken’s Fried Chicken. They would only let us film during opening hours so people were trying to come in to get their kebabs while we filmed a bloke being beaten up on the floor!’

He adds: ‘The dialogue is written the way Portsmouth people talk, with Pompey colloquialisms like “mush” and “dinlow” thrown in.’

THE PLOT

When deciding what to base his film on, Glen says: ‘We wanted to make a film about the sort of people we actually know. Guys in their late 20s and early 30s who have not settled down yet.

‘Obviously it’s got to be a bit more interesting than our boring lives, so we made-up Fit-Boy, a womanising small-time drug dealer.’

Bill adds: ‘He’s the bloke that never really grew up and deep down he’s got problems. He never lets it show, but over the course of the film it starts to come out.

‘Everyone’s got a friend like him. They accept him because they’ve grown up with him. But, if you didn’t know him, you’d probably hate him.’