Defector (Movie) Interview
Genre: Action, Thriller
I think the best thing about this particular project was the fact that we didn’t have a budget. I think it kept everyone real, sharp, and hungry. We were able to make a really gritty picture and put our talents out there and were able to make something very grounded.
For the full review and link to the film, go to: https://www.facebook.com/JMCReelReviews/posts/901533516647979
Defector star Lee McGeough talks exclusively to JMC Reel Reviews about the project and discusses, amongst other things, his influences, his first acting role and his company, Spectrum.
Lee McGeough on… Lee McGeough
JMC: So, Lee, tell me a bit about yourself, and specifically the Martial Arts. When did all that start and how did you get into it?
LM: I started Martial Arts when I was 8 years old when my Dad took me to a Martial Arts school (I lived in an interesting area in Cheltenham where self-defence was a good idea!) I started with various different Martial Arts and I won a few early fighting competitions. I was only 8 or 9 and can remember being paired up with a lot of 13 year olds so I kind of figured that I was half decent at it. I boxed and trained amateur as well and loved the sport – but really wanted to get into Kung Fu. The first time I met my teacher he asked me “where do you want to go with this?” and I said “I want to be one of the best Kung Fu practitioners in the world”. I was 15 years old and I’ll never forget his facial expression. He sort of looked at me and said “OK”. Ever since then it’s been full on all the way.
I made a life choice, at times it wasn’t easy, but the result was worth it – I became British Champion, WUMA Forms World Champion, and it was a full-time career from that point on.
Lee McGeough on… Films
LM: My love for films has always been in the background. I lived next to a video store and I’d be constantly watching Jackie Chan films. Jackie Chan is completely classical Kung Fu – films like Prodigal Son, Magnificent Butcher, and the early films which had Animal Kung Fu in them like Snake In The Eagle Shadow and Drunken Master, all inspired me. So, I spent many years learning the same Kung Fu styles that Jackie Chan and others like Samo Hung and Yuen Biao were doing. The Raid, however, that’s very classical. I’m a big fan of The Raid
Lee McGeough on… Spectrum
JMC: Because of this film affection that you have, was this always the idea behind Spectrum; to get involved with films?
LM: Absolutely. When I set up Spectrum it was always to set a very definite divide between my classical teachings and what I was going to do with film work. Films, choreography: how can I do both? How can I respect both? This is how Spectrum came to be, because it incorporates the many avenues of what I do, in addition to the range of forms and skills I can teach and perform. So Spectrum is the business name, and can come with willing fighters or assistants if needed, or creative direction, or training other performers – or I can perform Kung Fu and act – but essentially it’s Lee McGeough.
JMC: How long has Spectrum been up and running?
LM: I started the Spectrum brand itself probably around 8 months ago, with a view to using it for film, merchandise and more, however the creative considerations go back many years. In reality, it’s been in the making for 30 years.
Lee McGeough on… Defector
JMC: So Defector is the first role that Spectrum has had?
LM: Yes, it’s the first lead role and choreography lead combined, although I have been working on other, smaller film projects, I’m very proud to say that Defector is my public debut.
JMC: Tell me how Defector came about and how you got involved.
LM: It started with conversations about promotional footage for Spectrum and I worked with Josh Grayson, Defector’s editor, on this. That promotional footage started getting a lot of traction online and we just thought, ‘why don’t we make a film?’
Josh told me about his Director friend, James Chanter who was making a short film called Celestial at the time. I was invited to watch a preview of the film and James and I immediately hit it off. We had a really good rapport and his work warranted further conversation.
I got my team together and I showed James some choreography and he was like… (Lee looks wide-eyed and open mouthed) and he had this kiddish excitement… It was a perfect opportunity for me to look at getting into the industry with some truly British Kung Fu, working with someone whose as-yet undiscovered talent I admired.
At that point, it just got bigger and faster by the week. It was an incredible series of events and one where I continually met other talented people throughout the process, like Sam East – Defector’s Director of Photography. Josh, I knew was a brilliant editor and had various contacts in sound design which he had applied to my Praying Mantis video. Before you knew it, choreography began whilst the script was being written. All of us had the right mentality towards it.
JMC: One of the things I mentioned in the review was that I really felt that Defector was like a mid-section of a film. There wasn’t a beginning, middle and end as such and there’s clearly more story that precedes and follows what we saw. I loved that one line you had at the end (“I hear you’re looking for me”) so there’s obviously a bit more to follow. Was that deliberate from you as a group or was it James’ brainchild to say “I want to make this as a midway point of a film?”
LM: That credit goes to James. We wanted it to excite people, and what better way than not telling them the beginning or the end! What we would really like is for the right person to watch it and say, “wow, that would be great to insert in my film”… but already I’m being asked about a sequel!
JMC: How did you actually approach the character? You talk about the influences behind the Martial Arts. I said in the review that you had this intensity about you, did you draw on any influences or think ‘this is who I want this character to be’?
LM: When you do different fight styles in Kung Fu, they all have characters so I really enjoyed the acting side of this. When we talked about films we talked about The Bourne Identity and similar types of films because of the adrenalin feeling you get from them. The Raid was of course an influence; it was the feeling of the action and the non-apologetic; there were no wires or acrobatic tricks.
One thing I really like about working with James was that he would come straight to me and ask how I felt about things, how did I want to build my character? He didn’t tell me how to be the character, he just gave me a lot of freedom to develop it. I wrote the whole back-story on my own and James really liked it, so we went for it.
JMC: The end fight scene with Tom Goodwin (the film’s villain and a member of Lee’s Spectrum crew) pleasantly surprised me because I wasn’t expecting him to fight back. I was like, “oh this is a classic showdown”. Was that finale always planned ?
LM: Absolutely, his character is a frustrated mystery from beginning to end. The Tactical Teams have made mistakes and they’re getting too emotional and going in too quick and he was left to finish the job. In the back-story, the idea was that Tom and I had clearly have a past together in some way; the face off and his taking the ear piece out was a clear sign that he feels he can sort the situation himself. Tom has many years of experience which is why he was perfect for the role.
By the time we filmed the end scene; which was all in sequence, so it was on the last day; I really wanted that feeling of ‘I’ve got next to nothing left’, I’ve got no other way out of this now’ so it was a case of I’ve got to go through you to get out the other side of this.
The walk off at the end – is it the end or am I going after them?
JMC: And you did that by exuding this confidence, where you had an intensity but also a nonchalance and you just exuded this superiority over any of the assailants.
LM: That was interesting because, in the back-story, I trained them. So they would have known me but their job is also to take me out – but they kind of know what they’re up against and that’s why they come in mob handed. I wasn’t as confident with Tom’s character because my character hadn’t trained him, so I knew this could go either way, and that’s how we wanted that fight to be.
When it comes to film making, it’s the Director’s film and so my choreography has to fit in with the story of what the Director wants. For the role of Defector, although I can perform more flamboyant forms, I needed the realism to make the character work. I liked the fact that the Defector didn’t make any apologies.
JMC: I was wondering about the reasons why your character was on the run. Is it from a moral or personal perspective? Are you a good guy that ended up doing bad things which made you uncomfortable or a bad guy turned good?
LM: I would say a little bit morally questioned, but that is up to the audience to decide, that’s half the fun of watching Defector.
JMC: And with that ending, and the ambiguity of the character, have you, James and Josh talked about taking this character further as opposed to any other projects, in terms of more shorts or potentially something feature length further down the line?
LM: We haven’t had serious conversations about it because as we only recently finished filming and, ideally we’d obtain funding so that we didn’t have to do it again on such small budget. If £250 delivered this much, we can’t wait to see what an actual budget can deliver!
JMC: Presumably much of these conversations will be directed by how successful Defector is. Is it being put forward for any film festivals?
LM: As far as I know it was too late to put forward for film festivals this year but it is definitely something we want to do.
JMC: What did you enjoy the most out of the whole process?
LM: I absolutely loved the acting process and channeling that character. To have the freedom from the Director to go my own way meant that when the filming started, the character fitted his role. I also enjoyed the fact it was frenetic, gritty. It’s also been great to see how well received the film has been, which has been a very positive experience.
JMC: And what did you enjoy the least out of the whole process?
LM: Aside from the beard? As I ran through the door with blood on it, I stepped on a 5 inch rusty nail! And this was on the final day of shooting. We got there at 5am, it had taken 4 hours to set up, and it was the first shot of the day. After a quick trip to A&E, I bandaged my foot up and I filmed for 7.5 hours before heading out for a tetanus and immunoglobulin shot when I finished.
It helped the character because I was so angry when I got back to set – it was an amazing end day which I can laugh about now but it was also horrific.
Lee McGeough on… A Shoestring Budget
JMC: Looking back at the whole process, what would you differently and following on from that, if you had more money involved in the project do you think it would have been the same? What would you have added with more money or do you think you would have kept it as simplistic as it is?
LM: I think the best thing about this particular project was the fact that we didn’t have a budget. I think it kept everyone real, sharp, and hungry. We were able to make a really gritty picture and put our talents out there and were able to make something very grounded. We didn’t even have a lighting budget! The lighting makes filming extraordinarily hard with the right times of day and if the weather’s not right it doesn’t fit in with the previous day’s shoot. I don’t think we would have changed how we filmed this project as the result is quite extraordinary and allowed us to prove our abilities.
JMC: So it sounds like a bigger budget would have made the process a bit easier, but you would have wanted the product to stay as it was.
LM: Yes, for this project, this film. Moving onto another project, we would like to have a bigger budget, to have more people involved, to get more actors involved, to have a longer film. To also make the action scenes bigger, but still have that realism and chorography that I’d bring to it but have that ability to add other elements into the action.
Lee McGeough on… The Crew
JMC: Regarding the dynamic on-set. It sounds like prior to this you’d all formed relationships with each other and had mutual respect for each other, but what was it like being directed by someone so young and quite new to this whole thing? Was there any element of ‘I know best or he knows best’? What was it like?
LM: That’s a great question again and I can honestly say James had a lot of respect for me with my background – and I had a lot of respect for James.
James is very driven and very particular about what he wants, but that being said he has such a calm way. It’s almost like you can’t ever imagine him losing his rag. It’s like, “does he ever actually get flustered because he doesn’t show it?” You’re getting ready for a scene and feeling quite nervous about it, and he comes over with his cap on and he’s got this way of going… (whispers) “so what we need to do…” and he’ll be staring… “we need to do this scene in this particular way”.. and you feel yourself just going ‘OK’. Why argue with someone who knows what he’s doing.
There were 6 members of the Spectrum fight crew involved. When I chose them to be on my team, I actually chose them because of their character, not just what they can do Kung Fu-wise. There’s a trust there, you can really rely on them. Taking their characters in my team, once we got together with James and his team, it just worked. We built a friendship and professional relationship within minutes. I think we all knew we could improve each other and make a really good film together.
Lee McGeough on… The Shoot
JMC: What was a typical day on set?
LM: On average, it was 5am to 5pm or 5am to 7pm; long days. Sometimes it was during the week, other times it was at weekends depending on everyone’s availability as they all donated their time.
JMC: I said in the review that I was genuinely blown away by just how polished it was. I think so much credit had to go to editing, it was absolutely seamless. The editing was fantastic and the camera work.
We were lucky to have the editing talents of Josh Grayson and camera work of Sam East. Although James did step in and shoot some scenes himself at times. Combining the photography with such tight editing and an original soundtrack really pushed it to another level.
JMC: Again that actually leads into another question I had which was how long was the process, from when you first had the concept and from when the cameras first rolled?
LM: We shot the whole thing in 4 weeks and then there was 2 months of post-production. Before that, there was easily 3 months of pre-production, and essential planning for my point of view from fight scenes, choreography, to my own character development.
JMC: Did anyone perform the role of location scout? Did you know where you were going to set the production?
LM: We did some location scouting. Tony Nevin of Zoo Ost, knew of Ham Mill in Stroud and the end fight scenes in the big garage followed a hunt for the location after Josh and James viewed it online. We came across a caretaker at this particular building who just said, “yeah, people have filmed here before, wanna film?”
It was easier to find places outside of Cheltenham but that being said, the early scenes worked really well. When James saw Royal Well bus station he was inspired. It really was a group effort.
Lee McGeough on… The End Result
JMC: What was it like for you seeing the finished article?
LM: The private screening was held at Hotel du Vin before it was released online so I had a bit of time to get used to the strange feeling of seeing myself on screen. Fortunately, it went down extremely well on the night with an audience of 40, so it was in at the deep end. I was very happy with it, with James as Director, I feel we did a really good job working together.
JMC: And it’s clear to see as well. It’s such an accomplished piece of work and I was genuinely blown away by it; just how crisp it was. I went into it with a lot of enthusiasm. I’d seen the stills and promos, but I think part of me thought, ‘it’s a short film, an amateur film, and the production will probably leave a lot to be desired’, but I was like “this is actually quality” and I was so surprised by that.
We were fortunate that we had so many good people. I knew from the start of this project that we had an amazing range of skill sets. Everyone knew their roles really well and I think that’s the biggest compliment I can give them.
JMC: Was there anything in the 13.5 minutes that you didn’t like?
LM: I’m extremely proud of everything we achieved on this film but, of course, with a bigger budget there would be an array of things we could build on in the future. Overall I’m extremely proud of Defector.
JMC: And I think that covers just about everything I wanted ask. Thank you very much.
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