The film, which features a number of stars, will see a percentage of its sales donated to NHS Charities Together.
The nationwide lockdown imposed back in March to halt the spread of coronavirus not only paused life as we know it, but completely stopped whole industries that were otherwise thriving when life was normal.
As the public could only leave their homes for a limited number of reasons, one industry in particular that struggled with restrictions was the arts, with plays and pantomimes suspended indefinitely.
However, one actor and writer from Bermondsey decided to keep colleagues and friends in the industry connected with a special Christmas comedy film.
The Gift, which was remarkably filmed in just over 12 days back in September, has set out to “make people laugh and smile” while raising money for a good cause in the process.
Michael Head, 37, says the idea came about by “complete accident” after a show of his that was due to debut in Islington was cancelled.
“We were desperately trying to find something for Christmas, some sort of pantomime and every road was blocked,” he told Oh My Goodness.
After visiting Kensington Library, Michael decided that a film would be the next best thing with theatres closed.
A week later, the writer returned to the library with a draft of the plot for The Gift accompanied with eight songs and was successfully given the green light by them to make the film a reality.
With the support of his friend and the film’s director Adam Morley, and his business partner Jason Samuel, the team were able to prepare for filming in just three weeks.
“From going up to see Kensington Library to being told we were allowed to film, to filming, it was a month, which was just crazy as this was our first ever film,” he said.
The film sees several stars feature including Chesney Hawkes, most famously known for his chart-topping 90s hit “The One and Only”, comedian and King of the Jungle Joe Pasquale, actress Tina Malone and television personality Caprice Bourret, among many others.
It follows two girls (played by Michael’s daughters Polly and Livia), and their Dad (Chesney Hawkes), as they go on a quest to buy their mum a present for Christmas.
After convincing their Dad to visit the library, the Magic Fairy (Caprice Bourret) appears and helps the girls explore a ‘world of books’. Button (Joe Pasquale) guides them through the challenges of this alternate world from the mighty villain Abanaza (Vas Blackwood) who seeks a ring that the magic fairy possesses.
But Michael says The Gift is not just any old film, he instead refers to it as a ‘film-o-mime’.
Enter a “mashup of pantomime” with uber drivers, pirates playing poker and villains on dating sites, and you have a film that “keeps traditions alive, but with a modern twist where ‘it’s behind you’ is part of a dubstep track”.
“Obviously because this is a pantomime it needs a certain kind of humour where it’s all very silly and very word-based humour with silly exaggerated characters so it’s not for everyone.
“It’s trying to bring pantomime into the 21st Century while keeping all them traditions alive with a real modern twist to hopefully engage a modern audience,” he said.
One particularly proud moment for the writer was seeing his daughters Polly, 7, and Livia, 3, “accidentally” take on lead roles alongside professionals who have been in the industry for years.
“They’re not actors, they’ve got no training, no background, they’ve not even gone for casting, so that was a bit of a worry!
“But they were really good. A lot of the credit comes down to the cast.”
It was especially extraordinary for his youngest daughter Livia, who believed the whole experience was real.
“She [Livia] was coming home every day ringing her Grandad and saying ‘we saw the good fairy today, we’re going to go there and do this’, it was cute watching a three-year-old just believe she was in this world, it was fantastic.”
Michael pinpoints the test of filming during a pandemic as a “whole new challenge” for the crew, with a “shoestring” budget, social distancing measures and the ability to socially mix outside filming no longer possible.
“It’s been give and take with Covid. We lost our original jobs because of it, but then that gave us a bit more flexibility with actors because sadly everyone has lost their jobs so there’s been more availability.
“There were no rehearsals because obviously we were on a tight schedule so there was none of this coming in, table reads, ‘let’s have a sit down, let’s rehearse it,’ it was literally shoot everything,” he admitted.
Michael, who plays numerous roles in the film, reserves a large amount of credit for the production team and the actors who he says were “brilliant” and “model professionals”.
“We didn’t have the budget, the time, or the luxury for an ego. We couldn’t have anyone turn up and be a diva because we just couldn’t have coped with it and the actors were brilliant, how they did what they did in the time that they did was amazing.”
Michael says the film was as much about helping the NHS as it was helping “as many people” in the industry as possible.
The film was dealt a big blow last month, after talks with Odeon to host it in cinemas across the country hit a standstill as the country entered another lockdown.
Plans for a Leicester Square premiere that were also discussed were later dropped, but Michael is just glad that the film is out and available for everyone to enjoy just in time for Christmas.
“We lost our premiere which was the cherry on the cake, [but] the truth is, had it not been for Covid, we probably would not have got a look in,” he said.
Michael and the team say they don’t want to stop there with their support with the NHS, with talks of filming for a second film next year underway and plans to make even more than that.
“We’re hoping to do seven or eight films for the NHS and I’ve already written the next one!
“The plan is to have it a bit like the Carry On films where we have the same cast, the same people come back in slightly different roles and [hopefully] every film will get bigger.”
The cast are even dreaming of raising more than the incredible £32.7million Captain Tom Moore raised for NHS Charities Together earlier this year.
“The dream is to top [Captain Tom Moore] over a course of like 10 films,” Michael added.
Around 10% or £1 from every film will go directly to NHS Charities Together and the team are hoping that if it is successful, that they will be able to give a bonus cheque to the organisation.
The team are also working to make the film as accessible as possible in hospitals around the country for free.
“It’s only a small way of saying thank you but I think it’s just something that’s important. If it makes people laugh and smile, because that’s the point of the film, then that’s a bit of comfort as well, especially to children’s wards at this time.
“Everybody has done this part of a sense of community again to keep the panto alive and to keep that out there and the spirit of Christmas and I think everyone is just so grateful to the NHS.”
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