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Smashed avocado: a journey from shorts to features from Spaceship’s Alex Taylor

Date posted: 19.06.2017

The day I moved to Hackney, London, a bullet from a drive-by shooting ricocheted off a wall and hit an old lady in the leg. I’d moved to Lower Clapton Rd, or ‘Murder Mile’ as it was then known.

The following week we experienced an eight-horse-drawn carriage with a New Orleans marching band clopping along the road for a funeral, a guy running past us with a gun in his hand, and police tearing down the walls of our next door neighbour’s flat because they thought there was a missing prostitute’s body buried in the walls.

The bedroom I’d decided to rent was the kind of room someone might have OD’d in. It felt like it had seen a lot of action. It was on the second floor of the building, above a Jamaican barbers which never seemed to cut any hair and right next to a bus stop. When double-deckers pulled up, people would gaze into the bedroom for a personal 20-second audience every seven minutes.

Nowadays, the area is full of boutique hairdressers and cafes serving smashed avocado. Now that’s dangerous.

I had been an archaeologist before, but by this time I’d slipped into music; playing sax in jazz outfits around London, and synth and guitar in other bands. I’d also started composing music for other people’s short films and low-budget horror movies.

One day in Lower Clapton Rd I realised that unless something changed, my fate was tied to these directors I was composing for, and not many of them were making the jump to feature films.

So I decided to do it myself. I hadn’t been to film school and had no idea that film festivals other than Cannes existed. I naively applied to NFTS but wasn’t invited for an interview because I’d never made a film before. 

I even decided to confront the head of the film school, and rode my Harley Davidson out there to reason with the guy who until recently ran it, but with no joy. My main regret about that time was I had to give up the Harley because I couldn’t afford the monthly payments.

Then one day I picked up the phone and called Hackney Council’s main line to ask if they had a film fund. Weirdly, as if it was normal, they did; one which was funded by and run with Film London. I started writing.

That film, Kids Might Fly, was a bit of a fluke to be honest with you, because I didn’t know exactly what I was doing and it all kind of fell into place. It was nominated and then won the Best of the Boroughs award [now the London Calling Awards] from Film London, presented in the BAFTA building.

That really opened everything up. I’ll be forever grateful to Film London for giving me my first chance, and I hope you get one too.

So whoever is reading this - don’t discount any avenue at all, you just never know where your path will be.

That year was a bit of a blur. I gave up music for a while and we went on a world tour of festivals in places I’d never heard of. At SXSW we won an award at the same time as Lena Dunham did for her feature Tiny Furniture. If I’d known she was gonna be so big I might have said hello. We also went to plenty of German and Dutch festivals; they have a lot of festivals, and they’re all awesome.

Short films are one thing, and then making a feature is another beast entirely.  If you’re not obsessed with your idea and, in a way, addicted to making it and willing to sacrifice some things, it’s nigh on impossible to get through.

I wouldn’t put the life of an ‘artist’ (whatever that is) on anybody. If you think you chose to be an artist, you’re probably not. No-one in their right mind would choose this. Like the old saying goes, it chooses you. And anyway, artist often isn’t even the right word; the job entails so much hard graft that it’s more like being a builder.

My first feature, Spaceship, took two years in development, a month to film, a year on and off in post-production, and then several nervous, interminable months to wait for festival appearances and then distribution.

So to be here, still relatively alive, not quite mentally intact but hanging on, and with a feature film out in cinemas, feels like nothing short of a miracle. We had the awesome Trinity Films put our film out in the UK. They had previously done Enter the Void by Gaspar Noe, so we knew we were in good hands. We also just got news this week that a US distributor, one who has worked with North American auteurs Larry Clark and Xavier Dolan, has picked up Spaceship for distribution over there.

I’ll tell you a few moments among many that made it all worthwhile: at the ICA screening a guy said he’d seen the film twice and cried through it both times; at the Institute of Light, half of Wes Anderson’s team were there and the production designer said he loved it and wanted to send it to his bestie Gus Van Sant; and finally, the great friendships with cast and crew that were made then and still remain.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since moving into that first room in Hackney. My partner and I just had a baby who is so beautiful and thriving, and I’m in development on my second feature film with the BFI.

So there is always light at the end of the tunnel, wherever you start from.

Of course no-one ever tells you the tunnel stretches out towards infinity… but let’s face it you never wanted it to end anyway, because what would you do then?  Maybe get a nice haircut followed by some smashed avocado on toast.

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