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Spaceship lands at SXSW

  • Alex Taylor and the Spaceship gang in Austin

Alex Taylor (centre, with black T-shirt) and the Spaceship gang in Austin, Texas during SXSW

March 2016

Alex Taylor makes his feature directorial debut with Spaceship, which had its world premiere in the Visions programme at SXSW. Alex recaps his trip to Texas with this blog for British Council Film.

Alex writes:

Arriving at SXSW Film Festival with my debut feature film Spaceship was nerve-wracking. I found myself sweating with heart palpitations on the morning of the world premiere because I was scared that no-one would turn up.

Lucian Charles Collier, Lara Peake and Tallulah Haddon -- three of our awesome actors -- had travelled all the way from the UK for the premiere, and if nothing else I didn't want to disappoint them with a small crowd, not after this long journey.

But as we stood having our pictures taken by the festival photographer, people starting queuing for tickets. It was about an hour before the film was due to start.

Right up until the film started, the shuttle bus kept bringing more people until the screening was sold out and there was a queue outside waiting for standby tickets.

Then a new kind of anxiety set in:  would anyone actually like it?

Watching the film for the first time in front of an audience (I don't believe in test screenings) was like entering a collective dream, but one that you have had some say in. It's humbling that people who you don't know are sitting transfixed as they watch images that have lived in your head for years. They look like they're having a vision. And then you realise that this is no longer your vision, it's theirs, and you have to let go.

You're bearing your soul to people who've never met you, but they're opening their soul to let yours in.

Ribs & reviews

Austin is famed for its BBQ, so after the screening we found ourselves trying to eat huge amounts of brisket and ribs, and that was when another realisation hit me, as I got an email. Someone had reviewed our film.

Within an hour there were three or four more reviews published and the number of reviews grew day by day. There is something very vulnerable about putting your soul out there on the line, for someone to pick up and do as they will. Those who get the film and let it in do so in their own private way -- we rarely know unless they tell us.

So I was eternally grateful when reading the reviews that I realised that we were reaching people's hearts and minds and they were willing to tell us about it.  It was a hair-raising moment, because the whole journey could have been destroyed right there.

Some of my favourite review quotes, which will keep me going until I make my next film:

'a day glo fever dream of a movie...closer to the lurid head trips of Gaspar Noe than the urban British Kidulthood' (ScreenDaily)

'a mixture of Harmony Korine's Gummo and the British television series Skins...Spaceship comes to life in a way that few movies of the most unique films about teenage life in the past few years' (Cinema Slasher)

'a weird and beautiful film...the uniqueness of Spaceship is refreshing, opening it up to a true cinematic experience' (The Entertainment Section)

'a sublime blend of the metaphysical and the psychedelic...a unique experience of sound and vision, Taylor channels Todd Haynes and Gus Van for the dreamers, the free spirits, the truly unabashed individuals' (Smells Like Screen Spirit)

'a lyrical dose of filmmaking that can transport the viewer to a weird and lovely place on some planet called Earth' (Austin Chronicle)

Dealing with that 'buzz'

Our next screening was also sold out and SXSW added an extra 'buzz' screening to cope with the demand, so I finally began to relax, sit back and enjoy the SXSW rollercoaster.

Next on the agenda was a photoshoot with Getty Images. That's when you realise that as director you're no longer in your element - being behind the lens is a much more comfortable place! But watching the actors effortlessly pose and exude existential depth and honesty, beauty and cool in the same breath, made me so appreciative of the talented cast we had assembled. It also made me wish I drank less beer and surfed more.

Despite loving cinema to the end of the world, I'm also a musician, and so I nearly had a heart attack when at a film after-party I met Butch Vig. He produced Nirvana's Nevermind and many Smashing Pumpkins albums - two bands who, when I was a teenager, gave me the same sense of freedom and understanding about who I am as film does for me as an adult today.

But the one thing which kept me going throughout the festival was the emotional bond that existed between myself, the actors, and my producers Nicola Bowen and Olivier Kaempfer.

We had become a family with our own dynamics, caring and looking after one another, each feeling a part of a larger whole. It was this one singular thought that I took away from SXSW.

When making a film the time flies by so quickly you don't realise what is happening, but when you get a chance to join arms again and reflect on what happened, the reflection smiles back at you with a big warm heart.

You can follow Spaceship on Facebook here and read more about Alex at his agency Curtis Brown here.

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