Creating "Athena" - A Fan Film with a New Kind of Action Hero

February 27, 2019 Kate Sykes 1 Comments

Before we get started, if you haven't yet seen the film, you can check it out below.

So, now you know what I've been up to. I made my first film!!!
I've always loved telling stories and have wanted to make films since I was in my early teens and last year, I finally took the leap.
I've dabbled in acting over the years and I've always fantasised about playing a character like Lara Croft; someone who could take care of herself with strength and will to equal any other mainstream "hero" we see on screen.
I started writing down ideas, all the while telling myself it would never become a reality because there's no way I would be able to do those things, let alone make an audience believe I could.
Then Alicia Vikander was announced as the new big screen Lara Croft. This Swedish actress, who moved to London at a young age to pursue acting, had no previous action experience but with months of hard work, she transformed herself and did almost all of the stunts herself. If she can do it, why can't I?
I asked on Facebook if the concept of me playing the lead role in a Tomb Raider fan film as the next Croft in line would be something people would be interested in. It had a very positive response and a script immediately went into development!
So...allow me to introduce you to Athena, daughter of Lara Croft and heir to the estate and her Mother's business.

Promo shot by Sam Sykes.
The first thing I needed to do was make sure I was going to be able to manage the combat and so in the months leading up to filming, I started doing some simple exercises and documented the process 
Lin case it was of any help to anyone else (videos are on the Facebook page).
Muscle didn't matter to me as long as I was limber enough. Part of my Cerebral Palsy is tightness in the tendons so I started doing some arm stretches for around 10 minutes every day (if possible) and later, I moved onto using single dumbbells with the same exercises. It did make a difference and I actually gained more defined biceps.

In that time, my friend and talented actress, Kate Davies-Speak came on board to lend her voice for the original butt-kicking adventurer, Lara Croft herself - which started off production in January 2018.
The first thing you need to know about Kate D is that she is also a massive Tomb Raider fan who's successfully pursued a career in playing a string of strong women who you do NOT want to make angry.
We immediately bonded over our love for the franchise when we first got in touch so when I approached her about the idea of making this film, she happily obliged.
At first, it was only going to be a voice over but when it came to editing the scene where Athena discovers and reads the letter from her Mother, something more was needed. I talked to Kate D about the idea of seeing a flashback of Lara and I was happy to get as much creative input from her as she wanted to give because she knew the character as well as I did. She came up with the idea of seeing the moment Lara leaves for the last time. The short, emotional scene was filmed by her husband at their home in Bristol and that's what you see in the final film.

The next character cast was Judas Iscariot. I'd known Jason Rhodes for a while since we were both working on a film back in 2014 and he has always been a big support. I'd seen bits of his acting work and as you'll hear, he has a wonderful commanding voice! I contacted him and although he doesn't do much acting these days, he gave up his free time to provide a few different versions of the voice over. An amalgamation was used in the final edit. Oh, if you're wondering about the desert sequences - non copyright footage from YouTube (Jason's idea). Handy when you're making a film with no budget and have no deserts in your country.

Now, let's not forget Winston - a widely loved character from the older games that I just had to include!
Some of you reading this might know that my Granddad was a professional actor for many years and I couldn't resist the opportunity to work with him on my first film. He's retired now but he's still got the talent! If you'd like more of an insight into his work, feel free to check out the dedicated photo album on my Facebook page.

Last to be cast were the all important baddies. Stephen Quinn (AKA Joe Carr) and Ben Park are cosplayers I know from local conventions (funnily enough both Joker cosplayers) that also have acting experience. Due to differing schedules, it was decided that one should be an over the phone voice by Stephen.
The fight sequence was filmed at the end of the Summer holidays at the school concert hall (the school my Dad works at as a guitar teacher) in my home town, which was great for Croft Manor and it's grounds.
As you can imagine, nerves were high. I had to look like I could fight well and fight and ex-boxer of all people...yeah, good luck with that, Kate.
In preparation for the fight, I researched self defence videos for wheelchair users. I had ideas about what I wanted to do however we couldn't rehearse ahead of time due to distance so when it came to it, there were things that I physically couldn't do. Ben helped me work something out that turned out well.
There were a couple of instances where I ran over the prop weapon and the plastic gun came out a bit worse for wear. Fortunately, it's scenes had been done.
Sam Sykes on camera with Ben Park.
Going through blocking.

I edited the film in between filming which I think was a big time saver.
I will point out that we had no professional equipment. Everything was filmed on iPhones and a Nikon D90 and edited with the 2009 version of iMovie so it just goes to show that you don't need much now to make a decent film.
As I was using an old version of iMovie on my old half dead laptop, there were many technical difficulties and when I exported the film, a big chunk of the sound was muted. Thankfully, my friend Sara Croft of and the film's visual effects artist saved the day and restored it with the original footage I sent her.
The completed film was released on Valentine's Day for Lara's Birthday.

Even with the setbacks, I can't tell you how much of a rewarding experience this has been. I learned a lot, I challenged myself even more and with a little (or a lot) of help from my friends and family, I created something I'm immensely proud of! I can't thank them enough!
Since it's release 2 weeks ago, "Athena" has been seen and shared by the likes of Roar Uthaug, Alison Carroll, Matt Lucas, Les Dennis, Cherylee Houston, Nick Knowles, Jon Campling, Hayley Tamaddon and more! Above and beyond what I could ever have imagined! 
The best part though has been receiving messages from people with disabilities who told me they've been inspired by it to pursue their own goals.

Thank you each and everyone of you for showing your support! It means more than you know. We are already making a difference for disabled people
in film and TV.
Many people have been asking for a sequel and all I can say right now is that's definitely the hope! I'd love to make the next one bigger and better which means a bigger budget!

In closing, feel free to check out the bloopers reel that was released in celebration of the film reaching 1000 views...

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing the behind the scenes of Athena.

    It was interesting about your prep work & research you did for the fight scene. And how you worked around problems.

    And your saying thank you all those helped is, well, classy.

    But at the end of the day 'Athena' is something that you personally can be rightfully proud of.

    And I did enjoy the blooper tape, you really did blow out the budget on the extras!