Anti-bullying film benefits from the Hollywood touch

Sam Johnson

Sam Johnson

First published in News Herald Series: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Witney and West Oxfordshire. Call me on 01865 425483

WHEN Sam Johnson wanted to make a film about bullying he didn’t have far to turn for expert advice.

The 26-year-old’s uncle is Simon West, who directed Hollywood blockbusters Con Air, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Expendables 2.

And Mr West, 53, from Burford, also got Dr Who and Star Trek Into Darkness star and Kidulthood writer Noel Clarke to give Mr Johnson some tips.

Now it is hoped the 15-minute film Billy The Kid will be shown in UK schools during November’s Anti-Bullying Week.

It tells the story of 15-year-old Billy, played by John Bell, who starred as Bain in 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Herald Series:

A still from his film Billy the Kid with actors Jake Wheeldon and John Bell

The youngster lives his life like a cowboy and is bullied at his new school but saves the day and wins his fellow pupils’ respect when escaped convicts seize classes.

Mr Johnson, who went to Abingdon School, said: “We’ve got some quite big action scenes so it was good to have my uncle on the set as a point of reference. For young filmmakers it was really special to have someone of his calibre there.

“It sounds corny but I want to make films that can help make a difference, however small, and I knew I wanted to do something with an anti-bullying theme.

“Like most people I had a few issues with bullying as a kid – nothing serious but it’s something that remained prevalent in my mind.

“I remember being at school and all the anti-bullying films I saw were so dry, and there was very little dialogue about the issue.”

Herald Series:

A dramatic scene from the film

Pre-demolition Didcot Power Station was used for the jail scene while filming also took place at Burford School and Abingdon School from July 30 to August 3.

Pupils from St Helen’s & St Katharine’s School, Abingdon and Cokethorpe School, Ducklington, near Witney, also starred.

Mr Johnson’s parents Nigel and Louise even put up about 50 cast and crew at their Clanfield home in tents, barns and sheds as well as providing props and catering.

The £10,000 film was funded by the British Film Institute, Creative England and Burford Garden Company, owned by Mr and Mrs Johnson.

An online appeal will split cash between charity BeatBullying and the production and has so far raised more than £3,800.

Herald Series:

Director Simon West

Mr Johnson, who produced an online short for Adidas, hopes to make Billy the Kid into a full-length feature.

Former Burford School pupil Mr West, who helmed 1997’s Con Air with Nicolas Cage, said: “The theme of bullying in Sam’s film is so relevant in schools today that I think it’s vital this film gets shown in schools around the country, maybe even internationally.

“It’s a great short film and from what I saw I definitely think Sam is on his way to Hollywood.”

  • Support the campaign at indiegogo.com/projects/ billy-the-kid

 

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