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Profile: Alexander Nally is ready for big screen debut
Alexander Nally admits that he never used to think that he could ever really pursue film-making professionally. “When I was young, I made short films using toys and stop-motion. I was really interested in film-making. But I didn’t know how you could get a career in it. I definitely didn’t think that I could get a career in it.”
For Alexander, though, film proved to be an inescapable passion. Born and raised in the village of Stonesfield, near Woodstock, he attended St Edward’s School and found a talent for directing plays after starting his own drama group.
Continuing to express his creative vision during a year-long art and design course in Banbury, Alexander honed additional interests in photography and animation.
After gathering such an enviable repertoire of cinematic skills, surely the next logical step would be to refine his abilities at film school?
He shrugs. “Not quite. Even after that course, I didn’t really have the confidence to pursue a career as an artist or a film-maker. So I went to Manchester University, where I studied classical history. I don’t regret doing that at all.”
No wonder — this was the move that led to Alexander’s first feature film script.
“I learned how to study properly and read texts in depth,” he reflects. “It was at university where I discovered the idea of applying modern theories to ancient texts, looking at classical Greek stories and using contemporary approaches to understand them. It made me think, it’s quite interesting that even though these stories are 3,000 years old, they still have themes in them that are relevant today.”
It was Homer’s Odyssey that really caught Alexander’s imagination.
“In the original myth, Telemachus is a boy growing up without a father. He suffers from a lack of identity because of it. I felt like this was a story that could be translated into a modern context, that it would resonate with a modern audience. So I decided that I’d adapt it into a film.”
With the concept decided, Alexander’s commitment to film-making was finally sealed.
A month-long course at Central Film School in London confirmed his talent — with access to professional cameras, he thrived when chosen to direct his group’s first short film.
“After that, they took me to one side and told me ‘we think you’ve got a real talent for this, real potential’. It gave me such a boost in confidence,” the director smiles.
“They also said that I should come back and do a full year with them, and offered me a discounted rate to do so. The great thing about Central is that you don’t get bogged down with film theory: you just do practical stuff.
“We learned how to use cameras, sound, lights. Pretty soon, I had all of the skills that I needed to make my own film.”
At Central, students are required to make three short films over the course of a year. Alexander made seven.
With free access to professional equipment and plenty of like-minded students to help him, nothing was stopping the aspiring director as he racked up an impressive portfolio, developing his own distinctive cinematic style along the way. Rekindling the get-up-and-go attitude that led to the formation of his drama group at St Edward’s, Alexander recruited his friends and created Matchbox Productions, the company behind his first feature.
As well as making sure that the director’s own dreams are realised, Matchbox is dedicated to showcasing the talents of blossoming film-makers, whilst ensuring that projects work to a realistic budget. Budgeting, Alexander stresses, is an important factor. Cinema is expensive business; without the savvy to keep costs down wherever possible, a promising indie director’s movie will fizzle out before it ever has a chance to be seen.
A series of impassioned pitches were enough to attract a production budget of £70,000 from private investors, but the then 23-year-old Alexander knew that recreating an Ancient Greek epic on a five-figure budget would be his biggest challenge to date.
Nevertheless, The Telemachy began production in 2011.
In translating the classic father-son pairing of Telemachus and Ilias to modern Greece, Alexander aims to showcase the rich heritage of a troubled nation via the country’s cinematic beauty.
His final script was a significant factor in attracting some impressive names to the project — markedly, Greek actor Constantine Markoulakis.
“Constantine is a very big actor in Greece”, notes the director. “He’s a real A-list celebrity there. When we were first getting started with the project, I got a Greek producer involved, and she said this guy would be ideal.
“We contacted him, thinking he would say no, but he was so inspired by our film that he said yes. He’s a well-paid actor, comfortable in his career, and he thought ‘why not? I’ve got some time, let’s make a film!’.”
Elsewhere, actors were hired through castings, and a small crew was selected from Alexander’s trusted colleagues.
Shooting took place primarily in Greece, although several scenes make use of locations closer to home. A campfire sequence was captured at the director’s old Cub Scout den in Stonesfield; scenic Oxfordshire roads were used to mimic rural France as Telemachus hitchhikes across the continent.
Indeed, filming in Oxfordshire was Alexander’s way of keeping costs to a minimum whilst paying homage to the villages and fields he calls home.
“I always try to think of places I know and that I can relate to whilst I’m scripting,” he comments.
“That way, I have a good idea of the film’s locations, and how I’m going to shoot them.”
Two years later, 25-year-old Alexander is ready to share his debut feature film with the world. He pays further tribute to his local roots by screening it at The North Wall Arts Centre at his old school in North Oxford on Wednesday, February 20.
Alexander is excited about returning to his old school and hosting a Q&A session with current students.
“The North Wall wasn’t actually built until after I left, so I never got to use it whilst I was at school.
“I’m so jealous that I missed it — obviously having been really into drama and stuff, I think it’s amazing for students to have that opportunity.
“What was really encouraging was that when I called the school and said ‘I’ve done this film, I’d quite like to come and screen it at the North Wall’, they immediately said ‘yes, that sounds like a great idea. We’d love you to’.”
The Teddies pupil’s accomplishments should prove an inspiration to any pupils wishing to pursue their own creative talents, although the 7pm screening is also open to the public, and free to attend.