When Julia and Winston are respectively liberated from Room 101 in George Orwell’s 1984, Julia admits that a basal self-preservation always overrules self-sacrifice, if the physical body is threatened with torture:
“You think there’s no other way of saving yourself and you’re quite ready to save yourself that way. You want it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself.”
The universal themes of the individual; fear, government doublethink, and especially ideological and covert control have persevered throughout film and literature and can be seen in many 20th century thrillers – science-fiction of course – and even uberpopular novels like The Da Vinci Code contain traces of these ideas. The most recent and pervasive example would be The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi, 2011), where (through an arguably trite Christian allegory) Matt Damon’s character David Norris finds his fate is pre-planned by a higher, suited, secretive force than that of placing his own feelers through the dizzy skies and paths called Life.
Manchester director Mark Ashmore’s next film ‘The Lost Generation’ ambitiously takes on these themes. “SJ gets hired to kill bankers, MPs: it’s a revenge movie; and the idea is that by using all the villains of today’s society, we’ll have the audience cheering in the aisles,” says Ashmore.
Ashmore’s first foray into directing was for a short film called :”The Cell”, screened on BBC 2 in 2003. Following from this, he has been involved in the Edinburgh Fringe, BBC’s Life on Mars and various teaching projects across the UK. His film Your State of Emergency featured at the 61st Festival de Cannes in 2008 and was watched online by over a quarter of a million people. The Lost Generation will be his feature film debut.
“Imagine that a producer was let loose in a world where there aren’t enough new ideas,” Ashmore asks. “Taking on twisted visions of a nihilistic media corporation – with everyone thrown to the lions. So this is the extreme of a saturated media environment.”
Within The Lost Generation, there are voluntary contestants who become unknowing rats in a maze, forced to break the law and exploited completely by a producer fixated by cash, ratings and recognition. SJ is the main character and the contestant that the audience will follow, played by Coronation Street actress Victoria Connett.
Connett on her character: “A young woman took on something that was bigger than she expected. She’s joined up with a cast on a reailty TV show – and she’s taken on more than she can handle. She has to prove herself. But all the time she’s thinking, why has she signed up for this? What was her motivation?”
Based on these ideas, then, it was only a case of when the idea of totalitarian surveillance was interlaced with the world’s relentless, compulsive consumption of reality TV in a meta-tale of state-funded entertainment. Perhaps replace 1984’s Party with Gruesome Producer, and suddenly you have a tale filled with satire about en mass consumption of the disposable entertainment that recklessly chews through the minds and aspirations of its contestants and viewers.
“There was quite a lot of improv, to be fair. We certainly started of with a nice little script, but when we were going through, it was like – ‘Script’s irrelevant! That bit’s gone!’- So the script and the scenes have changed with the feel of the film.”
Victoria Connett’s acting history is impressive by any standards for someone who hasn’t even hit the grand definite article of 30. When she was 13, her big break came in the form of an ITV comedy ‘ My Wonderful Life as Shirley, “and Tony Robinson played my next door neighbour!” Since then, she has been in Doctors, Corrie and the BBC’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.
“The Lost Generation is from the audience point-of-view and SJ’s point-of-view,” Connett says. Careful not to give too much away: “She didn’t know what was coming and she finds out the hard way that there’s small print she didn’t read.”
Dead Set (2008) was the horror series produced by Charlie Brooker about the Big Brother house which is the (ironically) safe house inside a zombie-infected outside world. The character Patrick is the hideous programme maker whose self-love motivates him to dodge behind people in order to save himself.
The Lost Generation as an action film may be in similar vein; but it appears that Ashmore’s film wildly diverges from this. And obviously there are no zombies. Or are there?
“I guess that The Lost Generation has been inspired by the whole idea of the Roman Amphitheatre. The slaves and the generals, the beasts and the fearsome animals, and how people were forced to fight them for an audience.”
At the time of the interview, Ashmore is three days into filming. “It’s going to be a 14-18 day shoot.” Granted a sneaky view of the plot outline, Ashmore appears to be planning on some technical adventure, with one scene involving a helicopter.
“I’m influenced this time around by Tarantino. No. Wait. The old Tarantino films,” Ashmore laughs. “This film is all about the antiheroes – the hackers, the new media stars who have to think on their feet as well as on their screens. It is a transmedia film, Future Artists style. We’re creating a huge story world. We’re both creating and involving the audience in the filming process – social media is exactly how to cast and crew keep in touch, too.”
The film’s origins spring from mumblecore (in a nutshell: the US indie revivalist ‘bedhead cinema’ movement – lo-fi, improv, low-budget, big ideas.) and after regular Tuesday meetings in a small arts centre in South Manchester, a cast and crew were put together.
The soundtrack hasn’t been planned outright, but the director has a few inspirations to catch hold of: “It’ll sound different from every other soundtrack. Proper ballsy! The whole world of music is our oyster so we are going to involve independent artists and unsigned artists. At the moment the film has a heavy dubstep feel to it, and a London influence. It’s another 9 months until the film will be finished though, so get back to me about that one!”
Akin to fantasy movies, The Lost Generation has the taste of a thriller-horror story that will take good and evil and augments them through extreme circumstances. The only difference is the sci-fi plausibility. There’s a hunt. A chase. Without giving too much away – especially as they’re still filming – it’s fair to expect the following: the suits who stridently march away from a sense of duty or morality; there’s bankers better known with that w-first syllable, and a real, emotional, unpredictable person at the epicentre.
“I’m looking forward to filming and being back on set. It’s great to be getting my teeth in to a character that I like,” says Connett, laughing, but then really straining her face to represent how painful it was. “For one scene I was in 5 inch heels for 9 hours, and I had to stand on tiptoe to realign my hips! It’s an action film so there’s a lot of physical stuff. I barely sleep before filming, but I work off a lot of that excitement and nervous energy just by performing anyway, so after all that I finally get to sleep!”
The Lost Generation is currently in production.