Soundcloud audio read by Aidan O’Rourke, including an interview with John McCormack. Press the ‘Play’ button, listen and read the article below.
Charlie’s Plan is a comedy feature film by John McCormack starring Charlie Gooding. What makes it unique is that it stars people with learning disabilities, and is about the making of a film within a film.
The cast includes professional actors John Henshaw and Stephanie Bishop who were in Ken Loach’s film ‘Looking For Eric’. Also starring is Robert Maxfield, who has appeared in ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘Emmerdale’.
I went to Benchill Community Centre where John works, and asked him a few questions.
I work for an organisation called Better Things, and it has a large group of people with learning disabilities. My job here is Head of the Skills Academy where we impart skills for doing drama and filmmaking. So as months progressed I was making lots of short films, editing a lot in my own time, playing footage back for the guys and ladies that attend. And I thought ‘I might as well make a feature film’.
So we set about constructing a feature film. Now the complication was that lots of people can’t read or write, so I knew a script wasn’t necessary. So I had an outline of the whole film, which I imparted on a daily basis. We worked three days a week, perhaps filmed two scenes a day or one scene or sometimes three scenes, and I used two cameras so the performances were fresh. So I’d go home at night cut the scene together, so eventually I had lots and lots of scenes.
I was so pleased with the outcome because the Manchester United Foundation got behind it, a guy called Steve Hoy, I’m very grateful. He secured permission from his bosses. And then the partnership was formed with the Wythenshawe Community Housing Group who actually run the Benchill Community Centre where we’re based, and the staff here are fantastic. So ultimately we had a big screening at the prestigious Manchester United football ground in the Manchester Suite and consequently it was attended by 200 people and it was a great, great outcome.
The film is going to have one more cut. I’m then going to look for distribution, and I’ve got big plans to do a follow up, but mainly secure distribution for this, here and now.
When I first heard about the project, I was curious! I’m keen on films that are improvised and rough at the edges. For instance, I loved the Blair Witch Project. I find the films of Ken Loach captivating, especially ‘Kes’. In the 70s I was deeply impressed by a BBC docu-drama that tells the story of Joseph “Joey” Deacon, a man who was born with severe cerebral palsy. I loved the hesitation in the dialogue, the hand-held camera and non-use of standard film and TV lighting. To me it seemed as close to the real thing as you could get.
And so on the evening of Wednesday 25 March 2015, I was privileged to witness the private screening of Charlie’s Plan in the Manchester Suite at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground.
The event was covered by North West Tonight as well as other media. I was a VIP guest, taking photographs to record the event and for use in promotion of the film. The learning disabled crowd that acted in the film were all there with their relatives and friends as well as some famous stars.
There was an air of excitement in the Manchester Suite as the lights went down and it started.
As expected, the film is not in the style of Hollywood. From the opening credits, things move along at a dizzy pace, passing quickly from scene to scene, funny, a little chaotic but never boring. The story takes on a surreal edge when Charlie Gooding says he wants to make a film.
Charlie: I’ve got this plan. I’m thinking of making a film with the group.
John: We’re not getting into filmmaking here, Charlie.
Charlie: [Bangs his hand on the table] I am making this film whether you like it or not!
It seems laughable: A short film called ‘Shipwrecked’, made in Wythenshawe, a place miles from the sea and with no water, not even a lake. They have no cameras, they have no equipment and the cast have got no experience.
Somehow, Charlie manages to take the project forward. There are many twists and turns and I have to admit, I lost track of the story in a few places, but the desire to see how things turn out kept the audience interested.
There were lots of laughs. The cast make fun of the director himself at one point, it’s light-hearted, eccentric, a bit in the style of comedians Marty Feldman and Spike Milligan.
So does Charlie get to succeed in his plan? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out!
Compared to many mainstream movies, Charlie’s Plan is a breath of fresh air, a remarkable achievement and a great experience for all the people involved. They demonstrated that you don’t have to look or sound like a movie idol or screen starlet to act in a movie. There was some great music by music producers Pete Williams and Lee Monteverde.
I think that most people, after watching Charlie’s Plan, will have a much more positive view of learning disabled people. My impression of the cast members is they are a likeable bunch, quirky and eccentric, with great sense of humour.
A distribution deal is being sought but everyone agrees with a film like this, it’s not going to be easy. But I’m sure with all the options available to filmmakers today, Charlie’s Plan can find the right pathway to success.