Ryan J. Fleming

Filmmaker Ryan J. Fleming

Tells As the Truth About Movie Making


Mort Castle
Gabrielle Faust
Brent Monahan
Mark Crislip
John Russo
Joe R. Lansdale
Ellen Datlow
Owen King

Welcome to Essex


By Ryan J. Fleming, aged 39 and a bit

You can’t.

Oh, you want more details? Okay.

I should start by introducing myself. I’m Ryan J. Fleming and I wrote and directed Welcome To Essex, which is a large-scale zombie apocalypse feature film set and filmed on location in the county of Essex, about 15 miles north of Central London. That’s in England, in case some of you are still scratching your heads!

The film tells the story of a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse that has decimated England overnight. The survivors must make an otherwise-easy journey to the coast and rumoured rescue. They must also stay one step ahead of the millions of undead bastards pouring out of London and heading in their direction (and, yes, I’m afraid our zombies do run!). The film relies heavily on location shots and characterisation, as well as the threat of sheer numbers.

We also wanted to be as authentic as possible when it came to certain things. Our soldier character, for instance. We could have bought a second hand, generic, army uniform for about £100 but I wanted it to be done properly, so we spent over £1000 on a genuine British Army Special Forces Support Group uniform and webbing, as well as weaponry and everything else he might have been carrying at the time of the outbreak. It didn’t make me popular with the producers but I stood my ground, as I wanted any genuine service personnel watching the film to be able to say “Well, at least they got THAT right!”

So, how do you make such a large film for free?

Seriously, you can’t! Not unless your dad owns 20th Century Fox (mine doesn’t).

So here’s what we did:

I’ve never been to film school. My business partner and co-owner of our production company, Smoking Monkey Productions, has never been to film school. Nobody on the crew has ever been to film school.

I have, however, watched way more films than is healthy, including all the special features, no matter how boring some of them are. So, in my mind, I consider myself to be an expert!

Using my new-found expertise, I wrote a script based on an idea I’ve always had in my head. I’ve always like end of the world, apocalyptic films and books, including zombie films, so I thought I’d play to my strengths. The trick is not to be too clever with your first story. Go simple. Welcome To Essex, boiled down, is about a handful of survivors getting from point A to point B and that’s about it. (Any film can be boiled down to three sentences, if you think about it.)

Once the script had gone through a few drafts to the point where I was happy/bored with it, I set about figuring out how to turn it into a film. I met Phil Scott and we set up Smoking Monkey Productions and really looked into the business side of the production. Remember, neither of had a clue as to what we were doing—we were just winging it!

As it turned out, it’s not that hard to make a film, once you have a script. You just need a few ingredients. A crew, some actors, some locations and a few props. Oh and lots and lots of time!

Casting the film was easy, as there were only about ten speaking roles in it. We held auditions and picked the best people for the roles. And we must’ve had some idea of what we were doing, as out cast have turned out to be nothing short of fantastic!

Getting crew was even easier, as most of them came to us! We couldn’t pay anyone but luckily everyone agreed to do it for free/experience/coffee. As with the cast, our crew, a mix of experienced people and first-timers, also turned out to be brilliant.

So, now we have actors and crew. Locations next. I spent a weekend driving around Essex, looking for the locations I had in my head when writing the script. I listed them all and, over the next few months, we called and emailed the places listed. Every single one of them took a meeting with us and 100% of those meetings netted us the locations for free, usually in return for a credit on screen or a shot of the front of the shop/mall/vehicles, etc.

Then came props. We managed to get a few for free and on loan but there were some we would just have to buy. So we needed investment. After a very short search, we got a couple of grand in investment and bought the few props we needed.

So we’re good to go, right?

No. It snowed. And snowed and snowed and snowed. As Welcome To Essex was written as a summer-set film, that was no good to us. So we waited and fine-tuned the script and made a few practise trailers and did photoshoots with the cast and generally killed time.

Then, in early 2013, the sun came out again so we cracked on with the filming.

Initially daunting to me, as I’ve never been on a film set before, let alone been in charge of one, I soon found directing to really addictive and fun. It’s also the single most stressful thing I’ve had to do ever!

But there is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment when you get home after 14 hours on location, baking in the sun, on your feet the whole time, and you realise what you’ve accomplished that day. It’s even better when you watch the footage back.

So there you go; that’s how to do a film for free. Get some money from somewhere but don’t let a lack of it stop you from writing a film. If all your ingredients are in place and all you need is a few bucks, people are more likely to stump up the cash than if you just say “Man, I’ve got a bitchin’ idea for a movie!”

If all else fails, sell a kidney.

Welcome To Essex is due for UK release in January 2014 and, if all goes well, a worldwide distribution soon after. Go see it so I don’t have to get a real job, please!

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About Ryan J. Fleming

Ryan Fleming

Ryan J. Fleming grew up in Brentwood, Essex, and had a variety of crappy jobs, most of which he hated. Then, in 1997, he went to live in The Philippines and worked there as a DJ. He came back, drove a cab for 10 years and eventually went into security work. After getting made redundant in 2012, he wrote a script for a zombie apocalypse film set in Essex. It soon garnered enough interest to put it into production and the rest is cinematic history!

He describes himself:

Trademark: Probably my height. I'm 6' 9".

Party trick: I can move one eye at a time.

Favourite quote/saying: "Live now, pay later!”

Favourite insult: I have many!

"If I won the lottery, I would..." Travel the world in luxury, eating bacon until I was 70% pig.

"You should watch Welcome To Essex because..." I made it!

"If they made a film about my life, I would be played by..." Brad Pitt, obviously.

See more about Ryan HERE