The school that set its sights on Hollywood

In the spotlight: The Guardian’s review called the film “a seriously impressive achievement”.

Can we all achieve our dreams? Today sees the premiere of a full-length film made by a London state school that will be streamed all over the world – making stars of its teenage actors.

“I’ve seen unbelievable things. The dazzling antimatter fountains of Caiclos; gravity beams blazing from the dying Eta Carinae; beings with their bums where their mouths should be. But I’ve never had more fun than that day in a place called Tooting on a planet called Earth. That was where I met the strangest life form I’ve ever met in any dimension – teenagers.”

Spoken over dramatic footage of our planet seen from space, these are the opening lines of 7 Hours On Earth, a hilarious and inventive film whose plot is borrowed from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

What makes it remarkable is that it has been made by the community of Graveney School in south London – teachers, pupils, ex-students, parents and even family pets.

In Shakespeare’s play, young lovers have their relationships manipulated by fairies, with unforeseen and very funny consequences. But this film transposes the action from a wood near Athens to Tooting.

It has the humans’ lives directed by aliens, who crash land in the headmaster’s study and take over the nearest life forms – the headmaster, deputy head and several pupils who are in the middle of a major telling-off.

What puzzles the aliens most, apart from the unfamiliar human bodies, is teenage love in all its complexity. They use their superpowers to create an app that they hope will make everyone happier in their relationships – but it only makes things worse.

The film is the brainchild of Patricia Sharpe, who teaches English and film studies at Graveney. “I would spot the vivacity and liveliness of the students, and wish I could put them in a film,” she says. “It felt like a vast talent pool.” It proved, however, to be a long process: 7 Hours on Earth was shot in 2017, but – with all the editing and promotion involved – has taken three years to reach the screen.

Determined that the movie should be as professional as possible, Sharpe called on teachers’ friends and relations with film experience to train the students. The technical crew consisted mainly of media students from year 10 upwards; the special effects were designed by ex-pupil Ollie Hall, who was in his first year at Dundee University.

“It was a big learning curve,” he says. “One of my favourite things was when one character transforms into a ball of light and begins to shimmer. I was pretty proud of that.”

The cast includes Ramona Marquez, who was then in the sixth form and has gone on to find fame as Karen in Outnumbered. A last-minute recruit, Karl Queensborough, is now known as one of the leads in the musical Hamilton. Money was raised by crowdfunding, with one donor paying £100 to have their pet greyhound appear in close-up.

Inevitably, there were hitches in filming, such as the day some crucial props got lost. “I phoned Ismat, my assistant, who was on the bus in Tooting,” Sharpe remembers. “I said: ‘Are you anywhere near Primark? Get off, go in – we need 10 earrings that look like alien transmitters!’”

Can we all achieve our dreams?

Ambition ignition

Some say, yes: we are capable of much more than many of us realise. The singer and actress Markéta Irglová was almost unknown before she appeared in the independent film Once, but won an Oscar for the song Falling Slowly. It was, she said in her acceptance speech, “proof that no matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible. Fair play to those who dream and don’t give up.”

Others argue that we should be careful what we dream about. Many people imagine themselves scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final, but unless you are brilliant at football, there is no chance that it will happen. Even if you have talent and work hard, you still need luck, which may not come your way. It is good to aim high but useful to realise you will not get everything you want.

You Decide

  1. What is your life’s ambition, and how confident are you of achieving it?
  2. Is it disrespectful to Shakespeare, one of the world’s greatest writers, to use his ideas but change the words?

Activities

  1. Is there a film you would like to be in? Write one side of paper about the role you would like to play.
  2. Write the opening scene of a film based on another Shakespeare play and set in your school. Put together a cast of your friends and make a video of it.

Some People Say...

“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”

Paul Coelho, Brazilian novelist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that there are two ways to present Shakespeare’s plays to make them more appealing to today’s audiences. One is to change the time or place the play is set in. The other is to cast the roles in an untraditional way – for example, by having a black actor play a white king, or a female actor play Hamlet. Directors argue that this helps people see the play with fresh eyes; critics, though, often dismiss it as a gimmicky way of getting a production discussed.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around whether we need to suffer to realise our dreams. Some believe that we can only achieve success by relentless effort, working long hours that leave us little time to enjoy ourselves. But psychologist Emma Seppälä maintains that this is counterproductive and tends to result in burnout. She argues that taking time to relax and look after others is much more productive, making you more energetic and creative.

Word Watch

Antimatter
According to physicists, the particles that make up matter are mirrored by antiparticles that have the same mass but opposite electric charge. If they collide, both are destroyed.
Eta Carinae
A star system in the constellation Carina. It is more than five million times brighter than the Sun.
Tooting
Its high street is built on what was once a Roman road running from London to Chichester. In Norman times it was owned by the De Gravenel family and known as Tooting Graveney.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, written in 1595-96. It has also inspired music by Felix Mendelssohn and ballets by George Balanchine and Frederick Ashton.
Transposes
Moves. In music, transposing means performing a piece in a key different from the one it was written in.
Vivacity
Liveliness. A person with lots of energy is sometimes described as “vivacious”.
Once
Made for the tiny (in cinema terms) sum of £100,000, Once is the story of two struggling musicians set in Dublin.

Subjects

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