Danielle Kummer is a director, producer, and editor from London who studied film and media at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Producer and director Lucy Harvey spent 17 years as a stylist in London and a lecturer in Art Design and Visual Culture at Nottingham School of Art and Bucks New University. “Alien On Stage” is the debut documentary of both Kummer and Harvey.
“Alien On Stage” is screening at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which is taking place online March 16-20.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
DK: “Alien On Stage” is an uplifting documentary that celebrates the underdog and the power of creativity in a community. A group of bus drivers from rural England stage an adaptation of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and with a twist of fate, they find themselves taking their unusual homemade show to a theater in London’s famous West End. We follow them on this exciting journey and get to meet this fun very British group of amateur dramatics enthusiasts.
LH: A true story of ordinary people creating something unique and magical. It undermines our exclusive ideas about success based on fear, ego, and perfecting your creation before anyone can see it. “Alien On Stage” replaces these overly precious concepts with raw, unselfconscious inclusiveness and fearless optimism.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
DK: The performers’ love for each other and the way they didn’t let anything phase them meant they were really fun to be around. When we first saw the show in Wimborne they were so excited that a group from London drove three hours to see them, and we were equally excited that a group of bus drivers had the amazing idea to create a stage show of “Alien.”
When we found out the show was going to London we knew this would make a really fun documentary. Despite having never made a full-length documentary before, not having any equipment nor funding, we took inspiration from the bus drivers and just went for it.
LH: Already knowing “Alien” well, it was pure curiosity that drew us to them. How is a group of bus drivers going to achieve an amateur stage show of this groundbreaking and exquisite sci-fi gothic horror film with homemade props in a village hall? Will it be any good?
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
DK: It is a testament to what you can achieve when you work together — for pure love, joy, and creativity. Since when we have been isolated from each other during COVID-19, we have found that audiences resonate with seeing a community and shared experiences like being in a theater. It reminds us how wonderful these things can be, and how much we, as human beings, thrive from connection and creativity.
LH: I want viewers to consider how restricted we are in the way we measure the value of things, and that success can come in many different forms. Don’t be limited by imposed standards of what’s good or worry about what other people think. As long as your intention is good and you’re authentic, your work is valuable.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
DK: As a first-time filmmaker, there are so many things that present themselves as challenges. Funding is a tough one: lack of funds meant that the project took a long time to get off the ground after the initial filming. Self-belief can be difficult when you are embarking on a big project for the first time, as is trusting your instincts and voicing your opinions. Having to wear many hats — producer, director, and editor — was difficult at times, too. Not being able to only focus your energy on creative decisions and having to deal with lots of logistics was challenging. However, it is amazing how much you learn from being thrown in the deep end, and that experience alone is invaluable.
LH: Dealing with momentum-killing, energy-sapping, elongated time frames was tough. Sustaining focus and optimism needed to overcome the negativity of those who don’t believe in the value of what you are doing was another trial. Holding onto a vision and not being able to rest until it’s realized is exhausting, especially if you have to overcome unnecessary obstacles to get there.
W&H: How did you get your film funded?
DK: We are a completely independent production. Not having a clear path to funding was difficult and meant that the project stalled for a few years. Being inexperienced in how these things work, figuring out the best way to get funding and support and how to the film to the next level were factors we had to confront.
The initial filming was done cheaply with a two-woman team: myself filming and Lucy recording sound and interviewing. We borrowed all the equipment from friends and connections. For the show filming, we asked favors from other camera operators. We then raised £10,000 (about 14,000 USD) through Kickstarter to fund post-production, which was when we could focus on the film, and give it our full attention.
We set up an edit suite on the coast of northern Spain in a tiny town called Portbou, near where Lucy is based. This meant rental costs were low and we could enjoy beautiful surroundings when we weren’t editing, taking breaks from editing to go jump in the sea was a wonderful highlight.
LH: I put my spare cash into it without thinking about what it would take in the long run. It could have been made on a shoestring, with few bells and whistles, and still be a wonderful story. It cost very little to film. Dedicating the time to edit, however, was difficult to manage. Part-time between paid work was not going to cut it so eventually, we ran a Kickstarter to raise funds. That allowed us to take a chunk of time off to treat it like a proper job.
We also got a team of people to work on the film solidly, full-time. Otherwise, it would have never reached the final edit. The Kickstarter also paid for the finishing touches, including original music and graphics. It was nice to be able to hire other people and collaborate creatively. Having some money to pay skilled people makes everything easier and more enjoyable.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
DK: I have always found a strong connection to stories in film and feel it’s such a wonderful way for people to connect to experiences different than our own. As I get older, I find myself being more empathic towards other stories, crying more, feeling more — bringing all that to an audience is a really wonderful feeling.
LH: The story itself. We are part of the story and I knew it really should be filmed — it was too good to miss. I lived with Danielle, we both worked in film. I taught film theory and worked on set doing costume and creative direction, Danielle studied filmmaking and knew how to operate a camera, how to edit. It seemed like the obvious thing to do.
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
DK: The best advice I heard recently was from The Blindboy Podcast: Don’t worry about what other people think about you and make creative work for yourself only. Don’t pay too much attention to whether other people enjoy it or not because if you make it for yourself and you truly connect to it, that’s what’s important.
LH: The best advice I’ve received is to get out of your own way: you are the only thing holding you back. The worst advice is to focus on anything other than finishing the film. The film is the most important thing. If it’s good, everything else will fall into place.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
DK: Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward, introduce yourself, ask questions, make yourself known, and make connections. Make work that you would want to see and don’t try to make things for anyone else. Find your voice.
LH: The patriarchal clubhouse is crumbling so pay no mind to the label given to your identity — if your work is good and authentic then it can transcend these arbitrary barriers. If you exist as though these perceived limitations don’t apply to you and meet everyone as your equal, you will do well.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
DK: It’s hard to pick a favorite. I really loved “Saint Maud,” written and directed by Rose Glass. It was the last film I saw in the cinema. It is so well executed, really tense the whole way through. You really feel Maud’s internal struggles, and the merging of the real world with the supernatural was so well done. It’s scary and thrilling, Rose did a brilliant job.
LH: “American Psycho,” written by Guinevere Turner and Mary Harron and directed by the latter. I wouldn’t say it’s my all-time favorite. There are too many films to choose from. “American Psycho,” however, made an impression on me when I first started to analyze films theoretically. I watched it eight times for an essay but never grew tired of it. It’s immaculately and intelligently done; you can tell every detail has been considered. It really impressed me.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
DK: It’s been a busy year completing the final cut of the film and then film festival applications. I tried a bit of watercolor painting earlier recently. That was fun.
I’m also a part of a feminist choir, F*Choir, which is still meeting every other week on Zoom, and we recently had an outdoor rehearsal in the park in pairs.
LH: All fine with me here in Spain. I have a local community all within a five-minute walking distance and we have lots of little creative outlets. Also, we can meet in groups of six. I recently transcribed scenes from a very British soap opera, “Coronation Street,” for us to act out, which turned out to be a hoot.
We’ve also had a Clue board game costume party. We write raps and poetry that we record and share with each other. I filmed a little bit for a crowd-sourced documentary called “Our Lockdown” made by some friends. Other friends hosted Zoom meetups for film clubs and improv theater. There’s lots going on. We’re starting to be able to host live events here too as things are opening up.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world more inclusive?
DK: Creating space for underrepresented groups of people is really important. Giving people a chance and looking beyond the world of nepotism is really vital in order for places like Hollywood to change.
People are making steps in the right direction, but just looking at the numbers of films produced and directed by people of color it’s clear that things are happening slowly and need to ramp up. Being part of the gig economy and working freelance means the official structures of employment are not there. Opening your door and supporting where you can can be really important.
LH: To hand over the means of production to people of color and let them get on with it. Loosen that white supremacist grip of everything and hand over the controls. Don’t simply permit people of color to enter your space: actually make space, invest in talent, and stay out of it.