Starting from scratch: bringing Homeless Ashes to the screen

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Marc Zammit on the long journey to bring his feature directorial debut to the big screen.

Homeless Ashes was a story created by myself and George Wilcox. We went through 16 drafts of the screenplay to make sure we could tell an impactful, honest and raw story, one that would hopefully leave people feeling emotionally connected and invested in the story and topic.

I took on the challenge to star as the lead Frankie, then to direct and produce the film. It’s my directorial debut, and George and I pressed ahead with the project once we’d got the script where we wanted it to be. I went on a mission to find the funding for the film, coming up against rejection after rejection. The problem? That the film wasn’t commercial enough, and the movie’s story was seen as too much of a risk. I knew I had to do something different to raise the funds, and thus I headed to social media. I taught myself social media marketing, and slowly built a fanbase of people who were interested in what the film was talking about, and the production itself. Then, when the time was right, I launched a crowdfunding appeal. After two years, across several appeals, I raised £100,000 from scratch. And we got to make the movie.

Now, in 2019, the film is completed. It runs to one hour and 56 minutes, having shot at 25 locations, utilised a cast of 52 people and a crew of 13. All on a small budget. I really wanted to show that in this generation, if you have the passion, drive and commitment, anything is possible. The film is now being submitted to a number of high-profile festivals around the world, with a few distribution offers on the table already. But our team want to wait until after the festivals, so they know what they have in their hands.


Homeless Ashes has a cast that includes Lew Temple (The Walking Dead, Lawless, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood), Jamey May (The Royals), Hector Bateman-Harden, Jason Flemyng (Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Pennyworth, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button), Andrew Lee Potts (Prime Evil, The Crown) and Maria Howell (Hunger Games, Hidden Figures). The film is about a young boy, Frankie, who is in the middle of an abusive home life. His mother Abbie (played by Angela Dixon) is a victim of domestic violence, inflicted by her abusive husband Stuart (played by Dean Maskell). The pair delivered hugely powerful performances that left the room silent on set, with many of us in tears. After a traumatic experience, Frankie runs away from home, ending up homeless, trying to survive the terrors and the struggles on the streets.

I wanted my debut feature film to have a meaning. I’m a victim of domestic violence in an abusive relationship and come from a poor background. I know how it feels to be judged on the basis of your background and wealth, and I lived in fear of being homeless. Along with my business partner James Fuller, I wanted to make sure the film will encourage and influence people to take action after watching it, to help homeless people in their own way, be that donating funds, food or clothes, or even just saying a simple hello. We’ll be donating a percentage of the profits of the film to homeless charities worldwide, helping with homeless solutions and helping fund new ideas.

Cinema and collaborators

In terms of influences on the project, I’ve always been a fan of the classic films and I really wanted to bring this to Homeless Ashes. The feeling of those films that you would watch again and again because you feel so emotionally connected to the film. I bore in mind movies such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and that bringing together of characters in such an environment. Forrest Gump, and that feeling of a journey where you don’t know where your choices will take you, and the impact they’ll have on others. Also, the similar relationship between Frankie and his childhood friend Nicole. There’s also The Road, and the idea that the whole journey is one of survival. I knew exactly how I wanted the film to look, too. I really was inspired by films such as Drive, Escape From New York and Fight Club, so it was important that I found the right director of photography. I came across Richard Oakes, who is really talented and has the gift of the eye that you just can’t teach. Together, it worked: he understood my vision and what I wanted to achieve, and I understood and trusted his ability to deliver the vision, which he did.

Spending six months in the editing room with our editor Craig Hinde, we made sure we could deliver the film the best we could to serve its story and the sensitivity of its subject matter. I’m also indebted to Mark Wind for his score on the film. As a team, we wanted to make sure we tapped into the right emotions, and delivered something unique, different and impactful. There were many times I wanted to give up, but I told myself that I will only fail when I stop trying. I kept going. I didn’t want to let myself down, my cast and crew down, the supporters, and I certainly didn’t want to let those who are homeless down.

Completing the film made me understand my limits, it has made me hungry to tell more stories. It made me understand all those rejections were only me being redirected to something better. I’ve now made a film that was an absolute labour of love, working with a great team. I am now currently working on developing my next films, and potentially will be filming my next at the end of the year or early 2020. Hopefully, more on that in the future…

You can follow the journey of Homeless Ashes on Twitter at @homelessashes. The film is playing at the Raindance Film Festival this month – and you can get tickets here.

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