Pass the screen test

OVER from their home in Los Angeles David and Jessica Oyelowo chose to spend part of their summer sojourn in the UK filming in Sheffield.

They were appearing in a short film, Rahab, based on the Biblical story of Jericho, directed by Norton College video lecturer Rob McLellan.

It was the winning entry in the Enter the Pitch competition in which the prize is for the film-maker to be given the resources to make a professional production.

Rahab is the Old Testament story of a prostitute from the city of Jericho who saves the lives of two Jewish spies and is in turn saved by them. McLellan, who decided to set the story in the future in which the city is ruled by a dictator,

On the panel of judges for the final of Enter the Pitch at Pinewood Studios in January was former Spooks star David Oyelowo who was so impressed with Rahab he agreed to take on the part of Cen, the ruler of the city of Jericho, with actor wife Jessica in the title role.

“Rob’s take was so original and unexpected,” he said. “He’d gone out and filmed his pitch and what they had been able to achieve as writer-producer and special effects supervisor was so accomplished. Part of what this competition is about is finding people who can genuinely become directors and writers. He felt like someone who definitely could work at the highest level.”

The actor was also motiviated by wanting to give something back to his profession. “I am incredibly conscious of the fact I owe a lot to the Prince’s Trust, my A level drama teacher and director Nick Hytner who paved the way for me to go to drama school,” he explained. “If you don’t have people encouraging you and giving you confidence to keep on, you will stop. So that’s why I felt strongly about helping people.”

With a new script by Empire film journalist-turned-screenwriter Nev Pierce, filming took place over five days at four locations. A studio at Norton College became the control centre for the dictatorship while the TV suite became Rahab’s apartment. The Magna Science Adventure Centre at Rotherham made a suitably dark and austere interior for Jericho while outside, a battle involving more than 50 extras, was played out in the moors of the Peak District.

Director Mclellan estimates that he will have a further seven weeks of post-production adding the visual effects which are very much a part of his vision: “I am ecstatic about the opportunity to be making a professional film in our community but for an international audience,” he said. “It is an excellent opportunity.”

In addition to the £20,000 of production support to make the 20-minute film, the project administered and funded by the Bible Society also involves a trip to Hollywood to show it to producer Ralph Winter (X-Men, Fantastic Four) and a host of other industry professionals, who will give advice and support.

It looks bound to open up opportunities to further his film career, but McLellan intends to pay back the college, its student and staff who helped him get this far, and will return to conduct masterclasses.