Ian Bonhote on filming his first action thriller Alleycats

Ian Bonhote

In the late 90’s an aspiring filmmaker Ian Bonhote has moved from Switzerland to London in pursuit of his career and education. Commuting on his bike, the streets of London has unleashed his love for urban cycling. Ian discovered track frames, fixed gear cycles and made friends with bike messengers.

Now 17 years later, Ian is about to roll out his first cinematic debut- Alleycats–an action thriller featuring cycling scenes. Carefully crafted script is looming with twists & turns and A-list actors in the line-up: Eleanor Tomlinson, John Hannah, Camilla Rutherford.  Limited budget availability puts action scenes into jeopardy, reminding once again how notoriously difficult is shooting in central London. Some sequences may need to be altered, postponed and cheaper options reconsidered. In spite of the constraints, Ian and the team are determinedto go ahead with the film hence Kickstarter campaign  was initiated for additional support. Currently all the preparations are in mode of acceleration putting more pressure on production. We have caught up with Ian for a chat…

Alleycats film

17 years in London and been cycling all 17 years.

When I first arrived to there were perhaps three-four shops but if you did like fixed gear you had to ask people around for parts and blag stuff. That was my little cycling world in London back in the day, and I remember a lot of people mocking me in the office as I was the only guy on a bike.

Cycling is a great way to go around and discover London, if you go into tube you go from station to station and you don’t realise all the wonders that surround it. As a filmmaker I could go to places and stop and take pictures of people.

I’ve always been interested in couriers. The concept is amazing.

Alleycats film

The people are from all over the world. You can have Eastern Europeans, Scandinavians, and people coming from France and doing couriering for 6 months a year.  Couriers are very looked down upon in our society, though they go into places where not everyone goes every day. The couriers sometimes don’t go through the main doors of the offices, they have to go through the back doors, they are being shouted at on the streets, they make shit money and basically with the crisis in 2007 the money is even lower now …I witnessed that for years and my friends always said it. It’s unfair but we live in fucking capitalistic world.

Bike messengers are a bit outside of the system, but at the same time they are like veins of London, they drop packages that are essential for businesses. Some of them might be lifesaving, we don’t know…They can witness stuff, they’ve got great stories. And I just built upon different things I’ve heard from friends.

Alleycats film , shooting in central London

In 2007 I shot a music video which was of an alleycat race-I saw a potential to make a film in London.

It took us three-four years and three writers to write the script and suddenly we heard about Premium Rush coming out 2010-2011. I managed to get hold of their script through contact, read it, didn’t really like it, then waited for the film. The film got delayed and delayed. So we stopped on our project for two years. The film came out, it wasn’t good at all because they went quite expensive and used motion control for some of the effects. I do not think it is the soul of cycling. Premium Rush shows a day in the life of a courier and he is always on his bike. The point was not to make a film all the time on a bike.

Our film was going to be different. It’s not ridiculous, it’s not Hollywood, it’s something that Scandinavian and French are doing very well. We also wanted to avoid police or journalists heavily involved into investigation; we wanted to keep it on people level.

Alleycats film

We had a couple of other films in mind for comparables. Point Break is a movie in the world of surfers but it is not a surfers’ movie, they haven’t shot the entire filmand action sequences on a surf board. Patrick Swayze’scharacter is passionate about surfing and so the world is there. And Kids from Larry Clark is about skateboarders but there is a story too. Kids is extremely realistic and extremely well directed , nothing is extravagant or entertaining  in terms of shooting. They haven’t done any actions.  Though Point Break has got the actions, a thriller and a research. In Alleycats we try to combine both movies. Our film is not trying to rip off couriers or anything like this, it just happened  to be a courier. The main bad guy is a politician, he blackmails to kill somebody and a courier witness it because he delivers a package.

Alleycats film

Shooting in Central London is really hard. Paris and New York are amazingly good – they are really helpful. London on other hand is a very money driven city, so everything costs and that’s why I was passionate about the Kickstarter project. There are places where we can shoot for real. There are night scenes, there are day scenes, but we have to be clever. We are never going to be close to what Premium Rush had for their budget, it’s insane. So they could close down parts of Manhattan and shoot. I don’t want to do it like that, because I want to capture London in very naturalistic way. And London has got something that is hard to capture, because if you start closing down the streets you can’t capture it anymore. I like realism and I’d like to inject realism as much as possible in the film. It’s only going to be able to compete with big Hollywood popcorn movies if people see it like: “Wow, it’s thrilling, it’s exciting”. A lot of people cycle and walk around London; the film has to resonate with them  by being close to them.

Alleycats film

What would Kickstarter help us do is shoot those action sequences, otherwise I don’t know, we may postpone them, or do them cheaper or carry on raising money while we are shooting. Kickstarter is great because you start to engage with people. I really like the idea that you think about project with audience in mind. There is no point making a film if you don’t have an audience: critical audience, positive audience , receptive audience, natural audience it doesn’t matter.  And I don’t make film just to watch myself.

Alleycats film budget breakdown

Nowadays it is harder and harder to make films, because the audience are dying. People don’t go to the cinemas as much as before, the revenues are dying. It doesn’t  mean that I don’t want to make films as a filmmaker and everyone should carry on making films, but basically it is very hard to presell and raise money.

I dare to the Hollywood ways of making film by marketing points,  where an actor can bring that much money, though I know that’s the reality I am not dumb. But I’d rather make films where you use the right actor for the right film, and right story for the right thing. For instance our lead character is a woman. 90% films out there don’t put women first, as apparently women don’t bring as much money. This might not be the case in Europe or in the US, but now you have to think about China, Middle East and South America some other countries that are culturally different and the place of a woman is different and women have to struggle to get their rights forward.Alleycats spoke cards film by Ian Bonhote

You can only attract actors if the matter is really interesting. When you are a first time director A-list actors can’t say: “ Oh I loved his last film, I wanna do it”. Because they take risks and take time off their schedule and it may not be the biggest financial reward, so they need to want to do it. They can look if you’ve done music videos, commercials, short films; whatever you’ve done they can say: “Oh he knows his job,” but you have never made a film. So they have to like the script first. And, touch wood,everyone  really likes the script. They need to like you when they meet you, they need to believe that you are going the right way with it, and they need to believe it is good for them as actors: may be for their career and may be as another challenge. From what I have understood, from everyone we have seen, it’s the challenge that’s really into them, that it’s a different subject. In the UK you’ve got a lot of gangster films, a lot of social dramas. I am not English and I didn’t not want to start looking into social class issues and I really wanted to work on a thriller specifically.

We shot a little short film because we wanted to test the story, we wanted to test the action sequences, to see if we can make it exciting and convince people that we were not jokers . Because I have had comments from people saying: “ If you want to shoot an alleycats film make it on youtube.” But if you are trying to make a proper film that will end up in the cinema, the quality of what you see on youtube would not withstand proper projection. So we needed to shoot at the cinematic level and to be able to tell that story for the big screen.

Alleycats film by Ian Bonhote

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