Lockdown Podcast: Sam Seeley, Royal Marine and Filmmaker
Series 2, Episode 6
“If you know any bootnecks… we love breaking the rules!” But what we don’t expect to hear is this RM attitude applied to creativity.
“Learn the rules like a basic or an amateur so can break them like a pro” …this is the ethos the three bootnecks turned film-makers on Sunray live by.
‘Sunray’, meaning “Troop Boss or The Boss in Marine slang” also alludes to a ray of hope and came out of a difficult time in Sam’s life. Sam started writing as a release. 150 ideas on post-it notes and the thought, “I’m gonna have a crack at this” and Sunray was born.
Sam brought his two former RM mates, Dan and James onboard, the three of them dubbed ‘The Unholy Trinity’, which they take as a compliment; and together they built a following on Instagram and raised £66k through a Kickstarter campaign in order to produce Sunray, “… a 3 part serial drama exploring the Veteran psyche”.
‘Survivor’s Guilt’ is a key theme and Sunray “… challenges the perceptions of mental health and the struggles that soldier’s face when reintegrating into civilian life.”
They’ve each written the screenplay for an episode and will direct that episode, “… set against a backdrop of realistic, fast-paced action… we’ve got the cool tactical drills, we’ve got the amazing weapon systems and we’ve obviously got real-life soldiers implementing that. But at its core, it’s a human story.”
So what’s the plot? Sorry, no spoilers here.
Boris Johnson 00:02
You must stay at home. Stay at home.
Rachel Owen 00:09
Hello and welcome to ‘Lockdown!’ Hosted by Steve Bomford with Mike Davis-Marks. Our Armed Forces operate in challenging environments. Week-by-week, we’ll explore what we can learn from their experiences.
Mike Davis-Marks 00:25
I understand for this episode of Lockdown podcast, you’ve got a budding film director and screenwriter?
Steve Bomford 00:32
Indeed I do. His name is Sam Seeley and he’s got together with some former bootnecks to, as you say, produce a mini-series drama.
Mike Davis-Marks 00:41
Former bootnecks, what possibly can go wrong? Let’s listen to it.
Steve Bomford 00:45
Well nothing, but he mentions cats and bootnecks, but let’s have a listen to what he’s got to say. Hello, Sam, and first of all, thank you very much for coming on the podcast.
Sam Seeley 00:56
Hello, how you doing? Yeah yeah, you’re more than welcome. Thanks for having me.
Steve Bomford 00:59
Yeah, I’m good. I’m just wondering if you’re getting any sleep because you’ve just had a baby, haven’t you? So how’s that going for you?
Sam Seeley 01:05
Yeah, it’s pretty savage. People say to you how hard it can be. And, you know, I was kind of like, you know, sort of seven years of Royal Marines training, three years in the Navy. I’m adept at sleep deprivation. You know, I’m an absolute expert. I’m not. I’m not. The last 10 years mean nothing. A complete waste of time. It’s taken some adjusting but yeah, it’s enjoyable. It is the best thing ever. People say it’s the best thing ever and it is worth. It is worth it. Even at like sort of two in the morning and you’ve got a crying baby and you haven’t slept…
Steve Bomford 01:39
So we’ll talk at two in the morning and see if you’re still smiling then (Sam laughs), I’d be surprised. So anyway, some questions for you. I discovered you as it were on Instagram and your Sunray film, which we’ll talk about in a bit, but it’d just be good to get some background really to find out, you know, about this journey and where it all came from. So I guess we need to start with just you telling me a little bit about your military career in the Royal Marines, please.
Sam Seeley 02:06
Yeah, sure. I suppose I’ll start at the beginning. I suppose I didn’t really have any ambitions to join the military really. I grew up sort of really into my outdoorsy stuff, sort of skiing, climbing and stuff and I loved mountaineering. And when I was 18, I was actually on a trip in Nepal, climbing and mountains out there and our guide who’d summited Everest twice; once solo. He was a super cool guy and he actually kind of like converted me over sort of an eight week period or two months. And he just sort of wore me down and just was… anything I’d sort of done he’d be like, ‘that’d be a really good training that you could take to the Royal Marines’ kind of thing. And when I came back, he was sat with me, I considered it, I looked at it. But I was actually training as a plasterer, I was a plasterer’s mate, training to be a plasterer and I worked in a nightclub at the weekend as well so… it was something that never really left me so at sort of 19, I just decided to join up. I was like, ‘screw it, there’s nothing really going on in Bexleyheath in Kent. I don’t really enjoy being a plasterer anymore…’
Steve Bomford 03:15
There still isn’t probably Sam, still nothing going on there (Sam laughs).
Sam Seeley 03:17
Yeah and so at 19, I kind of just decided to join up and I was fairly fit from working in the building game and, you know, worked a little bit harder to get a little bit fitter for it, but nothing really prepares you for thirty-two weeks at Lympstone. I think anyone can sort of sort of say that. It’s a culture shock, at least. But I really enjoyed training, and then you’re around loads of guys and you really become a soldier, but it really enables you a foundation, I think, a mindset, that again, can only be founded through that experience of 32 weeks that you then grow on once you start working operationally. Working with the guys who have got all that operational experience and moved to a fighter unit fairly quick. Went straight into sort of pre-deployment training for Herrick 17. And initially, I was a light machine-gunner. But then they needed volunteers for a Valon man or search operator. So I volunteered. I didn’t have a family at the time. All the other guys I was working with of had kids or long-term missuses. And so I was like, ‘Ah, yeah, I’ll do it, sod it’. It was six weeks on a course in Kent and I though, ‘I’ll be at home for six weeks, that’s ideal’. But then obviously, once I was deployed, I was the Valon man as such. But like I said, it’s a fairly hazardous role, but I really enjoyed the sort of responsibility of it and I really enjoyed the sort of methodology of the training and how precise you had to be. Yeah, it was just another sort of level of responsibility that I kind of liked and sort of another level of risk, which was kind of fairly exhilarating. It’s kind of cool. Once in theatre, I didn’t really do a lot of that, but I was kind of really looking forward to it, but I didn’t really do a lot of that. I ended up really spending sort of three or four months training the local police, which was probably the equivalent of herding cats. It was a unique experience to say the least, especially when you’re living with them in like a 12 by 12 compound. It’s worse than herding bootnecks on a film set. And then, after that, I kind of took the role of our sort of CP Medic. And I did a little bit of, as sort of a vehicle cover gunner, which was, again, quite cool. Had a few cool experiences of that. And then once I was back from Afghan, I kind of needed to choose a job. Otherwise, I was gonna get picked to be a chief, or a driver or a signaler. And so I kind of wanted to be the master of my own fate. And that’s when I looked at the mountain leader role. So I grew up in the mountains. So it kind of made sense. And sort of traditionally, that role was you know reconnaissance and surveillance. And it kind of really appealed to me that I got to work in a small team, super cliquey team. You know, out of the way just doing our own thing. And I kind of think you can just sort of make your own rules up and sort of do what you need to do to get the job done. Again, it was a super challenging role and like, some of the things I did for that was a lot harder than what I’d done in training and what I’d done in Afghanistan. But it was… overall it was really rewarding. And, again, just something new. That’s where I actually specialised to be a camera man, again, a reconnaissance camera man, and where I kind of really picked up a camera again. I studied film and media at school and then kind of always had a camera. I had a camera in Afghan and when I was going through training and stuff, soon as I started becoming a reconnaissance photographer, had access to amazing camera systems. So I didn’t have to buy my own. Probably shouldn’t be saying that, but I was using it for you know, unofficial photographer for the Squadron, for Squadron piss-ups and like anything Squadron-related really, so I kind of threw myself into that. And I was like, ‘Well, actually, I really enjoy this, I think I actually enjoy this more than being a soldier’. And that’s where I transferred to the Royal Navy to be a photographer for three years. I’ve just left the Royal Navy. And again, those three years in the Royal Navy, being a photographer, a lot of it PR-based, was amazing. You know, I got to travel the world, just taking pictures of cool stuff, which is kind of a dream, but like anything you want that sort of next level, you want to grow. I suppose really that’s where my freelance work came in and Sunray, essentially, that’s where Sunray was birthed as such.
Steve Bomford 07:43
Okay, so we’ll come on to sunray in a sec. I’m gonna ask you some of these questions in a slightly different order listening to you here. So, when we talked before we did this, before the session, you talked about a thing called ‘survivor’s guilt’. And I would just like you to elaborate on that, because it’s quite important in the context of the story of Sunray isn’t it?
Sam Seeley 08:00
It really is. It’s kind of our, primary sort of ‘Narrative B’ as such, and it’s something we sort of really focused on. As well as the fact that it obviously links heavily and, you know, a symptom of PTSD as such. I think a lot of people think sort of survivor’s guilt is exclusive to the military and Veterans. But it can happen to anyone, you know. I think it’s an experience or an experience through feelings of guilt that occur when, you know, you’re surviving an event that others may have not. And they’re gone. I think that’s especially prevalent now and the sort of climate of the world. You know, the NHS, the police service, terrorist attacks around the world, you know, you’ve got like, police forces, who can also go through this and just anyone who works in the sort of public sector I think. You know, it causes an element of mental trauma and is heavily associated with post-traumatic stress. And they’re very, they’re very much interlinked. And obviously, that’s the sort of narrative B of our story. We kind of wanted to portray this sort of lethal cocktail of, sort of survivor’s guilt, through a multiple psyche of people and through our sort of lead cast as such, through multiple perspectives. It’s not something that’s directly affected me as much. But it’s definitely something that’s affected key members of our cast, especially our sort of lead protagonists and we sort of really lean on them to pull from their personal experiences that emotional memory to be able to sort of validate particular relevance of our story and just sort of get a better understanding that we can then… so we can then create a more organic performance, and then create our own camera language to then relate to that experience as such, if that makes sense?
Steve Bomford 09:52
Yeah, it does. Does that acting out, drawing upon these experiences and writing about them… Does that help, do you think, the individuals concerned?
Sam Seeley 10:01
I think it really does. I think that was kind of how I started. I started writing as a release as such, and I think it’s crazy how many Veterans is turned to acting as a release. And like I said, it’s literally like herding cats, when you’ve got like 8 bootnecks on film set. But it’s, it’s almost nice to sort of relive those situations and talk about it and act those scenes out as such, without telling you too much of the plot, in the safety of the film set as such, and be able to stop it at any point and go, ‘You okay? Do you want to reset?’ and then we can go again, and I think it’s… Yeah, there’s something really nice about being able to sort of just lay it all out on the table and not be judged. And, you know, leave it there as such. Yeah, it’s really nice. It’s actually really nice.
Steve Bomford 10:55
Oh that’s good to hear. So, what inspired Sunray? Because you’ve got your own story here as well, haven’t you?
Sam Seeley 11:02
Yeah, yeah, I suppose I was, you know, I kind of originally birthed it as such. I was struggling for such a long time… years. And that was stuff from experiences in the Royal Marines and from my childhood. And it was kind of a monthly routine, or it just felt like I was on carousel of sort of highs and lows. I had no consistency, no integrity really, no compassion. But that would come and go, it was… Yeah, it was horrible. I’d be laser focused one moment, super-motivated and almost feel like I’m just moving 1000 miles a minute. And, but then I wouldn’t sleep, I wouldn’t eat and I’d basically just push myself until I crashed, and then that’s when the brain fog would set in. And I’d have like, just lows. Hours would pass where I’d just sit there and you know, I’d struggle to make a cup of coffee. And where I just wouldn’t be able to concentrate, focus my mind on one thing. I’d just jump from task to task to task to task. And that would range anything from half a day to two or three days and it was kind of really destructive. And you know, I’d make up for it on the highs, but ultimately then I would burn out again. My sort of default was blaming everyone around me. When sort of things became too tough, I would just cut weight. So I would cut relationships, friendships, just because I’d have to shed weight, get back to sort of ground zero as such. And then sort of find that equilibrium and then reset, and then I could start again. Which again is… it’s just so detsructive. And I think in a way, being in the military, always being away, having the safety of you’re always gonna get fed, you’ve always got somewhere to sleep, you’ve always looked somewhere you can, you know, get your head down, it almost gives you that safety net. Where you can have those destructive traits, which is a real shame. I’m not saying the military is the cause of it. I’m just saying that sometimes it can provide that sort of safety net, as such. I basically got to the point where I was going to lose a relationship and you know, lose the life I had built for two years. And you know I’m lucky I’ve got such a strong partner. She’s the scariest woman I’ve ever met (Steve laughs)… ever.
Steve Bomford 13:22
Will she listen to this? Will she be listening to this?
Sam Seeley 13:24
Yes, she will. She’s probably listening to me now actually.
Steve Bomford 13:26
(Steve laughs) Right, ok….
Sam Seeley 13:27
She’s yeah… and having now seen her push a child out, I’m even more scared of her. Yeah, we had a home birth as well, it was pretty intense. And so yeah, I’m lucky I had her really and she kind of forced me to face my demons. And the hardest part was admitting that I, you know… I did have a few problems, you know. The first thing I did is I actually reached out to a member of our cast, ‘Echo 3, Sledge’ or Luke Solomon, in the pub. We went to the pub for a pint and I just said to him, ‘Look man, I think this is kind of, this is going down range. If I don’t… I’m going go to sort of, the DCMH mental health clinic on Monday. If I change my mind before then, I want you to come in and drag me there. And I was like, I give you full range to do what you have to do to get me there. And luckily, on the Monday, I didn’t change my mind and I went. That was kind of… that was the hardest bit. As soon as I’d kind of admitted to my partner, my family and proved some of my closest friends, I was on the way thens. And I was… I’m quite a proactive person and as soon as I decide to do something, I will make it happen no matter what. So I started going through that process, which was frustrating at times because sort of conventional methods didn’t really sort of sit in line with the way I work…
Steve Bomford 14:54
What do you mean by that? Would you be able to elaborate on that a little bit?
Sam Seeley 14:56
Yeah, yeah, of course. I just found that it was… parts of it… were sort of box ticking exercises.
Steve Bomford 15:03
Sam Seeley 15:03
And they just… I just, I couldn’t relate to, I couldn’t relate to certain parts and I was getting put in these different categories that I didn’t necessarily agree with. And I don’t think mental health is a linear spectrum. I think it’s, it’s interlinked. We’ve been webbed in so many ways, through so many different experiences. And I just yeah it’s… I just think it’s too complex to put into a category or any sort of categories. So I think I, that’s when someone really… recommended I, I started exercising a lot more, which really helped and really got me back in line as such, but I felt like I still needed something else. And that’s when someone recommended screenwriting, or just writing in general. I’m not really the sort of person who would keep a diary as such and I love films and I was obviously a freelance creative at the time so, that’s where kind of Sunray was born as such. I basically had… I started writing things on post-it notes. I was like, ‘I’m going to write a film, even it’s a short film’. I started writing things on post-it notes, putting them on my front room wall. By the end of the week, I had sort of 150 to 200 post-it notes on my front room wall, of scene ideas, characters, weapon systems, all sorts really. And then I kind of… anything that I thought was a little bit too dark or a bit too negative, I sort of physically just deleted those from my brain by taking them off the wall, putting them in the bin.
Steve Bomford 16:28
Sam Seeley 16:30
At the end of that I kind of had these compiled, post it notes, I was like, ‘Oh, actually, this could be a story as such. And so if I structure it slightly better and it’s not in a set of post-it notes, I could probably make this into a story’. And that was where Sunray was born. I had this title, which… Sunray means ‘Troop Boss or The Boss’ in sort of Marine slang. But I think it has so many other connotations, really. It’s essentially a sign of hope. You know, and that’s where it was born. And I started reading screenplays and I started watching films and reading screenplays, then mostly just reading screenplays, and I thought, ‘I’m gonna take a crack at this’. And it started off as a short film, then it was, it’s gonna be my first feature, I’ll find a way to finance it, it’ll be a feature. And then as soon as I brought Dan and James on who are again, former Royal Marines turned creatives, they were the only two people that I thought truly understand this really. And Dan, I actually Served in Afghanistan with, and as soon as I brought them on, that’s where it grew into what it is now really. You know James is an amazing graphic designer, Dan’s amazing at editing and visual effects and we’ve all written an episode each. They’re both really great at writing as well. And I think we work really well together. There’s this ongoing joke, because we were all at one point Navy photographers, there’s this ongoing joke that we were never allowed to work with each other. I don’t know why. But it just never happened. Whenever we tried to connect and work together in sort of a Navy photographer capacity, it never happened. So when we did actually finally get together outside of work on this venture, someone actually labelled us ‘The Unholy Trinity’ and it’s kind of stuck (Steve laughs), it’s kind of stuck from there and we’ve just yeah… it’s just really grown from there and now it’s obviously a three part web series, at 45 minutes an episode, which is just… yeah, it’s amazing.
Steve Bomford 18:37
So you obviously took ‘Unholy Trinity’ as a compliment? I can tell straight off the bat (Sam laughs). So, had you written anything before this? I mean, obviously you’d done the photography with the Navy and your own personal interest; but you know, just suddenly to start hitting the post-it notes, had you done that before?
Sam Seeley 18:52
No, I’d written a shot-list before, that was about it. But yeah, I think firstly being a bone bootneck, I first had to teach myself how to read, which took a while, took a while…(Steve laughs), we probably might have shot it by now if I hadn’t had to teach myself how to read. And then I had to sort of teach myself how to write as well. And yeah, I wouldn’t say… I’m nowhere near an expert yet. But it’s yeah… and even that process was just so therapeutic. And just, you know, learning new ways to write, how to structure a story. And then sort of learning the rules so then you can break them as well. Which, if you know… if you’ve met any bootneck, we love breaking the rules. We love to learn the rules like a pro so you can… so learn the rules like a basic or an amateur so you can break them like a pro.
Steve Bomford 19:40
Oh very good, very good. It’s kind of something we live by I think. Kind of just cracking our aim. I think that’s kind of the beauty of Sunray, even the sort of infrastructure on set and the way we want to film it and structure it. We’re just kind of making our own rules and you know, it’s still working, whatever formula we’re using it’s working, so we’re just gonna crack on. Yeah, It’s really nice. Wow. So you said you’ve left the Navy now, is sunray your full-time thing and is screenwriting going to be your full-time thing once you’ve done Sunray? So yeah, so I’m a freelance creative at the minute and so I do freelance for other companies, but primarily leading up to production, we’re working on Sunray, you know. We soon realised how hungry a beast it is. Myself and the other two, Dan and James, we’d only really ever shot commercials before and planned for commercials, and you know, they’re usually sort of two to three days. Whereas this is a pretty hefty, hefty shooting schedule. There’s a lot of moving parts. There’s a lot of people. But we love the challenge, you know and I think it’s… I think what we love about it is the sort of collaborative effort, and it doesn’t happen unless there’s collaboration. Even to the point of the people bringing us coffees and, you know, organising our food, that if they weren’t there, then it wouldn’t happen. We wouldn’t eat, you know, we wouldn’t be able to work 19 hours days, if we had to. I think that’s what I love about it the most, is just bringing people together. I think especially when 80% of those people are Veterans, you can imagine what it’s like on set. It’s… it’s… it’s challenging, but then it’s still really fun as well. And I think the feedback we received just from the Veterans we had on shooting the trailer, like we shot the trailer over three days and it cost us 1000 pound, like we literally were on a shoestring budget. But the feedback we got from them saying, ‘Ah that’s the closest thing I’ve had to that sort of brotherhood as such, since I’ve left the military’, and some of them had left the military sort of three to five years ago; they really, really, really enjoyed it. And they were kind of like, ‘We really liked it, you know, can we get in on the next episode?’ and stuff like that, and I think to have that feedback of, that’s the closest they felt to that brotherhood since they left, was really rewarding to us. And that’s kind of… that’s kind of what we want to do. Even to the point of, we’ve got to build this new set for the series coming, we’re using Veteran plasterers, carpenters, builders to build certain elements of those sets. And like, I’m looking forward to that part more than anything, and to just get those guys in, and see what they’re about as well and see what they can do. Are you directing it as well, Sam?
Sam Seeley 22:42
So, we’re all taking it in turns to direct. Like I said, there’s three primary creatives, myself, Dan and James. We’ve written an episode each and our intention then is to obviously direct the episode we’ve written; with the other two taking the role as directors of photography and camera assistants, script supervisors as such or assistant directors. Yeah, so it kind of then enables us to sort of have that piece of the pie as well and be able to, you know, direct our own baby as such, even though there’s consistency throughout the whole piece. You know, it’s not uncommon now with, you know sort of… with TV shows, things like Mandalorian and True Detective, where, you know, there’s a different director for each episode.
Steve Bomford 23:26
Sam Seeley 23:27
You know, it’s so common. I think, because we’re literally on Zoom to each other every day. It’s… we kind of have that overall story arc and narrative B, where it just keeps everything consistent. I think the ability of having three people always seems to work with us. If one person’s got a completely outrageous idea, and then the second person agrees, then we go. Or if we… if we’re having a heated debate about an issue or a topic or a narrative B, we put it to a vote. So I think the three people system at the minute, the Unholy Trinity is working for us at the minute. And it’s just yeah… it’s just really nice to work with people as passionate about the project as you are really. To even see it come this far, I have to pinch myself every day that I just get to work on this every day. It’s amazing.
Steve Bomford 24:24
Your… your infectious enthusiasm for this is palpable. Obviously, I can see you, our listeners will only be able to listen, but they must be able to tell in your voice how enthusiastic you are about this. So, can you tell me a bit about Sunray? I know you probably don’t want to give away the whole plot, script… What is Sunray? Tell me a little bit more about it, because I’m sure our listeners are going to be… this is your moment to convince our listeners to see it!
Sam Seeley 24:47
(Laughs) Yeah, cool. So like I said, it was sort of birthed from 150 post-it notes turned into a screenplay. And then now a web series. It’s basically a series sort of set against the backdrop of realistic, sort of fast-paced action. Guided by high-quality military drills. And that was the huge thing for us. Every guy I know, even if it’s an Airsoft or a Veteran, someone who’s just really into sort of military drills, if they see someone crack a poor weapon drill, or some sort of poor tactical drill in the field, they’ll pick it up. And I think for us, I think the slicker we can make that and the most realistic we could make that, that was really key. And that really drives the narrative B. But Sunray, at its core is a human story. Yeah, we’ve got the cool tactical drills, we’ve got the amazing weapon systems and we’ve obviously got real-life soldiers, you know, sort of implementing that. But at its core, it’s a human story and it’s a sort of three part serial drama, exploring the Veteran psyche. Sunray sort of, it challenges the perceptions of mental health and sort of the struggles that soldiers face when sort of reintegrating back into civilian life. But not just soldiers. We’ve also got, you know, a very key subplot of a civilian cast who… also civilian characters, who also suffer their own challenges, especially when it comes to survivor’s guilt. Like I said, we wanted to show both sides of the table as such. We follow Andy, who’s our, who is Sunray essentially. He’s our Troop Boss, who after sort of dedicating his entire life to the Service and the Armed Forces, sort of now really struggles to slot back into the world that he kind of no longer recognises, or he just kind of doesn’t really fit in. He also has to confront the death of his daughter following a fatal encounter with drugs. His only path now is, he’s hell bent on finding those responsible. He hasn’t really got anything to lose. He’s separated from his wife, he lives alone. The only world he does know is, you know, sort of controlled violence or the application of violence as such and you know, sort of falls in to this sort of criminal underworld. And it sort of all unravels in his wake. He’s sort of joined luckily, by his team members and the guys he Served with and their jobs, sometimes they get him in more trouble… we play that through the different sort of character devices. Like I said, it’s a human story at its core. But also we’ve got, you know, the cool tactical drills and we kind of get that fine balance of both. I think the key thing for us is our primary cast of former Royal Marines turned professional actors, so they’re their job… they are professional actors. And also, our sub-plot cast are also professional actors and our crew also… so the guys who are gripping, our sparkies, building sets, primarily creatives are all former Veterans or Veterans, primarily former Royal Marines for some reason. We have got some Army. We’ve got some RAF, but we don’t like to talk about them too much (laughs).
Steve Bomford 25:04
I didn’t think you would (laughs). So this is all funded, isn’t it? Because you did a big Kickstarter campaign haven’t you, do you want to tell me a little bit about that?
Sam Seeley 28:30
Yeah, that was that was the hardest part initially. We came up with a concept. How are we going to make this? How are we going to deliver this? And we kind of thought, ‘We could make the best series or the best film in the world, but if no one wants to see it, or no one’s got the ability to see it, then there’s no point in us actually doing it’. So what we initially did, we were really sneaky initially, we set up a, sort of a ghost Instagram called ‘Elite Military Forces’ and we basically just posted any cool military picture we could find and we started building that really sort of organic following of our sort of target market, sort of target demographic, and sort of overnight when we were ready to launch Sunray, we glitched the whole Instagram and then started afresh and Sunray was born on social media. And again, we had that foundation of people who we know would want to see the product. And that’s obviously before that… and that’s the same time sorry, that we launched the Kickstarter. And yeah, that was, that was a lot of work. We learned a lot during that stage. And I think we’ve learned what works now and what doesn’t. And yeah, it was an amazing experience. You know, the first sort of two weeks you’re just looking at the Kickstarter all day, every day. Literally just looking for the smallest bump, you’re just like ‘Oh my God, yeah, we’re definitely gonna make it, we’re definitely gonna make it’. And obviously, we were very lucky. We were looking to kickstart 60,000 pounds. Which for a project like this, on Kickstarter, was very ambitious. There wasn’t many that have been successful in that sort of funding range. You know, a lot of the short films on there are sort of 2-3,000 pounds. So we knew we we’re being ambitious. We kind of wasn’t getting our hopes up. But we were confident. We worked very hard during those stages, you know, doing a post or two posts a day to really sort of drive that sort of synergy and that sort of momentum. You can’t afford to lose momentum when you’re kickstarting. We worked hard on that every day. And, you know, it was very important to us to reply to every single person as well, anyone who had a question about the campaign, where they could see it, how they could help. Even were three of us on it for two months, it was relentless, as well as managing full time jobs. We thank everyone who pledged and you know, even people who couldn’t pledge because of the difficult times we’re in, they all, they shared. Even them sharing was more than generous. So yeah, it was, it was amazing. Eventually, we did did manage to raise 66,000.
Steve Bomford 31:12
Oh well done, well done!
Sam Seeley 31:14
Which was amazing, which obviously gives us such a good foundation to, to start the series.
Steve Bomford 31:20
So like I said, your enthusiasm for this is just amazing. I really, really like this and I’m really quite interested in the whole kind of creative process. Is there anything that you would say about, you know, creativity and its impact upon well-being? Because obviously, you’re talking about film and photography and writing, which is, you know, a big chunk of creativity in this day and age. But is there anything you would want to say about the benefits of creativity and maybe just taking the leap into trying something creative, whatever that might be for an individual?
Sam Seeley 31:49
Yeah, 100%, I think, you know, for one of my projects that succeeded, I’ve probably got about 20 or 30, that are just awful, that I would never want anyone to see the light of day. That happens all the time. It still happens now. I know it happens to Dan and James where you think you’ve got the best idea in the world. You try and make it and you go, ‘Oh my God, I’ve just wasted 12 hours on that. That is awful’. Or longer. And so I think it’s just literally, just testing, adjusting, finding out what works for you, finding your tone. Looking at people that inspire you. I still do it now. My favourite Director of Photography is Roger Deakins. That man is an inspiration. I think he’s an absolute God. I look at his work non-stop, but also other people, especially Adam Stone as well he’s an amazing DoP.
Steve Bomford 32:41
So what films have they worked on, Sam? Because I don’t know those names, I have to be honest.
Sam Seeley 32:46
So primarily for Roger Deakins, you’ve got like No Country for Old Men, Shawshank Redemption. Yeah, things like that, just such iconic films. Their tone is what I hope to one day be even 50% close to. Yeah, so it’s basically at the same time it’s all about taking that inspiration from DPs, photographers, creatives you love and then influencing that in your own work, but adding your sort of own tone to it. I think for me, the biggest thing for me is, when I’m creating, whether that’s writing, or actually physically on set shooting and operating, it sounds really cliche, but you just feel free, light, weightless. You know, you can do a 19 hour day and it’s only until you stop that you feel tired.
Steve Bomford 33:36
Sam Seeley 33:37
Just because you’re so like… the only thing I can relate it to really is like being on patrol, or something like that, where you’re just so focused on not dying. It’s not as extreme as that, the consequences are not as extreme. Yeah, let’s hope not, Jesus. But yeah, it’s the best experience ever. I think anyone who’s even experienced that for the first time, you know, you can see it on their face when you bring… like I recently brought my Dad on set and he never really truly understood what I did, I don’t think. I brought him on set for like three days, actually when we shot the trailer and it was such an eye opener to him and he’s already got leave booked in for when we shoot the main production because he wants to be part of it. And he just says like, ‘I had no idea what you did and you know, what it’s like on set’. I think the biggest thing for him again, was the collaboration. You know, three days on set feels about three weeks and you’re so close with that team by the time you leave that production. I think that’s my favourite thing is, it’s the closest thing to almost being in the Marines but without all the negative points. Yeah, it’s still that 19 hours a day sometimes. Yeah, sometimes, you know, you’re just tired all day and you’re behind and you’re always constantly playing catch-up. But it’s just the feeling you feel is just like nothing else. Even when it’s going wrong sometimes, it’s still just an amazing feeling, you learn from it. I think that’s the biggest thing is, you constantly make mistakes, I make mistakes every day. Everything I go on, I always look back at and go, ‘I could have done that better, I could have done that differently’. And I think it’s being self-critical, but not to the point where you just convince yourself not to do stuff, and not comparing yourself to others. I think, you know, it’s so easy to compare yourself to others and go, ‘Oh, my God, that person’s got 50,000 followers, I’ll never be as good as them’. I just don’t think it’s about that, I think it’s about doing what you do, do it well, you know and enjoy it. I’m in a very fortunate position where I get paid to do what I enjoy, which is just, it’s just amazing and it was like that when I was in the Marines, I loved being in the Marines until I didn’t. So I found something new. I loved being a Navy photographer, until it didn’t and then I found something new. I think it’s just constantly, just evolving, you know and challenging yourself. Like I said, even when you’re on set, you’re always stressed, with actors around, especially if they’re being… and you’re just belting through the caffeine all day, but ultimately, you just feel free. And it sounds super cliche, but you do. And, yeah, as soon as you sort of surround yourself with a crew, with a similar mindset, everyday becomes slicker. And then everything’s just shorthand. And there’s something almost euphoric about working with a team where everything’st’ shorthand, and you no longer have to communicate, like it’s super weird. There’s so many elements to like, being in a creative team, that are like linked to the military, the similarities are so uncanny. But at the same time, they’re so different. It’s yeah, it’s the best experience ever and that’s why, with the team, we’ve got for Sunray it’s yeah, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d want to… any other project I’d want to work on, to be honest.
Steve Bomford 33:51
Let’s hope not, eh. I tell you, I’m going to give you a challenge to put a short advert together for the merits and values of creativity on well-being. I think there’s a challenge for you. So, I’m going to have to bring this conversation down a little bit, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, of course. So, I think you said to me the last time we spoke about this, you’re sort of looking at May to get production started? Is that still your plan or is the schedule, all a bit up in the air at the minute?
Sam Seeley 37:32
Yeah, it’s kind of put a spanner in a lot of things. In some ways, it’s really helped, sort of given us time to really focus and be a lot more rigid when it comes to… like I said, there’s a lot of Zoom calls. When you’re doing a script review over Zoom, you’re sat on Zoom for three, four hours, with a red pen on each other’s scripts, it can get a little bit heated. It’s just a lot more harder, it’s a lot harder to pick up these social cues. Whereas usually you just do that face-to-face and you’d probably have a few beers whilst you’re doing it. It’s a bit more difficult to do that over Zoom. But you know, that’s the world we live in currently, so you’ve just got to adapt, again you’ve just got to adapt. I think we’re still looking to shoot elements of it in May and that comes down to us being able to keep the creative team quite small. Most of the scenes where we’ve got one character, so our lead protagonist Andy, we’re going to try and shoot elements of that in may, early June. According to Boris’ roadmap, we’ll be out of the dark in June. So hopefully, hopefully, we’re looking to try and block shoot June, July time. Like I said, it’s an ever evolving beast. But yeah, hopefully sort of, bits in May, a little bit in June and a little bit in July. So yeah, it’s hard to say really, especially in this current climate.
Steve Bomford 38:54
I know a lot of our listeners might be interested in finding out more about this and we will put all your Instagram, Twitter and your website, all as part of the podcast, of course, so they can find out more. But, is there any way people can get involved in the project? Because you’ve said obviously, I know, you might have sorted all this out already; but are there any ways…? Are you looking for extras, or carpenters, or anything like that..? Or can they just come and watch it being filmed, pandemic permitting of course?
Sam Seeley 39:17
Yeah, sure. There’s so many ways you can help us and we’ve had so many people help us already. It’s been so amazing. Again, even that’s overwhelming, how many people have helped us out. We’ve had a lot of companies, like we’ve got companies at UK Tactical, Warrior Assault Systems, Wire EX, Olynmpic Triumph. Portsmouth based companies like Stag and Wicket Brewary, we wouldn’t have been able to make it without them. Like literally, they’re kind of the foundation for everything, they’ve helped us out so much. So thanks, guys. There’s companies like Black Onyx Concept, a security company that really helped us out and Wire EX the ballistic glasses, they’ve helped us out so much. And yeah, without companies like that, we again wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be so well established without their generosity and just their support really. They really sort of helped validate the whole thing. I think local wise, and we are keeping it local. I live in Southsea. So does totally James from June. Our whole thing really is kind of shoot the whole thing in Portsmouth because the diversity of locations and also support local businesses and doing so. So like all of our printing for our Kickstarter rewards and T-shirts and hoodies that we want to sell, that’s being done at Sea Dog, Sea Dog Printing and a lot of the catering we want to do, is going to be supported by local cafes, local businesses. And we kind of just want to pay for locations in Portsmouth as well and just try and throw as much as we can back into the local sort of, local community. Not only does it help us in keeping everything in one area, and they’re also you know, we can help the local community and it can be almost a community project. It has been so far. Portsmouth Council, were great in helping us with the permits to shoot, you know, we had four tactical crack guys on Eastleigh beach, you know, running around which you know, for the, for the uninitiated, can be a little bit scary. But Portsmouth, Portsmouth Council was so great, the council’s they really helped us out and so did Hampshire Police. Again, they were so relaxed, really supportive over where we wanted to film and some of the content we wanted to film in certain areas. And so I’m hoping their relationships will, you know, remain consistent as we move on. But I think when it comes to guys wanting to support us, yeah, we’re going to actually put out a casting call soon for certain extras. Like I said, a lot of our sort of primary roles are full, but I think if you’ve got any sort of experience in that realm, or you want to sort of try it out, then sure, yeah, contact us on Instagram or email, through our website. There probably will be chances where you might get to come see us film, subject to COVID. You can support us by, if you didn’t catch the Kickstarter, you can still donate and help the project through the website. You can help us by reading our blog. We do have a weekly blog through our different cast members and the crew. Like I said, even just purchasing apparel, T-shirts and hoodies, you know, that money goes straight back into our production and kind of enables us to just make it even better. If you can’t do any of that, just follow us on social media. Give us a share, comment on our posts. Let us know what you think. The biggest thing out of all of this is, feedback’s key. We’re constantly evolving the script. We’re constantly evolving the narrative and constantly evolving our service offering as such, from feedback. So yeah, there’s no right or wrong answer really.
Steve Bomford 42:56
I think the credits of your film’s gonna be the longest bit.
Sam Seeley 42:59
Steve Bomford 43:00
Sam, I can’t thank you enough for that. It’s so infectious and enthusiastic, which I really, really like and I really appreciate you coming on.
Sam Seeley 43:08
Steve Bomford 43:08
I would say to… so brilliant… to our listeners, we will have the links under the description in the podcast. So send me what you’ve got, Sam and we will include that; and I really do wish you the best of luck with this project and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.
Sam Seeley 43:23
Yeah, so are we! (laughs)
Steve Bomford 43:24
(Laughs) Well make it happen mate, brilliant, thank you.
Sam Seeley 43:28
Awesome. Thank you so much.
Steve Bomford 43:32
So I think Sam’s going to win an award for the most enthusiastic person I may have met, let alone been on the podcast. What did you make of that?
Mike Davis-Marks 43:39
What, apart from me, you mean? I thought he was brilliant actually. And what possibly can go wrong, three Royal Marines writing a screenplay for a web series, fast action paced military drill programme, about something they know a lot about? Sounds good to me.
Steve Bomford 44:01
I’ve seen some of the videos that they’ve produced to promote it, so it looks very exciting. I think they’re equally excited and probably a little bit frustrated with the pandemic interfering with their production schedule, but I don’t doubt they will get it done.
Mike Davis-Marks 44:15
They’re calling it ‘Sunray’, aren’t they? Which is, I think he’s described it as the name they call it a Troop Boss? I seem to remember that used to be a term they called the Officer Commanding on… it was a radio term. But also has allusions to a beacon of hope, which I guess a lot of people need at the moment?
Steve Bomford 44:32
Well yes and I think that’s indeed what the series is about as well. It’s about the Troop Boss, but also the hope that comes out of the story. I mean, he was quite cagey about the story because obviously we want people to watch it rather than us telling the entire story, but yeah, it looks and sounds good.
Mike Davis-Marks 44:49
Yeah, he talks a bit about PTSD and survivor’s guilt before we were talking about it and I wonder to what extent his own personal experiences might have influenced the writing of this and indeed the actual generation of it in the first place?
Steve Bomford 45:05
I think absolutely. As he talked about in the interview, this sort of writing was kind of the way of expressing himself. And I think it was him getting his ideas on to thousands of post-it notes and thinking about his experiences, and then translating those experiences into ideas for a script and a story that was very much part of the process for him.
Mike Davis-Marks 45:24
He’s had a really quite interesting military career. I mean, seven years in the Royal Marines, having been encouraged or goaded to do so when he was on a mountaineering expedition in Nepal by obviously a former Royal Marine. And then straight out of training, which he says he enjoyed, into the hot cauldron that is called Afghanistan, Op Herrick. That must have been a baptism of fire.
Steve Bomford 45:53
I think it absolutely was and I mean, enjoying the training to become a Marine? I’ve seen that on TV, it’s not for me, I have to say!
Mike Davis-Marks 46:01
No, I take my hat off to them and I think the Royal Marines are widely regarded as one of the toughest military courses in the UK, if not the world, and getting your green beret is a very, very, very special thing to do and most people can’t do it. There used to be a Royal Marine advert saying, ‘99.9% people need not apply’. But unfortunately, it turned out to be prescriptive as 99.9% didn’t apply. So they’ve changed it to, ‘It’s a state of mind’.
Steve Bomford 46:36
That’s a great advertising campaign, isn’t it?
Mike Davis-Marks 46:38
Yeah, but it didn’t have the right effect. And then after… then he got involved in mountain leadership, which is a cadre within the Royal Marines, got involved in photography as a result of that, discovered that actually he quite liked you know, working with cameras and then transferred… I’ve not heard this before, from the Royal Marines into the RN photographic branch, where he then spent a further three years honing his skills. That’s, that’s actually a very unusual career path.
Steve Bomford 47:09
But he sounds like he’s enjoyed it and he’s got a lot out of it, hasn’t he? I think it’s given him the skills and enthusiasm to sort of express himself in a way that you know, you don’t normally associate with the military, if I’m honest.
Mike Davis-Marks 47:20
Yeah. Well, it certainly led to where he is now because you know… and I’ve got to, you know… we we’re talking about the Royal Marines earlier… I also want to take my hat off to the RN photography branch, they’re amazing photographers… and if anyone has ever been to see the annual Peregrine Trophy Awards, which is the RN photographic awards, I think they will be absolutely gobsmacked by the quality and the creativity of the photographs that are displayed. If you’ve never seen it, it’s well worth looking up because they are brilliant, brilliant photographers.
Steve Bomford 47:58
I have seen some of them on Twitter, there’s some very spectacular photographs out there, isn’t there?
Mike Davis-Marks 48:03
Yeah, and you know, they’re lucky because they get to play with helicopters as well, don’t they. But you know, often some of the best photographs are taken from airborne. So a helicopter is made available for them to get some really good shots from unusual angles. So anyway, it’s what’s led him to going down this film-making, screen-writing path I think.
Steve Bomford 48:29
Definitely has, there’s no about it. He certainly did mention that he did this a school as well and I think it’s just kind of rekindled that hasn’t it, and he’s now left the Navy and he’s on the latest part of his journey.
Mike Davis-Marks 48:40
Yeah. Sunray. Sunray is the name of the project I understand and it’s about a fictional Troop Boss, maybe modelled on someone he does or doesn’t know, who is going through a bit of a hard time at the moment, struggling to fit in having left the Service, dealing with the death of his daughter down to drugs, you know; having separated from his wife, living alone and getting into a spiral of increasing violence. Doesn’t sound like Sunday afternoon viewing to me.
Steve Bomford 49:12
No, but I bet you want to be an extra?
Mike Davis-Marks 49:14
Ah, well I’m glad you raised that, Steve, because… have I told you about my previous acting career on this? When I was a wine-o on Skid Row at the Britannia Royal Naval College’s production of the Little Shop of Horrors?
Steve Bomford 49:29
Is this in fact inspired by real life as well?
Mike Davis-Marks 49:33
Well, there were some nasty critics that thought I was too type-cast for the role. But I just think it just showed a little element… and I’m very willing, I’d love to be an extra for this when production resumes. I’d willingly put my hand up to play some… I could you know, I could be a member of Royalty perhaps? I could do my Prince Charles impression?
Steve Bomford 49:55
Stop, stop, stop, I’ve had… listeners, I’ve had 20 minutes of this before we even started recording this, I can’t listen to it again (laughs).
Mike Davis-Marks 50:03
(Laughs) Alright, anyway, I mean, Sam, if you’re listening to this, and I’m sure you are because it’s your podcast, I’d love to be an extra. So details to follow. One thing I do want to pick up on is, you talked about collaboration and teamwork. Skills that are absolutely crucial for working in the military, and particularly a close-knit brotherhood like the Royal Marines where teamwork… where you’re depending on each other, and collaboration is how you stay alive, frankly, in some of the world’s hotspots. So interesting that he picks up on that now that he’s left the Services and he’s trying to get a film unit together to work together to produce a script and to make this series from it. And he really emphasises the need for the team to collaborate in order to get the best out of them. So I thought that was a really interesting point he made.
Steve Bomford 51:02
Yeah, I don’t think people appreciate how much teamwork and collaboration goes into the production of movies, films, TV, or any kind of creative endeavour. It’s not always just a single person doing all the work by any stretch of the imagination.
Mike Davis-Marks 51:15
Yeah well I hope to find out when he chooses me for one of the extras, that will be good. And he also had a very successful Kickstarter, and raised I think, what 66,000? Which they thought was very unlikely for the genre that they were raising in, and they did it. So that shows you that there’s commitment on top of that enthusiasm and skill and something people want.
Steve Bomford 51:39
Yes and as he said, as well in the interview, about collaborating with local businesses, or businesses more generally, who can be involved in the project. So, I’d be quite excited to see this actually come to fruition and then we can start working on the streets of downtown Southsea for the filming.
Mike Davis-Marks 51:55
You’re looking forward to see me as an extra, aren’t you?
Steve Bomford 51:57
This is the third time you’ve mentioned this… (Mike laughs), I will speak to Sam and suggest it’s a non-speaking part.
Mike Davis-Marks 52:02
(Laughs) Okay, so there is one other thing I wanted to pick up on this, which I thought was really interesting, because he talks about breaking the rules. You know, it’s sort of part of the Royal Marine philosophy. And if your Commandant General Royal Marines is listening in then probably not best to listen to that bit but actually, it was something I… when I went through Submarine Command’s training called ‘Perisher’, we were taught how to… we were taught how to obey the rules to the letter up to the point where we could then break them because we knew how to break them in a safe and you know, advantageous way. So I quite liked his expression, learn the rules to be like a basic and then break them like a pro. I thought that was, you know, that will be interesting to see how that pans out.
Steve Bomford 52:55
Is that your pitch? So you’ve learned how to break the rules like a pro, too?
Mike Davis-Marks 52:59
I think I’ve probably overdone the pitch so I’m going to stop saying anything about that now. Anyway, it was a really interesting interview. I think, as you say, I think really looking forward to seeing that come together and then play out on our websites.
Steve Bomford 53:18
Yes, absolutely, I’m really looking forward to it as well and I think, we will obviously include lots of information about this, about their social media and how people can get involved. I think they’re really keen to have other people involved, particularly from the ex-Service community once they know, you know, kind of what the production schedule looks like.
Mike Davis-Marks 53:36
Yeah, fantastic, can’t wait.
Steve Bomford 53:37
Thank you very much, Mike. That was great.
Mike Davis-Marks 53:39
You’re very welcome.
Rachel Owen 53:45
Thanks for listening. The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity exists to support sailors, Marines and their families, for life. If you, or someone you know, could do with some support, give them a call on: 023 93 87 15 68. Or drop them an email on: email@example.com. If you enjoyed this podcast and want to hear more, please subscribe.
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The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity exists to support sailors, marines and their families, for life.
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