There are two ways to succeed as an actor; you either take the opportunities presented to or you make your own opportunities. Chris Aylmer took the second option. He co-wrote and starred in ‘The Situation Is’, which recently won ‘Best International Short Film’ at the Underground Cinema Awards. Chris spoke to Writing.ie’s Kevin Massey about his roles as an actor and a writer, the origins of ‘The Situation Is’ and his plans for the future in light of his recent success.
Chris was born and bred in Killiney, Dublin. His two major influences growing up were his older brother; with whom he shared tastes in music, film, books and sports, and his Dad. It was from his Dad that he caught the acting bug. Having been laid off in the early nineties, Chris’s Dad retrained as an actor, prompting his sons to take up speech and drama. Chris flourished in the classes right up until he finished school, ‘since they were the only good results I was getting, I decided to apply to drama school’. His application to The Arts Educational School of Acting in London was accepted in 2006. ‘Not everyone needs to go to drama school but I certainly did, it honed a lot of the skills I had and taught me other things I didn’t know about as an actor’. When he left in 2009, Chris set about making opportunities for himself through scriptwriting. ‘One of the most important things for a film, in my opinion, is a good script’. He teamed up with Matthew McPhearson, a friend from Drama School, and set about writing. The result was ‘The Situation Is’.
Chris describes ‘The Situation Is’ as a short film ‘’The Situation Is ‘ is based on Jack and Charlie, two small-time criminals sent to deliver a package to a particular location. On arrival they discover a dead body and a large amount of cash. Jack’s lack of communication in informing Charlie what the package actually is leads to an unlikely confrontation. Amidst much clumsiness and confusion the pair struggle to complete the task they originally thought so simple’. Matthew and Chris had wanted to work together since leaving Drama School. Rather than wait for the right project to come along, they decided to start their own. The initial plan was a feature film. They bounced ideas around and played to their strengths ‘We found the dialogue by far the easiest thing as we had both trained as actors, and with the things we weren’t so experienced about (i.e. the actions ) well we just kept them to a minimal in order not to complicate things’.
Their hard work produced a 54 page draft, but it did not last long. ‘A few days later we both read it again and said ‘ Eh…yeah, this is not good at all. In fact it’s rubbish. But let’s take the best bits from it and trim it down into a short film. ‘. Chris and Matthew kept the central idea and some of the dialogue and began to improvise around it to create a new draft for a short film. Their objective and structure became clear allowing them improvise scenes for natural and flowing dialogue. ‘The Situation Is’ finally took shape and was filmed with Chris and Matthew taking the lead roles of Jack and Charlie. Robbie Hamilton was drafted in as director and the shoot was completed for an estimated €500. With the hard work done, the film was entered in various festivals, including the aforementioned Underground Cinema Awards and the Galway Film Fleadh for which it was officially selected.
Speaking of their recent award win, Chris tried to remain calm when they were nominated. The positive reactions garnered by the film at the Galway Film Fleadh two months previous suggested that they were in contention for the award but Chris decided not to make any assumptions. ‘But when it came down to actually winning the award, I was absolutely delighted with the outcome. As was Matthew, my colleague who co-wrote and acted opposite me in the film. I know of a lot of people say that awards don’t mean anything, but it does mean that somebody likes your film, and that is a great feeling.’
When asked about his writing habits, Chris gets a little vague. Having already discussed how he writes, acting out scenes to generate natural dialogue, the issue of deadlines and completing drafts crops up. ‘All I can say about my writing habits is- I try to meet a deadline. I fail to meet that deadline. Then I realize the deadline is only when the work appears good enough on the script’. Chris’s dedication to his craft as an actor and writer is evident through his attitude; a draft is completed based on quality, not time. The award win has not altered his approach to writing. Nor, he states, would any award win. It is his positive approach that drives him to succeed, ‘I am very ambitious, but I won’t reveal how far I think (or know) I can go until I get there. I’ll get there though’.
Chris and Matthew are now looking to the future, to build on their current success. Ideally, he is looking to follow in the footsteps of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, ‘who wrote and starred in Good Will Hunting when they were only in their twenties. They based it in their home town of Boston. Both of those have continued to have great careers. If I could do half as well as them I’d be happy. With that in mind, they have begun work on a feature length script for ‘The Situation Is’. ‘We hope to get funding for it as soon as we are finished with the final draft. The feature is a very different task, much more to do, and much more to ask from in each scene’.
Chris would love the opportunity to work with the actors and directors who inspire him; naming Neil Jordan, Jim Sheridan, Martin Scorsese and Terry McMahon. And Tom Cruise ‘no matter what anyone says, Tom Cruise is a great actor’. He gives special mention to Paddy Considine and Shane Meadows as they use similar improvisation techniques to develop their scripts. If Chris continues to make his own opportunities as he has done with ‘The Situation Is’, we could soon see him lining up alongside Tom Cruise. After all, Top Gun is crying out for a sequel.