Lancashire Stuntman stars in Zombie Apocalypse Film

With 17 years of experience under his belt, stuntman, producer, actor and writer, Mark Strange has travelled the world and worked with some of the biggest names in the films industry.

He appeared at the Great Northern Creative Festival to talk about his new role in a zombie apocalypse war film.

Redcon-1 is a collaboration between some huge names from across the pond including Carlos Gallardo, frequent collaborator of director Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Eastwood, creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic book

From a young age, Strange was interested in all the big action movies, like RamboRocky and Predator.  Mark Strange was very focused on being like his idols and emphasised the need for “a childhood hero or a goal to work towards”.

Mr Strange has worked across the globe in all markets from the UK scene to even spending three months in Hong Kong where he fulfilled a major dream by working with industry legend Jackie Chan on The Medallion and Twin Effect, which was directed by Star Wars Rogue One actor, Donnie Yen.

Mark Strange looks back fondly on his time with Jackie Chan and he even said“The Jackie Chan experience was a massive thing for me at the time because I was such a big fan growing up and he was such a big influence in my career and again working with him closely in an action sequence, I learnt so much from him.”

As part of the back to back shoots for Twin Effect and The Medallion, Strange was attached to the front of an ambulance which rammed him into a chain link fence and Mark said: “It was my best acting ever that unfortunately wasn’t used in the final film.”

Back in the UK, he was a major driving force in creating a brutal and realistic fighting film known as 12 (although in some countries it was known as Underground) which was a pure action movie that did not even have a script when they started shooting but instead had a major focus on fight scenes.

Mark Strange said: “We shot four fights over five days which was hard work,” but he later added that it was worth it as the film was then funded based on the fight scenes alone and went onto be a big hit globally for him.

Strange has not restricted himself to the silver screen though as he has worked on everything from Stan Lee’s Lucky Man to Coronation Street as their fight planner. Talking about his time on Lucky Man, he talked about how nice James Nesbitt was throughout the filming process and his constant applause between takes being a real highlight.

Most actors fear being typecasted in certain roles throughout their careers but Mark said:” I love the assassin and solider parts and all that sort of stuff and I keep getting those parts.”

When asked how to get into the industry Mark said: “I’d say just go out and do it and meet as many people as possible,” he added: “You’ve got to put the work in.”

Words by Daniel Culkin

Ovidio Assonitis discusses his career with Bill McCoid

Ovidio Assonitis has worked with mega film stars such as Al Pacino and James Cameron. Among films he’s worked on include “Scent Of A Woman” and “Beyond The Door”. Speaking at an event at the Great Northern Creative Festival, the tycoon details his journey from a small time film distributor to a multi award winning film producer.

Born in Egypt, raised in Italy with Greek parents, it’s fair to say Ovidio Assonitis is truly an international film producer but a very successful operator in such a saturated field who unsurprisingly speaks four languages.

Back in 1974, his film “Beyond The Door” at the time was the highest grossing independent film. It’s no small feat taking into consideration that at the time, Ovidio had only been in film production for a mere two years. Such major feats early on ultimately paved the way to a highly illustrious career.

He’s got an impressive roster to show off too. Just to name only a couple, he has worked with the likes of Al Pacino and James Cameron.

Ovidio’s career in film began in the 1960’s, but albeit in a slightly different area. He started a distribution company in South East Asia, with multiple offices in locations such as South Korea and Bangkok. His partners included the brother of the King of Thailand.

This venture was going well but his desire lead him to go into film production.

He fondly visualises the distant past and draws a distinction between film production and distribution. “I had the chance to see the meaning behind the pictures distributed”.

It’s not all been glitz and glamour on the way, his most impactful movie to date, “Scent Of A Woman”, was testament to his relentless drive and determination was tested to the limits.

In Ovidio’s eyes, the film would be a success. So, he went along a bought the rights to it. However, it was only he who saw potential in the idea. The supposed crew who were in place to work on his next film disagreed.

He said: “One day they would say yes we can do this and then the next, they would revert back to no it won’t work”.

He spent a whopping 10 years to convince people it would be a good movie to produce. Yes, 10 years. He also realised the need for a star to lead, he aimed for the cream of the crop and by God did it work. Jack Nicholson was heavily interested in playing the main role but was already tied up into a contract.

So, Ovidio just went and casually landed an actor called Al Pacino to play the role. He candidly describes him as “a nice but strange guy”. The movie proved to be a hit, generating £130 million worldwide and holds an impressive 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.

He also takes pride in discovering and promoting young talent, somehow, he convinced the prolific movie star Chuck Norris to make a transition to television. This resulted in Norris starring in Walker Texas Ranger, an iconic TV series adored by households worldwide. It also can’t be forgotten he gave Al Pacino his big break in the previously mentioned “Scent Of A Woman”.

Ovidio is also not afraid of making executive decisions. He notoriously fell out with the world renowned film director James Cameron. He says of the relationship that they “never really got on from the first day”. This culminated in firing Cameron after just one week of shooting on Piranha’s 2. He admitted that Cameron had a great vision and all the elements of being a great.

The famed producer is also not afraid to turn future stars away. Among a varied list, he declined Sharon Stone a role in a movie. She went on to a very successful career, starring in films such as Total Recall and Casino.

When it comes to giving advice to aspiring film producers, his passion for the field evidently comes across. He venomously reminds the audience “you need to have passion, it’s a difficult job. You are not selling goods, you are selling dreams”. He also explained why he works in such a competitive field: “You do it to communicate to the world your dreams and to express yourself. It’s an addiction.”

Words by Issan Khan

UCLan thespians take advice from screen star George Costigan

The actor came to Preston to officially open Great Northern Creative Festival!

An actor with more than 40 years’ experience in the industry has shared vital tricks of the trade with students from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Television, screen and theatre star George Costigan spoke to students about breaking into the business and his varied career, which includes a starring role in Rita Sue and Bob Too, appearing in Calendar Girls, Shirley Valentine and Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley to name a few, and writing for the small screen and stage before his debut novel The Single Soldier.

The actor was at the University to officially open the annual Great Northern Creative Festival, which aims to showcase the creative talent in media, film, photography, journalism and performance at the University.  George was able to spend time with students ahead of his ‘An Audience with’ style public event on campus.

“I see passing on my knowledge as my duty to the next generation; it’s a contradictory profession and actors need to be aware of this going into it.”

Advising the students George said: “There are no set rules in this business.  Every piece of material requires a different approach and every actor approaches things differently.  I see passing on my knowledge as my duty to the next generation; it’s a contradictory profession and actors need to be aware of this going into it.”

Final year acting student Channique Sterling-Brown commented: “George is unapologetically himself and reminded us that we don’t want to lose what makes us tick.”

Fellow acting student Duncan Butcher said: “George is very inspirational.  He’s done so much in his career so it was a great opportunity to learn from someone with so much experience.”

An Audience with George Costigan opened the six-day programme of events. 

2017 Programme Launch

The full programme of events for The Great Northern Creative Festival has been unveiled.

The programme for The Great Northern Creative Festival, in partnership with its principal sponsor Arriva Rail North, has launched presenting this year’s diverse selection of special guests, films and events.

The Festival will screen an array of fiction and documentary features, including the British premiere of Christopher Sykes’ award-winning documentary Golan: A Farewell to Mr Cinema and a special preview screening of SOLO!. There will also be screenings of short films, including documentary, live action and animated works.

The 2017 festival features a stellar line-up of directors, cast and crew to take part in career interviews, Screen Talks, Q&As and Industry Talks, including George Costigan (Shirley Valentine; Rita, Sue and Bob Too), Henry Normal (PhilomenaRed Dwarf) John Thomson (Cold FeetThe Curse of the Were-Rabbit) & Ovidio Assonitis (Piranha Part Two: The Spawning; Beyond the Door).

Taking place over 6 days, the Festival’s screenings are at venues across Preston, including UCLan’s state of the art Media Factory.

We round off The Great Northern Creative Festival with the Arriva Rail Festival Awards. Various prizes will be handed out on the evening including TGNCF Outstanding Award 2017 and TGNCF Lifetime Achievement Award.

UCLan’s Bill McCoid is ‘happy not to be famous,’ as he works with celebrity names

Whilst Bill McCoid has spent half of his career chasing fame, he has never wanted to be famous himself. He admits: “I’m happy not to be famous. Fame is something you have to deal with and it is not what people imagine it to be. Some deal with it very well, but for others, it can change them.”

But that has not stopped the 60-year-old, who teaches screen writing for film and TV at UCLan, using his journalistic instincts to pursue up-coming celebrities. Proving he had a good nose for talent, he was the first person to interview comedians Eddie Izzard and Paul Merton and had caught up with Rory Bremner in his early days.

Bill says: “I have always been into writing. I soon found out that if you wrote things people would pay you. If I went out to a gig, I would write a review. If I saw a famous person I would interview them.

“I started to earn money from that. I was the first journalist to interview Eddie Izzard and Paul Merton as I saw them in clubs in London. I was also one of the early journalists to interview Rory Bremner. “I started off writing for Melody Maker, which no longer exists, and Stage, which is a newspaper for actors. I worked for other papers, such as Manchester Evening News and national Sunday papers as a freelance journalist.

“One of my most interesting articles for the MEN was with Alistair Taylor, music producer Brian Epstein’s right-hand man. He gave me the inside story on The Beatles as he was there all the way through their journey.” Bill’s dedication and enthusiasm enabled him to land a job at Granada TV in the 1990s.

He says: “In the 1990s I got a break at Granada TV as a researcher and in production. I met some amazing people – some famous people and people with stories to tell. I had incredible access to people. I got to spend the day with George Best as he was on one of our shows. He had a reputation for being naughty and disappearing. So I had to keep track of him and make sure I knew where he was. “He had been a hero of mine as a child as he was such a good footballer. I was hanging out with him – and I got paid for it. He was such a lovely guy and for a day I was his buddy.”

Working at Granada enabled Bill to delve into important issues and even raise awareness about social injustices. He worked on a documentary featuring Alex Alexandrowicz, who was arrested for aggravated burglary and was given two life sentences and spent 22 years in prison.

Alex had ran away from his violent family to live in Preston, breaking into houses to steal food and sleeping rough in coal cellars. One break-in led to a year in a young person’s prison for aggravated burglary, after a woman opened a front door as he tried to use a pen-knife.

This time, however, he was handed two discretionary life sentences for aggravated burglary and grievous bodily harm, and given Category A security classification. He was unfairly treated because the authorities believed he was a Soviet spy. The father-of-two adds: “The great thing about working there is that if you had a passion or issue, you would put it out there on TV and reach millions of people. “One of the greatest things I did was make a documentary about a man who was stuck in prison and should not have been. He had lived in Preston and his story featured in the Lancashire Evening Post at the time. I went to the paper’s offices to research the story on microfiche. “Our documentary pressure in the Home Office in 1993 and a year later he was released. It is great doing these things and knowing I can make a difference to someone’s life.”

Bill also claims he was involved in THAT Michael Howard interview in 1997 where Jeremy Paxman asked him the same question – ‘did you threaten to over rule him?’ 12 times.

He says: “I had been working with investigative journalist and television editor Ray Fitzwalter for a few years. “There was a famous interview where Jeremy Paxman was talking to Michael Howard about the possible dismissal of the governor of Parkhurst Prison, John Marriott. Howard was asked by Paxman the same question over and over again, but he would not answer it. “The interview was based on a programme I researched about the prison service.

“I was also the first person to put Harry Hill on a TV show on Granada in 1997. I saw him in a club in London and it went on from there.” Now a lecturer at UCLan, Bill admitted he never envisaged teaching others. He adds: “It was never an ambition of mine. “While at Granada I wanted to spent more time writing, so I applied to lecture part-time at Salford University. I never expected to get the job, but I did and I really enjoyed it. “It was always my ambition to run a small TV channel and I was involved in Channel M with the students. That then became a full time job. “After Salford, I joined UCLan 10 years ago.”

Bill’s talent doesn’t end there, as he has been in a band and rubbed shoulders with likes of Caroline Aherne, Steve Coogan and Dave Gorman in the early days of their career. He adds: “When I was studying at Edgehill University I was in a band called The Nice Men. We did some gigs and brought some singles out. It started as a laugh and we managed to take it a bit further. “One of our songs, Nuclear Summer, will be reissued on a compilation album by Cherry Red Records. The company is bringing out songs which did well in the indie charts. That song came in at number 2 in the indie charts in 1980. “During some of our gigs we were on the bill with people who later became famous, such as Everything But the Girl, Teardrop Explodes and A Flock of Seagulls.”

Bill, who lives in Southport, has also written several plays, including Mourning TV, which was nominated Best New Play by the Manchester Evening News in 1992. At the age of 23 he wrote and directed Speech Therapy, which was the winner of Most Original Play, in the Liverpool Centenary Festival. He is now working on a series of children’s books, as well as a short film, with his daughter Lorna, 19, who works for a film company in London.

He adds: “In November I intend to publish a children’s book – Herbert to the Rescue. I have a series of books for children aged seven to nine written about Albert Snodgrass who is half man, half lizard. He is a bad character. The pictures are drawn by my daughter Lorna. “I am also working on a short film with Lorna – The Art Collector – where artificial intelligence takes over humans. I hope to get it finished in September and I intend to submit it to the BAFTAs. “I was recently in Berlin with my UCLan students making some films to put into The Great Northern Creative Festival.”

With such a varied career, Bill is certainly never bored. He admits: “I love all of it. I would not want to cut any of these things out. I love doing music; I love writing about people. “I also love teaching. It is a great privilege if you can persuade people that they can do something when they doubt themselves. “I feel very proud when I see the name of one of my previous students on the credits of a programme.”

For My Eyes Only

Five-time James Bond film director John Glen was given a license to thrill a packed audience at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) as he officially opened the annual Great Northern Creative Festival.

John, who in total worked on eight James Bond films and directed all that were made in the 1980s, shared stories from his long and successful career in an ‘Audience with…’ style event on the first day of the annual media festival, which showcases creative student talent in media, film, photography, journalism and performance.

He commented: “I think my favourite of the eight James Bond films I was involved with either as editor, second unit director and director of five is Octopussy, mainly because of its content involving trains, animals and a circus which afforded many opportunities for humour. James Bond in disguise as a clown is a good example and a nod to the Keystone Cops with the car on the railway track.”

“It is good to have the opportunity to pass on some of my experience to the budding directors of the future at UCLan.”

“Probably my most accomplished film was Licence to Kill, which was shot mainly in Mexico with all its accompanying problems. It is good to have the opportunity to pass on some of my experience to the budding directors of the future at UCLan.”

An Audience with John Glen, followed by a signing session of his latest book “For My Eyes Only”, is one of nearly 100 events taking place as part of the Great Northern Creative Festival at UCLan from Monday 7 – Saturday 12 November with performances, exhibitions, guest speaker events and film screenings from UCLan students, graduates and other artists from the region.

Great Northern Creative Festival co-ordinator Alan Keegan said: “The Festival has evolved from a commitment to promote and showcase the creative talent that has been developed at UCLan to also introduce to the world the fantastic students and professionals that we have working at the University and to open our doors to the city of Preston, to the North and the world beyond.”

“It has attracted leading national and international talent and we are pleased to offer staff, students and guests the opportunity to share a stimulating experience of creative talent which can be viewed, evaluated and enjoyed by everyone.”

The week-long programme of events is free and open to the general public. It will finish with the Arriva Rail Festival Awards, sponsored by Arriva Rail North, on Saturday 12 November with various prizes including outstanding and lifetime achievement awards.

Famous author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce opened Great Northern Creative Festival

A leading author and screenwriter has told a group of University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) students that they are the future of the industry.

Frank Cottrell Boyce was the guest of honour at the Great Northern Creative Festival where he spoke to budding writers in a question and answer session. He officially opened the festival before a screening of his classic 2002 film 24 Hour Party People.

He is one of the most respected screenwriters working in the English film industry. His career has seen him work alongside the likes of Danny Boyle on the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. He has been the screenwriter on films and has written for some of the most classic shows on our screens today, in the likes of Doctor Who and Coronation Street.

“The students here are ‘tomorrow’; this is the hatchery and the nursery where talent is born, hatched and nurtured. Coming here and meeting them is like looking into the future.”

Speaking to the audience Frank said: “The reason I am excited to be here at UCLan is that the students here are ‘tomorrow’; this is the hatchery and the nursery where talent is born, hatched and nurtured. Coming here and meeting them is like looking into the future, it’s a fantastic privilege to be here. If they can gain anything from me, from this old scarred body, then that’s fine with me.”

His visit kick-started the free four day media extravaganza. The event brought together some of the biggest creative talents in the north and from across the UK, while showcasing the outstanding creative talents of UCLan students in media, film, photography and journalism.

Over the four days students and members of the public attended a mixture of workshops, pitching sessions, industry talks and specialist lectures.


A free four-day media extravaganza is taking place at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) to showcase creative talent.

The Great Northern Creative Festival, which runs from 22 to 25 April, will bring together some of the biggest creative talents in the north and from across the UK, as well as showcasing the outstanding creative talents of UCLan students in media, film, photography and journalism.

Over the four days students can attend a mixture of workshops, pitching sessions, industry talks and specialist lectures. Most of the events are also open to members of the general public.

Opening the festival is renowned author and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, who will do a Q&A with the audience in Darwin Lecture Theatre, before a screening of his classic 2002 film 24 Hour Party People. He is one of the most respected screenwriters working in the English film industry. His career has seen him work alongside the likes of Danny Boyle on the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. He has been the screenwriter on films and has written for some of the most classic shows on our screens today, in the likes of Doctor Who and Coronation Street.

He said: “I’m delighted to support this year’s UCLan Student Creative Festival to offer support and advice to its creative students. Events like this are absolutely vital to help young creative people have a voice and motivate them to get out there and have a future in the creative industry.”

Also passing on her invaluable experience is Red Production’s Emily Feller. Emily has script edited and worked in development on dramas such as Bodies, Emmerdale, Scott and Bailey, and The Driver. She has recently been promoted to in-house Producer at Red Production Company having overseen Russell T Davies’ new E4 drama, Banana. Emily will talk about her career from script development to producing and will offer career advice. Tying into Emily’s event is ‘Mediating the North’ with Dr Peter Atkinson and Professor Ewa Mazierska. The academic symposium will analyse the huge BBC hits Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax.

A student only event, CJAM 2015, will see industry professionals from across the board visit, with undergraduates getting the chance to pitch their ideas and network.

Andrew Ireland, Executive Dean of Journalism and Media at UCLan, said: “This is a really exciting time to be involved in the creative industries at UCLan. Events such as the Great Northern Creative Festival give our students amazing access to top industry professionals and engage in debates and career planning. It’s a great opportunity to showcase our talented students and their work.”