I’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible..
The Cucaracha Club is something really special. It’s the first feature film to be made in Torrevieja, using local businesses and organisations for back up and exposure. It was made on a budget of €23,000 – which mostly went on equipment for filming, as everyone involved in the production gave their services for free. It was a first for screenplay writer Billie Anthony Gaddess, who had never written a screenplay before, and a first for director Rai Woods. Despite having a working background in broadcast media, Rai had never directed a full length feature film – until now. Most of the actors are enthusiastic amateurs, yet they came together to make a quality product that may not win any Oscars but will certainly go down as a better than average spy thriller. And there are two sequels in the pipeline. This story is going to run and run – and all the exclusives will be here on Sandra in Spain first.
If you’ve been on my website for more than five seconds, you’ll know that I’m heavily and happily involved in promoting The Cucaracha Club – the first feature film to be made entirely on location in and around Torrevieja, and when I was invited to the UK premiere of the film in Darlington, there was only one possible response. Flight and hotel were booked before screenwriter, executive producer and male lead Billie Anthony Gaddess had chance to think it through and realise that Sandra Not In Spain might be even more of a liability than she was on her home turf and withdraw the invitation.
If you think I sound a bit excited, you’d be right, because in my almost 65 years of existence, I’ve never attended a film premiere of any description. To be invited to this one, which features a lot of my friends either in front of or behind the cameras was pretty special, so I took a few lessons in Geordie so I wouldn’t need to take a translator, researched the finer points of stottie cake, and packed the trademark red dress. Just to make sure I was right into the groove, I binge watched Auf Weidersehen Pet and Crocodile Shoes, so I thought I was pretty well prepared when I jetted out of Alicante airport on a two day turnaround. How wrong can you be?
When I was interviewing cast members for articles and I asked for their abiding memory of their time on set, they were pretty unanimous that the best thing was Billie’s home made cheesecake. As a devotee of cheesecake, I can totally identify with that, and I told Billie that unless there was a cheesecake waiting for me, I was cancelling the flight. I also said I was working on the beach body, so a low fat cheesecake would be most acceptable. Well, the chocolate and banana version we got didn’t quite fit into the low fat category, but it went down well, and it was a great welcome to Darlington.
Of course, this wasn’t just a jolly, there was serious stuff at stake here. This was the first public showing of The Cucaracha Club, since the world premiere in Torrevieja was by invitation and the audience was mostly made up of people who had been involved in the film in some way, so they were already a little bit biased. However, the UK premiere at the Darlington Arts Festival was open to the general public as well as invited guests, so it was important to get it right. As the official – if unpaid – publicist for the film, I was keen to find out how I could play my part.
That’s when I found out why I’d really been invited. Billie tasked me with looking after Robbie Gallagher, who was flying in from Ireland. For ‘Looking after’ read ‘Make sure that mad Irish man behaves himself.’ Robbie might have a non-speaking role in the film as the assassin, but basically, you never know what’s coming next, as you’ll already know if you caught my recent interview with him. When Robbie wanted a quick drink before the premiere – and let’s face it, he deserved one after travelling all that way – I found a nice local pub that did a good pint of Guinness. However, an Irish ‘quick drink’ involves more than one drink, and it’s not quick in the accepted sense, so by the time we were on our second one – well, as his minder, I had to keep him company – we had Billie on the phone panicking and wondering where we were. Even though it was still 15 minutes short of the agreed meeting time. Billie has a tendency to get excited, but on premiere night he was on elastic.
It was a 5 minute walk to the venue, but Robbie decided we’d take a taxi so he had time to finish his Guinness and have a cigarette, and the lovely lady behind the bar assured us the taxi would be with us immediately. Obviously Darlington is in a different time zone to the rest of the UK, because ‘immediately’ was around 15 minutes later, and when the taxi finally dropped us off at the entrance, our phones were playing a symphony as Billie tried to find out what had happened to his friendly neighbourhood assassin. They have one of those push button things on the door to let you in, but nobody was answering, so Robbie decided we’d find another way in. The first open door he found went through the kitchen, and the legendary Irish charm failed to work on the lady in charge, who barred our way and sent us back to the other door.
This time we were admitted immediately, and if I’d had a real job, I’d have got the sack there and then judging by the look on Billie’s face. However, he realised the need for keeping Robbie reined in, and nobody else was brave enough or daft enough to try, so I got away with it. We got through the film okay, and it was very well received, with people laughing in the right places, gasping at the shocking bits and generally getting into the film. It wasn’t just polite applause at the end either – most of the audience were on their feet showing their appreciation.
I’d just started to relax and enjoy myself when the question and answer session started, and I was thinking I could get used to this. One by one the cast members were called out, and spoke about their experiences on set, and the audience were taking it all in. One of the unique things about The Cucaracha Club is that many of the actors are not professionals, they have day jobs like running garages, bars and computer companies and driving trains, It was all looking good – and then they called Robbie up.
He managed about four words before unleashing the first of several expletives that loosely rhyme with booking.com. And that was when the real fun started. Billie came close to a heart attack and tried to look invisible – which isn’t easy for him – but the rest of the cast, and the audience, were in fits of laughter. They’d already taken the film to their hearts, and thanks to Robbie, everyone relaxed and it was more like a big happy family party than a film premiere. Not that I’ve got anything to compare it with, but I bet nobody ever enjoyed themselves more than we did as we left the auditorium and formed a disorderly queue at the bar.
One of the perks of being an extrovert Irish actor is that people fall over themselves to buy you drinks and hear your jokes. And one of the perks of being a minder to an extrovert Irish actor is that I got included in the round as well. However, I don’t think my liver was as grateful as I was for the industrial quantities of wine that came my way. Clearly some of the cast don’t get the concept of the paparazzi photo call, judging by some of the expressions on Clive Gray’s face. But then again, he was having a family reunion, as his son and brother had surprised him by showing up for the premiere.
All too soon it was time to leave, which didn’t go down too well with Robbie. There was a bit of a cultural clash as he assured us that in Ireland, nobody gets going until after midnight, and if they go back home before 7.30 am, it’s been a quiet night. As the smiles started to slide from the faces of the weary bar staff, Billie took charge and ushered the big man out to one of the waiting cars, with the help of a few of the the film’s heavies. Thankfully my duties were now over, and I could retire to the sanctity and relative sanity of my hotel room and relive a truly magical night. Billie, Clive, Yvonne Graham, Denis – you were brilliant, in the film and on the night. And Robbie I’ll happily reprise my role as minder at the premiere of The Cucaracha Club 2: The Route of All Evil. That’s if I still have a job, of course. I hope so, because I could get used to this premiere lark.
Graham Robinson (left) with Billie Anthony Gaddess on the set of The Hit, where they first met.
While there are some professional actors in The Cucaracha Club, many of them have either never acted on screen or have only really appeared as extras or in small roles, and their ‘day job’ is something completely different. Graham Robinson, a train driver from Sunderland who has no connection with Spain other than through screenwriter, executive producer and male lead Billie Anthony Gaddess falls into that category.
He’s no stranger to acting though. He’s appeared as a policeman in the tv series Vera and as a barman and a building worker in George Gently. He met Billie while working on The Hit. They shared some scenes, and Billie told Graham – as he told everybody and still does – all about The Cucaracha Club. Philip Routledge, who co-wrote the screenplay for The Cucaracha Club with Billie, also wrote the screenplay for The Hit, so there’s a strong North Eastern connection here. Graham agreed to help Billie realise his dream, and he spent 6 days in Spain filming his role. Agent Jacks is new generation CIA, and he tries to keep two retired but recalled CIA agents in line as everyone trundles around Torrevieja for different reasons.
As a native of Grimsby, Graham does a pretty impressive American accent, which is even more remarkable considering he only knew about it a week before shooting. He has a small, mainly light relief part in the film, but like many of the quality actors in the film, he’s been promised a meatier role in the sequel, The Cucaracha Club 2: The Route of All Evil. Shooting is scheduled to begin in the autumn of 2017, and Graham is looking forward to renewing his acquaintance with the cast and crew who made him so welcome in Torrevieja. He played golf with Peter Taylor, who wrote the original music for the film, and enjoyed nights out with singer Chloe Leigh and entertainer Stevie Spit, who plays transvestite vicar and wannabe spy Father Paul. He also got to share a few beers and a Chinese buffet with cast members, including hit man Robbie Gallagher, on the eve of his 50th birthday.
Not many people walk away from an encounter with Robbie alive – he’s played a few killers in his acting career. Graham, on the other hand, was quite pleased to be still vertical and breathing at the end of The Cucaracha Club. In his debut movie, Interview With a Hitman, his sole contribution was to throw a few punches before being shot in the head.
While Graham really enjoys working on films, he’d love to do more theatre, but his profession is a problem. Although he gets a lot of time off, he also works irregular shifts, so getting to regular rehearsals can be a problem. He was involved with a play that went to the Edinburgh Festival, but had to pull out due to work commitments. He was also offered a role in the musical version of The Full Monty, but he felt the essentially British story was too Americanised, so he got to leave his hat – and the rest of his clothes – on!
So, what does the future hold for the train driver turned spy? There are more movies in the offing, and Graham spends a lot of time helping out at the University of Sunderland Media Studies Faculty, where he encourages students with their acting and academic dissertations. But the major production on the horizon is his wedding next year. Before I signed off from our Skype chat, I asked Graham what stood out for him about his time on set on The Cucaracha Club.
Two things really. I was proud to be part of such a wonderful film. They managed to pull off something that others with less faith and vision thought would never work. But what really stunned me was how such a small, independent film managed to blag so much stuff. I mean, who gets to use a submarine, jet skis, aeroplanes, fancy villas, night clubs, classic cars and boats for nothing?
Clearly the production crew were impressed with Graham’s work on The Cucaracha Club, since he’s already secured for the sequel. Early audience reaction is encouraging too. A friend who was with me when I watchedf the film for review kept saying ‘He/ she must be a real actor.’ When I told her Graham was more used to being on the railway tracks than on the screen she said, ‘You’re having me on. He’s too good to be just a train driver.’ Praise indeed for the quiet man from Sunderland. Look out for much more from Mr Robinson.
Stevie Spit in action as Lady Gaga – he needed to be a bit more discreet as transvestite vicar Father Paul in the film!
The Cucaracha Club is a remarkable film in many ways. It’s the first feature film to be produced entirely on location in and around Torrevieja, and for many of the actors and production crew, it was the first time they’d been involved in a film, either on screen or behind the scenes.
Made on a budget of just €23,000, the spy thriller showcases the talent and the beautiful surroundings that many people take for granted, and it’s a successful collaboration between expats and locals. I spoke to two of Torrevieja’s most high profile personalities who appear in the film – expat drag queen, comedian, ventriloquist and singer Stevie Spit, and Emiliano Casal, Spanish Lightweight boxing champion and businessman, ahead of the film’s first public showing in Torrevieja on May 18.
Stevie Spit has been in Spain for 12 years, and is probably the Costa Blanca’s busiest and best-known entertainer. Originally from Glasgow, as well as entertaining for a living he mounts lots of charity events for local children, and also entertains troops and expats in Afghanistan every year. He’s also the only drag queen who gets regular work at the famous Benidorm Palace, and stages a charity variety show there each autumn.
It was the community feel of The Cucaracha Club that originally appealed to Stevie when he was asked to appear in the film – and the stunning original songs written by Peter Taylor of Los Montesinos. He plays a transvestite vicar – talk about typecasting! As Stevie says:
I took on the part because of Peter’s beautiful music – and I quite liked the idea of getting into the habit, so to speak. Trouble is, in my purple and black priest’s outfit, I looked like a walking bruise. And the dress and wig I had to wear was so dowdy, I had to ask around my female friends, because all my stage costumes were too glam. Don’t tell them I said that though, will you?
Er – it’s a bit late for that, Stevie!
Emiliano Casal really couldn’t be more different, but he also played a vital role in the making of the movie, both in The Cucaracha Club itself and in liaising with the locals. Born in Buenos Aires in Argentina, he came to Torrevieja in 1999 at the age of 18 and is the first professional boxer to hail from Torrevieja. Emiliano fixed it so that real Police and police vehicles appeared in the film, adding authenticity to the action.
Emiliano Casal, defending his Spanish Lightweight boxing title. He’s also a man of action on the screen!
Being a professional fighter, Emiliano’s favourite scene was the fight on the boat towards the end of the film. It comes naturally to him, although he did sustain an injury battling against heavy machine guns with just his bare hands. He’s also a natural actor – after appearing in the pivotal barbecue scene, which was filmed at his own house, and some crowd scenes, he’s scheduled to appear in 33 scenes in The Cucaracha Club 2: The Route of All Evil, as well as having a major part in the final movie of the trilogy.
Over the next two years, he’s scheduled to appear in six films in total. At the age of 35, he’s looking at retiring from boxing soon and concentrating on his restaurant and real estate businesses and making movies.
So, why would Emiliano want to appear in a movie produced by British expats? Two reasons really.
I wanted to showcase Torrevieja, because the town has given me so much since I arrived here as an 18 year old. This was a chance to give something back, and to encourage collaboration between the expats and locals. This is a quality movie, and my Spanish friends are keen to see it.
Stevie is also set to play a meatier role in the sequel, so we’re set to see a lot more of these great ambassadors for Torrevieja on the big screen.
The Cucaracha Club is showing at Cines IMF in Torrevieja on Thursday May 18 at 17.00. Doors open at 16.30. Tickets available on the door or buy online at See Tickets.com, or these local venues:
Kennedy’s Supermarket, Los Montesinos
Venture Fleet, Los Montesinos
Centro Rural de Algorfa
The Card Place, Benimar
Express Internet, Torrevieja
The Bog Road, Cabo Roig Strip.
Image credit: Thanks to Emiliano Casal for his permission to use his photo.
The Cucaracha Club – a spy thriller filmed in and around Torrevieja on Spain’s Costa Blanca – is finally hitting the cinemas after being awarded a 12A certificate by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). The UK premiere is in Darlington on 15 May 2017, and the first cinema showing is in Torrevieja three days later on May 18. Distributors in America, England and Ireland are also showing interest based on the trailer alone, so this low budget, independent film is set to make a big impact.
The plot line is pretty standard – a gang of international crooks are kidnapping the children of ambassadors across Europe and demanding big ransoms for their return. However, when twins Georgina and Jordi are kidnapped and their nanny is murdered, there are the makings of an international incident – and not just because their father is an ambassador. Events of almost 20 years ago mean the CIA, MI6 and various other organisations and individuals are interested in how it all pans out. The Cucaracha Club isthe first in a trilogy of films, and while there is a stand alone plot line for each one, the audience will learn more about the events that led to the leading male and female characters – George Ramshaw and Elana Neumann – being in Torrevieja in the here and now. That means there are a few question marks for the audience, but it doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the film.
The action opens with a flash back to Havana, Cuba 19 years before, and a tragedy that affects everyone involved very deeply. Fast forward to the present day, and it’s immediately obvious that George (Billie Anthony Gaddess) and Smoggy (Clive R. Gray) still carry the scars. Now retired from the special services and doing their best to drink Torrevieja dry without a supporting cast, these not-so-special agents are recalled to active service, along with the new generation of spies and Careen (Julie Kay) who has swapped state secrets for the secrets of the bedroom in her new life as owner of a pole dancing club and brothel. George and Smoggy are members of The Cucaracha Club, a group of troubleshooting spies sent in to sort out tricky situations, and so-called because they are seemingly indestructable. Nobody knows about their existence, so if the operation goes pear-shaped, MI6 and the CIA can exercise ‘plausible deniability.’ The subtext is that they’re also expendable, and it soon becomes clear that MI6 big cheese Cameron Carrington (Tom Watt) would be quite happy to see George and Co. erased in the line of duty.
There is no glass ceiling in The Cucaracha Club – the lasses get as much of the action as the lads. You can’t imagine James Bond letting the girls take the lead, but it’s clear George sets great store by the abilities and judgement of Paddy (Caoimhe O’Shea) and Charly (Charlotte Howarth). For reasons that become clear during the action, he’s not so sure about Elana, despite their previous personal and professional partnership.
The initial kidnap operation is slick, professional and cinematically satisfying, thanks to director Rai Woods’s great eye for visuals, and one has to wonder how on earth George and Smoggy and their team can get the better of them. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that these disparate spies really are a club, and it’s teamwork and trust – and a little help from their friends – that wins through.
This spy thriller is different from most, because there are no special effects or gimmicky gadgets, and no bedroom olympics and bloodbaths. It’s an old fashioned film in the nicest way, because it tells the story through the cameras and the dialogue. You don’t feel like you’re watching the action through the window of a speeding train, you can hear what the actors are saying, and you can see what they are doing. There are hints of Hitchcock in the clean, crisp cinematography and the attention to detail in the framing of shots. The production crew make the most of the spectacular scenery around Torrevieja, particularly in the beach scenes, Elana’s ride in the Trans Am Firebird and the climax of the action at Torrevieja’s stunning marina and waterfront. That’s something you’re not likely to see in a James Bond film either. Eon Productions were refused permission to film some of Bond’s exploits in the marina, but Siesta Productions had no problems securing the location, with a Spanish Navy submarine thrown in for good measure.
That said, any film is only as good as the storyline and the cast, and here again The Cucaracha Club ticks the right boxes, which is surprising since only Billie, Tom Watt, Robbie
There’s a killer on the loose, and his actions will have impacts for many years
Gallagher (Assassin Harry Palmer Kilkoyne) and Dennis Baer (CIA Director Pard) are professional actors. Caoimhe O’Shea runs a bar – The Bog Road, which is featured in the film – Yvonne Haughton (Elana) owns a garage and Clive Gray is more at home behind a computer desk than in front of the cameras. You’d never know from their performances on screen though. Caoimhe is a natural as Paddy, with just the right combination of toughness and Irish humour to make her a credible yet decorative spy. Yvonne delivers a strong performance as Elana, and you almost – but not quite – feel sorry for the villain when she finally catches up with him. Yvonne actually came up with the final line of the film, and it doesn’t give anything away to repeat it here. Hoever, it’s better still when seen on screen. She holds a mirror out to check for breath, before using the same mirror to tidy her hair after the scuffle and deliver the immortal line:
That’s how I like my men. Just like my drinks – stiff and cold.
Some of the cast have appeared in amateur dramatic productions before, so they’re not complete novices, but it’s very different performing to camera, since the actors are supposed to be in natural situations rather than performing for an audience. Thigh slappers not required on set! One section that really highlights the calibre of acting comes early on, when George and Smoggy are drowning their sorrows ahead of being recalled to active service. It’s not easy being a convincing drunk when you’re drinking ginger ale rather than whisky at 10.00 am, so the scene can be in the can before the bar opens for real. However, watch Billie’s facial movements, and observe how Clive has to strive to enunciate the simple words ‘active service,’ and you’re witnessing film acting at its best. No shouting, posturing or twisted facial expressions, just crisp dialogue delivered in the best way to suit the mood of the scene. Most of the performances are good or even very good, verging on excellent. Even Robbie Gallagher’s non-speaking role as the assassin has a crisp, professional look about it, so it was good to learn when I interviewed him recently that he has a meatier role in The Cucaracha Club: The Route of All Evil.
There are occasions when the acting goes a little over the top, but that can happen in any film. Mark Lord’s ambassador relies rather too much on facial expressions, and occasionally Carrington’s PA – played by Karen Love – relies more on body language rather than dialogue to deliver her lines, losing the natural effect in the process, but these are minor criticisms really. The whole cast pull together to create a very watchable film, and for many of them it’s a first appearance in front of the cameras.
George and Smoggy – the not-so-special agents are about to deliver!
Another surprising thing about The Cucaracha Club is that it has original music, written by musician Peter Taylor, who lives in Los Montesinos, just a few minutes’ drive from Torrevieja. He wrote three songs, including the theme tune, after reading the screenplay, and it’s clear from his lyrics that he doesn’t see espionage – or expat life – as necessarily glamorous. In fact, he feels the main characters are sad and lost, and just as much in need of help as the kidnapped twins, who, by the way, are feisty and fearless, just like their mother. This is the abiding impression I got, and it’s what Billie, Clive and Rai intended to come across. That, more than anything, is what lifts this film out of the ‘run of the mill spy caper’ category. You can identify with the main characters, and you want them to succeed, and have a better, happier life once the cameras stop rolling.
The Cucaracha Club is not likely to win any major awards, but that’s not what the production crew set out to achieve. This is no cinematographic ego trip – the film was born out of a genuine desire to create a quality product that will touch a wide, international audience and showcase the talent and the quality of life that is available in and around Torrevieja for all to appreciate. Beautifully filmed, consumately acted, and exciting, moving and entertaining in equal measure, The Cucaracha Club is one of those films you’ll be glad you’ve seen, and will want to watch again, just in case you missed anything good the first time. I can’t wait for the next episode in the saga. And I’ve changed my mind. Not-so-special agents? The Cucaracha Club spies are very special indeed.
In my lovely life as Sandra in Spain I get to meet some great people – fellow writers, film directors, radio station owners, mediums, actors, singers. And of course, the occasional assassin. Well, strictly speaking, Irish actor and director Robbie Gallagher isn’t really an assassin, although that’s the part he plays in The Cucaracha Club. It’s a small but vital non-speaking role as Harry Palmer Kilcoyne – no prizes for catching the Michael Caine connection there. However, we’re set to see and hear more of Robbie in The Cucaracha Club 2: The Route of all Evil, as the back story to the exciting events in the first movie begins to unravel.
I caught up with Robbie Gallagher in Torrevieja recently while he was chilling out between acting gigs at his holiday home in Punta Prima. Rather fittingly for a character in a spy thriller, we met at Torrevieja’s iconic Casino. However, dinner jackets and chips were off the menu – here in Spain, casinos are more likely to be a place where you meet your friends for food and drinks, rather than somewhere to lose your life savings on the roulette wheel. So, not exactly glamorous, but I can’t think of anything better to do on a sunny afternoon than spend time with this fascinating, larger-than-life character who makes his living ending the lives of others. Many of his roles have included deadly weapons of some kind, maybe because he’s a big guy who can turn on mean and moody at the drop of a hat – or a corpse.
I was a bit concerned about life imitating art, and as it was way too hot for a bullet proof vest, I was relieved to be enveloped in a welcoming bear hug and literally swept of my feet, to the bemusement of the locals watching the world go by on the Casino’s sunny terrace. That set the scene for one of the most enjoyable and entertaining interviews I’ve ever conducted. Robbie was born in Chicago, Illinois, but came to Ireland with his mother following the sudden, early death of his father. It clearly affected him deeply – his father died on a golf course, and for 40 years, Robbie refused to play golf. Personally, I can’t say I blame him – it’s a good walk spoiled, but I digress.
Continuing the sporting connection, Robbie is a qualified rugby referee, and has officiated at international level, notably in the Benidorm 7s tournament. He’s also a soccer rreferee, and was the first crossover referee from rugby to soccer to officiate at a cup final.
Robbie first started acting in college, and spent more time doing drama than he spent at his tutorials, so it took him four years to complete his English degree instead of the usual three. A brief interlude teaching in America soon convinced him that the combination of puberty-driven kids and a young, inexperienced teacher could quickly turn lethal, so he quit. Even at that early stage, killing was on his mind. From teaching, Robbie progressed into a career in electronics – a shocking change of direction, for somebody who only really wanted to act! Disclaimer: that was Robbie’s pun, not mine. Please direct rotten tomatoes and boos and hisses in his direction.
Just ahead of a class reunion 10 years after leaving university, Robbie got an Engineering degree. Unfortunately, it wasn’t actually his – it belonged to sommeone else with the same name. Well, Robbie Gallagher is the Galway equivalent of John Smith in England – there are a lot of them about, so it wasn’t really his fault.
For most of his life, Robbie has been involved in amateur dramatics and has worked his way through the system, starting backstage working on props, lighting, dressing sets and other behind the scenes stuff before progressing to small roles onstage which gradually became more ‘meaty.’ These days, he’s just as likely to be directing stage productions as starring in them. He has directed more than 50 theatre shows, and played over 40 leading roles. Robbie loves stage work, although he’s currently taking a year off after his ‘bucket list’ role at Galway theatre An Taibhdhearc as burglar Sheldon Mowbray in the farce Noises Off. He wanted to direct it, but is happy with his performance, so it’s now off the bucket list.
From the Athenry Drama Group in Ireland to the Eclipse Theatre Company in Spain, Robbie has directed many high calibre, well received productions. Julie Kay, who was first given the chance to act on stage when she took her children along to an Eclipse Theatre Company audition, describes Robbie as:
A first class director who coaxes out the best in everyone he works with.
In fact, it was Julie who introduced Robbie to The Cucaracha Club production crew. Filming had already started, but they were still looking for someone suitably menacing to play the assassin. These days, Robbie doesn’t do non-speaking roles – he’s in demand as an actor, and doesn’t need an agent to find him work, as directors come looking for him to appear in their productions. However, he wanted to be involved in this great independent film initiative. His only question was, ‘Have you got a nice weapon for me, or should I bring my own?’ As he told me:
I was really impressed with what they’d achieved already, and I wanted to be part of it. And Billie envisaged my role expanding in The Cucaracha Club 2: The Route of All Evil, so I was happy to just shoot and go this time. And Rai Woods (the director) and Clive Gray (executive producer) were delighted that we got it in one take. Maybe we should advertise it as a Korean film – Tae Kwon Do!
Robbie just can’t help cracking jokes – even bad ones like this one – but when I managed to get him to be serious for a few moments, I learned a bit more about how Harry’s story is going to develop. He’s an Irish hit man who works as a double agent for MI5, so more secrets will unfold, and there’s going to be a shoot out in Torrevieja’s beautiful marina. Standard spy stuff then really, but knowing screenwriter Billie Anthony Gaddess, it’s not going to be straightforward, and there’ll be lots of surprises along the way.
Unlike most of the cast of The Cucaracha Club, Robbie does have considerable on screen experience, despite only being a full time actor and director for around 10 years. He appeared in the popular Gaelic soap Ros Na Run, and this resulted in offers for film roles. His first film role was in Watching and Waiting, known as the 72 Hour Film, because it was made in just 3 days and was well received at the Galway Film Festival. This was followed by Rapt in Eire, starring Robert Goodman.
Robbie has also done some off the wall stuff, which his mammy might have been a bit worried about. In a very unusual short film entitled The Usual, he played one of three gay Irish farmers in a bar. It won an award as best Irish short film. You might think that was a hard act to follow, but another short film – Cuddle – went viral and led to Robbie’s American connection. The story line revolves around a lonely guy who has a relationship with a blow up doll. And no, it’s not what you’re thinking, but it did impress Larry Enright of DeadAss Dawg Entertainment – so much so that Robbie is doing a lot of work with Larry for the foreseeable future. He’s filmed a documentary of Larry’s time with the UN forces in the Middle East, and is now working on a series for Netflix, having filmed a feature length pilot. It’s called Tricatus, and Robbie is an undercover detective. In case you’re wondering, yes, he gets to do some killing stuff again!
However, it’s not all death and destruction. As I mentioned earlier, Robbie has a great sense of humour, and he’s been featured in the hit comedy sitcom Benidorm. He had a small part, with a bit of dialogue in series 5. The people that mattered were suitably impressed, and offered him a three month contract in the show. However, just before shooting was scheduled to begin, he was sweeping up leaves on his patio in Punta Prima when he slipped and broke his leg. So the traditional actors’ good luck wish of ‘break a leg’ is not well received in the Gallagher household. It’s likely to be met with a two word response, the second word of which is ‘off,’ while the first word is off limits on a family friendly blog. Robbie did enjoy his brief flirtation with Benidorm though, and has happy, if somewhat vague, memories of getting drunk with Tim Healy, who plays cross dresser Les/Lesley. Apparently Tim has Irish roots buried somewhere under the Geordie. Sherrie Hewson (Hotel Manager Joyce Temple-Savage) was another drinking companion. Siobhan Finneran, who played Janice Garvey, also made a big impression. Robbie would love to act with her at some point.
All good things must come to an end, and before we left the Casino after an enjoyable Paella Valenciana, and more tinto verano than I should have had on a working lunch, I asked Robbie if he had an abiding memory of his brief but crucial time on The Cucaracha Club that he’d like to share. He had no hesitation on that score. Screen writer and male lead Billie Anthony Gaddess was – and still is – so passionate and enthusiastic about his project it can be a bit difficult to rein him in at times. On the day Robbie was on set, Billie was even worse than usual – he was on elastic. The usually unflappable Director Rai Woods was on the brink of flapping, despite Robbie’s efficient and effective performance, and Executive Producer Clive Gray was very close to committing murder himself. As Robbie came off set, Clive asked him if he’d enjoyed his stint, and Robbie answered in the affirmative. Clive replied, ‘It’s a pity you didn’t shoot Billie as an encore then!’
This throwaway comment perfectly sums up what Robbie Gallagher and The Cucaracha Club are all about, and explains why everyone concerned with the film has come up with such a quality product. It’s all about enjoying what you do, and being able to see the funny side of everything. You’re going to see a lot more of Robbie Gallagher and The Cucaracha Club, so fasten your seatbelts – it could be a very bumpy, but enjoyable ride.
Image credits: Robbie Gallagher, Siesta Productions Limited, Dead Ass Dawg Entertainment
Peter Taylor – the man behind the music of The Cucaracha Club
As regular readers will know, Torrevieja-made film The Cucaracha Club was filmed on a tight budget of just €23,000. So I was astounded to discover that local musician and songwriter Peter Taylor from Los Montesinos had written not just one but three original songs for the film. If you want to find another low budget film with mostly unknown actors that also had original music, you need to go back to MASH in 1970 I think, although I’m sure if I’m wrong someone will correct me!
Recently I caught up with Peter Taylor and Chloe Leigh, who sings the theme tune for the film. I’m not easily impressed, but I have to say I was blown away by the sheer enthusiasm for their music that these two share, and it underlined for me just how much talent we have locally, and how genereous people have been with their time to ensure that the first feature film ever made in Torrevieja was successfully completed.
I chatted with Chloe first, after her salsa class at Casa Ventura, and she explained how she came to be involved with the film. Screenwriter Billie Anthony Gaddess found her on Facebook, and thought she’d make a good actress for the film, as she was dressed in a burlesque-style costume in one of her photos. Assuming she was a model, he contacted her. As he didn’t actually know her at this point, he assured her her he was on the level and not some kind of pervert! Billie arranged to meet up at one of her local gigs. When he heard Chloe sing, he turned to his friend Peter – who had gone along for the ride – and said ‘You have got to write a song for this girl.’
A song of hope. Before I wrote a note, I read the script, and saw The Cucaracha Club as a place to share your troubles. This comes through in the lyrics and the music video. I didn’t want dark lyrics, because there is always hope.
This came across to me, both in the lyrics and the film. Although the title of the film refers to a group of indestructables in the intelligence service, the people in the film, while ostensibly living the expat dream, actually have nightmarish lives, and this paradox is captured beautifully in Peter’s song. That’s what Chloe took from the lyrics too. It’s so appropriate, I assumed he must be used to writing theme tunes, but no, this is his first film theme, although the title song for The Cucaracha Club 2: The Route of All Evil is already written.
Chloe is looking forward to giving It’s So Evil her own special treatment. It’s a rock song, which is more in her line, although being such a versatile singer, she makes everything
Local singer Chloe Leigh, who inspired Peter Taylor to write the theme song. She also acts in the film.
sound fabulous. Peter also wrote two more songs for The Cucaracha Club – Give it Wings, sung by Verity Jo Spencer Hall, and Don’t Block Out the Light, stunningly rendered by Stevie Spit. As yet there is no music video for this song, but watch this space!
Give it Wings plays as leading lady Elana Neumann drives her Pontiac Trans Am Firebird along the N332. It’s one of the most memorable moments of the film, watching the Firebird speed through the beautiful countryside, as Elana’s emotions fleet across her face. There is no speech, other than the lyrics overlaying the journey – lyrics about feeling all alone in the world, feeling there’s no love for you, but being assured real love is there, and the best way to find love is to give it. That’s when you realise that Elana’s problems are far more deep rooted and much less recent than the kidnapping of her children. Just like the not-so-special agents who belong to the Cucaracha Club, Elana’s beauty, wealth, stunning home and fast car are not enough to fill the void in her life. The song allows the viewer to learn so much more about Elana than anything she or anyone close to her can say. And like everything Peter writes, there’s hope in there.
Peter has written over 100 songs in his lifelong involvement with music, but he hadn’t written anything for around 12 years, until actor and fellow musician Zac Lloyd Rush introduced him to Billie and got him involved in The Cucaracha Club. In Peter’s own words, he’d ‘wandered away’ from making music as opposed to simply playing it, but to borrow a musical analogy, he’s back in the groove again. Since writing the original songs for the film, Peter has written over 20 new songs in the last three years, so you could say his involvement with the film has given Peter’s creativity wings again! It’s certainly got the creative juices flowing, because he’s also written a play with music, so we’re set to hear a lot more from Peter Taylor.
Peter Taylor in action with The Fabulous Replays
I asked Peter if he could pick out a defining memory or moment from his time working on The Cucaracha Club, and he had no hesitation. Peter was tuning up to play for a wrap party for an AdHoc Players production, which was also a fund raiser for The Cucaracha Club. Along with fellow members of The Fantastic Replays Zac and Simon Giddens, they did a run through of the theme tune of the film to check everything was okay. Billie stood there watching, and the emotion filled his face and trickled down his cheeks. It was all Peter could do to keep it together, at the time, and now, around two years on from that moment, it still resonates with both of them.
For Billie, it was the first time he’d actually stood and listened to the song all the way through, without being involved on set or in the studio. He had time to actually listen to the words of the song, and let the music flow through him. It was when he finally realised the magnitude of what he and all the talented people he’d brought together to work on the project had accomplished. The dream had come true, and despite the doubters and the setbacks along the way, The Cucaracha Club was finally real.
Music can do many things, and Peter Taylor can certainly make it sing and speak. If you are lucky enough to see The Cucaracha Club sometime soon, pay special attention to the music. It adds so many extra layers to the story line, and helps you to know what makes the characters tick. The Cucaracha Club is remarkable on so many levels.
Thanks to Billie Anthony Gaddess and Chloe Leigh for granting permission to use these photos.
If you’ve been paying attention to the posts about The Cucaracha Club – Torrevieja’s first full length feature film, using local locations, services and actors – you’ll get some idea of just how remarkable the whole project is. However, when you delve deeper into the back stories, you come to realise that the production team have achieved the impossible and worked miracles, often in the face of adversity and sheer bloody mindedness. Or at least, that’s what I came away with after chatting to director Rai Woods and Executive Producers Billie Anthony Gaddess and Clive Gray recently.
You’d think the hardest part would be getting the idea for the story line, then writing the script – especially if, like Billie, you’ve never written a screenplay before. He collaborated with Philip Routledge, after his first collaborator stole the script, took it to Madrid, and then tried to sell it back to Billie. Unfazed, he came up with a new plot line, and enlisted Philip’s help to put the story together, rather than pay to get his own work back. So, now there’s a script, all you have to do is hand it over to the production team to make it into a movie, right? Not exactly – this was what Billie tried to do in the first instance, and he even managed to persuade the team to work for free. However, just five weeks before shooting was due to start, the film crew pulled out with no real explanation, or, as Clive Gray so succinctly put it:
Our expertise just ebbed away.
For any sensible person, that would have been the end of that. Dream over. It’s not meant to happen. There was no budget for the film, and nobody experienced to put behind the cameras other than Rai Woods, who had worked with the best directors in the business, including John Schlesinger and Clive Donner during more than 30 years of broadcasting in the UK, but had never directed a full length feature film before. Billie had never been on the business end of a movie camera either, and Clive had an interest in photography, but no intention of progressing into the movies. Until with five weeks to go, there was no other option but to shoot the film themselves. Fortunately for the sake of the film – and everyone who is likely to enjoy it in the future – Billie, Clive and Rai do not fit into the ‘Sensible’ category!
The guys may not be sensible, but they are practical, and Clive registered Siesta Productions as a UK company in readiness for the filming. Why a a UK company? Because it can be done within an hour, and then you have the paperwork that is necessary to open doors and get permission for filming in various locations. The Spanish love of bureaucracy means that setting up a company can take weeks, or even months, and the production team had just 5 weeks, and the clock was ticking.
It took another two weeks to find the €23,000 they needed to get the equipment they needed for filming and pay for various vital services for the production, so by the time everything was in place, Clive had just a week to ‘play with the cameras’ before filming started. Oh, and most of the budget came from Billie and Clive, so this was a giant leap into the unknown. However, as Clive said:
The only choice we really had was to stump up and learn as we went along. That’s why all the shots were either simple or static.
That takes nothing away from the fantastic achievement of getting their first film shot within six months. Clive’s a bit of a statistician, and he reckons that it took 50 hours hours of screen footage to get 90 minutes in the can. As the average is 70 hours – even for an experienced production crew who aren’t learning as they go along and aren’t so restricted on budget – that’s pretty good going. Even something ostensibly simple like recording the title song can take a lot more work than the few minutes on screen would suggest. Chloe Leigh sung the song about 15 times, the shooting took around 10 hours, and it was a week later before the music video was edited and ready to roll.
But the biggest problem of all was keeping continuity flowing. The film was shot over 6 months, and in that time, things change. Although the weather is pretty reliable here on the Costa Blanca, hedges grow and get cut, hair grows and/or gets cut, people buy new curtains or paint their doors, and swimming pools are filled and emptied. It’s not something most people would think about, but you have to consider it all when you’re making a movie.
Clive remembers going back to Breakaways bar in Villamartin to shoot a follow on scene, and noticing that the tables were all in different places, yet the scene was supposed to take place on the same day. Tables can be a bit naughty and rearrange themselves when nobody’s looking, so Clive had to go back and look at the previous scene, then dress the set so it was identical. You can suspend belief and stretch credibility in the movies – but not to the extent that tables do a tango between scenes. Not only that, but the soup tureen and bottles and glasses had to be in the same place, and the posters in the windows had to be the same. In all, it took an hour to dress the set for just two minutes of movie time.
Rai emphasises just how demanding life on set could be for Clive – he was acting, he was also in charge of continuity, and he was working the cameras as well. Each of those is a pretty major job on its own, but Clive took it all in his stride – even though it often meant working from 7.00 am until 2.00 am, and then starting again after a few hours sleep. On a quiet day, he could get away with putting just 10 hours in, and he was still running three different businesses at the same time.
When Clive first agreed to work on The Cucaracha Club, he thought he’d be acting in 19 of the film’s 60 scenes. He ended up being there for every one, every day for six months, either acting, working on camera, or doing both! Reviewing the film footage from the September day when the crew shot the scenes on the Delfin submarine with the temperature at 40 degrees outside and 50 inside, Clive spotted himself, squeezed into the Captain’s bunk with his camera, filming Tom Watt and sweating not very prettily. As he said, it was all a case of learning as they went along. Time was tight too, because the filming was scheduled for the morning, and the Delfin was open to the public in the afternoon!
Billie faced different problems – mainly with the cast, and getting everyone in the right place at the right time for their scenes. The reason the cast was largely drawn from the Torrevieja area was because, as Clive emphasised:
The Cucaracha Club isn’t just a film made in Torrevieja, it’s a total Torrevieja production, using local people, places and services. It’s the first film entirely produced in the area – others have followed, but Siesta Productions led the way.
For Billie, it was an ideal opportunity for local actors to have their talent recognised and used in other productions in the area, such as the hit sitcom Benidorm. At the moment, the only way local actors get a shout is if they carry a tray or lounge by the pool, as the production company tends to bring in big names for the speaking parts. In The Cucaracha Club, the local talent certainly showed what they could do, but not everyone took the opportunity as seriously as they should have. Acting in a film is very different to appearing on stage, and some of the actors had to be discouraged from thigh-slapping and the sort of stuff that is okay in a pantomime but not appropriate in a spy thriller.
Then there were the ones who ‘Had to be away by 12,’ or had some other reason that often meant re-shooting scenes with different actors. That’s not going to be a problem in The Cucaracha Club 2: The Route of all Evil – anyone who wants to appear will have to commit to being on set when they are needed. It’s just one of the many things the guys have learned along the way. Now the film is in the can and ready for release, Siesta Productions and Billie, Rai and Clive are earning respect and gaining credence as film makers.
To round off the interview, I asked what was the most remarkable thing that happened during production. In a story that’s full of surprises and superlatives, the answer was another shocker. When Eon Productions – who make the James Bond films – asked for permission to film in Real Club Nautico Torrevieja’s marina, they were refused. However, RCNT had no problem in granting pretty much unlimited access to all areas to Siesta Productions. Why was that? Nobody associated with the film is certain, so it’s just speculation, but maybe they wanted to help the new kids on the block because they admired their determination, or maybe it was because the film proudly promotes Torrevieja. Big companies have a habit of shooting in cheaper locations and passing them off as somewhere more glamorous, so Torrevieja might well have become an anonymous marina in the Seychelles or the Caribbean. Whatever the reason, Cubby Broccoli is probably spinning in his grave to think that George Ramshaw (Billie’s character) got to shoot his way out of Torrevieja Marina while James Bond was turned away!
The Cucaracha Club has now been granted a 12A certificate by the British Board of Film Classification. It’s scheduled for showing in Torrevieja early in 2017, and negotiations are in progress to arrange the British Premiere before the film goes on general release.
Photo credits: Clive Gray’s collection, on set filming The Cucaracha Club
Back in 1985, Tom Watt breathed life into George ‘Lofty’ Holloway, the amiable barman at the Queen Vic in EastEnders. Lofty had to leave the Army because of his asthma, but Tom was – and still is – pretty much obsessed with football. He played in matches for Walford Boys Club, the EastEnders’ charity football team, and became friends with Billie Anthony Gaddess, a fellow actor and now screenwriter and producer of The Cucaracha Club. Tom wasimpressed with the events Billie organised for the club, and when Billie confided his dream of writing a feature length spy thriller, Tom offered to appear in it and help in any way he could.
I loved the idea of the set up – it had a real community feel to it,’ Tom told me when we caught up recently. ‘I’ve worked on small independent British films in the past, but they were very different to this project. It brought people together and took them out of their comfort zone, so collectively they produced something that achieved much more than they could have done individually.
Coming from someone who has appeared in a Hollywood blockbuster – Tom played the Electrician in Patriot Games and was one of the few characters who didn’t get shot – that’s praise indeed.
These days, Tom doesn’t do a great deal of acting. He makes documentaries for BT Sport Films, and concentrates on producing, writing, presenting and consultancy work, as well as appearing in the occasional play. It’s a measure of his friendship with Billie and the attraction of The Cucaracha Club concept that he agreed to play one of the pivotal characters.
Cameron Carrington is just what you’d expect in a spymaster – ruthless, married to the job, and taking no excuses. When he tells Billie’s character George he wants his team of sangria-soaked former spies to come out of their drunken, empty retirement to rescue the ambassador’s kidnapped children, he brushes aside George’s protests with the line, ‘Nobody retires from the Service until they die.’ That just about sums up Carrington, but you get the feeling that, although he’s in a position of power, his life is just as cheerless as theirs. Tom seemed pleased I picked up on that one.
‘I see Carrington as a lonely man, and that’s how I intended him to come across.’ Director Rai Woods also visualised the spymaster as unfulfilled, and brought that out in his direction. It’s Rai’s first full length feature film, and I wondered how Tom viewed the production team, having appeared in a popular soap and a Hollywood movie. He was pretty emphatic on that one.
There was a great community feel about the whole project, and a fantastic atmosphere. Everyone was so enthusiastic, and I respond very well to that. You have to have faith in what you’re doing, and all the different people who came together to make The Cucaracha Club had plenty of that.
Tom, like the rest of the cast, delivers a fine performance, but it wasn’t all plain sailing, especially when they were filming in the Delfin submarine. It was September, and it was 40 degrees, so effectively, they were acting in a tin box. On this particular day, the performances were defined by trying not to sweat! It’s not exactly something ruthless spymasters are known for, is it?
The Cucaracha Club is a very good film – it isn’t likely to win any Oscar nominations, but it has an engaging plot line that doesn’t try to be too clever, the acting is good, the cinematography tells the story without getting wrapped up in special effects, and it looks good on screen. The Cucaracha Club 2 is already written and waiting to go into production, and the team are identifying areas where improvements can be made. I asked Tom for a professional actor’s perspective on this – how did he think the next film could be improved?
Well, everywhere you look there’s room for improvement – in the writing, the acting, the shooting, the lighting. I don’t mean that in a negative way, because a major part of wanting to do another film in a series is wanting to do it better. The fact that the first one got made at all is something really special, and of course we all want to improve on what we’ve already achieved.
Tom is justifiably proud of his part in the making of The Cucaracha Club, and is looking forward to being involved in the continuation of this remarkable project. Lovable Lofty has effortlessly become Caustic, Conniving Cameron Carrington, and we haven’t seen the last of him, or the rest of The Cucaracha Club team. Watch this space!
Picture credits: Billie Anthony Gaddess, Keith Nicol and Siesta Productions Ltd.
The first thing that strikes you about The Cucaracha Club is the stunning locations, beautiful houses and flash cars. Given that a submarine and jet skis feature in the film too, along with well dressed, beautiful women, you’d think this was a high budget spy thriller, because the cinematography is so good, they must have lined up a top class production team.
Well, you’d be wrong in that assumption. Director Rai Woods and producers Billie Anthony Gaddess and Clive Gray had never produced a feature film before, and most of the film’s €23,000 budget went on camera equipment. Yes, you read that right – a classy spy thriller with great locations and all the rest of it is in the can for just €23,000. Everyone gave their services free for the love of making Torrevieja’s first full length feature film, and the high end props which every self-respecting spy thriller needs were generously loaned by their owners, again with no reward other than seeing their prized possessions on the big screen.
There are three stunning cars in the film – a 1981 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, and two Ford Mustangs which are slightly newer than the Trans Am, being registered in 2005 and 2006. All three cars are owned by the Haughtons of Venture Fleet garage, Los Montesinos. David and Yvonne – who stars in The Cucaracha Club as Elana Neumann – own the Trans Am and the black 2005 Mustang, while David’s father, David Senior is the proud owner of the red Mustang.
The value of the three cars is around €75,000. For the mathematically challenged, that’s more than three times the entire production budget of The Cucaracha Club! So, why did the two Davids and Yvonne entrust their valuable ‘children’ to the makers of the movie? Well, it’s a family thing really. The Haughtons know Rai, Billie and Clive through the Adhoc Players and Siesta Productions, and Yvonne – a consummate actress with great comedy timing – has starred in several productions. The connection goes back some years to when Yvonne was working in a bank and Billie – one of the bank’s customers – told her she’d be perfect to play Helga in Adhoc’s production of ‘Allo, ‘Allo.
David and Yvonne have owned the Trans Am for around 4 years now. It was a dream car for David, who has been in love with the car since seeing Smokey and the Bandit 2 back when he was a boy in the 80s. That was a black Trans Am, and theirs is a white one. Once they acquired it, David said ‘Just call me Burt Reynolds from now on,’ but his joy was short lived. Within an hour of acquiring his dream car, the nightmare began when the cylinder head cracked! Burt Reynolds never had that trouble, but then that wasn’t real life. The Trans Am had to be pretty much rebuilt from scratch before it was roadworthy and ready for its film debut.
David worked around the clock to get the car ready for filming, often working on it until well gone midnight after a busy day at Venture Fleet. It was actually complete just hours before it was due outside the villa for its first scene. When he first saw the car on screen, in the iconic scene where Elana drives towards Guardamar de Segura against a stunning backdrop, with Verity Jo Spencer Hall’s Give it Wingsplaying in the background, he burst into tears. It was such a highly charged experience, after sinking his soul into restoring the car. The fact that the song was especially written for the scene by Peter Taylor of Los Montesinos only added to the emotion of the moment. Not many cars can claim to having a song written for them, but David and Yvonne’s Trans Am can!
Because David is such a big fan of the Smokey and the Bandit films, he decided to call the car Bandit, after his hero Burt Reynolds. Recently someone who’d been at the March 2016 world premiere of The Cucaracha Club recognised the Trans Am at a classic car show, so this particular car really is a star! The Burt Reynolds connection doesn’t end there though, because David and Yvonne’s Rottweiler is also called Bandit, after the car and the films.
Like many husbands, David jokes about Yvonne’s driving. When I asked how many miles per gallon the Trans Am managed on its V8 engine, he replied, ‘The way Yvonne drives, around 5 mpg!’ However, unlike many husbands, Yvonne has the perfect comeback. ‘Well, if your kids had been kidnapped like Elana’s you’d give it full throttle too!’
So, although it was troublesome when they first acquired it, the Trans Am behaved perfectly on camera. The same cannot be said for the black Mustang, however. Like most valuable cars, it’s fitted with an immobiliser. However, this one isn’t as straightforward as most. When Yvonne tried to drive it to the location for a shoot, she couldn’t get it going, because there’s a knack to it, which only David seems to know.
It’s almost a ritual, sort of hop 3 times, jump to the left, salute the sun and away you go. It would never make a getaway car!
The Haughtons have invested a lot of themselves in The Cucaracha Club. Yvonne is the leading lady, and David supplied and looked after the cars. Would they do it again? Oh yes! The Cucaracha Club 2 is already in pre production planning, with shooting scheduled to start in October 2017. And Yvonne – and the star cars – will again take leading roles.
I love being Sandra in Spain – especially when I get involved in fantastic projects like publicising The Cucaracha Club. That’s the film which – putting it bluntly, just to emphasise the magnitude of the undertaking – was made on a tiny budget by a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs who’d never written, acted in, produced or directed a full length feature film before. The film notches up a lot of firsts. It’s the first screenplay Billie Anthony Gaddess has ever tackled, it’s the first film made entirely in Torrevieja and the surrounding area, using local businesses, houses, cars, boats, submarines and planes, and it’s the first full length feature film Rai Woods has ever directed.
Rai’s a good friend who’s enjoyed a long and varied career in broadcasting, and although he’s worked with John Schlessinger on Far From the Madding Crowd and Clive Donner on Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush, as well as working on the early Avengers series with Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman, this was new territory.
I’ve directed documentaries and short films, but on the big movies I worked on, I was third assistant director in charge of making the tea and crowd control basically, so I’ve never directed a full length feature before.
Rai didn’t intend or expect to direct The Cucaracha Club either, but the production and editing crew from England had to pull out of the venture at short notice. As the only member of the crew with solid directing experience – despite his self-deprecating ‘tea boy and crowd control’ remark – he was the obvious candidate for the director’s chair.
With engineering experience to go with his broadcasting credentials, Rai was also able to come up with a unique way to communicate Spymaster Tom Watt’s ruthless character without a word of dialogue. When Tom – best known to British viewers as Lofty from Eastenders -first appears on screen, he swats an enormous fly with a file marked ‘Top Secret.’ So what,’ you might say? Well, knowing flies can be a bit unpredictable when the cameras are rolling, Rai made the fly himself, and very realistic it was too. It made for a chilling moment on screen, without the aid of computer generated effects, and that’s what’s great about this film – it may be a first on many levels, but it has quality and style. Like the best spy thrillers with big budgets, it looks good on screen, which is what Rai was aiming for all along.
I asked Rai what was the most difficult part of the directing experience, and apparently it was curbing the enthusiasm of the actors, so that the production came across as polished and professional, despite the largely amateur cast. The jet skis which were used in the kidnapping and ransom scenes caused particular problems. One kidnapper landed up in the water, because at heart he was a boy with a toy rather than a baddie with attitude. And when another kidnapper rocked up to refuel his jet ski wearing his skeleton mask and toting a replica gun, there was almost a terrorist alert at the Marina.
Cubby Broccoli never had this trouble on the James Bond films, but then he wasn’t trying to make a movie on a budget of just €23,000. And when Rai did an Alfred Hitchcock-style cameo in his own film as the submarine captain, he had to show Billie and co-producer Clive Gray how to work the camera so he could strut his stuff on deck. It’s amazing what skills you can uncover when you need to. There are other Hitchcock echoes in the film – the clean, crisp, classic cinematography for example. Rai rarely places his characters in the centre of the shot. They’ll be framed to one side, often with a stunning backdrop for company. It makes a welcome change from many modern movies where you feel as if you’re watching the action through the window of a speeding express train.
The film’s budget allowed no margin for costly special effects, but even if it had, it’s not Rai’s directing style.
I wanted the actors and the locations to tell the story, and you can lose that directness under trendy special effects. The Cucaracha Club won’t win any Oscars, but it is a good film with a good story line, and we’ve achieved something marvellous with nothing very much, other than a collective determination to make a movie worth watching that showcases Torrevieja and its rich seam of local talent.
Having seen The Cucaracha Club myself, I can confirm that Rai, Billie, Clive and the rest of the cast and crew have done exactly that. The art of directing, according to Rai Woods, can be summed up as:
Making the unbelievable believable by staying true to the script and visualising the end product. I try to achieve the impossible now, but miracles can take a little longer.’ It took around a year to get The Cucaracha Club in the can, and it really is a movie miracle
The world premier was in March 2016 in Torrevieja, and the UK premier is on Monday, May 15 at the Darlington Arts Festival in Billie’s native North East. The film has been awarded a 12A certificate by the British Board of Film Cassification, and the production team are now looking for distributors so the film can reach audiences around the world and raise money to film two planned sequels. It will receive its first public showing in Torrevieja in mid May. Check with Siesta Productions Ltd for the latest information on showings near you. If you get a chance to see The Cucaracha Club, take it – and marvel at the dedication and talent that has brought Torrevieja’s first full length feature film to the silver screen.