The Call Up: Birmingham-Filmed Movie Explores Extreme Virtual Reality Gaming


An upcoming feature film currently shooting in central Birmingham, The Call Up explores what happens when virtual reality gaming goes too far. A group of online gamers are initially excited to trial a brand new, state-of-the-art, shoot ’em up game, designed to realistically recreate the feeling of being a soldier in combat. As the game progresses, however, the boundaries between fantasy and reality begin to dissolve, and the players slowly realise that this time, their fight for survival is for real.

Taking to the stage at the MCM Birmingham Comic Con to discuss the movie were producer John Giwa-Amu and nine members of the cast, Tom Benedict Knight, Max Deacon, Morfydd Clark, Douggie McMeekin, Ali Cook, Boris Ler, Adriana Randall, Parker Sawyers and Chris Obi, making for one of MCM’s biggest convention panels.

To start things off, a short clip of the film was screened, showing the actors getting into their specially designed suits ready to start playing the game. Sleek, white, cold and clinical-looking, part of one of the suits had been placed in front of the stage to give the audience a sense of what the costumes look like close up. As John Giwa-Amu (The Machine, The Silent Storm, Little White Lies) later explained, each of the suits was individually made to fit the bodies of the actors wearing them, making them rather tricky to get in and out of. Nevertheless, according to the actors, the claustrophobic feelings inspired by being inside these costumes proved useful in helping them get into character.

“It gives you some distance and freedom to really become your character,” said Dougie McMeekin, an emerging actor who plays a young, very experienced gamer called Adam.  “You feel the whole futuristic, clinical, robotic mess of it.”

“The first time I put my suit on I had a panic attack,” said Adriana Randall, also making her first feature film appearance in The Call Up. “You can’t see very well in them and it makes you feel very fragile and vulnerable.” Randall described her character as someone who starts out as a “very weak, innocent scaredy cat” but who grows stronger as she struggles through the ordeals the game presents her with.

“In a way, it’s good to be uncomfortable because it makes you want to nail your scene and get out of the suit as soon as possible!” laughed Parker Sawyers (Monsters: Dark Continent, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), who plays a soldier called Andre.

“We were quite lucky because the first scene we did in the suits was also the first scene where our characters wear them,” said Morfydd Clark (Madame Bovary, The Falling), explaining that this had helped them to give very authentic performances. Clark’s character is Shelly, whom she describes as a “very tough”, no-nonsense type.


“I think everyone’s journey in this film is that they put on the suits and immediately think, ‘We look awesome!’ But then they very quickly become a kind of prison,” added Max Deacon (Into the Storm, Summer in February), who plays central character Carl.

“What’s interesting is that we all start out looking very different, but as soon as we put on the suits, we become more or less the same,” said Tom Benedict Knight (Kick-Ass 2, Dracula Untold) , who plays Marco, “one of the bad guys” who apparently comes into conflict with fellow gamer Andre a lot.

Written by Charles Barker, the script for the movie topped the 2011 Brit List, a record of some of the UK’s most sought-after screenplays. Barker is now directing the film with the support of a team of producers which includes Matthew James Wilkinson and Isabelle Georgeaux as well as John Giwa-Amu.

“It’s a really unique concept,” said Giwa-Amu. “It’s funny, because it seems so familiar, like something you must have seen done before, but you haven’t. There hasn’t been anything else like it.”

“It’s a real ensemble piece,” said Clark. “It’s great to be a part of something with so many interesting characters. There are eight gamers all together.”

“It’s a film for modern times,” Deacon went on. “It seems like we’re not very far off having this kind of technology, with things like Oculus Rift, though obviously that doesn’t kill you yet. It’s great to do a film with this slightly surreal, sci-fi/horror angle that doesn’t seem too far-fetched.”

“I think the technology is about five years away, ambitiously,” said Ali Cook (The Anomaly, Get Lucky), who plays Edward, a very wealthy lawyer whom Cook describes as both “a bit of a suit” and an “obsessive control freak”. This prompted a joke from host Stuart Claw that Barker may already be working on developing the game himself. “Yeah, the film might be a kind of promo for Charles to actually make it,” Cook laughed.

Asked whether any of them had been interested in video games before getting involved with the film, only Boris Ler (In the Land of Blood and Honey) confessed to being much of a gamer. Ler plays a lonely, isolated immigrant from Sarajevo, living in England and using video games to escape from his difficult reality.

“I haven’t really played video games since Nintendo back in the 90s,” said Sawyers. “But I did do some research into how seriously the real gamers take it.”


“It was the best research I’ve ever done!” said Deacon, laughing.

“My character doesn’t really play video games, so luckily it didn’t matter too much for me,” said Randall.

Asked why the team had chosen to film in Birmingham, Giwa-Amu described it as a “natural choice”.

“There’s a great support network here,” he explained. “It’s the second largest city in the country, so it has everything we need, and it’s a lot cheaper than London! It’s an amazingly diverse city and there are some brilliant locations here.”

Similarly enthusiastic about the city, the cast also talked about their favourite things about being in Birmingham.

“The Christmas market is great!” said Clark.

Randall, meanwhile, said she was enjoying the experience of being at comic con.

“The local crew have been really good to work with,” said Deacon.

“It’s been very helpful to have all the cast staying in one place together,” said Ler, explaining that they are all set up in a local hotel.

The conversation came to a close with a second sneak preview, showing more exciting footage from the film.

Giwa-Amu predicts that The Call Up will be ready for release towards the end of 2015. To stay updated, you can follow @TheCallUpMovie on Twitter or check out Red and Black Films on Facebook.


Photographs by Caitlin Jenkins.

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