Up There: Finding laughs in limbo

Burn Gorman in Up There Deadpan British comedy Up There started life as a YouTube sketch

It can be tough adjusting to your own death. That is the premise of a new British film called Up There, which sees the dead living among us, tied up in bureaucracy as they wait to be transferred 'up there'.

Torchwood's Burn Gorman plays the long-dead Martin - tasked with guiding the recently-deceased to their local 'Moving On' centre, complete with regular progress checks and seemingly endless group counselling sessions.

But when Martin's new partner frightens his very first client into running away, the pair are forced to travel cross-country to track him down.

The film, set in anonymous Glasgow alleyways and a sleepy Scottish coastal town, makes the afterlife seem as mundane as what comes before. And that's what attracted Gorman to the project.

"[Martin] doesn't deal with his issues in the film, or his emotional incontinence... he's just getting on with death, just like he did in life, like most of us.

Start Quote

If the living struggle to come to terms with loved ones being deceased, then how do the deceased come to terms with it in the afterlife?”

End Quote Zam Salim Director, Up There

"We know what we should do, or what we could do, but we more or less procrastinate and just bumble on, don't we?"

Director Zam Salim said the story was inspired by "the experience of being unemployed, and wandering around town for a bit - I thought that was quite amusing".

"But also, it's about how you cope with loss. I thought it was quite funny to think, 'well if the living struggle to come to terms with loved ones being deceased, then how do the deceased come to terms with it in the afterlife?'"

Like many films that deal with life after death - Beetlejuice, Heaven Can Wait, and Defending Your Life - Up There draws comedy from the plight of the newly-deceased.

These ghosts cannot walk through walls. They cannot even open doors, forced instead to wait until a member of the living lets them through.

Meanwhile, Martin's partner Rash (Aymen Hamdouchi), when he's not bragging about his death in a televised car chase, spends much of his time thinking of ways to spy on the living having sex.

"But after you've done that a few times, after you've been a bit of a peeping Tom, then what you do?" asks Gorman.

"You look around the shops! At things that you could've bought, but you didn't buy.

"Or perhaps you become interested in some mundane hobby. It's just the unremarkable nature of their existence, just faffing around."

Money matters

Up There started life as a 10-minute YouTube short, made in conjunction with the Glasgow Film Office.

It has taken six years to turn it into a full-length, big screen movie. After securing funding from Creative Scotland and the BFI, "it all seemed to go quickly," says Salim.

"That was until we got to the bit where we had to secure that last 10%, which felt endless. An experience a lot of independent films have, I'm told."

In the run-up to its release, Up There has received Scottish Bafta nominations, as well as awards from the Santa Barbara and Rhode Island Film Festivals.

Producer Annalise Davis hopes the attention will help pique audiences' interest.

"If you're a smaller, more independent film... it's really crucial for two reasons," she says.

"Firstly for getting the word out about the film, but also that stamp of approval that this is a good quality film, and that people aren't going to regret putting their money down. And it feels nice as well!"

The producers have also been busy on social media, allowing audiences to vote for the location of the film's premiere - held recently in Borehamwood - while also distributing a series of 'How To Be Dead' clips on YouTube.

Davis thinks this is how independent films will be forced to survive in the future.

Burn Gorman and Aymen Hamdouchi in Up There The film sees long-dead Martin and his partner Rash look after the recently deceased

"Film is going to become ever more on-demand, and audiences are going to want to demand where and when they see it.

"It's exciting for us that we are the first film to fully commit to that."

For Gorman, the low-budget independent is in stark contrast to his appearance in Hollywood superhero blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises.

But he says the process of film-making was the same, no matter how many Batmobiles were on set.

"Christopher [Nolan, Batman director] has a very focused, calm, disciplined way of working," he says.

"You turn up on set - these immense sets with thousands of extras - and he's still very quiet and focused and very much into the performance.

"On something like Up There, Zam was again, quiet, focused, disciplined.

"He knew what he wanted but would say 'okay, this is my idea, why don't we do one [take] how I'd do it, and then why don't we just go for it?'

"So on both projects, the wonderful similar thing was that it did feel collaborative."

Next year sees Gorman appearing alongside giant robots in Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim.

"I've had a great, great couple of years," he admits.

The actor insists he'll continue to juggle his A-list appointments with smaller fare - reckoning that all film-makers face the same challenges.

"I've become aware of the frustrations of trying to get something made - anywhere, not just in Britain," he says.

"But things are changing. Things seem to be more accessible in terms of the hardware you need to make films, and the post-production.

"It's an exciting time."

Up There is in cinemas now.

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