October 4th 2015






The chance to speak with Russell North, a film maker from Milton Keynes about his intriguing latest movie Zip-Code, allowed me to break away from my regular interviewing duties with former cast members of Dream Team. I’d followed Russ’ journey through Twitter from the early fundraising attempts for Zip-Code to the film being completed. The story of how the film came about could well be a movie plot in itself.


Zip-Code tells the story of four members of the same family, and features their various friends as each member of the family goes through an eventful, and seemingly separate day, which then turns out to be unexpectedly linked.


Russell’s previous films are New City Fighter (2011) and Accidental Hero (2014).


Zip-Code was released publicly on June 14 and then on DVD on August 18.



Starting on the business side of things, you're the owner of Shotgun Productions UK Ltd, and also the chairman and director of Jelly Fish Productions Ltd. Those sound like such impressive titles you've got going on there?


Basically if we ever do get any funding for any film or project we do, we had to have a company to go to this or that person with. Shotgun was set up because of the films. Jelly Fish is something set up because, having a bit of knowledge about making films and things, we can do commercial as well. We've done a lot of work for Coca-Cola, Nandos, that sort of thing, and training videos. Any form of videos to work on I just find fascinating.


In terms of the films you've done previously, New City Fighter and then Accidental Hero, would you count your latest Zip-Code as movie no. 3?


Yes. But before that I did a film called Suited and Booted, which was basically how I got into making films. As soon as I started the passion was just there and I loved it. Technically Zip-Code is my fourth but the plan is to redo Suited and Booted again as more of a feature film than just a short. And I've got two more scripts that I wrote which are ready to go as well which we're quite excited about, but it's kind of a hard business to crack into so we'll see how it goes. Fingers crossed.


With Zip-Code's beginnings, did you have the ambition to go down the comedy route, as Zip-Code's tone is different to that of New City Fighter, though NCF did have its humorous moments?


New City Fighter is a bit more 'gangster', a bit more serious, so me personally, Zip-Code is a bit more my attitude. I'm always up for having a laugh, having a giggle. I spend 90% of my day just laughing. So it was natural for me to go down the comedy route. It was something I'd wanted to do for a while, because we did a little comedy sketch that we put on Shotgun's page on YouTube which was like a Batman spoof. It was the first thing we did that was any form of comedy. We just had such a laugh doing it that I knew to go further with a feature film would be so fun.


And with your projects, you just have to look at your credits to see the extent of your involvement in each. You've done directing, writing, producing, editing, even getting in front of the camera to act?


Yeah it's probably not the best way to do it, but I know it will get done if I'm doing it, if you know what I mean. I pretty much do everything on my projects but would prefer to just direct. I'm all self-taught as well. Sometimes I've had to make it up as I go or sometimes I've got people around me who can show me what to do, and then I take it away and try and do it myself. So sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but if you don't try you don't know do you really? I try and make a cameo when I can, I don't like to but I try and can do it when forced!


How about the inspiration for the story in Zip-Code, I understand it came about from watching an episode of The Simpsons?


It did yeah. There's an episode of The Simpsons called "Trilogy of Error" where Homer gets his thumb cut off by Marge. And Lisa has the little robot that corrected everybody's speech. It was just so clever the way the stories all intertwined with each other. My mind was just buzzing with this idea of what I could do. Like I always do, I went into work and my pal who always comes up with ideas with me, Chris [Frank] we just spent the afternoon bouncing ideas off each other and laughing. And the idea for Zip-Code came about.


Left: Russ and Chris Frank work on an outdoor filming scene.  Right: Russ with Aiden Morgan (Turdy) holding the boys’ “special” ladder!


The funding attempted for Zip-Code on Kickstarter, which is a big part of the film's history, you were looking for £20,000 in 21 days. Admirably, you still went ahead with the project with no money. Was that time period long enough or would you have liked more time?


The funding we were after was to basically get camera guys, sound guys, someone to do the lighting. I think it would have changed the project really and that's what it would have gone on. But after that it would have been used to distribute [Zip-Code] and promote it a little bit better than the way we've done it. The time limit, from memory I think you could only do it for 30 days to be honest. You might get a month and a half but it's not an on-going thing. It was probably a bit ambitious but again if you don't try you don't know. We still had this great idea and the cast ready to go and excited, so the natural thing to do was to do it with no money. It was a great experience. It was a lot of work for me personally, and took about 90% of my actual life [laughs]. I'm not sure if I'll make anything that big again without the funding and help but may do smaller projects just to keep in the loop.


With Zip-Code's casting process, you already knew Chris as you've just mentioned, and he's another writer/producer but also gets himself on-screen as an unfortunate tramp being mowed down?


Yes Chris helps me write the scripts and comes up with ideas with me. He doesn't like being in front of the cameras but he's brilliant, very funny. So I try and get him in as much as I can. Chris seems to fit a lot of the characters we come up with! On the same subject, I play the driver who runs Turdy (Aiden Morgan) over before running off. There is another story in that the stills which pop up when Garry (Ronnie) has a flashback to his night out, I'm one of the people in there on the same night out. So what we came up with was I could've been driving and hung over from that when I hit him, so that's why I run off!


And Chris is one of the many stars of Zip-Code that has worked on your other projects too?


Yes. Garry [Bedford] who plays Ronnie the dad in Zip-Code, he was in Accidental Hero and New City Fighter. An actor called Mike Mitchell was in Accidental Hero and he told me about his step-daughter, Corina [Hobbs], who had done some acting. She played India the daughter in Zip-Code and stood out for me as someone who could really go far, she has something about her. Anthony [Harris, plays Taylor the van driver] was also in Accidental Hero and seems to have a bit of a passion for acting. I wanted his character to be a bit bigger because the story for Zip-Code was a lot longer but we had to cut it short [see below].


Emi-Lu Harris, as Pinky in Zip-Code is another from New City Fighter. She blew me away because she was very natural and did everything we wanted her to do really. We ended up using her more than she was supposed to be in New City Fighter and extended her character. So when I was looking for people to play her character in Zip-Code she messaged me and asked "Is there a role for me in this film" and I said actually yeah there is!


And then we had Claire Parish, she plays the mom [Lucy]. I'd actually worked with Claire on a reel for a competition in a 40 second horror film. And I was going through Facebook and a picture of her popped up. She just ticked all of the boxes to play this part, and I knew she was comfortable in front of the camera. She was so professional and willing to go the extra mile.


Coming to the casting of the son, Marshall, it sounded like this was a controversial one due to the role's requirements?


It was. One of the things I thought I may struggle with was because we wanted him to be 15/16, and trying to get a 15/16 year old to do what we ask them to do in the film might have been difficult. Like something I'd spotted on the likes of The InBetweeners, obviously the actors are a lot older than the characters actually are. But by coincidence one of my pals at work said one of his friends' son's was at college doing acting, I said he'll do though he might have to have a shave! Ryan [Hairsine, playing Marshall] the son is a proper dude who looks the part and could do well. He said "If there's another role one of my best mates wants to be in a film as well", and I did need someone to play the character's best mate [Aiden Morgan playing Turdy]. It was the natural thing to do as they were best mates anyway.


And the unexpected cut in filming (as mentioned above) meant the role of Officer Pinder (played by Jemma Large) was extended?


It was almost a last minute change and she filled in a gap. There was supposed to be a separate detective filming the interrogation scene. Another guy couldn't make it, I gave it a shot but didn't fit the role [laughs] and Jemma was there anyway, so we kind of threw it at her which was a bit naughty! But she did a good job really.


Russ pictured with the cast of Zip-Code. Left: Aiden, Russ, Ryan, Corina, Garry, Claire.  Right: Aiden, Ryan, Russ, Garry, Claire, Corina


You touched upon before the running time of the film, and how it was shorter than expected and came in at just over half hour. How long were you expecting it to be originally?


Originally we wanted it to be about 70 minutes. That's when it becomes a feature film and anything under it becomes a grey area really. When I wrote it there was a whole different story to do with police and a package. That's why when you watch it at the beginning this package gets delivered for next door, and this whole other story on this package sort of made the story a bit bigger. Because of the way the story is, it's filmed on the same day and outside, and obviously being in England and the weather we have, it's kind of useless if you get a sunny day on a grey day. Last particular summer when we filmed we had a lot of grey days so we had to cancel a lot of days of filming.


Which brings us to our next question regarding your use of Green Screen in the film?


So because we'd lost the summer, there was still two major scenes that we needed to shoot and without the scenes the story didn't make sense. I knew we could probably lose the story with the package but I still needed to get these two scenes nailed. Without them all the hard work of filming and pre-production would be wasted, so the idea was to use Green Screen. I'd never really done it before, I had toyed with it but never to the extent I did with this film, so I didn't know if it would work too much and to an extent it probably didn't. But to another extent it did because without it we couldn't do the story. I wish we'd just had the sunny day so we could've just filmed it but we didn't!


We'll come to the music used in the film. You used a band called Leftover, who are local to you?


Yes. Again Facebook comes to the rescue with that one. One of my friend's on Facebook's son is the lead singer of Leftover, and when I was writing the script I had this pop-punk image in my head. You know "American Pie" and that sort of thing to get into the spirit of it really. So my friend said her son's band had just recorded this song and I fell in love with it. I messaged her and said would her son and his band let me use their music for my film? They helped out and couldn't do enough for me, and fingers crossed they'll go quite far.


Being the American pop-punk fan as mentioned, I suppose you would've loved to have used Blink-182 in there?


Ideally yeah [laughs] For a diehard fan I had to get four or five Blink-182 references in there!


I understand the locations you used were close to home. These ranged from your own house, to your work and your brother's tattoo shop?


From work, there was the end car park scene, the interrogation scene, and we did the Green Screen there. The road where Chris (as the Tramp) gets run over, that was just outside work. We were quite lucky and they were quite helpful. Having no budget it's quite difficult to get the locations you picture in your head without persuading people, so everything fell into place really. My brother's tattoo shop (Forever Wear Tattoos) we used for the strip club scene. That was a changing room and he let us go in and change everything round to suit what we needed. The shop was pretty cool and quite handy to use.




Left: Russ out filming with (L-R) Chris, Claire and Garry.  Right: Main movie poster for Zip-Code


The premiere of Zip-Code was at the Xscape in Milton Keynes. How did that go?


Xscape is run by Cineworld and is a state of the art cinema. We managed to screen it there, and in true Zip-Code style we did have a couple of hiccups actually getting the film shown! We'd been there earlier on in the week to try the film and everything worked fine. On the day, it didn't work fine. After about 40 minutes of pushing cables in and pulling cables out we managed to get it working, and everyone who'd sat there waiting in the audience they all seemed to love it and had a great time. We had about 120 people turn up and had an after party it was great. Also had it shown in a cinema up in Cumbria which went well and ended up in some papers.


And the reaction to Zip-Code so far in terms of the public response, how've the results been and are you happy with it?


I am yeah. One of the things that plays on my mind when people watch it when they haven't watched it before, is that they understand how we had to make it. If you look at how we made it you'll get a better picture of it as a whole. It was an amazing journey and one I wanted to share with others the best I could. It is a part of Milton Keynes history. There isn't a lot of films being made in MK but I do know there are people doing it.


Something that's just come up in the last couple of weeks is that Zip-Code was picked up by the recent Portobello Film Festival?


That's right. I entered it just before we had our premiere. My aunty saw it in a newspaper clip and sent me a picture of it. She sent me the link and I e-mailed them, and the day I saw it was actually the last day to get the film in. I said "I really want to get the film in there, is it too late?" but they were really good actually, they said it would be fine just send the DVD. I didn't hear anything back until two days before the event which was a shame as a lot more of us would have gone down. It was played just after Johnny Vegas' film! It [Zip-Code] was the last film showing so there wouldn't have been as many people there as at the beginning, but people were laughing at where they were supposed to be laughing!


Thank you Russ for giving your time to us here. We're going to close by asking what's next for Russell North? Will Suited and Booted be your next film we see?


Being the first short film that I made, with Suited and Booted what happened was I wrote the script for it and changed it into a comedy, still a gangster comedy. A mickey-take of "Lock, Stock..." is an easy way to explain it. So basically I wrote that before Zip-Code, and I sent it to a guy who has a production company and he's taken it on his books so to speak. But because I've learnt a lot through writing Zip-Code I've asked if I can take it back and brush it up, so that's what I'm doing at the moment. I'd love to make it into a full film but if not it might be a case of selling it on or seeing if someone else wants to take it on. Even if it gets taken on by one of the big boys that I have to make the tea for! [laughs] It's a start.


Zip-Code on Facebook

Shotgun Productions UK Ltd YouTube page

Russell North on Twitter and his imdb page