Film-maker Gina Newson followed two first-time film directors as they struggled to make their dreams materialise for the recent Channel 4 documentary Movie Virgins. But what has happened to the pair since? Friday October 6, 2000 "I want to make this film... I'm going to make this film... it's a big feature film. I want a cinema release in a year..." - Alex Jovy "My friends said: how are you going to make a feature film? You can't even pay your phone bill. I don't know. I've got a great idea..." - Leon Herbert That's how the first episode of our documentary series for Channel 4, Movie Virgins, started. And it ended four weeks later with the first-time directors at very different stages in their careers: Alex discovering that he'd landed a distribution deal and Leon still desperate for money to mix, dub and order a final print of his film. They're both in debt. In between, they underwent an extraordinary journey, trying to break into one of the world's toughest industries with no more than a couple of short films to their names. Usually, interest in programmes like this dies away fast after they finish. But not with Movie Virgins. After the series ended, our phone didn't stop ringing. People are still asking us what happened to Alex and Leon, wanting to know when there will be an update. Both of them are stopped in the street, with people offering Leon cash and cheques, and sending scripts to Alex. At first Leon was overwhelmed. From feeling rejected and despondent, he's gone to finding an army of people who want to help him. Alex also received a lot of sympathy for what he went through (anybody who saw him being snubbed by Jude Law in Cannes couldn't have helped but feel for him) but he also encountered hostility from people who thought he'd had it easier than Leon. So where do they stand now? Alex's film, Sorted, goes on general release today. His dream of being able to watch his film along with a paying audience has been realised. And I know what he'll be doing today - rushing from cinema to cinema checking out numbers, monitoring the response and trying to work out if cinemas are likely to continue the booking or drop it the following week. At the end of the day, the only thing the industry cares about is whether people want to see the film. The decision-makers don't really care that he sat in despair in his flat last summer when no one was returning his calls, with only six weeks to go before shooting. If the cinema chains sense an audience, they'll back it. If not... well it's only about £3m on the line. For Leon, Movie Virgins has turned his world upside down. He's no longer just - as one critic put it - a legend in his own block of flats. Choice FM has started a fund-raising campaign, and he's planning a benefit concert before Christmas. And when (not if, he says) he gets funds to complete, he's going to distribute the film himself, booking cinemas and touring it round the country. He calls it an independent revolution. Oh yes, and he's starting three new companies - a distribution company, a web site and a music company (for the CD, of course). The other day Leon spotted Tom and Mel from Big Brother having lunch together in Soho. He bounded up to them. Mel shook her head and insisted: "I'm just a lookalike". Undeterred, Leon told them, "I was on TV at the same time as Big Brother... in fact, one episode of the show was bumped because of Nasty Nick". Blank looks. "Anyway", Leon enthused, "did you watch Movie Virgins?" "No", chorused the none-too-bright "lookalikes", "we were stuck in the house, weren't we?" On Wednesday night, Alex had his film's premiere and invited Leon. The press started calling out "Alex and Leon together", seemingly wanting a joint photo. It was strange because their stories never overlapped - in fact they met for the first time only recently when we all did a radio interview just after the series began. Alex and Leon have both suggested we carry on filming, even though the programme may never be transmitted. So, for the moment, I will - partly because their stories intrigue me, and partly because I like open-ended documentaries. The foreplay may have happened but the ups and downs of the Virgins have yet to be played out.

Boys on film from the Guardian Friday 6th October 2000
By Gina Newson

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