Back in 2015, over 6 hectic months, a group of friends of mine, all expats living on the southern Costa Blanca, got together and made a feature film, The Cucaracha Club. Tynesider Billie Anthony Gaddess came up with the screenplay, close to 30 years after he first floated the plot with actor Tom Watt at a charity football match. You probably remember him as Lofty Holloway of Eastenders. Tom promised to play the lead role of Cameron Carrington, one of the high flyers in MI6, once Billie was ready to film, but he went over and above the call of duty.
Tom not only worked for free, he paid for his own flights and accommodation during filming and was very approachable and helpful with other cast members, many of whom had never appeared on screen before. Director Rai Woods described him as
A pleasure to work with; a consummate professional and a true gentleman.
Tom was one of just a handful of professionals involved in the making of the film. Rai Woods had a long career in media, working with directors of the calibre of John Schlesinger and spending many years at UTV in Northern Ireland, but he’d never had sole responsibility for directing a feature film. Most of the cast and crew were simply enthusiastic amateurs who learned about making a movie as they went along.
The Cucaracha Club world premiere happened in Torrevieja in March 2016 followed by the UK premiere at the Darlington Film Festival in May 2017. Everyone hoped that appearances at festivals around the world and international cinema distribution would follow, but it all went quiet for a while. Recently I met with writer, lead male actor and producer Billie Anthony Gaddess to catch up on what had been happening since the premieres. It turns out the true story is stranger than any of the on screen fiction!
It was a major project to even bring The Cucaracha Club to the big screen. Billie, along with fellow actor and producer Clive Gray remortgaged their homes to raise the shooting budget of €23,000 and cover associated editing, licensing and legal costs. The first collaborator on the screenplay took it to Madrid, then tried to sell it back to Billie after promising to work on it for free!
When filming finished, the editor failed to tidy up the film to the agreed standard, and destroyed some surplus footage without discussing it with the crew. The version shown at the premieres and several special screenings around Spain was not as good as everyone had hoped, although generally it was well received, since audiences took into account the low budget and lack of experience of the cast and crew.
In the aftermath of all this, both Billie and Clive became depressed and faced serious health challenges, so they returned to the UK and the support of their respective families. Just as the boys gathered their strength to have another crack at delivering The Cucaracha Club to an international audience, Covid 19 came along, effectively stalling further progress for two years.
Unbelievably, just like the indestructible cucarachas (cockroaches) in the film title, Billie, Clive and Rai bounced back, recovered, rested and just as determined to succeed with their first venture into the movie industry. Experienced Hollywood editor Henry (Hank) Thompson is now in the process of re-editing The Cucaracha Club and advising the production team on making the movie even better. Over the years, he’s faced his own personal and professional challenges, yet he’s never given up. He knows just how it feels to do your very best, then find out it’s not enough, so he understands just how the stalling of the enterprise has affected everyone.
Hank suggested shooting more footage to capitalise on the stunning scenery that forms the backdrop to the action, and re-shooting some of the scenes to improve the flow of the story line and remove ambiguities and inconsistencies. He is also keen to make a documentary on the filming of The Cucaracha Club, as he feels it’s a story that deserves to be told. From the look of the new official trailer, Hank knows just what the movie needs to bring out the best in the story, the locations and the cast.
Along with writing, collaborating on and producing many films over the years. Hank has edited over 100 low budget films. He tells Billie The Cucaracha Club is the best he’s edited so far, and it has great potential for sale. In May, Spain is the special guest at the Cannes Film Festival, and Hank has advised the production team to take the film along to raise its international profile and secure distribution rights and sales. It’s a tight deadline and they may not make it this year, but the team are actively looking for sponsorship and investment to take the film to other festivals.
Recently, I went along with Billie and Rai to a meeting with Torrevieja’s Director of the Office of International Residents, Jean Paul Mulero. Among other duties, he liaises with international organisations on behalf of the Ayuntamiento to approve grants for projects that promote Torrevieja to foreign visitors, whether for leisure or business purposes. He has always been very supportive of the cast and crew, arranging for special access to the marina and the Delfin submarine for filming. Even Eon Productions, the company behind the James Bond franchise, were denied access to the marina, so The Cucaracha Club team realise they were fortunate to be granted such freedom for shooting. They are optimistic that more help may be forthcoming, especially since Billie has now scripted a Cucaracha Club television series, as well as a second movie, all of which will be filmed in and around Torrevieja. He told Around Algorfa:
Torrevieja is the real star of The Cucaracha Club. The scenery and the buildings are unsurpassed. It deserves to be seen across the world, since it’s the perfect location, managing to be both glamorous and gritty in equal measure, and at the same time.
Billie plans to stay in Torrevieja for around two months, shooting additional footage for The Cucaracha Club, investigating possible collaborations with other film makers in the area and seeking sponsors and/or investors to help market the film and support future local film projects. The Cucaracha Club is the first feature film to be shot entirely in and around Torrevieja, using local actors and crew, although other film makers have used the town as a location for various scenes. Should it reach a wider audience and the TV series and follow up movie go into production, there’s significant potential to bring much-needed work to the area, and also attract actors and media personnel from Spain and abroad. At the meeting with Jean Paul, the idea of an annual international film festival in Torrevieja was discussed in some detail.
Billie and the cast and crew want to give back to the town that has given them, as international residents, so much. If you feel you can support The Cucaracha Club project with sponsorship, investment or practical help, contact Siesta Productions to register your interest. Billie, Clive and Rai will be delighted to hear from you, and share the story so far.
If The Cucaracha Club was a fairy tale, it would be all about Sleeping Beauty finally getting to go to the ball! After the sheer dedication, sacrifice and determination that’s already been poured into the project by Billie, Clive and Rai, it certainly deserves its very own happy ending.
Image credits: All Cucaracha Club photos shared with permission from Siesta Productions.