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Students and staff at forefront of new sci-fi thriller

TRAVELLING through time and space is possible, if the hypothesis of scientist George Herbert is to be believed, only by journeying into the future. A voyage backwards would be too destructive: the pressures too great.

To investigate the seemingly implausible an old gothic chapel has been transformed into a laboratory within which stands a large gateway of wire mesh, coils, and capacitors. Opposite the Frame, the device to travel through time, sits an elderly George Herbert: reloading a smoking revolver above a bullet-riddled body.

This, from its opening sequence, is the narrative of new sci-fi thriller The River written, produced, and directed by a team of academics of the University of Chichester. Set in the 1950s it tells of an obsessive scientist plagued by post-war paranoia who must reverse time before his assistants sabotage his invention and change his destiny forever.

The River was filmed at locations across Chichester


Production of The River as part of degree programme

The film, which is being recorded across Chichester this and next week, is unlike any other in production. Despite a wealth of well-known actors and industry professionals - whose resumes include Game of Thrones and the Monty Python films - it also employs media students of the University of Chichester to assist during the recording.

“The production is a module of the students’ course - its purpose is to show them the ropes so they can hit the ground running after graduating,” says writer and director Michael Holley. The senior lecturer has previously scripted and produced television as well as radio programmes for the BBC and is now responsible for the 15-minute short.

“The idea is first and foremost to create a film to be shown across cinema and film festivals throughout the world,” he adds. “But the production is a unique opportunity for our students to work on a live set with some of the most illustrious names in the industry.”

Latest in award-winning series by University

The River is the innovation of a trio of academics of the University – which includes Mr Holley – working under the guise of Trundle Films: a professional outfit whose film shorts have won awards all over the globe. The group’s latest production reflects the more traditional time-travel films: a hat-tip to 1960s classics fronting the sci-fi movement.

“I have been interested in writing a sci-fi film with an edge for some time - different from the Hollywood norms – and that we could only travel forward in time," Mr Holley adds. "The idea of is like the current of a stream: impossible to swim against but simple to let it pull you downstream.

“Our long-term plan is to bring the film and television industry to Chichester and Bognor Regis so that the students can learn directly from the professionals. We already have some exciting names working on this production.”

University of Chichester's Engineering and Digital Technology Park

The senior lecturer has, himself, recently been appointed the head of University’s new Creative and Digital Technologies programme to be based at its new Engineering and Digital Technology Park. The construction will, by 2020, provide spaces for up to 500 undergraduate and postgraduate students each year to study STEM – science, technology, engineering, and maths – subjects.

The Creative and Digital Technologies programme will build on the STEM approach to provide specialist film and media production facilities: a 300 square-metre television studio with special effects room, green-screen, media operation centre. Mr Holley adds: “We intend to bring the production of our next set of films into the Park which will have industry-standard film studios, as well as ultramodern cameras and computer software.”

Learning on a live set: a different experience

Back in the old chapel, amid the experiments, a young George, flanked by his team of junior researchers Sarah and Bruce, realise the potential of forward time-travel by sending a cricket ball into the future. Gradually his two assistants grow closer and George, becoming suspicious of their intentions, catches Bruce reading his personal notebook.

My Name is GeorginaThe trio’s relationship breaks one night when the obsessed scientist hears cries followed by a gunshot vibrating from the Frame. Out steps naval intelligence officer Fleming who, letter in hand, reveals he has been sent at George’s own request.

“This is something that you cannot learn in the classroom,” says second-year student Stephanie Ridge who is one of the class of 28 to work on the production. “It is a different experience from anything else I have done and working with industry professionals gives you true insights of what it means to work at the highest level.”

The Digital Film Production and Screenwriting undergraduate intends to use the experience of The River to venture into directing and film production on leaving Chichester. She adds: “When we are on-set we learn in a different way and these skills will help me to hit the ground running when I do land my first job out of university.”

A sci-fi thriller with analogue dials and primitive computers

The River marks the fifth production of an award-winning series which has been written, produced, and directed by Trundle Films. The group’s success is owed to Mr Holley as well as his counterparts Darren Mapletoft, a former cameraman and producer, and Dr Stephen Baysted, who has scored the soundtracks to some of the most popular videogames of all time.

Its wide-ranging repertoire includes the prized short My Name is Georgina, of a young women forced into a slavery (pictured right), as well as Brandy and Pep, produced by pop promo director Tim Pope who has created music videos for Sir Paul McCartney and David Bowie. The trio’s most recent release, Submerged, another sci-fi thriller (trailer below), is a collaboration with Hollyoaks actor Darren Bransford whose teleportation device aboard a submarine goes horribly wrong and leaves him alone, stuck in a stifling metallic tube, choking for air.

The River follows a similar creative perspective: filming in the 1,000-year-old Guildhall, in Priory Park at the heart of Chichester, gives the film a striking and unforgettable visual environment, says Mr Holley. “The analogue dials and oversized primitive computers of the 1950s work well for sci-fi movies and the Guildhall, the base of the laboratory, creates a stunning backdrop.

“It is grade one-listed so it has been necessary for the students to learn about the importance of respecting old structures, the logistics of working in buildings of historical significance. This is more important than ever given the rise in popularity of period television and films.”

Find out more

Returning to the film, old George watches as the Frame begins to spark into life: Bruce and Sarah appear, safe and well, until they see the raised revolver pointed by the haggard-faced scientist. The pair have travelled just two hours into the future, according to the George, whose 40-year experiment to travel back in time is, as he predicted, slowly killing him.

The secret of time travel lies in the notebook, tells the elderly scientist, which they must read before destroying it for good. But, as Sarah starts to question the reasoning behind the plea, the young George bursts through the Frame, revolver in hand, and takes aim at his older self. The elderly scientist must sabotage the time travel plans and change his own destiny before it is too late.

To find out more about The River and other productions by Mike Holley and Trundle Film visit Alternatively for more on studying on the new Creative and Digital Technologies BA (Hons) degree at the University of Chichester go to

Filming for The River by students and staff at the University of Chichester