From Hackney to Hollywood – the “no-budget” martial arts movie

Cast and Crew of Battle Creek Hackney. Pic: Azeem Mustafa.

Cast and Crew of Battle Creek Hackney. Pic: Azeem Mustafa.

The gruelling, ten-month filming process has finally come to an end and Jackie Chan fan Azeem Mustafa is dying to tell me all about his latest project – Hackney’s first zero-budget film.

Battle Creek Hackney is martial arts short film set in East London. It’s a story about delivery boy Rakib Rakuen who finds himself trapped on the most crime-riddled estate in London, with a ruthless mobster trying to grab the contents of his delivery. He has to fight his way up floor by floor past psychopathic henchmen and killers. He’s not alone though; his best friend Ronin joins the battle alongside him, and together they’re taking the fight back to Hackney.

The 28 year-old Stoke Newington-based filmmaker tells me he was in his last year of university studying psychology at London Metropolitan, when he realised he was destined to be a filmmaker. He had to retake a year, so most of the people he has built friendships with had already left and he only had to attend classes once or twice a week. And so, he began to take a weekend course in filmmaking at the City Lit Institute in the heart of Holborn.

“We did a live action animation of two paper cups having a lovers’ quarrel, ” he says. “For some reason I really took to it, I really loved the collaboration and creating this story out of thin air.” Azeem has never looked back.

“We were quite inspired by the grittiness and hard-boiled elements of the Indonesian film The Raid. That’s just an incredible film, everything from the ground up is top-notch: The choreography, cinematography, soundtrack, script, everything is so high quality it just elevates the film. I haven’t seen a martial arts film that good in years.”

So, why a no-budget film for Hackney?

“I think there’s a famous credo out there which says: It can either be good, cheap or quick – pick two,” he jokes. “I haven’t had to put any money into this project and I’ve done that purely because of the amazing cast we’ve been working with who have gladly given up their time for the project. Everyone here has worked so hard to bring Battle Creek Hackney to life and I feel very honoured and proud to have seen this project through to its end.

“There’s so much talent here and it was apparent from the first day. The energy and the vibe of the crew was something special; I’ll cherish it for a long time.”

However, it wasn’t all fun and games during the film’s creation. “As guerilla filmmakers, you always end up encountering problems in the field you have to solve on the fly,” says Azeem. “We’ve been stopped by police, stopped by janitors, had cars park up in the middle of out shoots. A garage door providing access to out set short circuited so I had to run to a local shop to get the electric key fixed while six people waited outside. That was a stressful day!”

Azeem says there’s a spirit in low budget filming that is very hard to replicate in blockbusters. “A lot of what you see in the cinema can be shallow. A lot of the time they use CGI or big expensive sets to cover up a story with no depth.”

He says being part of a film is like being part of a family. “My favourite part is always when the cast and crew are gathered around the camera with you, you’re watching a take back, and then everyone gets into it. It feels like seeing the film come alive right there in front of you.”

Azeem and his team are hungry for the recognition that they deserve, and are planning on spending the next few months sending Battle Creek Hackney around to film festivals.

For his next project, the film-maker is keen to try a character-driven piece without the martial arts. He wants to make a feature film but says he needs to work raise a strong budget first. Or, at least, a stronger one.


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