BRIEF ENCOUNTERS FILM FESTIVAL EVENT TRANSCRIPT (2004)
This lengthy article is a transcript of Shane Meadow's talk at the Brief Encounters short film festival in November 2004.
There is a lot of interesting information in this article, ranging from Shane's thoughts on Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, the development of Dead Man's Shoes, and the future DVD releases of Small Time and a possible collection of his short films.
From ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS to DEAD MAN'S SHOES
Before making Midlands, I had made two films that had been critically well received, but they hadn’t made anything at the box-office.... pretty much world-wide… and it was looking like I wasn’t going to be able to get my films financed because of the fact that they weren’t making any money.. So I was in a position working with Film Four where they wanted to work with me but on the basis that I used a more accessible cast.
I don’t regret it at all, because it wasn’t like I was picking people out of episodes of Columbo or anything like that, they were pretty well respected people and they were people I respected myself.. But I think that the whole nature of being in that position meant that there were warning signs and bells going off that I didn’t listen to because I thought to myself, "I want to make a film".
To make a film, a labour of love, over two or three years is one thing and the energy that comes with wanting to make something your whole life…. but to put that amount of time into something you are not quite sure about .. well.. it almost made me retire before I was thirty!. You know, I was kind of ready to give up after that.
When you finish a film, you have to spend about a year of your life supporting it, and with 24:7 and Romeo Brass I really enjoyed it, but with Midlands….. I can’t lie. I really struggle to lie in interviews. So they sent me to America and I was telling people the truth that I didn’t really like what I had made.. I couldn’t sit there and lie… and they pulled the fucking tour and sent me home!. But I was being honest.. I wasn’t sitting there and saying it was a lump of shit, but I was saying at the time that I had spent months editing it and I’d had the wrong group of people around me in terms of like having about 65 executive producers. And when I told one lot to piss off, they’d get rid of those and bring in another brand new lot.. so in the end it was just a completely different experience.
After Midlands, I’d got to a point where I didn’t really have a feature film idea and I’ve got a lot of short films that I’ve never even edited. There are so many that some are still just on raw tape and I went into a kind of cocoon thinking I’d find inspiration in there.
While I was doing that, Paddy Considine had made My Wrongs, that won the BAFTA and the producer that Paddy had worked with, Mark, was about our age, and most of the producers I’d worked with before, were like on life-support systems.. I'd also been told that this guy was shorter than me, with a receding hair line, so I thought it could be someone I could develop a relationship with... on the basis of his height alone. Making me look tall.
So Mark came over to talk as I was editing a load of my short films and I said how I wanted to release some.. I don’t know if any of you know, but My Wrongs actually got into the chart and there’s never really been anything before or since where people have gone out in droves to buy a short film… so he was very turned on by the back catalogue I had.
Mark came to see these short films and, I was really under selling them because some had just been made in a couple of hours by me and Paddy.. So after talking to Mark about the shorts and the dissatisfaction I had experienced on Midlands, he asked if I had ever thought about making a film for less money. Because before hand I had been thinking that each film you make you really want a bit more money. So Mark was actually suggesting going backwards with the budget and making a film for less money.. I mean when I was making Midlands, I had got to a point where I didn’t really think it was working, but I was in so deep and I had everything invested in it, but Mark was saying that perhaps making a film for a lot less money could give me the freedom to change an idea if I found it wasn’t working.. This was really giving me the kind of freedom that I had on my short films and it's the kind of freedom you just don’t get on feature films.
Paddy had said that Midlands was a lump of shit, and it was between the two of them (Mark and Paddy), they convinced me that what I had been doing with films like Small Time was not far away from what I should be doing on Dead Man’s Shoes.. I think that was at the very beginning of March 2003 that I had that conversation with Mark, and by the first of May we were shooting the film! Which is an incredible turn-around for a feature.. People had been telling me before this that I needed loads of people developing a film over a number of years with script editors etc… and me and Paddy had written this script in about 8 days with 30 pages missing off the end of it.. But because Paddy was involved in it, and I was involved in it and it was going to be made for below a million pounds, the sums added up and they let us do it and they gave us a free reign.. Now, the next film that I’m making is going to be around the same budget and I’m making the next film on tape as well, so it’s been like a kind of re-birth really.
DEAD MAN'S SHOES script change and development.
Paddy was going off to shoot My Summer Of Love in June, and it was like the first of March and realistically, I would need the money agreed in 3 days so that we would have time to get it through the banks and everything. So I said to Mark,
“You’ve seen what me and Paddy can make for 200 quid, whatever money you can make in three days, we’ll make the film for that”….. and he raised three quarters of a million pounds!
It was one of those things, because it was such an insane idea, the first couple of people we’d been to see like the Film Council, were quite disrespectful in some ways.. The guy at the Film Council wasn’t interested, he was looking at his watch and he had a plane to catch.. By the end of the meeting he was actually saying,
“Well look I need to know more about it”, and I said,
“Well you’ve not listened to a word I’ve said, because the whole principal of this meeting was about 'could you agree to make something now?'”, so I said,
“I don’t want you involved” and that really blew him out the water.
Since I’ve made Dead Man’s Shoes, people from the Film Council have been coming up to me at festivals and saying, that guy’s not gonna be working here much longer. I think they’d dropped a bollock you know.
*SPOILER* (Dead Man's Shoes - skip to following blue section to avoid it)
Me and Paddy started writing one film and two weeks into it, Paddy didn’t like it. We started off making a comedy and I think we both said to each other, we can make something so much more challenging here.. Because no-one even knew what we were doing, we thought we really can go one darker.. This one’s like 11 on the dark scale!
We knew we could make a comedy, but we wanted to take on the biggest possible challenge.. I mean, I’ve never had a murder in one of my films, I’ve never had any special effects and I’ve certainly never had a ghost, you know and it was all of this in the lowest budget picture, so that was really exciting.
We started off with this idea of this guy that goes around at night like a ninja, more of a comedy story.. But he’s really wank at fighting and has got really shit weapons and trampolines… and the production company loved that, but I went back after a few weeks and said it’s become much darker.. I showed them the script and said we had got to a point, that we didn’t know where it was going, but we’d decide when we got there and they just gave into it.. It’s so rare to find people that are prepared to take that kind of risk.
I think Dead Man’s Shoes is what Once Upon A Time in the Midlands was meant to be. If you look at the very, very bare-bones of the story, it’s the story of a stranger that comes back to town to confront a situation.
Three Tears For Jimmy Prophet was really the starting point for Midlands, and then over the course of 12 months of chipping away at all the good ideas, it turned into something completely different.. So, in a lot of ways… I don’t like saying it because I respect a lot of the actors…. but I almost push that film (Midlands) out of what I think of the films I’ve made and put Dead Man’s Shoes in place as kind of my third feature.. Which isn’t fair on the actors because I made a lot of friends.. But in terms of what happened, it was the most important thing that ever happened to me.. I never learnt anything from any of the other films until I made one I didn’t want to make, and I learnt everything I needed to know from that.
So I think Dead Man’s Shoes is a kind of reaction to that. I think Dead Man’s Shoes is more a genuine western than Midlands ever was. Midlands was trying to be one and Dead Man’s Shoes IS one.
Some of the murders in Dead Man’s Shoes were inspired by other films. Me and Paddy watched Deliverance again, and it's the simplicity of the violence….. you know the guy that comes out of the canoe, and he’s got his arm dislocated around the back of his head.. As an image, that’s so disturbing because it’s so simplistic, and that inspired the guy in the case.
The mistake I made with Midlands was setting out to make a western. My films have always been like a bastardisation of different genres.. In my other films, I could never put my finger on which part was inspired by which thing.. I can look at Twentyfour Seven and I can be honest and say I got the conviction to make that in black and white from watching Raging Bull.. But in the end with Midlands, because I was trying to be very specific, that’s what lost me.. It’s like I dance around the fire, but I never put my hand in.. With Midlands I put everything in, you know, third degree burns.
So the principal is to take inspiration from things, but not to the point where I think, now I’m going to make a horror.. I think Dead Man’s Shoes has kind of got horror in it, and its got supernatural things in it, it’s got western and there’s also the same social comedy that’s in my other films.. On that level I was more honest with myself and I kept what’s 'me' about it, but I still took inspiration… it’s just not as specific as it was on Midlands.
I’ve kind of worked with inexperienced actors and actors with little experience, but I’m kind of now starting to get that temptation of actually pulling real people in who have been on like the fucking building site, these real characters, and see if it can work.. Like on my new film I’m thinking of using genuinely real people, who have no ambition at all to be actors.. So it’s ever evolving, I’m not looking to work with super-stars, I’m looking to find my own stars.
The ambition is to release them in kind of eras, because leading up to the first feature film is an era all of it’s own where I was making one a month.. We’re talking to Warp who produced the film (Dead Man’s Shoes) about releasing 4 DVDs.. The struggle I’ve got is a lot of the music on that first era, I didn’t know anything about what I was doing and I didn’t get anyone to clear any forms, so I’ve got no music clearances on that.
The ultimate ambition for me, would be to have like a box set, cos its been ten years since I made my first short film.. It’s something I’d probably need to take a year out of my life to do.. Some of them are really awful, and I think it’s almost better to see those than the good ones, because that can be a rewarding thing, like for me when I see a Martin Scorsese film which I don’t think is his greatest work.. It’s like Casino next to Goodfellas you know, there’s still great ideas in there, but at least it let’s you know he’s human.
So hopefully I’m going to get them out, and Small Time’s going to be coming out on DVD hopefully after Christmas.. The film was originally called Left and I want to put the original cut on there too, so there will be two films.. The one that I did on my own, and then the one where I got some money to finish it off. There’s heaps of deleted scenes and things for Small Time which I think will be quite inspirational for people just starting out to see that the film was average at one time.
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