Shane Meadows: All you need to make a movie...
Shane Meadows' new guerrilla project is more than just a movie. James Mottram reports on how the daring director's new Five Days Features manifesto could change the face of film
Friday 03 July 2009
What can you do in five days? Play a game of test-match cricket, maybe, or take a city break to Europe. If you're Shane Meadows, you could crank out a film. The Uttoxeter-born director unveiled his latest work, Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival two weeks ago. Meadows shot it for around £30,000, and he claims the film took less than a week to make. If not quite a record – Roger Corman shot his 1960 version of The Little Shop of Horrors in two days and a night – it's a breakneck pace at which to shoot a movie. But, as far as Meadows is concerned, this shouldn't be a one-off: in his mind, anyone with a camera, an idea and some willing volunteers can do the same.
With Le Donk acting as the first example, Meadows and Mark Herbert, his regular producer and the head of the Sheffield-based production company Warp Films, are launching a new movement, Five Day Features. As film-making manifestoes go, this one is simplicity itself. "There's only one rule," says the director. "You have to make it in five days." There's no money on offer – at least for now – just encouragement and advice for would-be directors to help realise their ideas. "Our ultimate aim is to finance these films," adds Meadows, "but until then, you can send in your film, and if we like it, we'll give it our stamp, maybe build a body of like-minded films and help release them."
Meadows has already spoken about his wish to create a "titchy studio". Hoping to procure equipment donated by the likes of Sony, Panasonic and Apple, the eventual aim is to support those willing to follow the Five Day Features plan. Without wishing to overstate its importance, this could have as big an impact on the industry as Dogme95, the Danish-born movement conjured up by Lars von Trier and his fellow director Thomas Vinterberg. Dogme aimed to inspire cinematic purity by urging film-makers to take a so-called "Vow of Chastity" and make their movies in accordance with 10 commandments, which ranged from demanding the use of hand-held cameras and natural light, to outlawing black-and-white stock and genre.
Dubbed the most influential cultural and artistic Danish wave since the invention of Lego, Dogme95 inspired more than 80 movies by film-makers from all over the world, beginning with Vinterberg's sublime Festen. Like the freewheeling Nouvelle Vague movement before it, which began in the late 1950s as a reaction against the stultifying "literary" style of the French cinema before it, Dogme's effect was like a cinematic air-freshener. Film-making suddenly seemed accessible again, and it was made more so by the arrival of hand-held digital cameras, which enabled film-makers to shoot cheaply and swiftly. Similarly, Meadows's Five Day Features has the potential to usher in a new era of directors who otherwise might find themselves outside the system.
Admittedly, there is a suspicion that Meadows' movement – rather like the Dogme95 – could just be a marketing gimmick to plug Le Donk. After all, this improvised rockumentary about the titular roadie (Paddy Considine), who decides to try and promote real-life Nottingham rapper Scor-Zay-Zee, could be dismissed by audiences as a bunch of mates mucking about. Indeed, the film, which runs at just 68 minutes, is bypassing a traditional theatrical release in favour of a brief tour followed by a DVD release and web downloads. But attaching it to a film-making manifesto prompts viewers to sit up and take notice. As the trade paper Variety conceded, the film "might be most effective as a teaching tool for film students, demonstrating what can be done with an extremely limited budget".
This aside, Le Donk represents an evolution in Meadows' career, as he continues to deliberately downscale. His most expensive film was his so-called "tinned spaghetti Western" from 2002, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, which featured a British star cast including Robert Carlyle, Kathy Burke and Rhys Ifans. It was the worst-reviewed film of his career and it flopped at the box office. Since then, with the exception of his Bafta-winning skinhead story This Is England – an experience that, he says, took "two life-sapping years" – Meadows has been shrinking the size of his productions: he made the stunning 2004 revenge thriller Dead Man's Shoes on a pittance.
After This Is England, he'd hoped to realise his long-gestating boxing project King of the Gypsies, about the bare-knuckle fighter Bartley Gorman. But the film became mired in legal problems which he has only just "unpicked". Rather than remain inactive, Meadows returned to his guerrilla roots, revisiting the days before his 1997 debut feature, Twenty Four Seven, when he was shooting shorts such as Smalltime and Where's the Money, Ronnie? The first example of this was last year's Somers Town, a 70-minute, black-and-white study of teenage friendship that took the EIFF's prestigious Michael Powell Award, a remarkable achievement given that Meadows claims he only intended to make a half-hour short, before it ballooned into a mini-feature across the 10-day shoot.
Unusually, Eurostar funded Somers Town, a fact that made Meadows wary of the project. "My worry was that it was going to be shots of blokes in trains smiling, patting kids on the head and saying, 'Have a nice day on the Eurostar!'" he told me at the time. "I wrongly thought it was going to be not my territory." Re-thinking that decision proved to be wise. The film could hardly be accused of being a corporate video – apart from a brief sequence when the characters ride the train to Paris, Eurostar did not feature in the story – and Meadows showed that it's not just James Bond films that can benefit from product placement. If anything, he was out to prove that independent film-makers can exploit the same channels that Hollywood uses.
Le Donk shrugs off any corporate ties. It was entirely self-funded and, according to Meadows, is his way of sticking "two fingers up to the establishment". Admittedly, it helps to have a versatile actor such as Considine on hand. A Meadows regular who started his career in the director's sophomore feature, A Room for Romeo Brass, before making Dead Man's Shoes, he here proves that Sacha Baron Cohen isn't the only one able to improvise in character with hilarious results. It hardly hurts, either, that they had access to the Arctic Monkeys (Le Donk and Scorz end up rapping at the band's May 2007 gig at the Old Trafford cricket ground), a relationship fostered after Warp produced the concert film Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo.
According to Considine, who also starred in the Monkeys' video for "Leave Before the Lights Come On", Le Donk and Five Day Features emerged out of frustration. "You just get fed up with all the restraints put on you in making a film, and the process of making a film. It gets a bit boring... Le Donk brought back the buzz of it and the excitement. Me and Shane were doing this years ago. That time in between Romeo Brass and Dead Man's Shoes, Shane was pointing a camera and I was doing characters. Le Donk was no different to anything we'd been doing all along." If it helps inspire the next generation of film-makers, it may be the most important film he and Meadows ever make.
'Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee' will be released on DVD on 5 October
SHORT SHOOTS (AND ONE VERY LONG ONE)
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
Made in two days and a night, Roger Corman's goofy horror musical about a man-eating plant holds the world record.
When Is Tomorrow (2008)
Coming in a close second is Kevin Ford's micro-budget dramedy; its buddy story of two friends was filmed in just three days.
Starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, Richard Linklater's moral drama was shot in just one week on DV in a New York motel room.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Shot over 15 months – including an unbroken period of 46 weeks – Stanley Kubrick's swansong starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise made it into "The Guinness Book of Records" as The Longest Constant Movie Shoot.
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