Some people might find it hard to understand why Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting and The Beach, should forsake the world of Leonardo DiCaprio and exotic foreign locations for zooming around Manchester housing estates in a gold Mondeo, filming with a £900 video camera bought in Dixons. All they have to do is ask him. He could be coining it on the Hollywood A-list, but instead he has just shot two new single dramas for the dear old BBC, working on Digital Video to keep the costs down, and, as it turns out, totally reinvigorating his own creative juices in the process. He's absolutely evangelical about the whole thing too. So forget your questions about Ewan and Leo: today Boyle is banging the drum for the nascent DV technology that he believes will inspire a whole new generation to change the face of British television drama.
"Rather than moaning, 'Whatever happened to Play For Today, weren't they great?', the way to go is to replenish it," says the 44-year-old Mancunian, who seems to gone from British cinema's bright young thing to kindly father figure in record time. "You hope that something like this will inspire kids out there watching it – an 'I could do that!' attitude. I'm so keen to promote the DV angle because it'll give young people confidence in telling their own stories, and they won't need to get a million pounds of someone else's money to do it."
There's a genuine zeal in his voice when he says this, which you can certainly feel coursing off the screen in Boyle's latest work. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, a jet-black comedy with Timothy Spall as the vacuum salesman from hell, and Strumpet, a streetwise fable charting Chris Eccleston's fortunes as a raw Mancunian musical talent getting chewed up by the system, are significant not only because they're a welcome reminder that the quicksilver excitement of Trainspotting has not deserted him.
For one thing, they mark the first time in seven years Boyle has ventured outside the creative team (producer Andrew MacDonald, writer John Hodge), first assembled on Shallow Grave. What's more, working for the small screen again also represents a sort of homecoming, since he'd already moved from theatre (Deputy Director of the Royal Court, stagings for the RSC) to television (Inspector Morse, Mr Wroe's Virgins) before he made it to the movies in the first place. He generously maintains that "everything I know about making films I learned in my time at BBC Northern Ireland."
If it was the muted critical response to the lavish production values of The Beach which prompted this "back to basics" move, Boyle isn't saying. ("You think you have more money and more time, but it doesn't quite work out that way.")The real lure, in this instance, seems to have been the two original screenplays by Jim Cartwright, author of Road and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, fellow Mancunian, and old chum from his Royal Court days. "It just leapt off the page, slightly imperfect but totally extraordinary," was Boyle's initial reaction. He agreed to do the raucous Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise within a week of it being sent to him, and even asked if there was any more of the same. There was. Producer Martin Carr had been working with Cartwright on Strumpet, a slightly more left-field item about disenfranchisement and self-respect, which the BBC didn't really know what to do with. It touched Boyle's longstanding desire to do something about the Manchester music scene, and so he came up with the wheeze of doing the projects on Digital Video, bringing them both in for what it might have cost to do one on conventional film.
With "the best DV cameraman in the world" on board, Copenhagen-based Brit Anthony Dod Mantle, noted for shooting the landmark Dogme offering Festen using only available light, the two 75-minute dramas were filmed back to back inside nine weeks, wrapping on Christmas Eve last year. They had eight cameras in total, a couple of which they bought in Dixons, sparking a genuinely collaborative process which allowed actor Chris Eccleston to film some of the material, Boyle and the producer to head out into local housing estates with another camera in the back of a car, and even one shot by a camera-toting Jack Russell terrier. Boyle found the process so exciting that he and Mantle are working again in digital on the director's new film, 28 Days Later, an original screenplay by Alex (The Beach) Garland about a deadly virus attacking the world population, which has been filming in London this autumn.
Amid all the techno-chat however, he's keen to stress that it isn't an end in itself, just a tool to get even closer to the heart of the characters and their situation. "Jim Cartwright's pieces are always about people who're hopeful, but stuck. These DV cameras get that better than anything because they're sort of organic to that urban dilemma. We're stuck here, but there's a spirit which can overcome it.
"I have to say that for Chris Eccleston and myself, the start of Strumpet, where we have him delivering John Cooper Clarke's Evidently Chickentown to a pub full of ordinary local people who were hearing it for the first time, that was a bit of a milestone in both our lives. We both come from the same background, we both feel the same way about Cooper Clarke. To have Chris driving that through in honour of him was just a great way of celebrating street life and street beauty and achievement. Really, that scene's a pinnacle for me."
'Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise': tonight, BBC2, at 10pm; 'Strumpet' will be broadcast next Sunday, 7 OctoberReuse content