Interview: Shane Meadows The vision thing

'TwentyFourSeven' won the Critics' Prize at the Venice Film Festival. Its British director is only 25, famous for filming on a budget and never went to film school. That doesn't stop him shooting in arty b&w, though...
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"I'VE ALWAYS been a bit of a bugger for going to the cinema," announces Shane Meadows. Perched on the edge of his seat, jacket pockets bristling with video cassettes of his most recent short films, he looks like a compulsive shop lifter in a video library.

Meadows first bounded into the public eye at the 1996 Edinburgh Festival. Armed with a ten-minute short, Where's the Money Ronnie? and the no-budget, hour-long Smalltime, he courted the press with tales of petty crime and dog food heists in the Midlands. And the press adored him, a prolific, maverick talent who survived on noodles and peanut butter so that he could make films with his dole money. "But it could all go very pear-shaped," he quickly counters. "Some people didn't get Smalltime. They just went, 'It's all wobbly! Why is it all wobbly?'" His early short films were shot on video tape, using a cast of mates and usually featuring Meadows himself in wig and a shellsuit. He also makes a brief appearance in TwentyFourSeven . "It's a bit hard to spot me. I'm sitting in the hospital with a chip pan stuck on my head that I've obviously tried on at home and couldn't get off again. Sergeant-Pan Head!"

However promising those early films were, they did not fully indicate quite how good Meadows' first feature was to be. TwentyFourSeven tells the story of an impoverished community and two rival gangs of teenagers bought together by Darcy (a local man played by Bob Hoskins) who sets up a boxing club. The film has a maturity that belies its director's age (Meadows was just 24 when he made it). The characters are astutely observed and the unobtrusive direction reveals both the humour and the pathos inherent in seemingly mundane situations. Meadows has a strong allegiance to his home town, Nottingham, where he continues to live. He insisted on a clause in his two-year contract with Company Pictures that ensures money is siphoned back into his community. "We're setting up a fund: the first year it's pounds 15,000, the second it's pounds 25,000, so people can send in scripts, and we'll just help as many people as possible with that money." Between interviews, Meadows slips out into the corridor to call his grandmother on his mobile phone. Not only a bright hope for the future of British cinema, then, but a thoroughly nice bloke to boot.

Wendy Ide: Why did you choose to shoot TwentyFourSeven in black and white?

Shane Meadows: The real reason was that when I wrote the film, in the same way that I saw Bob Hoskins in the role (of Darcy), I saw the whole thing in black and white and I couldn't imagine it any other way. When you take away the colour, for some reason it actually endears you to the characters. They seem a bit more timeless.

WI : Is Darcy a character that you relate to personally?

SM: Yeah, what happened was that we had a football club that was run by this guy when I was a kid and we used to lose 23 or 24-nil. We were awful. We'd get into fights and we lost all our kit. At the time we just took the piss out of him, but he really affected me because he was probably the one person in my life that I've met that stood by us no matter what. When I looked back, I realised that virtually all of us were touched by it. A lot of us have gone on and not got caught up in some of the traps that some of the other lads have got caught in and maybe it was that that did it.

WI : Is there any one particular film that you've watched that made you want to become a film-maker?

SM: I think it was a series of stuff that happened on Channel 4, not that made me want to become a film-maker, but made me realise that you could look at the people around you and they could become the subject of television. Films like Meantime and Made in Britain.

WI : It's no surprise that TwentyFourSeven works in terms of narrative and dialogue, but what is unexpected is that it looks so good.

SM: Well, it's the first time I've had any money. I was never able to have big tracking shots, I was never able to have raised tripods. It wasn't a case of having a million and a half and scraping around doing hand-held. I wanted to make a celebration. Not only was it a dignified story about a 55-year-old man, I wanted to pay homage to my community.

WI : Are you still making shorts?

SM: Yeah, yeah. I made a short last week. I'm making one on Saturday, and another next week. For me, TwentyFourSeven came from all those shorts. It's a library of characters. So I've started making these new ones and then in about three or four months time, I'll make my next feature film based on the characters I've been working on.

WI : Do you worry about losing touch with your community?

SM: No, my dad's going to come and work in the company and my mum's been doing the catering. I respect my parents far more than I respect the job I'm doing. I took my dad to Ireland and he beat this record in a pub for the most Murphy's ever drunk in one afternoon. He drank 25 pints in an afternoon. It's really strong. They couldn't believe it in the pub. I think he drew but no-one had told him about the record because they didn't want him to beat it. So we left the pub and went and had loads of other beers. He beat the record by about six pints but just not in that pub. They told us about it the next day, 'Your father's fooking crazy'".

WI : Can you keep up with him?

SM: No man, not at all. I've tried twice. The first time we did it, we went for a meal in between and then I was very ill. And the second time I was just very ill anyway. He can just drink people under the table.

WI : Are you ever tempted to nick something for old times' sake?

SM: (Laughs) Let me see, oh yes, very recently I was in the airport and I bought this little tiny Gameboy. This is terrible, I shouldn't be telling you this. But it turned out to be one of those huge prehistoric ones and it had two games with it free. And when I went back, to swap it for the new one, the assistant only picked one of the games up and left the other one by accident on the side where I was. And I'd have had the whole collection of Donkey Kong and only paid for one of them. To be honest, I picked it up and I was going to put it in my pocket. But to be on my way to a film festival and get caught for pinching a frigging game! You know what I mean?

This piece also appears in the March issue of 'Dazed & Confused'. 'TwentyFourSeven' goes on release in London on 27 March

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