“I’m an actor-executive!”
How did you get started in films?
“Basically from 1993 to 2003 I was running clubs. I did a thing called One Nation, Garage Nation. I won Best Promoter of the Year, I had a long list of awards and I went all round the world doing these clubs. Then a friend of mine, in 2002, said to me do you want to do a little bit in this film I’m doing? So I said yeah, why not? I turned up on the set and done my bit and my bit was basically standing there not saying anything! So after about an hour I said to the guy, I thought I was going to be in the film, and he said you’re just an extra.
“I said well, I’m not going to be an extra. If I don’t say anything, I’m walking, I’m going home. So the director said okay, what do you want to say? I said I don’t know. Because it was an ultra-low budget thing they said oh yeah, we’ll give you some dialogue and we kind of just made it up. Then the director said oh no, this guy’s really funny, we want to get him involved in the film. So I went from being an extra to actually having a part in it.
“Basically from there, we went to Cannes in 2003 where the film was screened. Everyone said: you should fuck the club promoting off, this that and the other. So I got out of it. At the time everyone thought I’d taken leave of my senses because I gave it all up to become an actor. I had some pictures done, took the scenes out of this film, then I sent out a letter to some agents. Got an agent - which was surreal really, bearing in mind I’d not been to drama school or anything.
“He put me up for stuff: I got EastEnders, I done My Family, a couple of bits of TV. Then I done another film called One Man and His Dog. Then I swapped agents, went to a bigger agency, and eventually sort of changed again. So really I suppose you could say, as an actor, I kind of went from having a small agent to a medium agent and now I’ve got a big agent. In the space of six years. That was my main thing: I wanted to be an actor.
“That led to me then doing Rollin' with the Nines then that led me to then doing Rise of the Footsoldier which led to Doghouse and all the other projects I’m involved with. It’s a little bit like when I started running the clubs. I started off giving out fliers, then I had a magazine, then I started selling tickets and then I started putting on events - and then I become the biggest club promoter in England. It sounds completely fucking nuts! But it was sort of organic: I did one thing that led to another thing that led to another thing.
“And it’s been the same with this really. I started off wanting to be an actor and then done that for a little while. Didn’t want to really just do TV stuff, then I started doing some other stuff. Then I got into films and made my own films. It’s weird how it’s all just kind of played out, you know! It’s as if I’m in a movie and it’s all fucking unravelling before my eyes! But it’s been a lot of fun and it’s been really exciting.”
“Well, the story about Rise of the Footsoldier is: the guy who it’s about is a mate of mine and he gave me his book and said I want to make a film. I read the book and said yeah, it’s a great book, make a good film. So I basically got it developed, I believed in it, I had a vision of it. This was in 2004 so it took me two years to get it off the ground, and it was fucking hard work. We kept getting the money then it fell apart, then we got the money, then it fell apart. It was a nightmare but the good news was we got it done in the end and it’s become one of the most popular and successful British films for that budget ever made.
“Football Factory’s been out a lot longer, but Rise of the Footsoldier came out on DVD December 2007 and we’re only in June 2009 now and it’s done over 425,000 DVDs. So in another year and a half, two years, that could quite easily hit Football Factory figures - and obviously that’s one of the most successful British movies to date on DVD. So I think what happened is, when something’s successful or popular, it’s like anything: if an actor or actress is red hot everyone wants to use her, if a director’s red hot everyone wants to use him or her. It’s just that there’s this kind of mentality where no-one can come up with their own stuff, they just want to copy what everyone else does.
“So what I’ve kind of done is, I met Jake West and we got talking and I thought Doghouse was completely nuts. I thought it was a great concept and I just thought it was something different, you know. Everyone says it’s another Lesbian Vampire Killers but it’s not, it’s something completely different. It’s unfortunate really that it was released inbetween all the Hollywood blockbusters. If it had been released at a different time it could have done much better in the cinemas, with all the talent attached. But the good news is we didn’t spend a great deal on the cinema release. It’s done relatively well considering what we spent and the amount of cinemas we went on.
“So obviously we’ve not followed that model. We’ve just said well, we don’t want to spend too much but if the film’s going to perform on DVD the cinema release is, if you like, the advertising for the DVD. We’re not Transformers 2 or Star Trek. We haven’t got 180 million budgets, we’re working on one or two million so obviously we’ve got to make it work. So the way we make it work is: we make it as cheap as possible with the best quality, use the best actors we can get and use fresh talent. Jake West has been going a long time but this is his best film. Julian Gilbey had done Reckoning Day which was shot on a wind-up camera in his garden with his mates! He started off doing that and now he’s BAFTA-nominated, he’s behind Footsoldier and Rollin’ with the Nines, two films that I developed and produced. So I think I’ve got a good eye for talent.
“What I try to do is look for things that are similar to other things but different and then get up-and-coming actors, up-and-coming directors. I mean, obviously you have to use certain names when you make a film. If you want a big, scary, six-foot-three, cockney-looking actor you’re limited to three or four actors. If you want a kind of cockney geezer, you’re limited, it’s not like there’s hundreds of them. So you have to go for whatever you can get. And sometimes the people you want are available, sometimes they’re not. But we always try and use the best people for the job.
Will that be stop-motion animation or CGI?
“It’s going to be 3D animation. Monsters vs Aliens, Shrek - that’s what we’re aiming at. Obviously 3D animation is big at the moment. It takes two years to make a film from start to finish. So in two years’ time, everyone’s going to be doing 3D animation so there’s no point making it any other way. We’ve got to do it with what’s what, what everyone’s doing now. Because it’s definitely going to go that way. It’s not going to go any other way. Everyone in the world will be 3D animation and maybe some of the live action films are going to start being in 3D as well. I haven’t got a crystal ball to look into the future but I would bet quite a bit of money on it that that’s the way it’s going to go.”
I want to ask you about Kung Fu Flid. What was the idea behind that because it’s just completely out there?
“Hahaha! Well, what happened was this. A guy contacts me and he said, ‘I want to meet you, I’ve got this amazing script.’ I said well, send it to me and I’ll read it. ‘No, no, I’ve got to meet you because if I send it to you, you’ll think it’s a joke.’ He said, ‘I’ve got to meet you and pitch it to you.’ I went all right. So I’ve gone and met the guy. He turned up, sat down and he said, ‘My mate’s going to come and join us as well.’ Then Mat Fraser walked in and sat down. I said okay, what’s your film called. He said it’s called Flid.
“So I’m sitting there at he table, looking at Mat Fraser and this guy telling me about this film called Flid. So straightaway I think this is some fucking wind-up. Someone’s setting me up here. One of them fucking TV things - you’ve been punk’d or whatever! He was saying Mat’s going to be the action hero and all this and I just said, you know, this is the most fucking ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my life. I just said, this isn’t something that I think (a) we could get money for, (b) I want to do really.
“Then when I got back I thought well, if I made it for a real low budget. It helps him out, obviously being a disabled actor he’s never going to get a chance to play a role like that. I thought, it helps him out and we donated two and a half per cent of the profits to Scope. I just thought we’ll do it, see what happens. So we made the film, we got some good talent attached. And you know, it’s not the best film in the world but we shot it in three weeks and for no money. It looks like a two or three hundred grand film. It gives Xavier Leret a chance. Obviously he wanted to direct another movie.
“So it was more to do with creating something for the FilmLounge to direct people to the site. But also to help charity, also to help Mat, so if you like it was my kind of charity film really where I done something to help other people. So that was why it come about. Some people still think it’s a fucking joke. When you tell people they say no, you’re fucking winding me up. You’re like no no no, honestly, it’s on the FilmLounge.
“But funnily enough, Anchor Bay have picked it up and are putting it on DVD in September in America, Canada, Australia, England. It’s got a multi-territory release. But they’ve changed the name to Unarmed but Dangerous because they said Kung Fu Flid’s offensive and stuff. I mean, he came up with the name! I said to him I’ve had these suggestions and they said yeah, we love that. We’ll call it Kung Fu Flid or Karate Flid, we don’t care.
“So it was all done a bit tongue in cheek but obviously, Mat being a thalidomite and obviously having the piss taken out of him when he was younger, growing up. I mean, he’s 48 years old. So he had the piss taken out of him badly - there was no political correctness when he was growing up. So he just got to the point where he was so used to it he didn’t care. He embraces the whole thing. It doesn’t offend him, he just thinks it’s funny. We had a lot of publicity, the Express did a nice piece about it and the News of the World. We had some great press on it so I’m really pleased with that.”
Finally, apart from the animated film, what other stuff are you working on?
“We’re doing a film at the moment called Shank which we’re doing with Revolver which is going to be like a futuristic Adulthood. That’s going to be filmed in August. I’ve got a horror film which is like a British Blair Witch-type movie called The Basement. That’s going in October. The kids animated movie is going in October. We’ll be prepping it in August but we’re actually recording the voices and doing all the work in October. Then we’re doing a film about the Essex Boys called Bonded by Blood. That’s going to go in November/December time. So I’ve got a busy year!”
Interview originally posted 1st September 2009