June/July 1998

An Interview with Shane Meadows

by Chris Null

Shane Meadows, first-time feature director of the new independent film "TwentyFourSeven," grew up in the Midlands, England. At the age of twenty-five, he had already produced thirty-three short films before he tackled "TwentyFourSeven." I spoke with Meadows about how he became a filmmaker and his experiences with the production of his first feature.

Why did you decide to make this film as your first feature?

I suppose that decision was made for me really because the producer that approached me after seeing some of my short films was asking me about short film ideas. I gave the idea about this guy that was running this club for some young kids. I spoke about that it was a study in loneliness, a celebration of a community, and a celebration of a man that was like a bit of a visionary for his own town. Really the rise and fall of this boxing club where he loses himself. And I was talking about all of this stuff and Stephen Woolley said, "That's not really a short film. It'd be impossible to tell it in a short film. Maybe we should consider it as a feature." I'd not really considered making a feature film, but I took his word for it.

So you never envisioned it as a feature film?

It was just an idea, just floating around in my head, based quite autobiographically on something that had happened in my past. But I didn't just think of it as a feature film. I didn't think of myself as a filmmaker really. I was making short films, enjoying what I was doing, working with a group of unknown actors off the street. None of them were trained actors. That producer saw something special in that, and he thought it wouldn't be a problem for me to translate that whole working process into a feature film.

What else were you doing at the time if you didn't consider yourself a filmmaker?

I was just unemployed. But I was enjoying making the films and I was showing them around. I didn't really have an education. I had never been successful at anything. But a lot of the time with any filmmaker you're more negative about you're own work. A lot of people at the time in my local area were saying, "We think these films are great." But these were my friends. They're bound to say that. And then when people further afield started saying there was something special about the films, I began to think to myself, man this is probably the only thing in my life that I've had any success at, that people have taken me seriously for. So by the time I got to the set of "TwentyFourSeven," I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew that I'd probably never be able to do anything else.

When you started work on "TwentyFourSeven", did you feel you were ready for the project?

I think it's impossible. You go into anything that's far bigger than anything you've ever done in your whole life before and it's going to be scary. So I was really scared about going onto the film set, because there was like 50 or 60 people working for me. And I'm the kid who always used to get into trouble at school, and I was told I would never make anything of myself. And you have to overcome all the negativity that you experience as a child and say I'm worth this; I can do this; this idea is important. And Bob Hoskins was in a vulnerable position, because these kids were real, some of them were on drugs charges, they were going to go to prison, and this film to them was like a savior. It's a hard time for everybody, and when you get a lot of people that are quite vulnerable, it means that they all need each other just as much as you need them, so we all began to help each other.

Do you feel like you made any mistakes?

No, not really. It's about accepting anything as [a part of] the time it's in. I don't think I could have made it any better. Everyone's made mistakes, there isn't a perfect film in existence. But it's how you feel at the end of it that's important.

How much of the story was autobiographical?

I was in a boxing club as a kid. I wanted to be a boxer when I was a lad, and they closed the club down where I was living. We all spilt out on the streets, and there was nothing for us to do really. We used to shoplift and we were starting to get in trouble. And this guy came to us and started to set up a football team. I think that really inspired us. And we never even won a match, but the fact that he brought us together and the fact that he stood by us is the heart of the story. I felt very passionately about telling this story, and the fact that it was about a 55 year old man makes it quite different from a lot of the British youth movies out there.

Why did you want Bob Hoskins?

I couldn't imagine anyone else. I was writing the script, and I was talking to the co-writer Paul Fraser, and we had a discussion and it turned out we were both writing the scenes for Bob Hoskins. So it wasn't a case of, I thought I'll get Bob cause it will help because he's famous. I think it was just a case that we couldn't imagine anyone else forming that part. We approached him and he agreed to doing it very simply. Almost as soon as he had read the script, he agreed to do it for next to nothing.

Were you surprised when he accepted?

Yeah, I was blown away. I went down to see him, and he agreed to do it as long as I sat and had a drink of wine with him. Three hours later, I was on the train very drunk thinking, "I've just been down to London to try and get Bob Hoskins on my film, and now that he's on my film I'm very drunk and I don't know what's going on." I just went back home and told everyone and told my family. And that's been the great thing about this is that if I didn't have my family, there would be no one to share it with me, it would just all be inside me. And because I'm not from a film or artistic background, it's refreshing to everybody that I know.

How has your life changed since the making of "TwentyFourSeven"?

I'm not famous or anything, most people wouldn't have heard of me, so I have to travel around and get the word out. I think as far as my own values I don't think I'm a better person. It's just had a physical effect of removing me from the place where I live for long periods of time.

Do you feel lucky?

Oh yes. I've been around enough to see that there are plenty of filmmakers who would die to even make one film. I feel very lucky.

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