When Damo Met Shane Meadows
Posted on Monday June 23, 2008, 14:29 by Damon Wise in Edinburgh International Film Festival
One of my duties while in Edinburgh this year was to present one of Skillset's In Person seminars, which this year featured Shane Meadows, who'd come almost straight from a screening of Somers Town. I'd done a few of these events at the festival last year, and I was particularly proud of the ones I did with Chris Cooper and Stephen Frears. Not to blow my own trumpet or anything, it's just really satisfying when an onstage interview gives a real insight into the subject's personality and working methods. I'd never met Shane properly before, and I knew he was a good sort, but I wasn't prepared for how much he was prepared to give up to the audience on Saturday evening.
I didn't really have anything sketched out, but at the back of my mind I wanted to emphasise that Shane is a true British original: by rights, he shouldn't even be a filmmaker at all, let alone such a good one. He's not from a movie background, he's had no breaks, he's from the Midlands (where he's stayed), he's simply persevered, and in the last 12 years has been able to tell the stories he's wanted to tell, with little recourse to genre – it wasn't until Dead Man's Shoes in 2004 that told a gangster story, and even then it had a distinct Meadows flourish (I think he said at the time that he was mixing social realism with The Sixth Sense and a bit of High Plains Drifter).
Shane was very candid about his upbringing, how he fell in with the wrong crowd and went to great lengths to get his life back from that, going so far as to sell jewellery at raves, wearing pink dungarees. The filmmaking, he said, started with a video camera and a lot of help from friends. His mad first short, Where's The Money, Ronnie?, brought him to the attention of Steve Woolley, and it was Woolley who shepherded Shane through his first proper feature, 24/7 in 1997. To me, our talk really came alive when I told Shane that it seemed to me that he really hit his stride with the follow-up to that, A Room For Romeo Brass, which came out in 1999 with the world's worst poster campaign: a big pair of pants. If you haven't seen it, do so. You'll be surprised at how much of the flavour of his later work is already in there, and he was very grateful for the observation.
After that, it was plain sailing, with Shane even willing to discuss his only real flop, 2002's Once Upon A Time In The Midlands. I didn't mention this to him but I visited the set on that film and the tensions were visible, even down to two Assistant Directors arguing with each other over a matter as basic as remembering each other's names. As I suspected, the bigger picture was worse, and Shane looked visibly pained as he remembered the bond company chopping down his script (which I read, and was way better than the release version). He says he's now in the process of getting it back, and that's he's hoping to re-edit and re-score it. He doesn't hold much hope for totally reinventing it as a masterpiece, but he does want to make it more of a kind with his other films.
From his reaction to the very dark clip of Dead Man's Shoes (Paddy Considine whacking one of his brother's tormentors), it was clear that Shane was acting out a little with this twisted drama. But he managed to keep the conversation light, peppering his anecdotes about filmmaking with very compassionate insights into his thoughts on smalltown life and the bullying that goes on there. I wasn't really surprised, but I was pleased to say that after 75 minutes or so, Shane Meadows confirmed himself as a true rebel, an artist, a maverick and a pro. If the capacity crowd didn't love him to start with, they did after, and you could have heard a pin drop as he answered their questions. I don't think it's up just yet but we're hoping to have part or all of the interview online soon, so watch this space...