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Features - The Shane Meadows Method
simon skinner

How do you get from being a humble video maker with nought in your pocket and no budget to a Hollywood player with two features in the can and scripts being sent to you? Nottingham man, born and bred, Shane Meadows ( a much disputed 26 ) gave the lowdown on the greasy ladder, rung by rung, at a recent NPA (New Producers Alliance) gathering and showed how he did it. He spoke for over an hour between screenings of his first two videos, his first paid documentary etc. and answered questions from the floor with enthusiasm - a much underrated quality. (see Mark Cousins on Moviedrome) In other words, if you don't love movies, get out of here!

How did he get into film making?

Walking back from a redundancy and thinking of grape picking or something as the next career option, Shane happened to bump into some guys who needed a hand with their equipment. Stone the crows they were film-makers and hanging out with them he found out about the video resource centre in Nottingham! A place he could get his milcose Midland mitts on equipment for next to nothing as well as plump young girls with stars in their bloodshot eyes. Give them a quick shafting and then video it? Not quite but Shane set out to make a video in a weekend, make a video in a lunch hour and refreshingly wanted to share these with us rather than some of his more sophisticated efforts (he didn't want to blind us with... answers in video diary form)

The first, Black Wiggow, was a serial killer spoof, with the director himself getting it in the chest. A good sequence where a syringe is used and plummeted into an unsuspecting neck. Even in his first video, Meadows shows his flair in the edit and a good sense of pace. He manages to make the killing sequences both ludicrous/funny and in a surreal way slightly scary. This faux naïve quality has become one of his hallmarks.

Shane doesn't believe in underscoring scenes. "If the actors can't hold it… " Music is crucial and not used as a clip-on. The rhapsody of a soul track is mined independently for the quality of pathos and inspiration it conveys in a scene. For instance, a montage sequence might feature a minute of a favourite song but you don't have people talking over it. Epithanies rather than moods.

Wiggle Gumbo
After watching Deliverance Shane and his mate Paddy set out to do the Hillbilly on a hill in Nottingham. Wiggle Gumbo opens with Paddy giving an utterly convincing monologue about killing his family with an axe. Truly chilling. We see him going about his business, fixing bikes and chainsaws (oh yes!) and out of the blue a student turns up, sans map, lost. Asking for directions he is literally taken in by Paddy and gets a gun pointed at him. The scene of rape in Deliverance just goes on and on and is especially difficult to watch, in Wiggle Gumbo Meadows keeps the sexual element of the hostage-take to a minimum but it is still present. Gumbo lies on the bed and has a sneaky wank, assuming that the film crew are out of the room and a very funny argument ensues where the director has to apologise to his actor for being present!

These moments work and play on the "you are watching, watching a video maker make a video" but these sections are not too long to make you leave the reality of the film or spoil the narrative drive. The eventual "assassination with shotgun" after the false "letting go" sequence belie the need for surprise or completion. It's all in a day's / weekend's work. And it works.

King of the Gypsies
First paid documentary, £17,000 from Channel 4. The story of a gypsy fighter who cannot retire. If you're bare knuckle champion in the gypsy world, unless you're on crutches or pushing a Zimmer frame you can still

get beat. You're a feather in the cap of some youngster, pushing sixty or not pushing…

And you've got to fight. And not just pride, you see, Gypsy law. The champ is still the champ unless he gets beat.

One to one interviews with the man, his daughter who is determined that her son will not follow in the Champ's footsteps. Meadows as interviewer works well, they call out "Shane" with an easy familiarity and so you get a real sense that he has been let into this most private of worlds. We see the champ at his punchbag, champ in the "ring" (a construction made from rope, with grass as the flooring.) Meadows pans nicely over the plot of land the champ lives on. The council has been trying to evict the champ and his family from this potentially lucrative hill… but he has been living there too long and has ducked every letter and body shot they've thrown his way. He's the king. Gypsy… uh no. Heartfelt and sincere.

Budget 1.5 million. One week rather than his desired three months with which to rehearse, Meadows was literally thrown in at the deep end with a raggle-taggle of no-name performers and one star name, Bob Hoskins. Meadows spoke of how Hoskins had to fit in with his crew and not vice versa.. The famous man showed up in an environment Meadows had created with everyone running around "smoking reefers" not sitting in trailers going, "is it my line?" Their methods met halfway and 24/7 was born. Heavily publicised and promoted the film won critical acclaim but didn't make a penny for Meadows. Bums on seats, you see, not enough. But it opened doors for Meadows who will make three one hour dramas for the BBC this year and he has just finished his second feature with some Canadian money. During the Q & A he apologised for being so effusive as he had been stuck in the dreaded black box for the last three months editing. He'd hardly spoken to a soul and here were a crowd of budding film-makers all with arms raised! Most questions focussed on technique and Meadows' reluctance to write anything down in a traditionally scripted way. How do you get funding without a script? Trust and enthusiasm seemed to be the answer. The film companies now trust him with an outline and know that his methods (he continues to shoot no-budget videos as preparation, character research etc.) normally strike gold. To get to that stage, seemed to be the subtext, go and do what I did. Beg, steal and borrow. Make videos.

He now gives his co-actors contracts in even the most minor of video works as though they are not for general release just in case someone puts together a compilation of "The videos of Shane Meadows" later. Mates on the dole get fifty quid cash in hand per day, and contract signed on future earnings, everyone's happy. Meadows claims he's had a few fallout's with mates who had worked on earlier work and think they should get a cut of the 24/7 "millions" even though it didn't make any money as it failed to go into profit!

Find out who your friends are by having a modicum of success

Meadows now gets sent scripts from Hollywood and claims he's got no problem with directing the work of others. He's beginning to run out of material from his own life anyway. Searching for pastures new. What he won't be doing is taking on scripts like one he received from Hollywood the other day described as a "funny Bad Lieutenant." Laugh and avoid.

Can Shane keep his credibility and truly gain the final cut of his desires? It's difficult to judge his talent on one feature and a handful of shorts. Early promise often goes unrealised. Let's hope the Meadow's man realises.

simon skinner


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