All-Stars-Quad-PosterIt seems somewhat fitting that one of the hottest days this year marks the release of All Stars – an inherently uplifting production about two kids who form a dancing troupe with the aim of winning a talent contest, and saving their local youth centre, and we were fortunate enough to sit down with the film’s director Ben Gregor to discuss his very first feature film…

How did you first come to be involved in All Stars?
I had a background in comedy and I did a show called Midnight Beast, and they just thought “that nutter did all those music videos and dialogue, he could do this”. So I was talking to them and they had this really solid script that was really well written, but I wanted to make it more quirky and heartfelt, and re-set it inside kids imaginations. When I was young I was a skateboarder and all I’d want do is skate, and my dad would always take my skateboard away to make me do more schoolwork, and I would just think about skateboarding more. So I related to the character of Jaden, just not being allowed to do what he does, so I wanted to access that and make a film about how I felt, and then made it 3D with dancing, craziness and loud music.

You have done adult orientated sitcoms before, I was wondering if it was always your intention to one day move towards kids TV and films?
No, never. Totally not. I was lucky enough to work with Spike Jonze on Todd Margaret and Where the Wild Things are, and we were talking about it the amount of imaginative leeway you get when you make things for young people, you can just go wherever you want, on little riffs and little journeys that you’d be considered as a real art film director if you did it for adults, so I liked that idea of being able to go to those weird bits and go black and white, or to an origami forest. Now I’m really hooked on making stuff for young people, because when a young person says “that was the best thing I’ve ever seen”, they mean it, because it actually is. Films and stuff for them have got a bit pompous and I grew up watching stuff with a sense of humour, so I think that young adult stuff you can be more funny and visual, which I like.

It must be nice making a film that you own kids can watch as well
Yeah. That is good, because my son was actually in the Midnight Beast very briefly, but doing a scene in an episode that was so rude, he’s never seen it. He’s always like “I wanna see the TV show” and I’m like “Noooooo. It’s on Azerbaijan TV. You can’t watch it over here.”

So what do they think of All Stars? Have they said it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen as well?
No, they’re pretty cool about the stuff that I do, they’re pretty blasé. My son much prefers the film I did on my phone of Thomas the Tank Engine teleporting into a banana. But they do like it, and find some relation to the story.

So this is actually your first theatrically released feature – it must be quite an exciting time for you?
Yeah I always wanted to make a film that was released before I hit 40, and I’m 39 so I’ve done an Indiana Jones, diving under the closing door. It’s great to have it out and feel the whole machine going. I’ve got something that I’m proud of all too, I never knew how it would happen and that I’d have to pay for my own film to get made, so to do something that has weight behind, it has a release and is in 3D – it just feels amazing, really good. There is some really stupid, subversive stuff in there, stupid jokes, and some crazy stuff with BMXs that I love. We put lots of stuff we liked in it, and that’s the film now – it feels great.

So was this a chance for you to be a big kid again?
Oh yeah, completely. I think I am slightly frozen as a 16 year old, I sort of stopped developing at that age in every way I think. Anyone who has ever gone out with me would definitely testify that I am incredibly immature. It was lovely, and just to be part of the British Film Industry, we are good at films, I have always loved the likes of Michael Winterbottom and Paul Greengrass, and these people are crafting amazing stuff, you know, and with comedy and music and film we can do it, and that is awesome. So to make a film just makes me feel so happy that I have done it. I just hope people like it.

So are movies where you’d like to stay now? Because you had done a lot of TV…
Never again. Done. I would rather dig the roads than do another TV show.

Directing TV sucks. It really sucks. Maybe not for the big HBO American stuff, but in this country it’s just a process it’s all about the writers and the producers. You’re appreciated in the same way that a taxi driver is appreciated. Like, people are glad you’re doing it, and they are all very nice people, but it’s awful. It’s much nicer to make a film because you get to do stuff and they care about what it looks like, whereas TV is hard work for everyone nowadays, writers and directors. I hope I don’t sound spoilt. But it’s tough going to just chuck out eight episodes of a show under a really tight deadline, whereas if you’re making a movie, you’re making a movie. It’s still the best thing you can do.

Although enjoying making a film for a younger audience, do you ever seen a morbid drama in you? Or crime thriller perhaps?
I want to do a film that is more heartfelt, and I’ve got this one set up which is more indie and from the heart. It still has young actors but I think that stuff with heart in it, stuff with pain – sure. I did some stuff for Channel 4 that I loved doing with Aaron Johnson, about young kids in Northern Ireland, and it was really heartfelt and sad but it had funny bits too, and I think if it’s true and honest it can be brilliant. Dominic Savage, people like that, the stuff they do is beautiful. So touching and so real. I definitely know I’m not as good as him, but I think that sad stuff is cool and has a place. I don’t think I could be relentlessly sad for two and a half hours, I would have to make a joke at some point, but yeah, definitely something honest.

So let’s talk about dancing… Is that something you’ve ever been interested in?
Nope. I like White Knights and I like dance movies, and breakdancing stuff, and Silver Linings Playbook, which is a dance film, but I don’t know anything about dancing, I always get embarrassed to dance myself, but it reminds me of skateboarding as something that is free and makes me feel physically good and the chance to express myself. Plus it’s good to film, it’s like fireworks, it looks good on camera, and 3D love dancing, so it just looks awesome, and shooting slow-mo dancing it just beautiful. There is something rather levelling about dancing that I really like, and how people express themselves. Even at a wedding when people get up and do a dance, it’s a nice thing, a joyful thing and it’s nice to film it.

So in regards to the big choreographed dancing sequences, were they quite tough to direct? Did you just let them do their own thing?
Yeah, they were so hard. You’ve got to really push people and make them do it again and again and working out your coverage is really hard and what cameras to use, and whether you’ve got it or not you don’t know as you’re watching lots of monitors. Also, I wanted to shoot dancing in long takes, whereas a lot of dance films nowadays are all very quick and very tightly edited and you can’t really see what anyone is actually doing, so I wanted long takes and few edits – but that means you have to get a lot of moves right in succession, so it can make it stressful on the day. So I don’t know if I’d do another dance movie in a hurry, as it’s hard work, but it was good fun and it looks good on the big screen.

As for directing kids – people always say that’s quite a difficult thing to do. Well you’ve made a film where nearly all of the cast are young – did that pose any challenges?
Yeah it was really hard, what you normally have in a schedule is some adult scenes together, and then some kid scenes – but we had all kid scenes, there is only really one scene between two adults so it was really hard work. We were pulling out our hair because of the restricted hours we’d get with them, but it just means that it feels like their film, because they are driving every scene so it feels like their world and their film. You put their world in 3D and it feels like you’re really honouring it, respecting their world in a way, and bringing it to life in a way it hadn’t been done before.