Shane Meadows at The Virgin Media Shorts Awards 2013

Shane Meadows is arguably Britain’s finest filmmaker, with the likes of Dead Man’s Shoes, This is England and A Room For Romeo Brass standing out from his mighty back catalogue. It was therefore a great privilege for us to sit down with the director (over a bottle of champagne) at the Virgin Media Shorts awards, last night, where Meadows was a judge.

Having made a handful of short films himself, before moving into feature length films – and now TV with the immense This is England spin-off drama, Meadows discusses his love for the short film, why it’s important to give it exposure, while also telling us about the winning short ‘Touch’ by Nimer Rashed. He also speaks to us about This is England ’90 and whether it not this may be the final instalment of the hugely popular series.

Of course we’re here today to celebrate short movies – how important is it that the likes of Virgin Media and Nikon, support short films and give a platform to young filmmakers?

Short films, without the right support, tend to just be perceived as a poor cousin, or starting pistol in a way. That moment, it only happens once in your life – it’s like a debut performance, or debut film. I mean that screen in there, how massive was that? The films stood up amazingly well. Now you’ve got that union of technology where it’s at a stage where it can do that at an affordable level, it’s what I dreamt about 20 years ago. There are some filmmakers out there who don’t want to share the magic and want to pretend it’s all mystical and it’s horrible. You’ve got to have open arms. I got a leg up and I had people who helped me in my career, so you want to get involved and see what people are making and see if you can help people. The other side is just to see people get this kind of night. I can remember coming down from the north, my first time in London ever in my life and I came down to an awards ceremony and left with a cheque of five thousand quid, and had dinner with Emily Lloyd, this actress out of Wish You Were Here and Stephen Woolley and we were sat in the Groucho Club, and I was like, fuck it, give me loads more of this, I love this. You know, it was amazing. So the fact there’s a red carpet – that didn’t feel any different to any great awards ceremony I’ve been too, it felt as good if not better than many. So to see so much effort put into people’s first films is just brilliant.

How much did you rely on short movies to help develop your craft as a filmmaker? Just how much can be learnt from this art form?

For me, because I made a lot of shorts, my first feature film ended up having a lot of unknowns in it, and the reason they were allowed to be in the film was because I’d made shorts with unknowns and proven that I could…. [Waiter brings over a bottle of champagne] Oh wow, thank you. Hello darling! Anyway, yeah you have to make something in the same spirit that you made the short films, so if don’t make a number of shorts, you can’t really establish what your story telling gift is, if you have one. From my point of view, I started making films with people on the doll on my street, and 80% of the people who were in Where’s the Money, Ronnie? were in a feature film, which is unheard of. If you went to make a feature film now, without any evidence that it worked, no one would trust you, so I’ve used short films as a sketch book with Paddy Considine, we’ve been out for a couple of hours just shooting and improvising and made a short film. I’ve made a short film that has taken 6 weeks, I’ve made one that is 40 seconds long and one that is 60 minutes long, so the beautiful thing about it, is that there’s something liberating that short films can be anything from a second to 60 minutes and that’s gorgeous, because if somebody says a feature film is 70 minutes, you go, I’m not paying ten quid for that. But that’s fucking rubbish, if something moves you, it could take a minute, it doesn’t matter. So short films are great for that. The one thing they’ve always suffered with is exposure and the difference now is the internet. I mean, the internet existed in 1994 but it was like, zooming in to a one bit image of a boob, taking six hours to get the boob up, and trying to work out, is that a nipple or a square? I thought it was a basketball, but still eroticised over it. But yeah, the truth is that everything is a blessing and a curse. So with things like Vimeo and YouTube, you’ve got an audience and market, forums, and things that didn’t exist when I was around. The other side of it is the competition is much higher.

How much of a challenge is it to tell a story in such a short space of time?

A feature film has certain arcs and certain shapes to it, the problem with some short films is they try and make a feature film in a short film. The best short films always have that hook, line and sinker. Classic shorts and the ones that won tonight, couldn’t be any other length, and I think it’s a gift of a storyteller to know that. Someone getting up and brushing their teeth isn’t a feature film, and at the same time the whole of World War Two can’t get into a feature film because it needs to be over 10 hours. It’s about being a storyteller, and not being a snobby bastard and saying ‘I only make features’. I just made a little video for Jake Bugg and I made a 42 minute documentary about one of my friends who is a musician, and it’s whatever the fuck it should be, whatever the length needs to be. The problem with features, as opposed to shorts, is that with a feature they sign you up and give you millions of pounds and you sign a contract that says it’ll be between 82 and 106 minutes, so there’s a bit of swing, but with a short film it’s totally free.

So just a quick word on the winning short ‘Touch’ – what was it about this that made it special enough to win today?

I think it’s because it ignored convention in a way. The stuff it chose to do and what it chose to leave out was probably its biggest strength. It was an experience rather than a storyboarded movie. A lot of the judges voted, and we don’t know who voted for what, but that film in particular just felt like it came from his heart.

Let’s talk about This is England ’90… Is this going to be the end?

Possibly. Only Fools and Horses taught me never to say never, but in terms of the immediate future, my plan is to finish it with 90. The ending that I’ve got for 90, I don’t mean everybody is going to die like they do in Emmerdale with a big fucking aeroplane, but it’s pretty definitive. If anything happens beyond there, then it does, but you know, I’m rehearsing with the actors next month and if the storyline starts to hang together then we’ll be shooting something next year.

I’ve never seen a team spirit like the This is England cast share. The way all of your actors interact on twitter, and having seem them all having a great time at the Made of Stone premiere, I’ve never seen that before. I imagine it’s going to be pretty devastating when this all comes to an end?

Yeah. But the really good thing about it is that a lot of the actors have managed to make a life for themselves, we get invited to things all over the country, and we did a thing a few months back, a charity auction, and we did a talk, me and some of the actors, and then we auctioned off some signed stuff. So it sort of feels like if we never make another one, the actors in particular have been taken into the public’s hearts in a way. You don’t know why that is, and if you try to do it, you come off as a poor relative to being accepted, but something about the programme feels authentic and I think it’s because it’s an authentic bond between the actors. It’s like an orphanage that programme, and every one who is in there has something broken somewhere in their lives which makes the unit work and tick. Where one person is strong, the other is weak and honestly you can’t ever account for it. If you tried to do it, to formulate it, it doesn’t work, but it just happened by accident and something about that film made them all stay in touch. Normally at the end of a shoot it’s like a funeral, you know, we’ll have to see you again – but you never do. But with This is England, they see each other all the time.

Finally, your last feature was Made of Stone and before than the mockumentary Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee, but I was wondering if you had any plans on returning to the more customary, narrative driven film anytime soon?

Yeah, I’ve got a film that I’m halfway through. It’s about a cyclist called Tommy Simpson, who died in the 1967 Tour de France, having suffocated when full of amphetamines, which wasn’t uncommon then. I saw a documentary about him and it turned me on to cycling and his story which has almost been airbrushed from history, and so I’m working on that. Meadows does the Tour de France. Everybody is making a Lance Armstrong movie, but this is back in the day, a guy from Nottinghamshire.

Check our the rest of our coverage of the Virgin Media Shorts Awards here.