Creevy talks about his influences, how he managed to attract such a stellar cast of British performers – such as James McAvoy (interview going live tomorrow), Mark Strong (our interview with Mark up here) and Peter Mullan – as well as discussing the invaluable assistance provided to him from his executive producer Ridley Scott. The young filmmaker, who is bound to have a bright future ahead of him, also tells us about his third project Autobahn – though his casting remains a secret for now.
Apparently there was a lot of buzz around the screenplay, which is exceptional as it’s only your second film. How do you create buzz like that?
What it was, after we made my first film Shifty, which is like a socio-realistic drama shot in a vérité style with nuanced performances, I wanted to make something that harked back to the heroic bloodshed era of the ’80s and ’90s, like John Woo cinema – A Better Tomorrow, Hard-Boiled. I also aspired to ’70s conspiracy thrillers like The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, Bullit, The French Connection. I said to my producer I was going to write this screenplay which is going to be a cops and robbers movie, but it needs to be set in London. I wrote this 180-page draft and they said, ‘We can see what you’re trying to do.’ Ridiculous shoot-outs on Tower Bridge and all these mad things. We spent the next couple of years trying to hone it down, and in many ways I wanted to work with the archetypes of those films I loved growing up as a kid, the damaged cop and the brilliant mastermind criminal, but doing it our own way in a London setting, and using the sexy metropolis that was sprouting. While I was writing the screenplay the Olympics was coming. So we worked hard on the script, draft after draft, and people wanted to read it as I had been BAFTA-nominated, won the Writers Guild Award for best new film writer. I held on to it, and by that time I had joined CAA who were representing me as agents, and Independent were representing me here. We released it to everyone, financiers, on the same day. There was a real buzz about it.
The script was much more poppy than the final product. It had chapters titles, like the Rise and Fall of Peppermint Patty, Red Diesel. Big credits that slammed up on the screen like a Tarantino film. There was back story about Mark Strong’s character called Red Diesel. When you see him doing press-ups at the beginning he’s got Red Diesel on his back. It was much more colourful, but when you realise you have to go and shoot the film, you realise you have to edit the film you shot, rather than the script you wrote. I edited the script I wrote, and realised it didn’t really work with these mad Tarantino chapter titles. It was a much more moodier film than I had imagined. The style of the music; Harry Escott, the guy who wrote the score, for a year I was emailing him music by Shigeru Umebayashi who did 2046 and In the Mood for Love and sending him examples. You end up having to throw away some of your babies. It ended up being more serious than we intended. We were so intent on making the film, because it was everything to us as we were a bunch of runners who were making tea and coffee in Soho, and we met running on films. I met Ben Rory, and another guy Mat Whitecross who directed Spike Island and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. We decided to stop being runners and do our own thing. I was chatting about it to Ben and Rory, saying how we were so desperate to make Welcome to the Punch, that intensity comes out on screen. When there’s that moment of light relief at the nan’s house, I wish I had put more of that in there. It needs it, just to give it more light and shade. But you stand by your decisions, and I’m proud of the movie.
You mention Hard Boiled, but did your actors get that from the start?
You talk about it. When I met Mark Strong in LA I was out there shooting a music video for The Script. I thought, right, get me a meeting! He read the script and I went along with visual references. I prepared a lot of people with the elevator sequence in the hospital – check out this five minute sequence, over which I had put music by Shigeru Umebayashi on headphones. I tell you one actor who does not get my references, and that’s Peter Mullan. He has very art-house, independent tastes, and I’m sitting there going John Woo! Hard Boiled! Infernal Affairs! And he’s going ‘ay, ay’, smoking away, listening to me, not having a clue what I’m talking about. But I think he like my energy, and I think he’d enjoyed Shifty. I sat down with him after editing the scenes in the nan’s house, and put over this balletic music, and he went, ‘Oh right, I get it now!’
In the grandmother’s house scene, you’ve got James McAvoy, Johnny Harris, Mark Strong and Peter Mullan – four of the best British actors out there. How comforting is it as a director to leave your script in their hands?
It’s good. Everyone has their own methods how they approach sequences, and that was a mad day on set. We had Ruth Sheen, James McAvoy, Johnny Harris, Mark Strong and Peter Mullan. Johnny has a very particular way of working – he really hypes himself up, and does press-ups on the floor and makes animalistic roars and the veins are coming out of his neck. It’s his process of getting into the headspace. It ends up psyching people out, and when he steps onto set he’s in to it. He ended up bogging Peter, Mark and James out: ‘I’m going to cut you. I’m going to cut you. I love you nan. I’m going to cut you.’ The pressure really built up, and the cinematographer is on set, Ed Wild, came running to me at the monitor saying it was a pressure bomb and he couldn’t handle it! It’s great, and I think that tension bleeds through on screen, like a western and their guns are poised.
Like Shifty, there’s some witty dialogue – is that important to you?
I try to make things as natural as possible. When I watch the film back now, I think I wouldn’t write the script that way now. You evolve so much as a writer on each project. I try to make things as real as possible by walking round a room, trying things out. It is hard. With Welcome to the Punch it exists in a different universe to Shifty, like the difference between Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs. The characters of Welcome to the Punch could never walk into the world of Shifty, where every bullet counts. It’s a weird thing when you tonally try to get things right, and you’ve got these nuanced actors, and you hope people are going to buy them flying around with guns. Peter Mullan 500 frames per second getting shot!
How much work did you put into the whole current affairs background of the story?
It’s a weird one, as when I was writing the film I was trying to work out how you would bring in guns to a British police force, and I created my own hierarchy in the police force after doing a lot of research. I created my own squad, the Raid Squad, which don’t exist, based on the Flying Squad. I wanted that stuff to feel very real. We pushed the production design – no red buses, pillar boxes or police panda cars or uniforms – we created our own police uniform. I realised you would’ve bought it anyway that they had guns, because it’s almost borderline sci-fi, slightly futuristic. I feel like if I did another movie in the Welcome to the Punch universe, I wouldn’t need to justify why the police had guns. It’s your own alternate London to a degree. All I was doing at the time was reflecting what was going on in the press. The London riots shut down the production because the police had shot a young man, and they sat back and didn’t do anything while the public were up in arms. The Milly Dowler case, where journalists had been bribing police officers for phone numbers. All this stuff was going on, this corruption in the police force, and Boris Johnson was sending armed guards into Hackey estates. What I was doing was feeding what was going on into the screenplay – I wasn’t trying to send a message. My own stance is that I don’t feel the police force should be armed in any way. I do think they could have better training and equipment so incidents like the London riots don’t happen. I grew up on a diet of The Untouchables, LA Confidential, Taxi Driver, and it hasn’t affected us. We can watch a film and differentiate between ultra-violence in a movie and the reality of real violence on the news. It’s just made me more creative. Hopefully people don’t feed too much of a political message into it.
You wrote and directed both your films – is this how you plan to work? Or would you be willing to take someone else’s script on?
Yeah, it’s just because I wasn’t being offered any scripts to direct, so I wrote them myself out of necessity. The new film I’m hoping to make called Autobahn, which we will shoot this year or next in Germany, the first six drafts were written by F. Scott Frazier, and I worked on the script with him for a year, and went in and did the last draft of the screenplay. It’s a weird action film – (500) Days of Summer meets Speed – about an American backpacker who gets embroiled with these drug dealers and has to get back across Germany to his girlfriend in Munich. It’s this mad dash and tells their relationship in a Michel Gondry-esque way. Scott came up with these very cool transitions how it goes into their past. It’s a very cut-up narrative about their relationship in a Blue Velvet way. If they offered me Batman and said David Goyer was going to write it, I’d say yeah man!
Have you cast Autobahn?
We’re in the process, and there’s an A-list actor in America who watched Welcome to the Punch and responded to it very well. So I’m flying out to LA to meet him next week. When I mentioned him to my nan, she went ‘Oooh really? He’s quite hot!’
If you make it into the Ridley Scott circle, are you set for life?
I don’t know. I was hoping he’d pass on Blade Runner and give it to me to do. [laughs] I think it gives a stamp of approval, and lends a cache to the project. A more classier thriller than you’re used to seeing. Whether I do anything more with Scott Free I don’t know. I know there’s a relationship with Liza Marshall at Scott Free.
Did Ridley mentor you or give you advice?
He gave me lots of advice in the editing room. I think it comes from the experience of editing the film together. There’s a sequence where I hadn’t shot an establishing shot for Max’s apartment. Near the end of the film there’s a certain person being laid onto his bed, and I hadn’t shot the establishing shot. Ridley said, take [an earlier shot, edited for spoilers], grade it for night, and everyone will know it’s Max’s flat. That’s why you’re Ridley Scott