I watched a film with someone who is from Scotland and he tells me that Stonehaven is near Aberdeen but the inhabitants of your town are all English, where did you really shoot it?
In Margate, the mouth of the Thames. When I went to shoot there it didn't look anything like what I'd constructed in my head so I had to play around with framing and we stopped all the traffic in every shot - I didn't have a budget for a production designer to build anything.
What was the budget?
Well its was a documentary budget of around £320,000, a lot more has been spent since, but that meant that I had complete freedom, we were also very sparing with extras and we couldn't afford to many anyway. So because we didn't have any sort of production design budget we just stripped it down and shot it in a particular way, that's why it feels like such a weird place.
It was very similar to the urban wasteland in A Clockwork Orange.
Well a lot of that was shot in Aylesbury and it was very close to where Kubrick lived. By the way, did you see the TV film I did before this called Tockers?
No I haven't seen it.
It was about a kid burglar who falls in love with the girl next door, she's pregnant with his best mate's child but it was shot on a very weird and abstract estate right on a cliff top. Everyone thought that it was shot in eastern Europe but these locations are all over the place, it's how you look at them but this was shot in an English way. They have an end of the world atmosphere, an end of
End of the train line?
Yes, these places where nothing ever happens and I think that this is the key to England. It's a funny country where you are conned into believing that everything is booming, London is moving and the youth culture is fantastic and yet everyone carries a misery and total despondency with them.
Do you think that's an English characteristic?
Well it's a society where all the belief systems have disappeared, where families have collapsed and where joie de vivre has collapsed. The simple pleasures just aren't there unless it's drugs or music and it's a very abstract environment. You wouldn't believe that if you were in Soho but this is all just window dressing, it's a very grizzly, empty country and I find it interesting.
Well I'm glad that someone has finally said that.
It goes without saying but the question is how to tell a story in an environment like this - I think I've found the key to it. The problem with English films, I don't enjoy watching them actually, is that they just deal with sociology. They translate this (indicating the environment) into social problems, they are miserable because they are unemployed and they all embody some particular social type. Very few English directors look at what's underneath the surface of society.
Is there a personal political message in the film?
Not personal, there is a message but it wasn't my starting point.
You could have portrayed the police as a brutal officialdom but they seemed very neutral.
I didn't want to show them as nasty because they are just doing their job - I suppose that's just the nature of Western bureaucracy. Others might enjoy the power but I wanted them to be human.
Without wishing to insult, they almost appeared to act as zookeepers in that they knew the refugees didn't want to be there.
Well they were slightly stylised because there are 2 ways of dealing with refugees in England at the moment, one is to displace them to places like that and the other is to just put them in prison. A lot of them are suspected of not being bona fide asylum seekers or they are arrested for sneaking into London - when you come to England as a foreigner you want to live in London. What I created was a sort of halfway house between detention area and prison, it was largely a figment of my imagination although a lot of these things actually came true!
Did you feel you needed to reinforce the despondency of the place with that eerie fairground music?
Well maybe it didn't need it but theirs a sort of fairground featured in the film and it's a seaside resort. I distorted it to add to the sinister mood of the place but then it is also quite romantic at times too. I like it, some people say you don't need music in this film but I like music in films. He was a very nice musician, I think that it was his first job in fact a lot of people working on this film were first timers.
What did you shoot on?
Super16. One of the things about this film, taught by bitter experience in the past and it was the same with Tockers, I only worked with close friends and people that I liked. It wasn't necessary to have a great track record, I needed very generous people because it was a pretty risky project. We didn't have much of a script so we would re jig certain scenes while we were shooting, if I'd been with normal British professionals it would have been a nightmare. They would have wanted a perfect script and just executed the plan whereas I had a tiny documentary group who all lived in one house and they were all very, very supportive. They all believed in me and the film and it was a great pleasure to work with them, I think it is reflected in the film because there is a chamber like, organic feel to it. I had a great production manager who performed miracles on very little money and who was on the side of the film in stead of the side of the producers, if I say it is important then it probably is important. He would challenge me on the importance of certain things but so many times we re jigged the entire filming schedule which would have been impossible with normal professionals. Suddenly the weather would be perfect to shoot a particular scene or my initial thoughts on a scene wouldn't work and we'd need to find a different location.
When did you shoot it?
I ask because I don't remember seeing a blue sky in the film, was the weather a problem for you?
Well there was too much blue sky actually, we had to avoid it because I was looking for monochrome but, paradoxically, there was a microclimate going on at the time.