May 2017 | by Carl Marsh
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You really are one of the leading producers in UK gangster crime film genre but do you have plans to diversify more in other areas?
Thank you… and yes absolutely. And I have done lots of other types of movies in the past, its just that none of them have been the big successes that the geezer movies have. My company, Hereford Films, has a dedicated horror department for example. We’re in pre-production on a sleep paralysis movie Tormented and developing a couple of other Blumhouse style genre projects. We have also just optioned the film rights on a new novel by one of the UK’s most popular horror authors which I’ll be announcing at Cannes. We’re also doing a big budget Shakespeare adaptation, a war hero biopic and a couple of comedies in the next year or so. But the British gangster stuff has been very good to me and all the time people still like them then I’ll keep making them.
So what is initially more important to you as a producer when you start a new film project, sourcing fresh new acting talent or getting the more established actor/actress on board first?
Well in order to secure proper distribution – particularly in genre films – you need those familiar and loved faces for the cover – they give comfort to the distributors and retailers and the audiences expect a certain level of quality (or if you like they know it will be a ‘proper film’). As such I have built this little unofficial rep company of actors who you will see cropping up again and again in my films – Martin Kemp, Billy Murray, Vincent Regan, Bruce Payne, Chris Ellison, Anouska Mond, Ian Ogilvy, Adele Silva, Steven Berkoff, Deborah Moore, Lysette Anthony, Patrick Bergin, Alison Doody, Jason Flemyng etc. They are all fine screen actors who you know will deliver solid performances. Around them you can give new and emerging actors a break and I’m very proud of the stable of actors and actresses I have given their first fil to. Casting is all about achieving the right balance.
Your 2 latest films, We Still Steal The Old Way which has just been released, and your next for release Bonded By Blood 2, both a very different type of crime film, which of these did you find the most challenging, and why, as I know each will appeal to different types of fans that I know these films are aimed at?
I think Bonded By Blood 2 was more of a challenge because those Essex Boys murders are a dead horse that has been well and truly flogged to death. In fact I didn’t want to do a movie called ‘Essex Boys’ because there have been so many bad ones – it is the British gangster equivalent of Amityville where for every 1 decent movie there are 4 shameless cheap cash ins. So I had been talking to Bernard O’Mahoney who wrote the book Essex Boys The New Generation which was a great story… and my eureka moment was calling it Bonded By Blood 2. Terry Stone who had produced Bonded By Blood is a close friend of mine so I called him up and we did a deal. Making the film a sequel to Bonded ensured, I think, a certain level of quality. So with the project structured in my mind I had to find a film-maker who could do the BBB brand justice. Enter Greg Hall, a fine film-maker recommended to me by the actor Nick Nevern. Greg brought this really gritty, almost Ken Loach vibe to the material and made a film which will satisfy the huge built in Essex audience but might just open up a genre film to a wider one too. Because it is ‘one of those’ films people might come to Bonded By Blood 2 with low expectations, but I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised. To go back to your earlier point, with Bonded we didn’t need to fill it with stars because the star if you like is the Bonded by Blood brand. So we could open out the cast to a load of younger actors.
We Still Steal The Old Way is a funny one because everyone else thinks it is better than I do. I think tonally it misses the mark, because it is uneven and feels rushed and just isn’t as good as the first one. Ultimately though it is carried almost entirely by the core performances and the old boys – Ogilvy, Henson, Ellison and Denham, along with welcome new additions Billy Murray and Patrick Bergin, are so good that you don’t really notice the cracks in the story or the film-making. It’s an OK film for sure but I’m certainly not as proud of it as I am the first one.
Interestingly both films have the same writer, Simon Cluett, who also wrote my Martin Kemp action film Age of Kill. Simon’s a relatively new screenwriter but he has a lot of ability and I think the fact that he wrote 3 such diverse screenplays so well is a testament to that.
Is it your mission to hope that your films appeal to every movie fan, or do you like creating some (but, not all) films that are for a niche fan base?
Well some people just hate the British gangster films on sight, which I find bizarre. There has always been snobbery about the genre and its stars, only 30 years ago people were snooty about Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins, two of our finest screen actors, and its only really now that people are accepting that the early Guy Ritchie movies are actually bloody brilliant. I’ve done a lot of films with Danny Dyer and the amount of people who tell me that he’s a “mockney” (trust me he’s from Custom House in Canning Town – it doesn’t get any more cockney than that!) is unbelievable. Also that his real name is Malcolm (it isn’t!). Anyway, it can be hard to open these films up to wider audiences and I guess the only ones of my films that have done that are Vendetta and to a lesser extend We Still Kill The Old Way. But you know, We Still Steal The Old Way is performing very well on DVD – it was the number 1 straight to DVD film in the UK in its first week, outselling our nearest competitor (the Steven Seagal film Contract to Kill) two to one and selling six times as many copies as the Nicolas Cage film released that week. OK it isn’t giving Marvel or Lucasfilm any nightmares but that’s a fairly decent set of numbers for a low budget British genre film and I think more people enjoy them than let on. The genre has some unlikely fans – I sat next to Kelly Hoppen at a lunch the other day and she loves them! I have sent her and her husband a big box of DVDs!
Of the 2, We Still Steal The Old Way at first glance of the DVD cover seems to me as the one I would put on to watch first, as it has that Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels kind of edge and feel to it along with a hint of the TV show Hustle, without the hustling! Which of these two would you sit down to watch first, if you were me?
Well it depends on what you like – Bonded is probably a better film, with more to say and more drama. Steal is much lighter in tone, very much like Hustle actually (or even an episode of The Persuaders or Return of the Saint) – Steal is a movie for Sunday afternoons after a roast, Bonded is a Friday night with sweet and sour prawns and a few peronis!
Where is the biggest market for your films, UK, Europe, USA, etc...?
In the case of the British gangster movies and similar, the UK is 80% of the market at least. There’s some business in Germany and Japan and maybe a token release in the USA. With the horror stuff we’re doing its aimed at a much wider international audience. No flat caps or cockney accents.
Do you ever want to end up in Hollywood?
Of course, that is very much on the cards. My business partner Damien Morley and I were there in February and will be back in the Summer. If all goes to plan, Hereford will have an LA office by the end of this year. We have a couple of American films on the slate right now, the most exciting of which is probably Assault on Hazard Rock, which is a high concept action movie that I think could really break out and become a big cult movie.
Now thanks to online viewing applications like Netflix and Amazon Prime, it opens up an Aladdin's Cave of movie watching, has this therefore made it all the more easier for the independent movies makers to get projects released now that you don't have to just rely on a small cinema screen limited release or DVD?
Well yes, absolutely. Netflix is wonderful isn’t it? The back catalogue of old movies is fantastic – I find mayself watching things like Big Trouble In Little China on it even though I already own them on Blu Ray! Amazon Prime the films are less impressive – I was scrolling through the horror section last week and wow is there some dross on there! To be honest though, these platforms are usually where my films go to die as it were, because once they have been on there they are pretty much rinsed – there are no more DVD or TV sales after that.
Still talking online viewing, I know you recently spoke out about Kodi, in depth, and how it was destroying the film industry, especially the independent sector. I would be correct in saying that movie piracy has been around since the movie industry was created, so it will always be around in some form or another. Would you say that re-educating the movie fan about what harm it does financially is more of a deterrent than just potentially banning such things like Kodi ever could do?
To be honest what pissed me off about Kodi wasn’t even the fact that they enable piracy, it’s the fact that they refuse to condemn it. Whoever runs their twitter account, presumably some 15 year old in his bedroom, tried to be a smart arse with me about it and I had to clip their wings and they ended up blocking me, which is hilarious. The simple thing people don’t understand is that if they keep pirating and watching films illegally, the revenue streams from these films will be curtailed to the point of no longer existing. There will simply be no more films. I seem to have this argument every day and it is a bit like pushing water up hill. I miss the old VHS “you wouldn’t steal a car” FACT promos because they put it in terms that people understood. It was easier to fight then because video was a tangible product. It was, essentially, buying and selling stole goods. The digital revolution, coupled with the preposterous sense of entitlement people in this country have now has made the problem a billion times worse. Its hard enough making these films without these idiots stealing them.
No doubt you would have had to get over quite a few hurdles to get where you are today, so what keeps/kept you going?
Yes – it isn’t easy and (much like everyone else I think) my 2016 was a real son of a bitch. You have to develop rhino skin to put your head over the parapet and promote a film. Fortunately I’m no shrinking violet. But I am relentlessly determined. No matter what happens in life or in business you have to get up, put on your suit, polish your shoes and keep moving forward. If you don’t, someone else will. At the end of the day I love movies and I love the movie business. I can never imagine doing anything else. I have been incredibly lucky – luck plays a huge part in life but particularly in the film game – having the right film at the right time is key.
What is your best achievement to date?
In terms of films I think it is Vendetta. It’s a fine film made on a micro budget showcasing Danny Dyer’s best performance and expertly directed by Stephen Reynolds who is, for my money, the most able film-maker in our milieu. Recently though, I have been incredibly flattered to have an award to support emerging film-makers named after me by the Matthew Martino Benevolent Fund. When they asked me at first I actually thought it was a joke. Obviously its incredibly humbling and flattering. I’ll do anything I can to encourage new film-makers as I know how bloody hard it is to get that foot in the door.
There is a lot of bullshit in the entertainment industry, so how do you know who is not just wanting to connect with you just for self-gain?
I think you have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. You can spot the self-serving hardcore networkers a mile off. They might as well have a big sign on their heads saying ‘user’ (or ‘wanker’). And that’s fine, that’s the business I’m in. I have a very small circle of actor friends that hasn’t changed much over the years – Martin Kemp, Billy Murray, Adele Silva, Ross Kemp, Lisa McAllister – and other than that I pretty much keep myself to myself. I can’t think of anything worse than sitting in The Groucho Club talking bollocks all day – I’d rather be out there making things happen.
You will have spoken to or met many of your favourite actors/actresses but which of them has made you the most nervous or made you talk absolute nonsense as you were in awe of them?
Well as you’ve probably just gathered, talking absolute nonsense is something that comes naturally to me! I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of my childhood heroes over the years. Mark Hamill, who was in a film I did called Airborn, was amazing a total legend. We had dinner in Wheelers where he used to eat with Alec Guiness during Star Wars. Robert Englund was a lovely guy. I was utterly besotted with Alison Doody as a teenager and now that she’s a very close friend I still am. She’s an absolute darling. But I guess if I had to pick one it’s Sir Roger Moore – not only the best James Bond but my favourite movie star growing up in all those films like The Wild Geese, North Sea Hijack, The Man Who Haunted Himself etc. His children Geoffrey and Deborah (who is marvelous in both We Still Steal The Old Way and Bonded By Blood 2) have both become very good friends of mine, which is wonderful. Sadly we don’t seem to make stars like Sir Roger any more.
Occupation: Film Producer
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