SURVIVING (MAKING) K-SHOP: PART l
1. A hazy beginning...
So I made a film, loosely inspired by Sweeney Todd and based in a British kebab shop. Essentially it’s a simple story of a kebab shop owner who turns vigilante to clean up the out of control binge drinking culture that surrounds him. It’s going to be released in the UK this summer, initially in a few cinemas and then on video on demand platforms. Yep, it’s an actual film that you can buy/rent/watch/see and here's the trailer in all its sweaty meaty glory:
K-SHOP INTERNATIONAL TRAILER
Anyway, to coincide with the release, my distributor has asked that I blog a little about the process...but to be honest, I’ve been so eaten up by this indie monstrosity, I have no idea where my life stopped and the process begun anymore.
Working on this film has been an experience so rich in menace and mayhem that my (sober) words alone are unlikely to paint an accurate picture of how we were able to complete it with our heads on our shoulders and our sanity intact. Nevertheless, as our darkly satirical horror/thriller creeps closer to release, I am going to attempt to at least recall and reflect on some of the blood soaked, booze fuelled dramas we endured on the night road to securing UK distribution and a limited theatrical release for the film.
2. The sobering reality...
The first question I am typically asked by anyone who has squirmed their way through all 115 minutes of the finished film is, "how much of that was real!?” The 'that' being the incidental nightlife footage of drunk punters misbehaving, used in the film's viscerally explicit montages to give the world a sense of authenticity.
I explain that approximately sixty percent to two thirds of the footage is of genuine drunks we caught on camera whilst filming in and around the movie's purpose built kebab shop set in Bournemouth town centre (I'll elaborate on that mistake later!).
A look of stunned disbelief materializes on the face of the interviewer, shortly followed by, "Is it really that bad?” No matter how many times I'm asked, I always attempt to approach this with a fresh response. I was never this cynical in the beginning so some deep rooted part of me always wants to try and recapture that innocence. Typically however my reply tends to be something like "No...It's probably worse." Yep the cynicism has become too mighty a beast to subdue these days.
So I would elaborate on that and explain that on the worst occasions we couldn't get the camera up quick enough or had to do a runner before we could start filming to avoid it getting stolen or smashed by the punters in front of us! And of course these are the unfortunate truths the cynical beast has grown to feast on.
The most memorable of incidents being when a gang of intoxicated lads (turned away from every hotel in town), came after us with a fire extinguisher, hell bent on giving 50 thousand pounds worth of camera equipment a cold shower. The camera survived...at our dripping expense.
3. It started with a scream...
So where did it all start? How did I end up dedicating three years of my life to fending off angry pissheads in the early hours of the morning, rationalizing with hot headed police and fending off angry political groups in opposition to the films central message!? I guess it started with a scream.
Our company offices used to look down on to one of the most statistically violent streets in the UK. The record number of clubs and bars in close proximity to one another on the road below meant that the sheer swathes of punters emptying out on to the streets around closing time would see fights and carnage break out, without fail, virtually every night of the week.
At first, it was like soap opera to us! The sound of lads barking like dogs and we all ran to the window to laugh at the drama unfolding...but as time grew on, the unrelenting nature of the debauchery had us all perplexed as to how the night time economy had become so robust at sustaining itself in this heightened emotional state for so long.
It was an average Friday night in June, whilst we were staying late for a client when the blood curdling cry of an adolescent woman punctured the office atmosphere from the street below. We ran to the office windows to spy a shaven headed man in his early twenties face down against the curb, his head gushing with blood. His female friend stood squat over him desperately trying to rouse a response whilst the scuffle that had caused the drama looked to have moved partially up the road, where groups of opposing lads could be seen continuing to throw drunken blows at one another.
At the time, it felt like a scene from the end of Apocalypse Now had been seamlessly ripped out of all context and re-dramatized on the booze fuelled streets of Britain. That was until the ambulance crew arrived, scraped the unconscious lad of the tarmac and the street party resumed like nothing had happened.
We scanned the papers the following day to find not a single line of the incident had been recorded anywhere...and that's when it hit me, the chaos of the night had become normalized and accepted. What a perfect world for a vigilante hero!
4. White guy works the kebab shop shift...
The takeaway setting came to me fairly quickly. I was living across from a grotty old shop on the peripheral of town and every night its blinding sulphur panelled fascia would burn through the windows. Night after night an array of unsavoury characters would waltz loudly in and out, each with their own quirky foulness. The opportunity to explore this uncharted world of drunken slurs and free flowing human fluid through the eyes of a renegade kebab shop owner became quickly mouth-watering.
I arranged several conversations with the owner of a shop in the liveliest part of town and became quickly addicted to his story. A former refugee, having fled from Middle Eastern conflict to the prosperous shores of Britain in the hope of finding peace and tranquility! A playfully philosophical guy with a touching sense of humour who embraced the irony of his situation. I asked if I could work a couple of nights alongside him and his boys in the shop and he was more than happy to accommodate (The opposite of how I hoped my protagonist would turn out!). Those nights flipped my white middle class sober perspective upside down!
Granted it was the weekend but I was taken aback by the sheer abundance of abuse the guys took just for being open to make a buck off starving drunks. As a collective, the staff fought their way through a night's worth of racial slurs that they simply swatted away as if they were meaningless floating dandelions. Like society as a whole, they had grown completely numb to it all. I quizzed another passing shop owner on how he had developed such a thick skin to the hostility of it all. His reply..."when you've come from the places we've come from and seen the things we've seen, this stuff doesn't really mean anything".
5. The curious case of Afghan Miyaghi...
I saw many incidents in that shop that ultimately wrestled their way into the K-Shop story but some were so specifically unnerving I found it almost impossible to articulate them effectively. One such event saw a drunk burly lad in his mid-twenties throwing chips and pizza slices at a sixty year old server from Afghanistan, whilst chanting in some twisted venomous incarnation, the name of Mr Miyaghi, the humble mentor from the 1984 classic movie The Karate Kid...on that occasion the staff simply ignored him until he calmed down, lost interest and stumbled out.
6. Stepping into the wild drunk yonder...
I had more material than I could have ever have hoped for. The script was tight, the premise had attracted a great cast and crew, funds had been raised...all that remained was where to shoot. Budget restricted building a studio set and actual kebab shops proved too profitable to buy out and film in at night, leaving us with only one real option, to build a shop from scratch. The advice that flowed in from all heads of production was to hire an empty retail unit way out of town so that we could film free of interrupting nightlife. I however was adamant that securing a unit in the heart of the town's night life would give the film a raw authenticity on screen that would considerably outweigh the cost of the odd interruption.
Needless to say I got my way. Needless to say we had the odd interruption. Needless to say the costs outweighed the authenticity. Needless to say, drunks invaded the set and security had to be invested in. Needless to say, my relationship with the police and local authorities became fairly frosty. Needless to say, we started a full on protest from certain sections of the UK fast food industry.
But I'll tackle all those tales in part ll...