Night People - the directing school of hard knocks
Writer/director Adrian Mead tells the List about the joys of filming in Edinburgh for his feature film Night People
Friday night. 11.30pm. A side street in Leith, Edinburgh. He's stomping towards me, pissed and angry. Got a bottle in his right hand. Bouncers have to weigh up the options available and then make a quick decision. So do film directors. Now my former profession and present one were merging as a large and very aggressive drunk decided he was going force his way right through the set of my first feature film, Night People.
Fortunately, being a bouncer was fantastic training for becoming a director. There’s a code that goes - 'Don’t hope things will turn out right, make sure they do.' The buck stops with you. It was decision time; knocking him out could involve cops and medics. If I don't he's going to damage the kit or injure one of my crew. Either way I risk losing a night's shooting. As I lined him up for a big right cross to the jaw all I could think was, "I bet they don’t cover this in film school."
When I’d first considered changing careers everyone offered the same advice, 'Don’t go to film school, just go and do it!' Making short films became my film school and a career as a writer of TV drama quickly followed. The next step was directing a feature film, a fantastic opportunity but also a major challenge. The budget was tiny and we needed something to give Night People that extra bit of magic. We needed a star.
Edinburgh at night is a very special place. I’d stood on the door of a nightclub watching the ebb and flow of the people who filled the streets, five nights a week for three years. Finally, after the drinkers and the dancers had all departed and the streets had become quiet, I would walk home. Despite it being 3.30 in the morning there was always some drama being played out against the beautiful backdrop of the city. It was these frequently hilarious, often bizarre and sometimes tragic moments I encountered that later inspired the characters and stories that became our film Night People.
Scottish Screen and SMG had previously funded our half hour drama Family. Now they were backing Night People as one of two scripts chosen as part of the NewFoundLand new talent initiative. Night People follows five stories told over one night. Each character is faced with making a major decision, ranging from the heartbreaking to the hilarious. By the time morning comes their lives will have changed forever. This was an extremely ambitious film for the size of the budget. Could we do it?
We convinced our backers that Edinburgh was our star and that we would squeeze every ounce of cinematic potential from her. I wanted to present a world filled with people facing very real, emotional challenges, but without making yet another gritty, social realism film. Creating the character of a little girl who travels across Edinburgh at night allowed us to exploit the magical views of the city. Setting it on Hallowee'n night introduced a fairytale element and added to the atmosphere. We had our script and location, but what about the cast? They say never work with children or animals but we chose to have both in abundance: plus 42 locations and night shoots.
Our youngest cast member, Lily, was only six years old. The tight budget meant there was no chance for re-shoots or pick ups, no matter what happened. Of course, that guarantees you will encounter a whole catalogue of unforeseen challenges: the pedigree Chow that features throughout one story suddenly came into heat and refused to cooperate. We lost time due to burglar alarms, vehicle breakdowns and of course our bottle-wielding drunk. Am I complaining? No. Making Night People in my hometown was a real joy. We’re delighted that critics and audiences have praised that we weren’t afraid to make this a film that explores some tough subjects but with humour, beautiful photography and an uplifting ending.
One year on from my encounter with Leith’s crazy drunk, the film’s producer, Clare Kerr, and myself and co-writer Jack Dickson were enjoying the glitz of receiving the BAFTA Scotland Audience Award for Night People. All memories of freezing cold nights and crazy drunks were erased. The release of the DVD now means audiences around the world will get to see Edinburgh, our hardworking star.
You can buy Night People at www.amazon.co.uk or www.play.com or in HMV, Fopp or Virgin stores. A trailer is available at www.meadkerr.com