1 Day the movie - an interview with Penny Woolcock
Script writer, producer and film director Penny Woolcock talks about making the hard hitting controversial film '1 Day' - from experiencing everyday life in Birmingham's Afro-Caribbean community to learning street slang.
(NB.The following interview has been published with permission from Screen West Midlands)
Film director Penny Woolcock on the 1 Day set
1 Day War Song
Why did you choose to make a film about life in the inner city?
Near where I live in London small bunches of flowers appear regularly on grubby corners to commemorate another young man stabbed or shot. What does it mean? On a more personal note I was mugged violently late one night in North London. I struggled with the young man who punched me to the ground and kicked my head to get my handbag.
He was prepared to hurt me but that was not his intention, he was doing a job, he just wanted my handbag. And I wanted to know who the hell he was and how he had ended up at a place where he thought it was acceptable to bash women in the middle of the night for 30 quid. So I started with a question.
On the 1 Day set
Research and creating the script…
Young men would quite reasonably ask me what the film was going to be about. I’d reply that I didn’t know because I needed them to be open with me, that I couldn’t as a white middle class, middle aged woman write a script about their lives out of my head. “Yes, but what it is about?” “I don’t know yet, I need you to talk to me.” “Yes, but what it is about?” And so it went on and on in frustrating circles.
Eventually, I met a couple of people who actually liked me and things really took off. Dylan Duffus who plays Flash says he knew within 30 seconds that I was not a grass. Through him I met lots of people and heard lots of stories. I asked lots of questions and I made lots of notes. As I got to understand the slang I realised how clever it was – it is intended to keep secrets. Money can also be paper, scrilla, p’s or don’s. Most people speak several languages, school English, street talk, code and patois.
Penny Woolcock speaks to Yolance who plays Angel
I went home with all my notebooks full and wrote the script. Everything in my script is true although it did not all happen to one person in one day. Very early on I had the idea of containing the story in 24 hours and have Flash chased by his own side, the ‘other’ side, his three baby mothers and his family.
Why did you work with non-professional actors?
We used street casting for the film particularly because we believed there was a huge amount of untapped talent in the community. We simply held open castings to which everyone was welcome. Nearly 300 people from the community came and we picked the best singers, music producers and actors for the parts.
Why were you interested in black gangs rather than white or Asian gangs?
I have made three films in marginal communities in Leeds – ‘Tina Goes Shopping’, ‘Tina Takes a Break’ and ‘Mischief Night’. The first two were on white estates while ‘Mischief Night’ explored Asian and white culture. I was keen to make this film in the Afro-Caribbean community which originated the urban music (hip hop and grime) which is at the centre of the film. The pressures on young men in inner cities and the way they react to them are not particular to any single community.
Casting the actors and rappers…
Street casting offers an authentic edge which you cannot get any other way. I knew quite a lot of people already and asked them to come to the auditions and also printed a thousand fliers saying simply: ‘Rappers, Music Producers and Actors wanted, we have parts for young people, boys, girls, women, mothers, fathers and grandmothers. No experience necessary.’
Angel threatens Flash
We held three days of auditions in the top floor of a mini cab firm. The first two days were for music producers and rappers. Hundreds of people turned up, some with CDs of original beats. Rappers turned up prepared to rap to their own beats or to hip hop or grime beats we provided.
Some funny moments stand out: a tiny little girl came with her mother. She was four years old and after some persuasion from her mum sung a wistful version of ‘The wheels on the bus go round and round!’
Dylan Duffus was going to be on the crew as an assistant. I wanted him close to the action because I was, and still am, convinced that he will become a talented filmmaker. I asked him to play the part of Flash in some of the auditions so that people I was considering for Angel, Evil or the Baby Mothers would have someone to play against. At the end of the two days, I turned to him and said “I’m sorry Dylan but you have to be Flash.” And he was cool with that.
1 Day - Flash and Granny
We didn’t find a grandmother or a mother in the open auditions so we hunted for them.
We went to and exercise class for the elderly and explained to a large number of elderly Jamaican ladies that we were looking for a grandmother who would be able to tell Flash off for not doing her shopping. There was a thump from the very end of the hall, up on a little stage. It came from a small but redoubtable figure bashing her cane on the floor. “Buoy, you go buy me five green bananas and one dozen egg.” She spat on the floor. “And if you not back when dat spit is dry I beat you!”
That was Monica French. The kindest and most warm hearted woman you could ever meet. She is in her seventies and deeply religious with a profound conviction that the good Lord is taking care of her.
Derek Webley plays the pastor
I explained exactly what the film was about but that her character was not involved in the drugs or violence or swearing and she chuckled and said: “That’s cool, man.” She was highly amused by the film making process and worked long hours with great enjoyment. She had never in her life imagined that such a thing would happen to her but she was a natural.
I had written a scene where a pastor rescues Flash and talks to him about the cycle of violence resulting from his life style. This is a crucial scene and I didn’t want it to be preachy. Many people said: “You must meet Bishop Webley.” They were absolutely right. He is driven by his faith and has the respect of the community across the spectrum because he tells it how it is.
We were very fortunate that he agreed to come on board. He has buried at least ten young men as a result of the situation on the streets.
How did you engage and work with the community?
I wandered around the streets and went to blues parties, attended church services, went to schools and after-school drama groups, youth clubs, community centres, pubs, to a bashment; I followed my nose and followed leads. When I met people I liked I gradually met their families and friends and tried to figure things out.
Behing the scenes
What was it like filming in Birmingham?
Community Police called the office and thanked us for giving some of the young men they work with a chance to do something positive. Malcolm, our location manager, told me that when he asked the police for permission for a two day re-shoot they retorted: “Why don’t you film for six months, the crime rate went down when you were last here.”
1 Day War Song
I think when people have something really interesting to do across a whole community, something engaging, something real not a phoney community service project, that’s when things start to change.
Why is ‘1 Day’ a musical?
I thought about it being a musical as soon as I decided to make it a fiction. I walk past groups of boys in the street rapping to beats on their mobile phones all the time. Hip hop and grime are an authentic expression of street life. It’s the way people tell their stories – it gives a voice to people who don't have one. I love the rawness and the energy of it and I wanted to understand it better.
Anticipating the film’s reception…
If people say that this film offers no redemption then they’re right. Redemption is up to us, you can’t just stick it on the end of a film to cheer yourself up. Young men involved in drugs are making money. As the pastor says in the film ‘I know that crime does pay, otherwise people wouldn’t do it.’
2 Crews, 1 City, 24 Hrs
Illegal drugs are a global business worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Where illegal drugs come from and the extensive corruption and government involvement in that massive trade is another story. The guys in my film are at the very bottom end of it and so are their clients. The alternative career option for them is flipping burgers at minimum wage and they’re simply not going to do that.
Nobody is born wanting to be a drug dealer but it is an ambition for boys in those communities and people don’t see an alternative. In Bradford, I asked a group of high achieving Pakistani and Bangladeshi children what they wanted to be when they grew up. All but one replied: “A drug dealer.” In white estates, around Leeds the white kids say the same answer.
It’s not a black thing. It’s a thing. And it’s true whether we like it or not.
1 Day on BBC WM
Listen again to an interview with Penny Woolcock on the BBC WM Breakfast Show. Penny talks passionately about the issues raised in 1 Day and why she decided not to give the film a positive ending. A BBC WM caller also had an opportunity to put their questions and concerns to her.
Watch 1 Day the movie
1 day is due to be released in cinemas across the UK on 6 November 2009.
last updated: 29/10/2009 at 20:01