Scummy Man: Paul Fraser interview
Director Paul Fraser on how he turned the Arctic Monkeys' When The Sun Goes Down into a short film.
It's been ten years since Paul Fraser teamed up with long-time pal Shane Meadows to make the acclaimed 24:7. Since then he's served as writer on three more of their films and penned Heartlands for Damien O'Donnell. And in 2006 he finally made his directorial debut with short drama Scummy Man.
The genesis of the project was unusual. "The idea came from Domino Records and the Arctic Monkeys' manager," Paul explains. "They wanted to go back to the old days when you had bands like The Clash who produced these elongated video releases rather than the standard music video. I'm not sure how far we moved that idea on, or if they were expecting what we delivered..."
Ostensibly Scummy Man's plot springs from the lyrics of the Arctic Monkeys' hit song When The Sun Goes Down, following drug-addict prostitute Nina (Lauren Socha) and her encounter with one especially 'scummy' punter (Stephen Graham). Fraser though is quick to point out that the ten-minute short is a personal expression of an idea he gestated long before being approached by Warp (the 'creative collective' who agreed to produce the film for Domino Records).
"A while ago I was talking to this guy about a girl he knew," Paul recalls. "We were actually talking about random acts of kindness. He was an ex-addict himself and he told me about this encounter he had with a girl - he wanted to help her, but she couldn't comprehend the idea of help without that person wanting something back that was quite sinister or sexual. That notion was something I thought I could play around with." This rough outline never led anywhere, though, until the call arrived from Warp. It was an attractive proposal for Fraser, who was itching to direct his first film.
Perhaps surprisingly, Fraser was given carte blanche. "Well, it wasn't completely blank," he counters. "There was the song. But the girl and the song matched up amazingly. I think it was just pure coincidence." And, initially at least, there was also a caveat. "There was a suggestion to put in a three-minute band performance," he explains, "but then the whole story got lost because it was having to evolve around this gig, so we suggested taking shots from the film and putting them in the music video. So it was two projects really."
Indeed the music video was effectively the bargaining chip which meant Fraser could pursue his own agenda with the film. "I went through a few different variations on the theme and they were pretty positive about most of them," he says. "This one that we shot was actually the darkest of the ideas. Originally there was a bit more comedy with the Scummy Man being a bumbling middle-aged fool. Then I made him younger and he became more virile and more threatening. So, yeah, we had free rein really and the band were very open, very excited about what we were doing."
Still, there were other considerations. The Arctic Monkeys' core audience are mostly teenagers and Fraser's script included tough scenes of drug and sex abuse. "It was an issue," he says, "but it wasn't one that we were specifically asked to consider. In the edit, when we were making decisions about how far we should go, we did try and not have certain scenes in the film but they just seemed relevant to what she was experiencing so they had to stay in. We had no problems with anyone - the only thing we had to stick to was the deadline for the music video."
Indeed the only apprehensions about the film were Fraser's own in wondering whether or not he did the song justice. "There's a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour going on in the Arctic Monkeys' lyrics," he believes, "and it would've been nice to reflect that. But I just think that where the story went meant that it was hard to work that in. And I'm a first-time director..."
Scummy Man is screening as part of BBC Film Network's new talent showcase at onedotzero_10 on Saturday 10th June 2006. Scummy Man is also available to buy on DVD.
Stella Papamichael | Published 08 June 06