Shane Meadows

Dead Man's Shoes

Interviewed by Jen Foley

“We loved the idea of the nemesis happening 10 years after the crime ”

One of Britain's most prolific film makers, Shane Meadows dropped out of school as a teenager before embarking on a course in acting and photography. A self-taught director, he borrowed a camcorder and made short films with his friends as actors. These led to his first feature, Twentyfourseven. His second film, A Room For Romeo Brass boasted a great debut performance from Meadows's old friend Paddy Considine, who co-wrote and stars in Dead Man's Shoes. After experimenting with bigger budgets on Once Upon A Time In The Midlands, the new film marks a return to low budget film making for Meadows.

You've said that you regretted not having full control over Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, which had a mixed response. Was Dead Man's Shoes a reaction to that experience?

[Midlands] was one of these joint final cuts, you've got to have carded previews, if you don't get these percentages... there was something about that that really hurt, the fact that I'd agreed to change my philosophy. So the vindication that you can go and make a film [for less than] £1m and people think it's the most beautiful-looking thing you've ever made... When people are writing about all the promise that you show, it's not that you get over-confident but you think, "Oh, I'm just doing everything right", and then you make a film that maybe doesn't quite live up to it, and you realise how quickly you can blow all the good things people were thinking about you. Paddy Considine came to me and said he didn't like Midlands very much, and thought I was capable of so much more. When one of your best friends approaches you, and says, "I don't think you achieved what you could have achieved on that film", that really got me off my backside and made me realise that I needed to get back out there in the fashion that I made my early films, and tell another story.

The idea for the film came about through short films that you make.

Yes, Since A Room For Romeo Brass, myself and Paddy have made about 10 or 15 short films. [Their subjects] range anywhere from someone from a Deep South [guy] who's a serial killer, which we took great joy in doing, through to a scouser with big teeth who runs a football club. We would do a new character almost weekly. But there was one film in particular, about a guy called Jimmy Prophet. That was one of those films we shot in a day, but when we went back and looked at it we thought it was a beautiful short film, about loss, and how if you take things into your own hands there can be an enormous price to pay. [Making] those shorts is pressure-free - you go out in a car or a van with just us and a camera. The producer Mark Herbert said, "Why can't you take that philosophy onto a feature film?" And we thought, yeah, you can't completely rule out a crew but you can get it down from about 30 to four [people]. We decided to go back to the small time philosophy, a minibus with some equipment, the actors living together like a community, and make a film guerrilla-style but with a lot of thought and effort.

So this is a technique you'd be keen to use again?

I don't know what you'd call it, it's like our own Dogme but without the artistic restrictions, on purpose. We had one light, a tripod, we kept things to an absolute minimum, and that freed up the actors. The film is all about performances, it’s not about cameras drifting through windows, helicopter cranes and all of the razzmatazz that goes with film-making these days. We had a story and the actors had to tell the story.

The style of the film evolved over time - you initially planned it as a comedy and it became a lot darker.

Myself and Paddy always tend to evolve. We started off with an idea of a superhero guy that lives on a council estate and gets so sick of the depressive nature of drugs and crime that he becomes a vigilante. But it became a bit farcical, trying to make everyone think he was this mythical character. We both said early on that this was not where we wanted to go on this, we wanted a far darker, harsher journey of revenge. There are a lot of crimes in these small towns, every town has secrets. There are people who have had their lives ruined at the hands of drug dealers and bullies, and [the dealers] are now cleaner than clean. But we know things about people that have been gotten away with [and] we loved the idea that their nemesis doesn't happen til 10 years after the crime. That was a big inspiration, [it's] almost A Man With No Name who comes to town to avenge some heinous crime that happened to his brother.

Watching the film you never quite know what to expect next - it mixes different genres, from comedy to almost horror. How difficult was it to balance all of that? Did it come together in the editing?

To be honest at the beginning we just knew there was going to be a block of past, and a much larger block of present. There are twists and turns in the film - it isn't just a slasher flick, it isn't just a revenge thriller. It's still a Shane Meadows film and it's still got working class roots. I think that's the great thing about the film, it does keep you on the edge of your seat. It's got a certain tension because it doesn't follow any pattern. We wrote it in two weeks and shot it in three weeks, and I knew those complications were always going to come in the edit. You could give it all away at the beginning or give nothing away. Over the course of an eight-month edit, which is the longest I've ever been involved in, we actually finally found the film. It was the hardest edit I've ever had in my life, because the improvisation is difficult to edit together, and you've also got the opportunity to make three or four completely different films.

Do you think your working relationship with Paddy Considine is going to change now that he's getting more Hollywood success?

I think that the Hollywood success will push us closer together. The nature of the size of the [Hollywood] projects - big budgets and sets - means that Paddy can only deliver 50-60% of what he's capable of, because it's about so many other elements. On my films I can truly focus in on what his skills are... from speaking to Paddy, as much as he's enjoying doing bigger projects, every time he does a big one he says, "I so need to get back and do something with you." We're talking about a new one at the moment... Paddy and I will always have a future in film making. I don't know if other people quite know how to unlock the same doors, because we've got a 15-year friendship. A lot of people would expect him to go to America and never come back, but the haven of coming back here and making small films is something I think he'll continue to do