Shane Meadows has impressed Edinburgh audiences and critics with his fourth feature film, the dark revenge drama Dead Man's Shoes, which stars his regular collaborator Paddy Considine and newcomer Toby Kebell.
At one of the festival's special events, the director also gave people the chance to see four of the many short films he's made over the years. Meadows told us of his delight at the reaction to his new feature, and explained why he feels shorts are a great way to learn movie-making skills.
How do you feel about the Edinburgh response to Dead Man's Shoes?
I can honestly say after being here about two years ago with Once Upon A Time In The Midlands, and having my first experience of getting a lacklustre response to a film, that to come with the film with the lowest budget and the most unknown cast I've ever used (bar Paddy Considine)... we've had an incredible response. I arrived expecting not to hear anything until the public screening but the press have been saying how much they enjoyed the film. I came here thinking that, because of the [dark] nature of the material, I might be coming with a shield and having to swordfight everybody in interviews, thinking that people might even be offended by some of the things that are in the film.
But the press screening went well, and the world premiere - I always sit in and watch them. As a director you can sense so much from a screening, and it's probably the first time you actually see the film for what it is, because you are living it with people who are seeing it for the first time. To be honest the response from my point of view couldn't be better, but the brilliant thing is that a lot of the actors have been noticed for their great performances, and especially this newcomer Toby Kebbell [who replaced the original actor three days before shooting began]. In terms of giving a believable performance it was one of the most difficult things to pull off, and the fact that people are not only trying to interview me but feel like they've discovered Toby as well, that’s one of the most rewarding experiences you can have as a director. It happened with Paddy Considine in 1998 with A Room For Romeo Brass and I feel like it's happening again for Toby.
There's a really broad range of British films at the festival this year. Is that a good sign for the health of the industry?
To be honest it's a vintage year. I came here in 1995 with Small Time, so it's almost been a decade since I first came here, and I've been various times in between. This is the first time since 1995 that I've really felt the festival's had the same vibe that it had then. When I came up in 1995 there was just something going on. 1995, ’96 and ’97 was quite a boom period for British films and it was very exciting. Lottery funding kicked in, people like Miramax were moving in, and then there seemed to be a lull. 2004 seems to be the first year back at Edinburgh where the press are up, the audiences are up, no-ones got a clue who's going to win what award. Being here this year and being up for the Michael Powell Award [for best British film] - these are the years when you want to come and have a go at them. If you're going to win something you want to win it in a vintage year.
You've said in the past that some British directors have been given the chance to make a feature too early on, before they've really amassed the skills required. You've made dozens of short films, do you see it as a vital way of learning the craft?
It's literally 10 years to the month since I made my first short film, and I've made about 70 over the course of 10 years. They serve different purposes in different parts of my life, and in the beginning it was almost like a film course - Shane teaches himself how to make films, by making mistakes. I made my first film by myself, in a little room with no-one watching and I made loads of mistakes and it was really crap, but I didn't have to show it to anyone, I'd made it on a camcorder and there was no pressure.
I think if you go out and apply for a fund for your first film, thinking, "I want to be a film maker", you haven't made those mistakes, and if you make them publicly you never get the chance to do it again and it can almost put you off. I think there's a lot to be said for getting a group of friends and family around you. Rather than thinking you've got to make ‘Reservoir Fiction’ or trying to copy something that's out there [already], most people have a character in their family and you know that character... It might be your granddad, he might be a great character, you should start off much closer to home... People try and bite off more than they can chew I think, and what I did was just keep making mistakes and not worrying about it. And though some of them were quite bad, because I had that energy and I believed in them, there was always something in them that people [liked]. I probably made 10 or 15 short films before I made my first feature, and I think that ensured I didn't make an enormous mistake.****************************************************
Interview by Jen Foley. Dead Man's Shoes is released in the UK in October.