Monday, 2 May 2011

Unaccustomed as I am to sensationalism:
Exclusive Attack the Block Interview with Joe Cornish

Incredible though this may seem, Joe Cornish has answered not some but all of Auntie Nubbins' ridiculous questions about Attack the Block.

Joe Cornish is two halves of directing and writing duo, Joe Cornish. His debut film, Attack the Block is a great big dollop of cinematic awesome and will receive it's UK premiere on Wednesday at the Vue, Leicester Square.

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this (there's a falafel & pitta option if you're vegetarian), I should make a few things clear.

1) It has been well established over nearly two years of waffle on here, I am not a journalist. A proper journalist would probably edit their questions to make themselves sound better in hindsight but these are of the pure, vanilla form in which I tossed them to Joe.*
2) He was kind enough to do this via the internets. I have not sniffed his vapour. I do not have any connection with the man himself.
3) I sent the sweet genius a ton of stupid questions expecting him to pick a handful but he went and answered all of them. Some are sillier than others.
4) The questions were devised a couple of weeks ago during the moments of euphoria after having just seen the film. I could have put more thought into them but I didn't. (See point 1)
5) I was trying to pose many of them in the pretentious manner heard from one of those ponces you get at film festival Q & A's who are more intent on hearing their own voice and parading their encyclopaedic (albeit often shaky) knowledge of the questionees oeuvre than extracting or absorbing an answer.
6) The temptation to respond to some of his answers was overwhelming but the poor soul gave me enough of his time already.
7) Thank you. Thank you, Joe Cornish. Thornish.


AN: You've spoken publicly about the provenance of using Tom Townend as your DoP and the fact that your lovely producers tried to persuade you to use more heavyweight personnel. I'm only a silly but quite apart from the beautiful look he gives, surely Tom's experience in the anal retentive world of advertising and the kick, bollock & scramble of music video made him a truly pragmatic choice for this project. How much resistance did you actually encounter to securing him for the job and how many days into production was it before they (the producers) began to relax?

JC: It is not true that my lovely producers tried to dissuade me from using Tom Townend as DOP on Attack The Block. On the contrary, they were and are extremely supportive of everything I wanted to do, they merely cautioned me that using a comparatively less experienced (in terms of features) DOP would be a harder sell to the investors. In truth, as soon as everyone met Tom and saw his work, they were immediately as convinced as I was that he was the man for the job. I feel very lucky that Tom agreed to work on ATB. I think he's a genius.

AN: There are actors whom, for my own pleasure and satisfaction, I keep a gentle eye on as they leave drama school and by some wicked coincidence both Jodie and The Treadaways number among them. I now have a new slew of tiny talent tots to bother about. John Boyega seems like a remarkable young man but do you envisage that the other young actors, those garnered more from street casting, will pursue this as a career now?

JC: None of the main young cast members in Attack The Block were 'street' cast. They had all at least shown interest in acting at school, or been involved in some kind of drama or theatre group on a local level. Most of them were around 16 or so when we shot the film and I couldn't be prouder of them. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if any or all of them pursue acting as a career. I wish them all the success in the world.

AN: Forgive me for not paying enough attention to every little precious detail but the track you wrote and performed.....where is that in the film? What was it called, Bing Bong or something? I should say, you rate A+ on my does-the-score-fit-the-end-credits-o-meter and the entire sound design was flippin' amazing to my ears and my eyes.

JC: That'll be 'Baked Beats'. We kind of ran out of money for music towards the end of post production, so I put something together myself one weekend to play in the background of a scene. I'm not going to tell you which scene, for no other reason than to be gratuitously mysterious.

I'm very glad you liked the sound design. We spent an extra couple of bonus weeks working on the creature noises and the overall mix to refine everything. There's a hell of a lot going on in terms of audio, and we had to work hard to make sure all the different elements punched through clearly.

AN: There's a 1980's Habitat mug in Ron's flat that matches the wallpaper in the very first kitchen I owned. Did you chose any props because of specific sentimental values?

JC: That mug would have been chosen by Marcus Rowland and one of his crack team of mug selectors. I didn't put any trinkets on the set myself. I guess the personal sentimental value in the film for me is in the locations where we shot it; streets that I've known since I was a kid.

AN: You've said the creature was partly inspired by the silhouette of your childhood family cat but there's a touch of the Sasquatch in there too, isn't there? I know it's a quadruped but even so.

JC: Yes. Of course. Bigfoot guides my hand in all I do. And also the illustration on the side of the Space Invaders arcade cabinet. And the American Werewolf in London werewolf.

AN: Hitting the ground running with all those weeks of night shoots, did you manage to maintain a balanced diet at all times and have a ready supply of clean underkecks?

JC: I had one can of Coke a day. And quite a lot of Froggos**. We had a craft services van that made very tasty hot panninis with pesto and salami and cheese. 'Youwannapannini?' was an on-set catchphrase. And yes, my underkecks are always clean. Genuine Calvin Klein. Fresh today.

AN: I notice I'm not being quite as obsequious as a proper journalist's agenda would dictate. You know that's just because any fawning I did would have little currency coming from me, wouldn't it? Did you have any press junket coaching and quote brainstorming? (Please don't use the term 'needle drop' in your answer here, thank you x).

JC: No, no junket coaching or quote brainstorming. But I've been the interviewer in junket situations once or twice when presenting Radio 4's film show Back Row. And as I've discovered, making a film necessitates the discussion of every element in great depth many times with many different people so, by the time the thing's finished, one's opinions are already fairly well formed.

AN: You've cited some 137 films that have influenced your creation of Attack the Block. Did you dream this list up in hindsight as you gradually began to understand where all this stuff had come from or did you sit in a laboratory and study every film ever made before you even put pen to paper?

JC: I knew before I started writing what kind of a film I wanted to make, so I watched movies that I loved that I thought had a similar tone or style, both before and while I wrote. Those are the movies I mention as having influenced it.

AN: Brian Dowling was your construction coordinator. How important was to you to include a reality show winner? Were you hoping some of his post Big Brother success might rub off on you?

JC: We really wanted handyman Craig Philips, winner of season one. But obviously he's in huge demand shecuring (not a typo) shelves internationally, so we couldn't get him. Brian is less good at DIY, but as you say, it's important to have some kind of Big Brother winner around at all times.

AN: There are only a few films that can genuinely sustain the excesses of two hours or more running time but Attack the Block is a gratifyingly compacted into the ideal viewing length or 'lavvy to cola consumption ratio', if you will. Were you always working to that or did some minor character studies get nuked in the Amos-olator suite? Were there any constructive editorial interventions from the grown-ups?

JC: I always wanted to make a 90 minute film. It was in my director's statement which came with the script when we were raising the finance. That we came a few minutes under is merely the result of twisting the tap a couple of turns tighter in the edit just to keep things as lean and mean as possible, which was always the idea.

AN: Are you happy to talk about the additional shooting you did towards the end of last year? Was this footage you'd hoped to achieve during principal photography but could only be funded once the purse had seen the spectacular bang you were putting together.......or did you get that awful sinking feeling in the cutting room when you realised the narrative was compromised by the lack of a scene or two. Or did Boggins do a little wee on the neg?

JC: All feature films shoot pick-ups if they possibly can. It's a standard part of the process. Small, essential elements that you didn't have the time or resources to get during the main shoot. Some pretty memorable shots in the history of cinema are pick-ups. The severed head popping out of the wreck in 'Jaws' was shot months after principal photography in the producer's pool. The shot of the Terminator's eye being crushed at the end of 'The Terminator' was shot months later in someone's garage. We did one or two bits and bobs, but nothing that interesting. And Boggins was kept WELL AWAY.

AN: I set myself the unenviable but ultimately rewarding task of avoiding all the clips and trailers until I'd seen the film for the first time. The teasing started very early in relation to the release date in the UK and I know you appreciate the joy of coming to a film completely cold. Do you have mixed feelings about the amount of advance media out there?

JC: Not really - though I admire your ambition. There's a lot more to the film than the trailer suggests, and we've been careful to pick clips from early in the story. It's a competitive market and we've got to try and make a bit of noise. Optimum are doing a brilliant job I think.

AN: How did you feel when you realised the art department had cocked up with the spelling of Wymondham Tower?

JC: Much less confused than I do by that question.

AN: You did a stunning photo session with Pal Hansen. Did you discuss the concept for it at any length or was that entirely Pal's idea which you played along with like a silly dolly?

JC: Pal was a very persuasive and charming man. It was all from his brainium. He brought along that mysterious melty substance. So, the silly dolly answer.

AN: Would I be right in thinking there's not an aliens chance in South London of the OST hitting the shops anytime soon?

JC: Happily you're wrong. The score will be available both physically and digitally, pretty soon I hope.

AN: Have your Mummy and Daddy seen it? Have you levelled with them about being like Brewis?

JC: Yes my parents have seen the film. Plus they've seen all four series of The Adam and Joe Show and listened to the vast majority of my radio output and they raised me. I have few secrets from them, if any.

AN: Will you get some 'proper' shoes for the premiere?

JC: Probably not.

AN: Will I be numbing my arse on the cobbles of Somerset House this Summer to see it again?

JC: I can but dream of such a thing.

Edited to add, Joe's dream has come true!

AN: Can I have a crew jacket/hoodie thang....or a poster.....or a tickle.......or a punch?

JC: I don't have a poster myself yet. We've run out of ATB hoodies. And the tickle and punch are only available in a twin pack...

AN: I think you've said that Edgar Wright had a brilliant idea for a sequel but you're savvy enough to realise that probably shouldn't be your next directorial outing. Do you have any particular aspirations for your second stab in terms of genre and would you shoot someone else's script if it was good enough? Will you go out of your way to make sure most of the action takes place in daylight this time?

JC: Yes, yes and not telling.

AN: Ant-man blah, blah, blah?

JC: mumble mumble avoid question cough

AN: Do you have a ready supply of Caramac? My cash & carry sells them in bulk.

JC: Am off Caramacs at the moment. Am enjoying an 'Oh Henry' or two these days.

AN: ....just in case you've been l o n g i n g for someone to ask this:

AN: Who are you?
JC: Jedward
AN: What do you do?
JC: Jedward
AN: Who do you do?
JC: Jedward
AN: Faves?
JC: Jedward
AN: Worsties?
JC: Jedward
AN: Jedward?
JC: Yes, Jedward.

AN: .....and finally, if you could change one thing about Auntie Nubbins, what would it be? Be as wude as you like, she isn't real. (Clue: The correct answer is "who is Auntie Nubbins?")

JC: Who is Auntie Nubbins?

So there it is. I'm happy to say he answered all the questions absolutely correctly so he is completely entitled to his soon to be dispatched bucket of WIN!

Thanks again to Joe. He has made a viscerally thrilling and endearing job of his first feature. I hope it affords him the opportunities he has so patiently and diligently pursued.

If your appetite has not been sated by this waffle, you can read the answers to some questions from proper journalists at the links found here.

Attack the Block is in cinemas across the UK on 11th May, 2011
and the original soundtrack is released on 16th May, 2011.

*At the eleventh hour, I decided to omit one question pertaining to the creatures because I was concerned it might be a bit too spoilery, even for this.

** Think he meant Freddos.

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