Rude Girl and Rude Boys – Film Producer Cass Pennant on his new film ‘Beverley’

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I recently caught up with the film producer Cass Pennant, after the screening of his new film ‘Beverley’ at Southend-on-Sea Film Festival. With various screening festivals in the UK and now abroad, ‘Beverley’ has since been selected in the shorts programme ‘Rebel Girl’ for the East End Film Festival, 9pm Tuesday 7th July.With a compendium of knowledge on football, music, and subculture fashion, these were just a few subjects that Cass touched upon when we spoke about  ‘Beverley’, the short film Cass has been developing with the Writer-Director Alexander Thomas, and together they have come up with a dramatic story aboutExif_JPEG_PICTURE

a mixed-race teenager who battles to assert her own identity in a bleak and threatening environment during the 2-Tone Ska music period of 1980 in the Midlands.

Everyone has a story to tell, but what made Beverley Thompson’s resonate with you and the Director Alexander Thomas?

 My first production was a documentary on the football subculture ‘Casuals’ I thought it was a forgotten subculture because the films concentrate on the violence.’ I wanted to pin it as a bigger interest, and involve more people, yes the violence was hardcore, but the other part of the subculture is the fashion as well as following football. It was the fashion more than anything, it outlasted all the other British subcultures that fizzled out after two years,but the casuals went on for three decades.  It was a subculture that didn’t come from music.  You couldn’t have Punk without the music, or Mod without the music, and Skinheads without the Reggae. The football casual didn’t come from music so I wanted to make the definitive documentary on the fashion behind the violence, and I didn’t believe there were female football casuals.  It left women out.  What would be the point of it? They don’t do the violence, but there were a few, we tracked them down and one was Bev Thompson.

 

Bev 2-Tone cafe

(real Beverley). She was now a Mum living in Brixton.When you’re interviewing someone, it’s hard to take someone back to that period without them talking to you in a way that is rather matter of fact. As an author to get the best out of someone there’s two ways to get them back in the past, as if it were yesterday and tell you in a vivid way. Music can take you back and the other is taking the person back to the scene.  In the film ‘Cass’ where I got shot, I went back to that actual spot for the actor to feel it, that’s why it’s powerful.

 I took Beverley back to Leicester, she hadn’t been there for decades, the ground is gone, the houses have been knocked down, but if you walk the streets it comes alive.  In my biography I had to make the reader feel Jamaica, as I did when I went for the first time, to find my roots.  You can’t do it in the house talking into a tape.  I went into a massive field near where I live, in the early hours of the morning when no-one was around. Standing in this field, with a co-writer talking into the dictaphone felt like the hills of Jamaica.  You need those things to get in the zone.

 On the train journey with Beverley I was fascinated with football girls from the terraces. She made the confession that it was short-lived, and wasn’t always a football casual, Beverley had also been a Rude Girl.  I’ve always wanted to do a film that gives a legacy to the Two-Tone era.  In 1979, when ‘Quadrophenia’ was released we watched that and said that’s our lives, it wasn’t premeditated, it’s wildness of youth, particularly males and females who go along with it in a gang.  We felt it because we thought it was our lives, we weren’t Mods we were football.  What ‘Quadrophenia’ did for Mod I wanted a film to do the same for Two-Tone, because in the last 6-7 years as a Father of Mixed-Race kids, the far-right groups are about, the riots happened, and it’s all the same cities where the riots originally started back in the 1980s. Now it’s the next generation. It was history repeating itself in the last five years, and then we were in the middle of a recession, and back to rule and divide.

If you take away the economic recovery in the last year,and the time I was thinking about doing this  involving the period of Two-Tone from 1979-1981. There had been so many subcultures, but Two-Tone hadn’t been picked up. In film, but I needed a story otherwise it’s a documentary.  When Beverley became a Rude Girl it was her sense of British Identity and also getting equality, she didn’t want to go with girls, and could hold her own with boys.

 She’s a very strong character.

She didn’t fit in one way or the other, with black or white.  What is she? A female in an all male subculture of the football casual that is really unique.  Those lads would do it for their different reasons but Beverley was doing it for a British identity.  When Pauline Black, lead singer of ‘The Selecter’ came along with the unity thing, Beverley started to feel accepted as British in this country. I looked at film maker Alex, we had a conversation, we both agreed to revisit Beverley and get her story on tape, and it  had such social relevance.  After we completed ‘Casuals’ a year later we interviewed her, so much stuff came out, that I now had the story  I needed to make the film. No one is going to give us a million pounds to make a feature, so let’s make it as a short that serves as our calling card.  I was also working on other scripts and co producing the film ‘The Guvnors’ which won best action movie at the National Film Awards 2015, but ‘Beverley’ meant more to me on a personal level.

Because it was more personal.

Because of the timing.  I have a mixed-race daughter, and son and there doesn’t appear to be issues but you never know.  I was a bedroom kid bottled it all inside me and didn’t want to share or talk it out; I wonder if young people through seeing Beverley’s story will say it resonates with today’s generation.  I’m a bit of a 70’s an 80’s man, but if we go with a film it’s got to related to today’s audience. When I see this generation, that are mixed-race or half-caste as it used to be known, in my time it was mainly Jamaican and White English.  Now it can be Turkish English, Nigerian English, Asian English. It’s half and half of something English.  The film will resonate with many but they have different takes, the similarities are there.  Beverley Thompson is like me, a good talker. Alex our Director is very talented.  The three of us sat together we knew it would be a hard journey, but there was going back, because financially we had nothing to do this, so we decided to crowd fund it, work with social media and drive everyone crazy to get this made.

There’s no doubt about Nottingham Television Workshop’s legacy and talent that continually comes through. Was it always the intention to cast from there?

Everything is in London.  Everything stops at London.  Even when you’re trying to get work as an extra, most of the actors from the North no longer live where they come from they’re within the M25 for work, you can’t really make a film out of London.  I like authentication, most British youth subcultures were started in London and the North catches up, but Two-Tone was different, it was hatched in Coventry, in the Midlands.  There’s a lot of talent up there and I wanted to get the period right, London doesn’t have Lowry’s Matchstick Men and Matchstick Cats and Dogs image, or those Coronation Street terraces with those kind of backyards or alleyways. I knew if we shot in the Midlands we’d get a lot of genuine help, where as you would have to buy your way out of everything in London. We had to shoot around Vicky McClure once she said yes; she was only free in the Easter holidays. I contacted the local papers in Leicester for casting and auditioning actors, it was a local story, we gave them the story that we’re making a film and need extras and actors, then we started hiring local crew, and found Rhys Davis, our assistant director who started to help us whilst we remained in London. He suggested casting the actors at the offices based at an independent cinema in the city, The Phoenix. He introduced us to some amateur and local acting groups and we found one in Leicester.  While Alex contacted Nottingham Television Workshop, we also had students who wanted to be involved. The Mercury gave us another plug and we followed up two weeks later interviewing all the response but the role of Beverley was cast in London, we had about twenty girls and got them to four, all of a sudden out of the blue while we were shortlisting, a contact came through for Skins actress Laya Lewis

Laya Lewis_VickyMcClure-16

saying she was interested.  She was always the directors first choice, we found a good bunch of actors but Alex always felt there was something about Laya that was Beverley. The Leicester Mercury have been following the story all the way through because we have Midland based cast.  We were getting a great buzz from the actors who had come from local drama groups like ‘Your Urban Actors’ based in Leicester to act alongside a BAFTA winning actor like Vicky McClure.

 

Vicky McClure Hi res Still

Vicky is from Nottingham and started at the Ian Smith’s TV Workshop that continues to produce amazing new actor’s. Kieran Hardcastle and Tom Cowling are both from there

Scene 27. Dean is advertising the  NF- George Somner, Tom Cowling, Kieran Hardcastle

and you can really notice the qualities they bring as the gang.  The other young TV Workshop Actor to impress is only 12 years old and her name is Sennia Nanua and she plays Beverley’s sister, look out for her as she has picked up the lead role in ‘She Who Brings Gift’s’ with a cast that includes Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close and Paddy Considine.

What has been the response from audience members who weren’t even born in 1980?

The first response initially came from the young actors through seeing the issues Beverley endured, whilst reading the script, then checking with their parents: “Did that really happen?” Stuff came that they’d never told them, once back on the set they realised how real it was. It caused much debate because young people will have their own issues and how it’s dealt with today.  We were learning from them. My own daughter went to the London Short Film Festival Premiere: “Dad. Why didn’t you tell me the film is about this (Mixed-Race Identity)? I’m going to tell my friends’At the question and answer sessions the young people are picking up on their own experiences.  They feel it’s never talked about because it’s a more politically correct society today: ‘You haven’t got a problem’ ‘No one is looking for your problem.’ So they’re carrying that.

It’s very covert.


After the screening a lot of young people will come up and say ‘We get that but in a different way.’

Is it wrong to assume that young people now don’t have the same subcultures of the seventies and eighties?

I wanted to make ‘Casuals’ because it was the last working class subculture, you can’t get another one now because of the internet, the whole thing was an adventure and people didn’t really venture outside their own towns, it was very tribal and very territorial, the only way out is a gig, that’s why the latest fashions didn’t catch on until two years later in some towns. On holiday people would see people from London wearing a label and query where they bought it, and then go to London or the nearest town. We’re talking about travel.  Now it’s the same shop in every town. Until we did ‘Casuals’ we found a young group emerging, it’s there on a small scale they’re never going to be as strong as the original subcultures, you can’t have that sense of youthful excitement when it’s taken away from you. (picking up a small brochure Cass flicks through the pages demonstrating the easy access of consumer culture) you get these fantastic magazines, all the models wearing the latest clothes, telling you where you get the clothes. Top Shop, Prada. (He highlights this) When you go to the clubs everyone is wearing exactly to how that model has worn it in the magazine. The subcultures were the happening thing that your parents or the press didn’t know about. It was underground.  It can’t be underground where it’s dictated, it’s led, it’s fashion. This is why it’s so strong in Europe today. When it was happening here Europe didn’t have what is known as teenage subculture because of conscription. You go to cities such as Barcelona or Rome, it’s now cool to pick up on these 1970S-1980S British subcultures and get that detail, that’s the only way they have their freedom of choice it’s what they want to wear because it’s niche, it’s not being sole by the shops in Europe because it’s too British. Britain has given the world every subculture starting from the Teddy Boy.

Do you think that the British Film Industry is slowly catching up with a different audience, or still struggling to catch up with a changing audience who want to see different stories on screen?

No. We’ve made the film industry aware of this film.  It’s only in the past few weeks that we’re talking to people about a feature, there’s a buzz in the industry about ‘Beverley’ some of the audience is changing, people that are now coming to the screenings give us their business cards.  Everything about the grid of filmmaking is money, it needs to respond, music is the same, you go on the road, and gig hard so everyone in the pubs and clubs in the towns will know about you, so they pick up on it. Our wins are coming from the audience.  The festival circuit is arty this is a bit commercial for their liking, but when we won the award at the London Independent Film Festival the organiser said that after we went the audience kept coming up to him, and saying how much they liked it.  At the screening in Derby the judges decide the winner, but also like involvement from the audience, they waited and held their decision to see what the audience came up with, the decision was unanimous Beverley won best short film. It’s clear evidence to say the audience influence Beverley. If you’ve got a film that people want to see, it drives us as filmmakers to keep where we’re going, to achieve our ultimate goal of making Beverley into a feature we hope.

Poster Beverley colour

We’ve screened at pubs, colleges, and now we’ve started screening at music festivals, and getting it out to the people “There’s this really good film called ‘Beverley’ that’s months pushing and driving, social media, and turning up everywhere. We’re making a presence, and then it starts to  gather its own momentum, which is happening now as other people start to invite us to their festival. Everyone has a film, they’re trying to get through the same door, if you want to get your way in you have always got to think of the next move.  If you think in that way then you can steer things to happen but you still have got to keep delivering, you’ve got to work it, that there’s enough of your vision to get you there.

 

Cass Pennant who is the best-selling author of nine football hooligan related books, he advised on numerous TV and film projects, including Lexi Alexander’s Green Street/Hooligans plus Guy Ritchie’s acclaimed Snatch and Alan Clarke’s The Firm, along with Bravo TV’s The Real Football Factories International and ITV’s Bouncer’s series.

Pennant is also the eponymous hero of critically acclaimed British feature film CASS directed by Jon S. Baird (Filth) based on his autobiography about his turbulent life and character, constantly strengthened through adversity.

His background is ‘the streets’ and he has brought this to his media projects. Above all, his pre-film life has seen him develop a range of contacts born out of these previous associations, which give him access to a world largely unavailable to those schooled in the more formal arts of television and film. Therefore he is in the process of developing ideas, which are innovative and surprising in their approach, his production of award-winning 2012 documentary Casuals was a Community Channel TV broadcast in 2013. Same year he co-produced his first feature for Metrodome ‘The Guvnors’ a cinema release 2014 and winner of ‘Best Action Movie at the National film Awards 2015.

Genesis Cinema, 93-95 Mile End Rd, London E1 6LA
Tickets 020 7780 2000 To book online: https://www.genesiscinema.co.uk/films/events/eeff-shorts-rebel-girl-tue-7th-july/#show-times

Laya Lewis inside club headshot