Talking ‘Filth’ & film with Novelist, Director & Screenwriter – Irvine Welsh

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http://www.irvinewelsh.net/

In 1993 Irvine Welsh’s début novel ‘Trainspotting’ was unleashed into the public’s consciousness. The interlinking short stories of heroin addicts living, and existing in a late 1980s Edinburgh seared into the retina. Garnering praise, and contempt in equal measure, Trainspotting, and ultimately Irvine WelshImage were to the novel what Sex Pistols were to a crumbly, and stale 1970s British music industry, attracting a sharp, neon outrage from critics and the literary establishment alike.

As we fast forward to 2013. ‘Filth’ Welsh’s 1998 novel about a detective sergeant Bruce Robertson is released in the Autumn.        Image

Via email I posed some questions to Irvine Welsh such as, film directing, the casting of ‘Filth’, and why it took so long getting it on-screen.

Hello Irvine Welsh,

Let’s talk Filth.   The novel came out in 1998, and the film is due out in the autumn of this year.  I take it, it hasn’t been easy getting it funded.

It never is with independent movies. With Filth, Dean Cavanagh had done a very good script which was bought by Miramax/Hal, then the European operation of Harvey Weinstein. However, the companies split in two and there was a dispute between them over who owned the rights, which put the project back in limbo. When it went back to me, there were various other producers and directors involved, all who wanted to do their own adaptation, but they were nowhere near the standard of Dean’s. Then Jon Baird, whom I met through my friend Cass Pennant (Jon had done Cass’s autobiography as his first film) took over the project. He did a great screenplay and got me involved as a producer.

 

How involved were you with casting the film?

Jon’s game plan was to finance the film through Hollywood contacts. We were both repped by CAA and they did a great job packaging it financially and putting together casting suggestions. We were assisted by Janet Hirchenson and Jane Jenkins, who are the doyens of Hollywood casting agents. So I was pretty involved, Jon wanted me with him to speak to the potential actors, to see how they got the characters.

Bruce Robertson isn’t even a anti-hero.  Yet he is strangely sympathetic. Do you think that it’s still important to have sympathetic characters, someone who the audience still has a certain empathy with.Image

Yes, especially in cinema. You really need an actor people strongly relate to play Bruce. It’s not enough to make people laugh or disgust and shock them, you need to break their hearts too.

Will the tapeworm be a CGI effect or will it be more realistic than that?

I’m keeping quiet about the tapeworm, as he isn’t as prominent as he is in the book, but he’s in there.

You’re quoted as saying ‘Filth’ is the best British film since ‘Trainspotting’  Some people might agree with you…some might disagree, but still that’s a pretty bold statement to make.

I believe that it might even be a better film than Trainspotting. There is an element of mischief in this, on my part, of wanting to start the debate, but a lot of people are going to be seriously shocked by how good and moving a film it is.

How did you get involved with directing music videos?  It doesn’t seem like an easy transition to make from writing novels, and then directing a promo.  Who was the first person to let you near a camera, and say please can you direct our video?

It was the band Gene, who got me to do the ‘Is It Over’ single from the Libertine album. I hit it off with Martin Rossiter and Steve Mason from the band, who are excellent guys and wanted me involved. I worked on some more, with Primal Scream and Keane. They are great fun to do, and I’ve been asked to do more, but it’s all about time.

With the success of your novels you can do pretty much what you want.  Have you been tempted to go back to making short films without time, or financial restraints?  Something spare that could be shot in 8 hours or less.

I’ve got more involved in cinema, and I’m doing a low-budget feature next year. There are always time and financial restraints in any collaborative activity like filmmaking.

What’s healthier. Scottish cinema or UK cinema?

All filmmaking, be it in Scotland or the rest of the UK, is pretty much a cottage industry. One of the great things about working in Hollywood on film and TV projects, is that the whole thing is taken more seriously. When you look at the resources they have, Scotland, England, Wales and, especially Northern Ireland, punch massively above their weight in cinema.

I spoke to someone who makes documentaries, and works in the film industry. They said there is money, but it’s in the wrong hands.  How do you see this?

When was that not the case? It’s been a huge challenge to get as much of the money dedicated to cinema up on the screen as is possible. Whether the structure in the UK is right to deliver this not, I can’t really say as I’ve been out the scene for so long. But there are still great films coming out of UK/Ireland.

You’ve got a strong working relationship with the screenwriter Dean Cavanagh, and now Jon Baird. When it comes to co-writing, or even co-directing a feature or tv film. What is it that attracts you to that person?

Well, you always need to choose your collaborators carefully. Both these guys are close friends and they are very passionate about cinema, art and life in general. You can’t afford to be around people who are pompous and take themselves too seriously, it doesn’t make for good collaboration.

You live part of the time in Miami, and your next novel takes place there. I’ve never been to Miami, but I imagine Michael Mann imagery, and frenetic phone conversations in a departure lounge. At night I would imagine fast, flickering neon MTV images.  There’s a lot of imagery to absorb.  Do you listen out for dialogue, or are the images just as important?

You try to tune into both. Miami is an extraordinary visual place, because of the light, tropical foliage and the art deco architecture. That’s why so many artists and photographers are based there.

Regardless of people’s views on America there can be no doubt about a landscape that is cinematic in scope. It’s Ansel Adams black and white photograph ‘Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.’
adamslargemoonrise

It’s Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ the 1942 painting

imagesthat could be a scene from an old gangster movie starring Jimmy Cagney or Edward G Robinson. Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’

Grant_DeVolson_Wood_-_American_Gothicis the 1930s melodrama set in the heartland of the midwest.

The American novelist James Robert Baker captured film and pop culture imagery with ‘Boy Wonder’ ‘Fuel Injected Dreams’ and ‘Tim and Pete’.  Have you read any of his novels? 
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I haven’t read any James Robert Baker. Maybe I should try!

Sorry just one more thing.  I know it’s not a question of sorts but Antonia Bird..

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000944/

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Yes, she’s a close friend of mine. Would love to work with her again.

Best Wishes

Irvine

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