Screen visits the set of Mat Whitecross’ Stone Roses-inspired coming-of-age film.
Director: Mat Whitecross
Writer: Chris Coghill
Producers: Fiona Neilson and Esther Douglas of Fiesta Productions
Executive Producers: Chris Martin, Joe Oppenheimer, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Adam Kulick, Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, Will Champion
Cast: Elliott Tittensor (Shameless), Matthew McNulty (Misfits), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Lesley Manville (Another Year), Nico Mirallegro (Upstairs, Downstairs), Oliver Heald, Adam Long (Waterloo Road), Jordan Murphy, Chris Coghill [casting by Jane Ripley]
DoP: Chris Ross
Shoot: 5 weeks in Greater Manchester and also around the original Spike Island site in Widness.
Financing: BFI Film Fund [majority financing and also backed development], BBC Films, Head Gear/Bankside, Revolver Entertainment, Goldcrest, Coldplay (the band, which has collaborated with Whitecross)
UK/Irish rights: Revolver plans a release later in 2012
International Sales: Bankside
It’s a trip back to Madchester, baggy jeans and all, in Mat Whitecross’ new film Spike Island, about five young aspiring musicians who want to go see their heroes, the Stone Roses, play their seminal gig at Spike Island in the summer of 1990. Whitecross says the set has been buzzing with youthful exuberance of his five young leads (ranging in age from 20-24, not actual teenagers).
“It’s nice hanging out with kids on set and buzzing from their energy… They’ve got an incredible amount of energy, so it’s the nature of it, trying to harness it and getting them to do their own thing. It’s great that young actors are constantly trying things out,” Whitecross told Screen on set.
The project started with actor Chris Coghill, a Manchester native who played Bez in Michael Winterbottom’s 2002 Madchester feature 24-Hour Party People. Producer Fiona Neilson, then at Revolution Films and now at Fiesta Productions, thought a story based on fans of the Roses could have wide appeal.
Neilson, who produces alongside her Fiesta partner Esther Douglas, says: “I think it’s a phenomenal script. Chris is really amazing at writing characters and dialogue. It’s funny but also touching…The references are Stand By Me meets This Is England in 1990s Manchester.”
Even non-Roses fans will be able to appreciate the story, says Adam Long, who plays Little Gaz. “Lads are always goint to be the same, it’s about growing up.”
Oliver Heald, who plays Penfold, adds: “The language is natural, it flows. It’s all about these lads that are 16, and we’ve all been 16 and remember what that’s like.”
Evidenced from Screen’s day on set, these lads have a natural banter on camera and off. Adam Long, who plays Little Gaz, adds: “It’s hard to define when a scene starts and ends.” Murphy, who plays Zippy, agrees: “It’s amazing, we’ve had nothing but banter. All we’ve done is laugh.”
Long says Whitecross has kept the set relaxed: “It’s such a chilled set. Mat’s young himself and he understands actors well, he’s mint.”
Elliott Tittensor plays Tits, Nico Mirallegro plays Dodge, Jordan Murphy plays Zippy, Adam Long plays Little Gaz, and Oliver Heald plays Penfold.
Whitecross has lots of praise for these young actors. “It’s hard to get it to feel natural with young actors sometime. There is a danger when people are starting out that they can be too actorly, but these guys strike the right balance.”
The actors also learned (starting lessons pre-shoot) to play instruments for their own in-film band Shadow Caster. “It’s pretty incredible that their band sounds good,” says a proud Whitecross.
The project had a five-week shoot (wrapping in mid-April) mostly in Greater Manchester and also around the original Spike Island site in Widness.
Chris Collins at the BFI Film Fund was an early champion, and Revolver Entertainment came on board when the film was at script stage before Whitecross was even attached. Neilsen says: “They [Revolver] fit perfectly, because they are so good at marketing films in a different way. We can market it around the fact that you don’t have to love the Stone Roses to see this film. Revolver could see what a great idea it was.”
And with the shoot just wrapped, all signs are looking good. “I feel like this is shaping up to be a cult break-out British film,” says Nielson.
Revolver head Justin Marciano says the project was a great fit for the company, which is known for its innovative marketing strategies as well as experience working on music-related projects. “We have always been huge fans of the iconic Stone Roses and were thrilled to have the opportunity to work with BBC & Fiesta, as well as exciting director Mat Whitcross, on such a charming and hilarious script. The movie captures a seminal moment in music history and was a natural choice for us given our close ties to the music industry,” Marciano says. “The marketing opportunities are huge with the Stone Roses reforming in the summer and we are excited about promoting the film across this year’s music festivals.”
Another key piece of the puzzle was music supervisor Ian Neil licensing the Stone Roses music early on (and also licensing John Squire’s iconic artwork). Also, Tim Wheeler from Ash wrote two original songs for the film.
Fiesta, which was launched six years ago, had already worked with Whitecross on Ashes, a genre thriller starring Ray Winstone, which will be released by CinemaNX in September. Neilson hopes to continue working frequently with Whitecross, inspired by the Michael Winterbottom-Andrew Eaton dynamic they witnessed at Revolution. “He’s phenomenally talented,” she says of the director (whose past credits also include Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and The Road To Guantanamo.)
UP NEXT: Whitecross’ Ashes will be released in September; he also plans to direct Paul Viragh’s adaptation of David Peace’s GB84 as a TV project with Revolution Films. That is a political thriller set against the mining strikes of the 1980s and Whitecross calls it “one of the most amazing scripts I’ve ever read.” He’s also working on a documentary for children’s charity Kids Company. Fiesta aims to do two features per year, and is now financing Remembrance a contemporary Glasgow-set thriller to be directed by Kenny Glenaan and co-produced with Julia Valentine of Cacti Films. Also on Fiesta’s slate is a larger US-set film, Marked Man, written by Kwame Kwei-Armah - a thriller about Marcus Garvey and one of the first black FBI agents; State of Happiness - a contemporary love story to be co-produced with Zentropa; Great Fire, a conspiracy thriller set during London’s fire of 1666, and Going Mad in Hollywood, about the making of If…. Making more projects with Whitecross and Coghill is also a top priority and the team is discussing the possibility of developing a TV series inspired by Spike Island.
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