Wendy Mitchell sat down with Revolver Deputy Managing Director and Gunslinger head Nick Taussig to talk about the company’s next productions and its unique approach to connecting with young UK audiences.
As a distributor, the UK’s Revolver Entertainment has succeeded by doing things a little differently than more old-school distributors (for example that infamous billboard for Kidulthood and a drugs prize for The Wackness).
Now the company is bringing those street smarts and savvy to production, with its new low-budget production arm Gunslinger. The company’s first production, Mo Ali’s action thriller Shank, was made for under $728,000 (£500,000) and has now taken more than $850,000 at the UK box office (and has sold to a further 8 international territories) and is expected to ship 75,000 DVDs in the first two months.
Screen sat down with Revolver Deputy Managing Director and Gunslinger head Nick Taussig to talk about the company’s next productions and its unique approach to connecting with audiences.
The next two Gunslinger productions will be Adam Deacon’s hoodie spoof Anuvarhood and Nirpal Bhogal’s girl gang thriller Sket. Both films will be shot in the autumn for under $728,000 (£500,000) each.
Tell us about these two next projects, Anuvarhood and Sket.
Adam Deacon is someone we worked on Shank, as the star of that film, and we developed a relationship there. He’s a real talent. He said to us, “I want to make my own film,” and I think he’s got a natural disposition towards comedy. It was partly our thinking about all these hoodie films coming through – Attack the Block, Comedown, we’ve done our fair share of hoodie stuff with Kidulthood and Adulthood and Shank, so we thought it could be quite fun. [Adam will play] a wannabe badboy who works in Sainsbury’s. It’s a piss take on that “Broken Britain” generation aspiring to be gangsters but most of them work in Sainsbury’s and should be proud of that fact. Adam will write and direct and star in it.
With Sket, there is this trend of increasing female violence, it’s particularly relevant in the UK…The trick is to create content that is headline grabbing, as a low-budget film, and an independent distributor to get attention we need something headline grabbing that has social relevance. On a film like Kidulthood, the success of that was because it became headline news.
Our challenge with Sket is that we know that former girl gang members will want to see it, but what about the St Trinian’s crowd? I don’t know. The way we want to try to get them there is going heavy on the music and careful casting. For Sket we’re working with former girl gang members throughout the process.
How important is it to keep these films at this budget level?
The model at Gunslinger is to build stuff up for UK exploitation first and foremost. And it’s about conceiving a project that matches its market value. Because we’re distributors, we perhaps know better than some producers what a film is worth. With that in mind, these kind of films like Shank and Anuvarhood and Sket, they all really make sense at the £500,000 mark. Essentially international is seen as a bonus. Shank did very well internationally and sold to 8 territories (via AV Pictures). But on Anuvarhood it won’t travel as well because it’s a comedy, not an action thriller. We’re essentially saying that a film has to make its money back in the UK but if it can get some international value, we’ll do that.
How many productions will Gunslinger do per year?
The plan now is three a year. To me, what excites me is that we can work with first-time filmmakers, it’s so hard to make a low-budget film, in one sense the most important ingredient is that the filmmaker will do absolutely anything to get the film made. These are passion projects for the writers and directors we’re choosing, they all care deeply about their material.
The other thing that has happened almost by accident is these directors aren’t white middle class. For whatever reason, we’re not gravitating toward those filmmakers. We’re making it more of a level playing field sourcing talent in different ways.
Not everyone wants to see an arthouse film on Friday night. So what’s your take on what UK audiences want and how you can tap into that?
The big thing we did is reverse engineering. We essentially conceived Shank backwards, we went to the market and said what do you want? We said to them, “What did you think of Kidulthood, of Bullet Boy?” They said “We like them, we respect them, but our lives are pretty shit and we’d like some escapism. The sense we get from these films is that they’re made about us, not for us.” We listened to that advice. We wanted to make something that was real, but we wanted to make something with them, and we worked quite closely with them during the process.
You really have to trust your audience in that case.
I suppose it’s about putting a bit more trust in the market and the audience.
What came back on Shank was that they were asking us to do things that were unconventional, and the kinds of things that film critics wouldn’t appreciate. For instance there is a rapper in the film and they wanted to see an entire three-minute performance of his track in the film. And we thought, okay, the critics might not like this but we’ll give it to them. Likewise we put in some different animation. It was about recognizing that this generation consumes such a spectrum of entertainment, and is very much music driven. Shank might be considered by some to be a mish mash, but I suppose we let the figures speak.
Could you be attacked for exploiting disaffected British youth?
It’s a very fine balance. We do these workshops through the Damilola Taylor Trust and we’ve allocated a portion of profits to them. And we’ve also done lots of workshops around the release of Shank. We took current and former gang members from Waltham Forest to see Shank. So I hope it’s the opposite, we can work with them. It’s more saying to these kids, “We want to portray aspects of your life, we want you to be there to share that experience and be entertained.”
And with the Waltham Forest kids, we’ll use some of these former gang members in future productions as runners and forother jobs.
How do you market these films differently?
I recently read research that only 3% of 18-24 year olds read reviews. So for Shank, we very much veered away from traditional media, we did far less print and did more social media. It was about building a direct relationship with the audience. We produced a music video and single before Shank came out. That was about using the stars’ fanbases. So it was talking directly to their fans but also using more street teams, more below the line, accepting that it’s very difficult with the critics. You just have to think the majority of our audience aren’t going to respond to [reviews] and they are far more likely to track a film going to the Facebook page, the YouTube page. They’ll look at the feedback from the kids themselves. A lot of kids went to preview screenings and that helped with word of mouth. They responded more to those than to the national reviews.