Noel Clarke interview: The Knot, Marvel, DC, UK films and more

News Simon Brew 5 Oct 2012 - 08:25

Noel Clarke talks to us about making films in Britain, The Knot, Storage 24 and his superhero plans...

Out in UK cinemas today is the third film from the brain of Noel Clarke to be released this year. The Knot, unlike Storage 24 and Fast Girls, is a wedding comedy. And its writer and star took the time to tell us about it, about British film and trying to get a superhero movie made…

When we last spoke, you mentioned that The Knot was a film that you originally came up with around the time of Kidulthood and Adulthood, but you couldn't get it made. How have you gone about updating it and bringing it to life now?

It's gone through many drafts. I don't want anyone to ever think that I would just pull a script out. When we first did it, there were no smartphones, or tablets, or anything like that. We really had to bring it up to date, and updated the humour too.

Weirdly, a lot of our stuff was already in there. Even though the film probably has one hundredth of the budget of something like Bridesmaids or The Hangover, to see some people go 'it's just a poor man's version of those', or 'a British version of those', is actually strange. Because this was written well before. You have to wonder what this would have been if it had come out first!

It arrives at a point, too, where there's been a collection of wedding comedies at the British box office.

I know!

If I'm reading it right, you were attached to one of those other films once upon a time.

Yeah. Well, two things. Firstly, as well as The Knot being written before a lot of those films, this also was supposed to come out on Valentine's Day 2012. So our wedding film would have been the first by a long shot. Many things happened behind the scenes which meant that couldn't happen, and so even though we were written and shot first, we've ended up being the wedding film that came out last.

I was offered and accepted a part in A Few Best Men, and then the Australian actor's union argued that there were too many British actors. And the director decided to lose me. So I was not chuffed about that. It didn't matter what film it was, it was just that everything was getting ready to go.

The line you said to us last time was "fuck 'em, we're going to make our own one and kill 'em". Hence, The Knot!

Yeah. We haven't killed them yet! Although they were on three hundred and something screens, and didn't do very well. Because both of the other films didn't do very well at all, we're almost in a no-lose situation. We're on a lot smaller amount of screens. It's the underdog that's already doing its thing, you know?

When the BBFC first classified The Knot, they gave it an 18 certificate. What did you have to cut to get a 15? Have you gone all Taken 2 on us?

[Laughs] No, no, no! The film was always geared to be a 15. Any film that I've written. Until the day I set out to make a 12A, every film I make I try to make a 15.

Adulthood, 4.3.2.1, Storage 24…. In fact, Fast Girls was a 12A, but that was it. What I always do is push them to the limit as well, to make them as 15 as you can before it becomes an 18. And it so happened in this really sweet but funny romcom, we had a couple of things that just pushed it over the edge. It literally came down to about three frames that had to be adjusted. That was all it was.

What did you do in those three frames that takes a film from a 15 to an 18?

I removed some nudity. Actually, I didn’t remove it, I just reframed the shot so that you didn't see undercarriage as much as you do see it! There was more, but now you see a bit less! There's nudity, male and female, in the movie, but there was a specific frame, where something was moving, that made you see more than you should have seen.

It's 15 now, it's great. More people can see it.

If this had been an American production, presumably you would be heavily targeting PG-13, or you would have been expected to sail closer to Bridesmaids and The Hangover?

Yeah, I think so. But again, the thing about being a British production is that we have nowhere near their budget. What we've achieved for the money we've spent is phenomenal. A couple of the producers are really offended by reviews that have said 'it's a poor man's Bridesmaids', but to even be mentioned in the same breath of those films when our budget wouldn't cover the catering on one of those movies is a compliment.

The same could apply to all three of the films you've put out this year. Three genres, in a cost-conscious way. Storage 24 seemed to be quite a beneficiary of a lower budget in the end?

Yeah, I mean Storage 24 didn't do as well as I wanted it to do in the UK. But in terms of what we did for the cost and making a film... all my films now I try and give an international feel. Storage 24 is selling like hotcakes. It really is. I put international posters up on Twitter all the time. It's flying. A lot of these territories, it’s theatrical as well, which is important.

You're up against some narrow-mindedness in the way film is reported though, aren't you? That UK or US cinema takings are seen as the be all and end all?

They report on film and don't actually understand film. Yeah. It's something I've had to learn, and it's something I get used to, but it's really interesting. It's really frustrating, but at the same time it does become interesting.

You see people say it's just a knock-off of Hangover, I think actually, if you'd known it was written before then, what would you say? You know? If you knew our budget, what would you really say? People do their jobs and don't actually do the research that they should do, in most cases. It is very narrow minded, and they think that the UK is the be all and end all.

And we all want to do well in the UK. Adulthood was a phenomenon, 4.3.2.1 did well, we all want to do well here. But there are other countries in the world as well, and we need to make films that cater for an audience, not just a specific audience in one country.

Do you think the UK system is now built up to properly support UK films going into cinemas? I look at something like Cockneys Vs Zombies, which got good reviews, gets ten screens, and then even more so than usual, the cinema release is a trailer for the DVD? I wonder if that's going to get more air overseas.

No, here's the thing. I think the British industry is set up to support British film, if we make films that enable them to support it. If you don't make a commercial film, distributors can't get behind it. If they don't get behind it, the film doesn't do well. Consequently, other people go ‘their last film didn't do well, so we're not going to get behind them’.

Cockneys Vs Zombies looked like it was going to fly. When the trailer came out, it was flying. But then it was out on ten screens, all gone. But at the same time, the film's great, but the language may not translate to other countries?

There are other films where distributors are sometimes putting British films in cinemas for as little as three days now, just to get a bit of publicity for the DVD coming out on the Monday.

It's difficult, though. You have all these download places like Lovefilm and Netflix. You only have to wait 16 weeks for the DVD now. It becomes difficult. Cinema is not cheap in this recession. People will go ‘I only have to wait 16 weeks and then I can watch it at home’. They’re saying ‘if I go to the cinema, I'm buying my ticket, paying my travel, taking my date, eating my popcorn….’ You're spending like £80. You'd better be entertaining.

I think most people, no matter their status now, have big screen TVs, because they're the standard TVs now. And so why would you go to the cinema? It has to be an event. Which is why everything now is IMAX and 3D. But you don't have IMAX 3D in your house, so you have to go to the cinema for that. If it's not IMAX 3D, then it's like, some people will wait for the DVD. I think the model needs to be re-evaluated.

But I think we still have an opportunity and a chance to make films. Most of them come from brands now. The Inbetweeners was already a brand. That came on the cinema, and that boomed.

So where are your future projects? Is your MMA project dead now?

It stalled. It became too expensive to finance.

That was Warrior that hurt that?

Yeah, yeah. That didn't do so well, and they were like if he can't do it, how are you going to do it? I could rewrite it for a lower budget, something I'm not against doing, but I'm busy right now. So that's on hold. But there are other things, I'm always up to stuff. But again, just trying to do different things, trying to create a brand. I'm trying to do that as well.

That's through your company, Unstoppable? You're still aiming to own a collection of characters and brands that you could have the kind of fun someone like Robert Rodriguez does with Troublemaker?

Yes. That would be awesome, that's the ideal. But it takes time, and it's difficult here. But it's been a real eye-opener going international, with Emma Roberts and people like that. It was really interesting to see people saying 'ha, [4.3.2.1] only did this much at the box office', and then systematically starting putting up all the international posters every time they come out. People have to understand that this country's not the end of everything.

Do you have a particular thirst to make the films you create yourself outside of Britain?

There are plans, there are plans to go overseas, 100%. There are two or three scripts now that are starting to get set up, and three out of four are set abroad.

We talked about your wish to do Black Panther before. Have you put the call into Marvel yet?

They’re not interested, man. I’ve tried everything. I’ve offered to write the film, they’re not interested. Obviously I’d love to play the part, they’re not interested. I wanted to write Black Lightning for DC, they’re not interested. I’ve tried. I want Supergirl, they’re not interested. They’re just not interested.

Would you create a superhero movie yourself instead, then?

I have done, I have done. I’ve written a superhero movie, it’s sitting on my laptop, much like many of my other films. Again, it’s not expensive, but it’s too expensive for anyone to take the risk.

Noel Clarke, thank you very much…

The Knot is out in UK cinemas today.

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I really enjoyed Storage 24 and would love to see more of that story.

I think he's right to be focusing on international audiences to build up the box office for his low budget efforts. True breakout hits that are British are few and far between if you're not willing to pander to the LCD. He obviously has ambitions to take on larger projects but in the meantime he should focus on honing his craft outside of the spotlight with a few cult hits which is better than a lot of directors and writers manage.

The Knot looks like it might have that wider appeal (not wide enough to catch me though!) but all he needs is one in the bank to open more doors for his other projects.

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