For his third directorial outing – following Adulthood and 188.8.131.52 – Noel Clarke is tackling sci-fi. As such, The Anomaly arrives in UK cinemas this weekend, and he took some time out to tell us about the film, about his future projects, and – of course – his favourite Statham movie…
There’s a distinct lack of logos at the start of The Anomaly. If you compare this to the last film you directed, 184.108.40.206, that had a huge procession of companies involved. This has Universal, your company and The Tea Shop & Film Company. Is that indicative that this was a slightly easier project to pull together? That the currency you’ve built up over your past few projects makes it a slightly easier sell?
It’s not necessarily easier. It’s just indicative of, as a brand, us getting stronger. Plus knowing what we’re talking about, so needing less people around us. It’s us being able to deliver movies to studios, so they trust us. You don’t need other companies coming in and saying ‘we can get this delivered’ because we’ve done it now. We’ve done it a few times. We can actually deliver a film.
Tea Shop & Film are really only there because as producer, director and actor, I knew that I couldn’t physically do the producing stuff on a set. And so James Harris and Mark Lane, good friends of mine who’ve done Cockneys Vs Zombies – and I was in their film, I Am Soldier – I said I need you guys. Do you want to come on this one? And they said they’d love to, they came on and did the day to day stuff, while I was acting and directing. And so by all means I wanted their logo on there.
What’s the on-set ramification for you, then? As director, presumably the consequence of having lots of companies involved before is you end up with lots of people wanting their say. But less so this time?
Yeah. The on-set ramification now is that they act as producers to me on set, so if I’m running behind they have to turn up on set and go, y’know, ‘come on dude’. The only difference is that the reality is that if I really, really wanted to be difficult and say ‘get out of here’, I could do that. But you don’t do that. If you hire people to produce with you, you let them do their job. That’s why they’re there. Without them, you potentially have nobody telling you that you have a problem, and you’re a week late, and you owe everyone money. It’s a nightmare.
So it enabled me to concentrate on the actors, on getting the actors and directing them, and planning the movie.
It was Ben Affleck, when he started directing himself, said he came up against the problem that actor-directors tend to not always shoot enough coverage of themselves.
Yeah. The focus is on everyone else.
The evolution of him as a director, from film to film, is partly to give himself more coverage to work with. Can you relate to that? What lessons do you take?
100%. I’ll say though that Ben Affleck is a hero of mine, and I’ve watched him from the beginning. I’ve said before that I’ve watched him in Kevin Smith films, so I’ve watched him from the days of Mallrats and Chasing Amy. I’ve been a fan, even before Good Will Hunting. I’m not one of these Johnny-come-latelies who’s now loving him because he’s won an Oscar!
Is Phantoms in your DVD collection then?
[Laughs] It’s not in my DVD collection! But I have seen it.
My thing is to direct the movie so you concentrate on everyone else, more than yourself. But by the point of getting to direct a movie, you’ve been through the script so many times, and if you’re a competent actor you give yourself less, because you are more proficient in knowing how you want the line said, and knowing exactly how you want your performance to be. So you can give yourself less. You’re more likely to get it in less amount of takes. Whereas other actors you might need to spend more time with them.
At the end of the day, he’s had more money, which gets him more time though. If we shoot a scene in this room today, we’ve got to be out today. Whereas on some of the big films, half a day can be left if someone has a headache.
On the type of film that we do currently, we just don’t have that time and money. It’s really about making sure that you can get everything you need. So you spend a lot of time concentrating on the actors.
You’ve talked as well from project to project that you want to push things a bit further, to gradually get bigger and bigger. The culture is to go from very small to very big, but you’ve always had the ambitious to do it in stages.
So where does The Anomaly fit in, how did it come to you, and why did you want to do it? Where did you see the evolution from what you’ve done before?
Well, I think you see that on the screen.
It came to me from Simon Lewis. He wrote a great script called Tiger House, which is now being made by a buddy called Tom Daley. But I was after that script initially to produce it for Tom. As I was in the middle of optioning it, a bigger company came in and took it. I was fuming. We’re a little company, we’re trying to get good scripts, and we wanted that one. So I met with the writer, Simon Lewis, and he was very apologetic about what happened. He said he had other ideas, and one of them was The Anomaly. I said I liked the sound of it. What is it? Let me know more?
So he told me, and I said I want that, I want that. He went away and finished writing his draft and delivered it. I thought it was amazing. I loved the concept, I loved what he’d done. I thought it needed some work. I didn’t think it could be set now, I think it needed that futuristic element, so that’s what I added.
In terms of evolution, visually I think you can see it on screen. I’ve always prepared a lot, but I know what I’m doing a lot more now. Also, being forced to make low budget films, or only being given certain budgets for the films we’ve done before, means that I’ve learned where to put money. We can handle a budget like this, but end up with a film that doesn’t look like that budget. It cost five times less than it looks.
You’ve certainly chosen which horses to back. There’s a bit in New York, for instance. I liked that sequence a lot. Most of the time when people film in the middle of New York, they don’t include the bit with people in the background staring at the camera. In your case, it helps the scene. Can you talk about taking a lower budget film into the middle of Manhattan?
The good thing about it is it suits the scene. We ran into Times Square, and we had all those people there. What I did do was have about six extras who were dressed in specific colours who, in every take, would walk behind the cameras. So no matter what angle you cut to, if there was different people in each take, you’d always see the girl in the red shirt, and your eye would be drawn to her.
We were listed as a low budget project for New York, so we had permission to be there. There was no problem. For the first few takes, nobody was looking, it was all fine. Then people started recognising me from Doctor Who, and then the crowd started building. Then we had a UFC fighter, Michael Bisping, and people started recognising him. And before you know it, there’s a crowd gawping. But because of what we were doing, with the threat and us, it kind of worked. It was all real. We just did it.
When you looked back at editing 220.127.116.11, your self criticism of the film afterwards was that it was about five minutes too long, but at the time you couldn’t do anything about it, given that you had four interlocking stories. Cutting one minute somewhere would affect the other three. This then, you’ve upped the ante on that challenge, by locking yourself to 9 minute and 47 second chunks!
It’s experience this time. If I edited 18.104.22.168 now, I could lose ten minutes easily, and it wouldn’t affect the film at all. Nobody would notice. That’s experience. The Anomaly is that same sort of thing. You can’t really cut a scene. Any scene affects the whole story. The thing was making sure we got it in a place where we knew how long the script was, how long roughly the action would take. I even made a bigger rod for my own back, because when we shoot the fight scenes, there are no cuts in them. When the editor plugs them into the edit, they are what they are. You can speed them up, slow them down, but that’s it.
I think through experience I knew what I could cut inside a scene, and how I could cut dialogue. We comfortably got down to our length. It wasn’t a problem. Where we are now at 96 minutes – the film ends on 90 minutes, and there are six minutes of credits. We feel you couldn’t cut any more. When the first cut came in, after the shoot, we were two hours five minutes. But we didn’t panic. We knew we could bring it down.
Did you give yourself more time in the editing process?
We had a lot more time in the editing process because we still had to do the New York shoot, and then of course there were the special effects coming in slowly. We were playing around with the fights too. They were all shot at 300 frames. If was putting that into 24 frames, so it went at normal speed, and choosing the moments that we wanted to slow, and which at normal speed.
John Woo would have made people grow their hair for those fight scenes.
Yeah! And have a dove flying in the background!
I come back to 22.214.171.124, a film I’ve a lot of time for. You mentioned once that you had funding in place for a sequel, 126.96.36.199.1. Is that still an active project?
Yes, I have the idea for it. But the studio doesn’t feel like the brand is strong enough to do another one. I disagree, but they’ve decided they don’t want to do another one. The budget they’ve said they would do another one for, we said we’re not doing it.
You have other projects you’ve been toying with over the years. You once said that your MMA film was killed by a studio computer programme just after Warrior came out, for instance?
It was a certain budget level, then Warrior didn’t do the numbers, so ours went down, and were below the budget. So it became impossible. But that film’s actually on its way back.
What about superheroes?
No chance, I would love to!
You lobbied in the past for Black Panther from Marvel. But then you said you’d written your own superhero movie, and it was on your laptop.
I did, and it’s still there!
What are you planning to do with that? Is that just one for the back pocket?
It’s still there. I think I’m going to rewrite it and make the lead character younger. I think if I make the lead character a teenager, it might actually work. It’s still sitting on my laptop, but with everything we’re doing, I haven’t had time to fiddle with it. But I feel like when I wrote it originally, it was five or six years ago. I thought I’d love to do it, because I’ll never get a chance to play a superhero. As I’ve got older, I’d still love to do it, but I won’t do it now, because I’m smarter than that. I feel like actually if I make the lead character younger, and rewrite it, there’s a story there for a really cool teenage superhero.
I’ve interviewed you a few times now, and can’t believe I’ve never asked you this before. So finally: what’s your favourite Jason Statham movie?
Does Snatch count?
Of course it does.
Well Snatch then, easily. Every day of the week!
Noel Clarke, thank you very much.
The Anomaly is released in UK cinemas on Friday 4th July.