At HeyUGuys we rather enjoyed Ill Manors. It’s an interesting debut, and far better than most of the other films within its genre. It also deals with some difficult subjects in a clever and interesting way.
We recently spoke at length with the film’s writer/director, Ben Drew – better known to music fans as Plan B. During the course of our conversation, we discussed how his love of music videos influenced the style of the film, and how one of the few remaining public funding schemes in operation – Film London’s Microwave – helped him get it off the ground.
Being a man with some clear ideas on the state of the world, Drew also spoke about the way the media depict those who live in the inner city areas the film depicts, and the prejudices they hold, and enforce against them.
HeyUGuys: You’ve been making music videos for a while….
Ben Drew: Being on film sets, I’ve always tried to absorb and learn as much as I could from the experience., because I’ve always had the ambition of directing my own film – for a long time man. I actually went to college when I left school to learn media production and film.
So you were more interested in that than music at the time?
No, because my mum and my sister kept on banging on at me about how I shouldn’t put all my eggs in one basket, and, ‘music’s just a dream’, and, ‘you need to get a proper job’, and I said, ‘well look, if I’ve got to fall back on something, the only other thing I like is films’, so I went college, and after a year I just dropped out, because I realised, like the music industry, the film industry pretty much relies on talent, not a piece of paper saying you’re qualified, it’s talent at the end of the day. So I figured, more chance of me making money from music. And you know, in the film game you have to use other people’s money, and they tell you who to cast, and what kind of ending the film should [have] and all that bullshit, and I thought, ‘I don’t want that’. So let me make money from music, fund my own films, and I can make my films exactly the way I wanted to, and that’s kind of the way this worked out.
That’s an interesting point. You obviously need some form of investment, because you’ve got quite a large cast, you’ve got actors running around with guns, and that doesn’t come particularly cheap, so where did the investment come from?
Film London [Microwave Fund], you have to make the film for 100 grand. They give you 50% of the budget, and you have to find 50% from elsewhere. I was in a position where I could, with the help of Aimimage, my production company, we managed to fund the other 50 grand. We shot the bulk of the film on 100 grand, and everybody worked for minimum wage. That’s the way the microwave scheme worked. It’s only in the back end, it was only when I was looking at the rough assembly, seeing things that I needed to get in order to complete the film, that I sold the film for distribution, which gave me a bit more money, and allowed me to finish the film.
The film is set in a rundown part of London, and you have lines in your songs describing ‘David Cameron’s broken Britain’, so I presume you’re someone with a view on politics.
I’ve got a view on the media, and what the media write, and how that influences people to treat each other in negative ways. It perpetuates a class war. It gives us ammunition to have prejudice against each other, which really doesn’t help our progression as human beings. The Ill Manors songs was more me raising the issue. Everything in the Ill Manors songs has been something I read in the newspaper, or watched on the news. It’s been someone else’s opinion that other people reading the newspaper then believe, and it becomes their opinion, and that’s bollocks. A lot of the people that walk around with the prejudices that they have, have never been in direct contact with the people they have prejudices against.
I grew up having my own prejudices against people, and when I think about where that stems from, it stems from me being around people who were judging me, because of where I was from and the way I spoke. And when they labelled me, it made me label them back. And then you kind of realise, hold on, you’re guilty of what you’re saying they’re doing, so what’s happened here? Where have we gone wrong? It got me really thinking about where their prejudices come from. I’m not a bully, I don’t look at people and pick on them, but that was happening to me, people were picking on me, and judging me, and I thought, ‘well where are they getting this prejudice from? Where are they getting this opinion of me if they’ve never met me?’ and it’s from the newspapers, and the bullshit that they ran, which wasn’t true.
I understand the characters are all based on stories you’ve read in the paper.
If I read something despicable, I go ‘fucking hell, that’s some fucked up crime, that is’, what I generally find is that the newspaper never tells me why it happened, just that it happened. So for me, I’ve been influenced by what I’ve read, but I want to tell the story that the newspaper isn’t telling, which is how that person became the sort of person that would commit a crime like that., because hat’s the bigger picture. You can’t say people are either good or bad, life doesn’t work like that, so if people are doing bad things, why are they doing bad things? If you have the best start in life, you come from a family that care about you, and have tried to fill you with love, and never tried to harm you in any way, and you grow up to be a murderer, yeah you probably are just an evil cunt, but what I’m saying is, a lot of the stuff that happens on the street, if you want to look at the statistics, how can there be this much crime going on in poor areas, compared to the amount of crime that goes on in rich areas? There’s gotta be a bigger picture, there’s gotta be a bigger root to the problem, and it just comes down to money. People do horrible things for money. People traffic, sex traffic, other human beings around the world, for money. People sell crack, for money. People rob each other, for money. You wouldn’t do that if you had money.
And what do we spend money on? We spend money on Nike trainers, expensive clothes, widescreen TV. So why do we as people think those things are so important that the ones who have money think it’s OK to go and rob other people, or sell drugs or prostitute women? Why is that? Because so much emphasis is put on owning material things, because those material things give us prowess in life. They define us We’re allowing this shit to define us as people, and that’s where we’re going wrong. I like brands. I like Armani and stuff like that, but they don’t define me as a person.
Getting back on to the film for a second. You’ve got that character of Ed who does prostitute a woman. So was he someone that you’ve read about, or is he making that point that you’ve just made to me?
No, the Michelle story is based on a true story. All these things are based on something that actually happened. The artistic license in the film is that all these things are happening at the same time, around a group of people that are all affecting each others’ lives, but that’s the artistic license, that’s the only fiction. There’s numerous paper cut outs that I’ve collected that are references to the stuff I’ve written about. And like I said, for me, they happen, but I’m interested in how, why they happen, which is why I’ve put them in the film.
Was the film originally written to jump back and forward through time, and back and forth into people’s lives, or was that something that came out in the edit?
I did write back stories and stuff, and because I was making a microwave film, I had to cut that out, because in terms of telling the main story of the present day, it was deemed that I didn’t need those things, but when I got into the cut, when I saw the rough assembly, I felt, ‘OK, I can tell the story without those things, but I don’t think the audience will believe the story without those things. I don’t think they’ll buy into it’. When I got money, more money in 2011, I went and shot the back stories and the music video part. So basically if you can imagine the film without the cellar montage, without the mobile phone montage, without the brothel montage, that’s how the film existed before. And for me it’s like I needed those things, I needed to delve into their world, and see what they look like in order to really believe what the characters were going through now.
One of the other noticeable things about the film are the stylised moments. Not quite music video stylised…
No, it is music video. Definitely. Kids entertain themselves all day watching YouTube, watching The Box, watching Channel A.K.A, and they do it on their mobile phones. I thought, you can’t ignore that. You can’t dismiss that as a form of entertainment, because it is. I love music videos, which is why I’ve always put a lot of effort into my music videos. What excited me about this film was that I’d be able to make a film, but I’d be able to make a collection of music videos as well, and be able to jump in and out of them. So it was always planned, but at the time, when we did the original shoot, I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I came up with those ideas on my feet a lot of the time.
Ill Manors is out in UK cinemas now and you can read our review here.