Not to perpetuate a stereotype, but as a film journalist, I tend not to spend much time in training venues. Consequently, it was with some surprise that I found myself walking around a sports centre in the East End of London at some hideous time in the morning.
Of course, there was a reason for my impromptu interest in athletics – the same reason that the exterior of the building was dominated by huge white trucks and enormous lights, mounted on crank stands – it was currently being used as the location for the filming of Fast Girls.
“The idea for it, I had before Britain got the 2012 Games. That was four years ago – longer. I believe then it was World Championships. Then, obviously the Olympics rejuvenated the idea, and could we do it.”
Damian Jones, the film’s producer gives some background to the film, while answering a question that is very much the elephant on the running track – if you’re making a sports movie due for release in 2012, why focus on the World Championships, and not the Olympics?
“After initial research it was two things, one is the legal parameters were onerous. Secondly, I thought, even if, in principle we got their blessing, we could never quite do it justice. We would be trying to create something that would be happening nine months from now. Both in scale, “could we replicate that with our modest budget?” but also, we’d have been saying, “here’s a film coming out in June, where we win two months later”, now this is timeless, and more general aspirational, rather than specific to the London 2012 Olympic Games.”
Although Jones ultimately chose not to go with the Olympics, he knew making the movie would be impossible without the involvement of the sporting community.
“We’ve had the continual support of UK Athletics, all the brands involved that sponsor UK Athletics have also in kind, got involved in our film, so our events, our World Championships look like the real thing. All our competing Athletes, who are extras – the non-GB squad, are all club athletes, and they’ve come from all over London, but also from Loughborough and some from Edinburgh, and they’ve been with us through thick and thin, the most awful weather, in their athletics gear, in Crystal Palace, standing there in the freezing cold in mid-winter.”
UK athletics also arranged for professional athletes to help train the cast of the film, which is how Jeanette Kwakye came to be involved, “Leonora was lead, so for me it was imperative she looked sensational. I tried my hardest to make sure she did that, but the schedule I found quite tight, because she was filming a lot.”
Kwakye ’s primary responsibility was to train the film’s lead actresses, Lily James and Lenora Crichlow. She did this through a combination of exercise and diet, which, while extreme, wasn’t too far removed from the actresses own lifestyles.
“The regime was quite intense because there was a specific deadline, and quite a focus, but it was always very healthy, very managed.” Explains Crichlow, “I eat quite healthy anyway, and as actors you’re very aware of your body and looking after yourself, because you are your business. It was nothing too extreme, I don’t eat badly anyway, but obviously you just tighten it up, along with the exercise and routine of it. I think the exercise makes the biggest difference. It also helps you regulate what you eat and when you eat, and goes with the whole routine. You actually crave quite good things for your body, it wasn’t too bad.”
For Lorainne Burroughs, who plays supporting character Trix, the training was an essential aid to developing her character, although she also looked to real life for inspiration, “I’ve loosely based my character on Florence Joiner – Flo Jo. She’s still down as the world’s fastest woman, 500m and 200m and she was a showman.” She explains, “When you see her run is such grace and such ease, so a lot of mine is trying to get to a point where it feels natural. You’re obviously trying very hard, but it’s where you’re meant to be, and it’s your comfort zone. The training has been very intense, but it’s also the mindset of getting into this is who I am, and this is what I’m doing.”
Of course, it’s not just the training and diet, making the film believable relies on getting the details right. Part of this was the in the outfits, the sponsorship and the branding, but it also relied on understanding the world of athletics, as screenwriter and cast member, Noel Clarke explains,
“The whole thing of getting onboard all the athletics committees and having the sponsors and stuff like that is that you can’t make the film too out there. Obviously it’s about four main girls, and immediately you think, ‘there’s a romance in there. There kind of is, but romances between staff and athletes are so frowned upon, people were like, ‘I’m not sure about that’, so therefore, in the script, everything has to be done very subtly, so we’re trying to stay as true to life as possible, while still making a movie.”
Unfortunately, this attention to detail caused the film some serious difficulties. Lead actress Lenora Crichlow worked so hard in such a short space of time that she fractured both her ankles mid-way through shooting. As she puts it, ‘I’ve given everything’. It also caused some logistical difficulties on the shoot – as director Regan Hall explains,
“It’s not only how often they can run, but also, you’ve got to go through a 45 minute warm-up period before they can sprint, plus it’s cold. Once they’re out on the track in a bikini, more or less, for a couple of minutes, their whole warm-up procedure gets ruled out, so it’s something you’ve got to deal with; much like if you do a film with children or animals, dealing with high-performance athletes is a similar thing.”
Fast Girls is released 15th June. If you missed it, you can see the trailer here.