Shane Meadows: Filming in the Fast Lane

After wowing critics with This is England and Somers Town, Shane Meadows could have easily headed to Hollywood to make his fortune. Instead he decided to return to a more stripped down style of filmmaking. The Skinny sat down with the acclaimed filmmaker as well as actor Paddy Considine and producer Mark Herbert to discuss their latest project, the faux rockumentary Le Donk and Scorz-Ayz-Ee.

Feature by Gail Tolley | 23 Sep 2009
  • Le Donk

“I can imagine most people who see the first bit of [Le Donk] will be thinking ‘what are Shane and Paddy doing?’ exclaims Meadows. Coming from one of Britain’s most respected film directors this low-budget, comedy documentary about a loser roadie may indeed raise a few eyebrows. Made for £50,000, in 5 days and entirely improvised, Meadows’ latest film is a return to a more basic and spontaneous style of film-making, free from the constraints and bureaucracy found on larger projects. “From my point of view,” says Meadows, “it was purely, let’s have fun and enjoy ourselves, let’s fund it ourselves without having to answer to anybody and let’s make it in the shortest amount of time possible.” The end result is an often hilarious, free-flowing film that follows ageing roadie, Donk (Paddy Considine), and his rapper protégé Scorz-Ayz-Ee as they plan to hit the road and head for Manchester where The Arctic Monkeys (or as Donk calls them, The Article Monkeys) are due to play a gig for 50,000 people.

Le Donk has stirred up particular excitement amongst fans as it sees the reunion of Meadows and Considine whose previous collaborations have yielded particularly impressive results. The pair first worked together in 1999 on A Room for Romeo Brass; both had been friends since their late teens and Meadows was pivotal in getting Considine into acting. “I only started to act because of Shane and the fact that before I started that film [A Room for Romeo Brass] I watched Small Time [Meadows’ 1996 debut feature] and thought if these guys can do it I’m going to give it a go.” The two worked together again 5 years later in the savage revenge drama Dead Man’s Shoes which was nominated for Best British Film at the BAFTA awards. Considine has since gone on to star in projects as diverse as big-budget thriller The Bourne Ultimatum and Channel 4’s drama The Red Riding Trilogy whilst Meadows has cemented his talent directing productions such as This is England and Somers Town. Le Donk sees the two reunited on the big screen again. Considine has cut his teeth playing several hard-hitting roles yet Meadows was familiar with another side of the actor that he was keen to see on the big screen. “[Paddy’s] played some pretty savage characters in my films but I’d seen this ability he had with comedy and improvisation. I’ve said to Paddy a few times that 'we need to show people that you are so funny and so brilliant at comedy' but he’s never really had the chance to do it.” Until now that is, and Paddy Considine’s flair for comedy has been unleashed in the form of foul-mouthed wide boy Donk.

Donk is no new creation as it turns out, he’s a character who’s been “knocking about for a while now”, waiting for the opportunity to make it onto the big screen. He was inspired by Meadows and Considine’s experiences of being in a band when they were in their late teens. As Meadows recalls, “Me and Paddy were on a college course which we both left at the same time to be in a band. All the time we were in this band we came across these small time moguls that you meet for a week and they’re going, ‘I work with various rock bands and I’ve done this and I’ve recorded that and I’ve got contacts at EMI’ - these crazy blokes, very much like Donk. This one guy turned up to do some recording and he said ‘I’ll bring my portable studio round and I’ll just see if you’ve got it’. He turned up and opened this briefcase and there was a fucking ridiculously shit 4-track cassette recorder in there. We realised really early on that there were all these shysters out there that when they saw a band that got a bit of a following they’d attach themselves to it. So Paddy started creating this sort of guy, not far off 20 years ago and we made 4 or 5 short films with this character right through the nineties and never really did anything with him. But I always said to Paddy ‘I don’t know where the idea’s going to come from but at some point there’ll be a feature film with this character’.

Le Donk is that feature film and whilst it gives a platform for one of the director’s favourite characters it also marks a new initiative from Meadows and producer Mark Herbert called 5 Day Features. It’s a scheme to encourage DIY filmmaking with just one rule: the film must be made in 5 days. “After doing This is England and lots of other projects that ended up, from writing to finishing, taking 2 years, I just got exhausted.  I was thinking if I take 2 or 3 years to make a film I’m not going to make that many” says Meadows. The desire to encourage a no-nonsense approach to making feature films comes from having encountered numerous aspiring filmmakers in the past. “Me and Mark meet so many people trying to get short films off the ground never mind feature films and struggling through all the local funding.  And for people who, like me, are uneducated, I’m not great at filling out forms and applying for things, yet I can make films.  So what we’re saying is let’s create something where the application form is ‘go and make one’, it’s not ‘can we please have permission’, it’s just 'make one'.” What comes across as key to the philosophy of 5 day features is the pro-active, no fuss approach that is fostered by limiting the shooting period to just a few days. There’s no time to dawdle, to think twice or to look back and whilst Meadows admits that “some will be 5 day flops” he is also excited about the prospect of encouraging films that wouldn’t have otherwise been made.

The exact mechanics of 5 Day Features is still to be worked out. “It’s quite punk rock in so much as there isn’t a set structure but we want to help those people we think need the help and who deserve the help.”  Meadows and Herbert are planning to do this predominantly through a process of mentoring and guidance. “Generally if we think [a film] is in the right spirit and it fits that ethos then we’ll happily give people our stamp of approval and get behind them and help them find distribution and those kinds of things.”  It is this sort of advice which can be most valuable to young filmmakers, as Meadows discovered when he first started out. “The financial help I received was never what made me a filmmaker, it was people taking me under their wing and this is our way of putting a wing out there. The people who would benefit from our help probably aren’t people at film school; they’re already on their way. Maybe it’s people who are a bit more unconventional who wouldn’t have ever seen themselves as a filmmaker, they’re the people we’d like to try and get to.”  

Whilst the duo hopes that the initiative will give a platform to up-and-coming filmmakers they also think that the ethos will appeal to many others too. “You don’t have to be a 15-year-old, you can be 75 and always fancied making a film, we’re not going to restrict it.  Or say a director like myself, sometimes you’re on a film and you get downtime where an actor gets ill and you’ve got two weeks and you’ve got a studio there, why don’t you make one.  It’s for everybody really, the rules are very minimal.”

Shane Meadows isn’t just talking the talk, he’s walking the walk too and Le Donk is the proof of the pudding. “We didn’t want to launch 5 day features without making one. You can’t say to people ‘go and make a film in 5 days’ and not prove you can do it yourself” says the director. And Meadows plans to embrace the approach again in the future. “Most filmmakers around my age who’ve done the films I’ve done, they’re trying to get to America where the real money is. This for me is what I want to be doing. Make a big one for myself here and make a tiny microscopic thing here as well. Hopefully that will set an example for people that it’s not about getting yourself noticed then going to the epicentre. Hopefully this will be the start of something that will continue for many years.” It looks like we can expect more micro-budget features from Meadows soon and it also might not be the last we see of Donk either. “He’s such a good character you can take him anywhere, whether it’s backstage at The Arctic Monkeys or to the White House you can almost imagine Donk doing anything” says Herbert. And Meadows agrees, “We had so much fun doing it we might actually go out and have a stab at doing another one.” For Donk and Shane Meadows it appears, this film is just the beginning.

Le Donk and Scorz-Ayz-Ee is released on 9 Oct 2009