Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Producer: Rebecca O'Brien
Photography: Robbie Ryan
Editor: Jonathan Morris
Music: George Fenton
Director: Ken Loach
Writer: Paul Laverty
Producer: Rebecca O'Brien
Photography: Robbie Ryan
Editor: Jonathan Morris
Music: George Fenton
Robbie: Paul Brannigan
Harry: John Henshaw
Albert: Gary Maitland
Rhino: Willima Ruane
Mo: Jasmin Riggins
Thaddeus: Roger Allam
Leonie: Siobhan Reilly
Download press kit and photos from WWW.WILDBUNCH.BIZ
Our previous film was a tragic story. With this one we wanted to explore not just another tone, but somehow to try and inhabit another register. From its first simmerings it had the feel of a little fable; although the characters somehow feel familiar to us, I hope there is a sense of their life force and mischief that might make you care for them. At least in the imagination it was an attempt to be both realistic, but also a little magical; perhaps a fable of wasted talent, and what happens when we are given a chance in life.
Two central and simple situations came to mind we thought worth exploring. When anyone has their first child it is a stunning experience that changes your life forever. It automatically projects into the future, and raises both practical and existential questions of the most profound nature. Past, present and future somehow become different when you have another human being to care for. The second notion: we now live in a world where many young people in particular will not have a proper job in their lives. These two situations merge in the character of Robbie and offer tremendous dramatic potential.
Robbie has had a tragic past and after a chaotic childhood we imagined he had served time in Polmont Young Offenders Institution. Is he going to repeat with his own son what he’d lived with his father and his grandfather? Third generation unemployment is not unusual in many of our cities. He’s really up against it as the father of his girlfriend considers him to be a "scumbag". It’s a big step to look at yourself and say, ‘Right, am I a loser or can I make something of my life, despite what I've lived through?’ There’s dramatic tension there, both with the world outside, but also inside his head. Not only does the world distrust him, and for good reason, but he is not sure if he has the strength to change himself - never mind what is around him.
He needs a break. That’s where the character Harry appeared. He was somebody who had lived through tough circumstances himself, having lost his business and his family. I think we can forget how much an arbitrary piece of luck, of meeting the right person at the right time can change a life, especially if it is at a vulnerable moment. A little perception, experience and generosity of spirit can go a long way. You see it again and again: even in the preparation for this film I met older people working with youngsters who had a zest about them. Young people get it very hard in this country: they’re too easily stereotyped as lazy, greedy, feckless. Harry’s the type of man who sees the potential in people. Even as I was going round talking to many of the supervisors who were dealing with those doing community service orders, you saw those traits. Some of the supervisors, not an easy job, were authoritarian - and got nowhere with them. But then you saw others that were creative, thought laterally, who encouraged and made them laugh. It worked much better, for some. That brought the best out of people, especially for those whom you might guess had been more shouted at in their lives than ever listened to.
In the course of digging around before the film was made I had the good fortune to meet Paul (Brannigan) who ended up playing the main character, Robbie. Kenny MacAskill, an old friend with whom I did my legal apprenticeships nearly 30 years ago, suggested I meet a senior police officer who was running the Violence Reduction Unit in Strathclyde, a man called John Carnochan. John had great experience and had many fascinating insights that were far from the stereotype. As part of their work with gangs in Glasgow they’d looked at flashpoints and the most dangerous moments of the week, especially Friday night, when far too often cheap alcohol, adrenalin and not much to do combine in the worst manner. So John and his colleagues ended up collaborating with people who ran football matches on a Friday night throughout the city. Better to be playing each other than fighting each other. I asked John to put me in contact with anybody who was working on that scheme and one of the many fascinating characters I met was Paul.
He was a very bright lad, thoughtful. He’d lived through many tough experiences himself, but there was a steadiness to him. He got a bunch of the lads together from the group he was running, and it was their chance to take the piss with a filmmaker. We chatted for about two hours. It was chaotic, funny; Paul managed the boys very well. He just had a natural understated presence, and you could sense he was held with respect.
So I met him several times more, made a mental note and mentioned him to Ken. When we came to do the casting I was really keen that Paul should come along, but as it turned out that proved slightly more complicated than we imagined and no doubt he might tell the tale in his own words.
When he finally came along and did the first improvisation you could sense he had something special and as we did more and more you could see his confidence grow. He had natural charisma, a great face, and a sense of lived experience underneath: a sense of vulnerability, which was really important for the character. I will always respect how Ken is prepared to take a gamble and cast someone with no acting experience at the heart of a film. He did it with Kes, with Sweet Sixteen and now again. It takes nerve but I think Paul did us proud. There is almost a fable like quality to how Paul got the part too.
The whisky world is full of intriguing contradictions, which is always attractive. Ever since I heard of a flock of geese guarding a whisky warehouse it has struck me there must be some comic potential in there. I blame my brother in law Angus McConnel for introducing me to the wonderful world of malts, from Bladnoch in the South to Old Pulteney in the North, and many hangovers in between. At one level it is scientific, empirical and with great craftmanship. But at another there is almost a magical quality, from the specific shape of the still, to the particular barrel once steeped perhaps in Spanish sherry in a particular spot in a dunnage ware-house producing a unique whisky. There is something exotic about those thousands of barrels maturing for years in the dark, intermittently tested by the ware house man like some magician of old, (not the best place to spend hours shooting, ask the crew,) and those stunning distilleries by mountains, streams or facing the wild Atlantic. The Angels' Share is a delightful notion: that precious per cent that drifts off by itself to escape homo sapiens and the tax man. The poetic and the bullshit rub up against one another, the mythical, the marketing, the professionalism, the phoney, the snobbery, and of course the sheer genuine pleasure of it all, make for a wonderful concoction with many levels. I remember the first time I heard an old man in a scruffy pub call for "a wee low flyer," a nip of Grouse, dwarfed by his half pint, and the smile on his face. At the other extreme a principal dealer in London told me of the Arab Prince who bought a bottle of whisky for
A bittersweet comedy about a Glasgow boy locked in a family feud who just wants a way out. When Robbie sneaks into the maternity hospital to visit his young girlfriend Leonie and hold his newborn son Luke for the first time, he is overwhelmed. He swears that Luke will not lead the same stricken life he has led.
On community service Robbie meets Rhino, Albert and Mo for whom, like him, work is little more than a distant dream. Little did Robbie imagine that turning to drink might change their lives - not cheap fortified wine, but the best malt whiskies in the world. What will it be for Robbie? More violence and vendettas or a new future with ‘Uisge Beatha’, the ‘Water of Life’?
Only the angels know...
Why this story?
Late last year, the number of unemployed young people in Britain reached over a million for the first time. We wanted to tell a story about this generation of young people, a lot of whom face an empty future. They can be pretty sure that they won't get a job, a permanent job, a secure job. Just what effect does that have on people and how do they see themselves?
You’ve made several films in Glasgow before. Why did you choose to set a film there again?
There are other cities like Liverpool and Newcastle or Manchester, or probably parts of the Midlands where you could find the same stories, but Paul's from the west coast so that's his idiom and that's where he writes best. And Glasgow's such a powerful location that it seemed the right place to set it - powerful in the culture of people there, in the sense of humour, the attitudes that people have to life, and the history that's produced there. It's a very collective, not an individualist culture, and yet people have as hard a time there as anywhere you could imagine.
Why a comedy?
Well just to be contradictory really. You always want to take an unexpected path. We'd done a film like Sweet Sixteen, which was about lads, younger than these, but placed in an equally impossible situation, and that did end in tragedy. But the same characters will have incidents in their lives which are sometimes comic, and other times not. So we just thought we would pick one of the comic moments.
Is the process of making a comedy any different to making a serious piece?
No, the process is the same really, and I suppose the basic aesthetic is the same. Really, the comedy is usually the interaction of people, and the cracks they make, or the misunderstandings, or the time it takes for something to sink in… it's not slap-stick. In a way it's a story with a few smiles in it rather than a comedy from start to finish – it certainly isn’t that, because there are one or two quite dark moments in it. So the process is the same: it’s about trying to release, or to enable people to go through the experiences, and if it's funny as it unfolds, well it's funny. If it's sharp or harsh then it should be that, and if it's unsympathetic then it's got to be that. The aim is just to have truthful interactions between people, and set them in a realistic framework. Then, if in real life they would make you smile, they make you smile; if in real life they'd make you cry, they make you cry, or make you angry or whatever.
Where did you start with The Angels’ Share?
The biggest issue is always is what's in the script and who are the characters. Then it’s casting. We were looking for quite a long time and saw a lot of people for Robbie. It's just a gradual process of elimination. A lot of people are good but they're not good in exactly the way you want. The locations were just a question of spadework, so we saw a lot of distilleries - which was no hardship!
He’s had a very harsh childhood, he's been involved in violence, he's served quite a long prison sentence in a young offenders’ institution, and now he’s really trying to get his life on track. He's bright and he's thoughtful, and he's met this girl who he is very fond of. They're having a child together. But from her parents’ point of view, it's a disastrous relationship because all they see is a young thug and a young criminal, and the girl's father knows that world very well. He owns clubs, he's made a lot of money, he's moved to a better suburb, but he knows he's from the same mean streets that Robbie's from, so he knows that this lad has practically no chance of making a life for himself. Therefore, he's practically no chance of making a life for his daughter and their child either, so in the interests of his daughter he's going to use the methods of the street to keep them apart. You can have some sympathy for him, not with his tactics, but with the dilemma. If you've got a daughter and she's up with somebody who's probably involved in drugs, certainly involved in violence, no job, no way out - you know you'd be worried. Robbie's at that point where he's just going to struggle to be a father and to be a parent, to make some kind of living to support his family, which he sees no way of doing at the outset, and just sees no way out. Obviously the academic process passed him by because he was just being a teenage criminal from a world where that was the norm. So how do you get out of it? He says he's determined, but when that's your world and that's your perspective, it's very difficult to get out.
How do you decide when to cast established performers like Roger Allam in a role like Thaddeus?
It wasn’t the fact that Roger was more established, it's just that I knew him and I knew he has a way of appearing sometimes; a way of appearing where you know he's up to something, but you don’t know quite what. We met quite a lot of people as well, but nobody had that air that made you think there's something suspicious going on here but I'm not clever enough to work out what it is. And with a sense of humour as well. There's villainy, but it's villainy that makes you smile, and he has that absolutely, without having to articulate it.
What about the rest of the cast?
They're all fantastic. It was very good to work with William [Ruane] again - it's always good to have somebody in the cast who you can rely on. You know that you can often direct the others through that one person. I'd give William a note and he's professional enough to be able to include that in what he's doing. I know that'll draw a particular response from the others, without them being aware that they're being directed. Gary [Maitland], I don’t think he's been doing any acting for a little while, but he's been in two of our films before, and he's just very… well he makes us smile. He has the air of living in parallel universe that operates with different laws to the rest of us. But also he has a very benign, good-humoured presence, and when disasters befall him you do feel for him as well. Jasmin [Riggins] was a delight: nice girl, very funny, but quite astringent and a good sharp presence.
The part we looked a long time for was finding a girl who would be Robbie's partner, Leonie. We thought it would be the easiest part but actually it turned out almost to be the hardest, because pitching the social level was very important. Because her father has made money they've moved out, so she's not mixing with the same group as Robbie and the others, and her father's tried to give her more of a middle class background. But nevertheless she's close enough to Robbie's world to understand it. Finding someone who would just seem to fit was quite a challenge. There are different elements to balance: it can't be somebody posh, it can't be somebody too much from the street, but it should be someone that Robbie would feel was a real catch. We looked for a long time and Siobhan [Reilly] was someone we kept coming back to. She was lovely really, a smashing girl.
I should also say something about Charlie Maclean. Paul had written this character Rory and he'd met Charlie as a whisky expert so obviously Charlie was in his thoughts. He was going to be an advisor, and Paul said to me, ‘You ought to meet him.’ Once we'd met him obviously he could just do it - it was inevitable that he would be in the film really. If somebody acted a character like that you'd get all the outward appearances of Charlie but it would be hard to have the knowledge and the actual concern, or the enjoyment of whisky that he obviously has.
How does whisky work as a metaphor in this film?
The moment you start talking about the whisky as a metaphor I'll get into pretentious areas! I think we've got to let the audience see that. The comparison is with Kes. In that film the bird, obviously, is the free spirit that the boy can never be, but we never talked about the metaphor at the time. The audience just has a sense of it.
How was the shoot?
There was an initial hiccup: I fell over. So there was a short delay. That was just an irritation. Apart from that the production team is so astute that they by and large troubleshoot the problems before we get to them. They are like a fine orchestra, with David Gilchrist, the first AD, leading the violins. They would probably manage without a conductor.
Is it more fun filming a comedy?
It's always just hard work really. You wake up in the morning in a cold sweat thinking, ‘Am I going to get through the day? Are we going to get it done,’ so I just find it's too much pressure for it to be fun. I mean there are funny things that happen in the course of the day invariably but the overriding impression in the morning is just the work you've got to get through and the slight air of panic that you aren’t going to make it. Part of the work of directing is hiding your internal panic, because you can't let it communicate.
Do you still have that after so many films?
Every day throughout the day, yes. Even days that seem quite easy there's still a sense of a mountain you've got to climb, and it doesn’t seem to get any easier. Some things get easier in that you know whatever short cuts there are to take, how you can manage it, but that's cancelled by just the physical effort of doing it. You've got to put energy into it; you can never be on the back foot, because if you are then everybody knows that and the energy levels sag. If the energy levels sag the performances will - you've got to generate the adrenalin for them to fire off. You can't have a totally placid set and expect people to give strong performances. And it's not fair to leave it to the performers: you can't just sit back and look at a monitor and say, ‘Okay, off you go, do it.’ They've got to have a sense of constructive pressure and constructive tension, and a constructive energy between people, because then they'll spark off each other. The director's got to generate that. It's all about what is going to be in front of the camera, what's in their eyes, what goes between them. So you've got to pace the little surges of energy and let there be a down period when you're setting up or moving or whatever and then wind it up again. It can be silly things like you've got to run about sometimes, just run about, and dash from them to the camera and around, and if somebody is showing a bit of energy, then it's contagious. It's why I think monitors are the death because when a director retreats behind a monitor, you're cutting yourself off instead of communicating. You're saying, ‘Let somebody else do it.’
What did you know about whisky before this film?
Not a lot, and I don’t know much now, except that I do know you have to sniff it more than taste it, which I like. The idea of really enjoying the nuances of a drink, yes there is something in that: that it isn’t just something to throw down your neck and get obliterated, it's something to savour.
What do you hope the audience will take out of this film?
I hope they’ll enjoy meeting the folks in it, particularly the young people who are either referred to as 'petty criminals' or 'benefit claimants' or whatever, and just see that they are rounded, humorous, proper, real people; and that for every one of that million unemployed statistic, there are a million kids who are facing a fairly hopeless future - and here's four of them. Aren't they interesting to meet and aren’t they complex and valuable, worth something really? I hope they'll see that as well as enjoying the tale.
How does The Angels’ Share sit among your previous work about young people?
The kids in previous films have had ‘projects’, like these four have the project of trying to raise money through their talent for nosing whisky. The lad in Sweet Sixteen had to raise money for a caravan for his mum. Billy Casper in Kes had to train the bird. They all show that idea of people who are generally disregarded having projects which they achieve or don’t achieve, and enthusiasms and commitment and a talent which you don’t know about. I suppose it's the old image of flowers on the bombsite: in the most unlikely surroundings extraordinary things will happen. Young People are cast adrift into a world that, by and large, has no time for them. I wouldn’t say there's nothing that a job wouldn’t solve, but a proper secure craft, or skill, or job would solve most of the problems that these kids face, and that most people face. Because we are defined by our work aren’t we? Whether you’re a craftsman in the building trade, a joiner, or plasterer or whatever, that's your identity and that's your sense of self. Well, now a lot of people don’t have that. They are just what they're told they are which is 'benefit claimants' and constantly scrutinised in case they're cheating. What sense of self-worth can you have in that situation?
We first talked about this film in some depth when we had an away day. I should point out that the Sixteen Films ‘away day’ was just Paul and Ken and I having a nice walk around Bath. The three of us got together and Paul was brimming with the characters that he’d thought of for this.
He wanted to go back to the world of My Name is Joe, Sweet Sixteen and Ae Fond Kiss – back to those people, to that world that he knows well. He wanted to take today’s issues like youth unemployment and visit it within his favourite context. Rather than be didactic and bossy he’s come up with a lovely little parable of the Angels’ Share – which tells you a possible way of making things better somehow. It doesn’t take a lot to improve things and I think that’s what Paul’s suggesting with the script.
We’d had such a good time with our French partners - Pascal Caucheteux from Why Not Productions and Vincent Maraval from Wild Bunch - on Looking For Eric that we kept working with them on Route Irish. And luckily for us we didn’t put them off with that so they said, ‘We’ll do it again.’ Those two companies have brought us a French co-production and a very good sales team. So it’s very much the same financing structure as we did on Looking For Eric: we’re still operating in the Cantona mode. It’s all thanks to Eric – which is why Canto Bros are credited on the film.
We’ve put together a similar funding pattern as we’ve had in the past. That means a co-production with Italy, Belgium, UK and France, with pre-sales to Spain and France and the UK and equity support from the BFI, France 2 and Studio Canal.
It’s the usual patchwork quilt.
A lot of the money for our films comes from France. But that is out best territory so it makes economic sense for it to come from the people who appreciate our films most. For The Angels' Share the BFI came on board with a nice healthy investment. That really helped given we don’t have a British broadcaster at this stage. We’ve got a strong UK pre-sale with Entertainment One, who also distribute the Twilight films. I have told them that I expect a premiere of similar magnitude to Breaking Dawn for The Angels’ Share… Maybe we’ll all turn out in tartan.
But they also did a very good job on NEDS last year which demonstrated how they could make what might normally be construed as a niche, arthouse film work - and work in Scotland in particular, where we hope The Angels’ Share will find an audience.
Our funding partners are very generous now – they do recognise that we are grown up enough to make the films ourselves, so they don’t interfere in the creative process. I must give the BFI the credit as well for really allowing us to be at arm’s length. In the past when we’ve had equity funding people are desperate to get involved but with Ken’s experience it doesn’t work – we’ll just make the film we were going to make and that’s the way we work. You know: old dog, new tricks.
To be frank I think the less interference the better, with any filmmaker. You need to let them show their mettle, otherwise they just become a servicing engineer. Filmmakers need to be able to have the freedom to have ideas, so they can develop. Fortunately we do have that freedom but it shouldn’t just be for us.
On day one of the shoot, a big day, Ken was very helpfully taking his dinner plate back to the caterers when he tripped on a step and bashed his head. It was a serious tumble, and we had to take a hiatus of three weeks. As we only take six weeks to shoot that was a major hiccup. We had to put people on hold and ask cast and crew to be available for another three weeks. But mercifully everybody was up for it – there were no problems because everybody was dying to do it.
For the rest of the shoot, well – when you're making comedy it’s always more fun. The weather in Scotland isn’t always perfect. And it certainly wasn't always perfect: I remember we were filming up in a cemetery that overlooked Glasgow. It was a beautiful place but the weather was absolutely freezing – this was the middle of June and I was in a hat and gloves on top of a hill.
It was wonderful to go out beyond Glasgow, go to Edinburgh and the Highlands for filming. When you get out of an urban context and you end up filming in beautiful places in the middle of nowhere people are so happy to see you, to have a film happen. In those situations it’s such a pleasure to make a film.
Michael Higson, our location manager, was working on the production for nine months, looking at distilleries. Fortunately he likes whisky. All the distilleries we worked at were so accommodating and helpful. Balblair is the setting for the last part of the film, the auction, Glengoyne is the exterior of the first distillery the group visits, and Deanston provides the interior. At Deanston there was a big storm a couple of nights before we were shooting there and they had a massive power cut. Their whole operation went down. They were just desperate to get it up and running so they could do it properly for us. They weren’t so worried about their product!
For the auction we wanted something that was remote and looked remote, so that you could believe there’s only one road south. We were also keen to have the pagoda roofs – we wanted it to be a picturesque setting representing all that is lovely about Scotland. It’s like a dream location, a fantasy world, something one would only aspire to. So Michael looked at a lot of places and Balblair had that. I remember seeing its publicity photo. I felt, ‘Yes, that’s the one.’ It’s an hour’s drive north of Inverness and there isn’t a lot more beyond it: to the west of Balblair it’s just mountains. But because it’s on the east coast it doesn't have the fierceness of the highlands, and the colours are lovely.
The three distilleries we choose are all independently run, a bit like independent film production companies, and there were lots of parallels in the way they work – so they recognised themselves in us. At Balblair, we discovered, their best market is France. We were a marriage made in heaven.
We had incredible support from lots of other whisky companies as well who gave us bottles to use in the film. We haven't been able to show nearly enough of their names so I apologise to them. They can at least know that the whisky has all gone to good causes. A bottle each to all of the cast and crew!
Director of Photography
How did you first become involved?
I was cycling down the canal and I got a phonecall from my London agent saying would I like to meet Ken Loach the next day. I met Rebecca and Ken at their offices and we had a nice chat. Twenty minutes later Rebecca rang and said do you want the job? I had to say yes. It was quite a whirlwind beginning.
What did you like about the script?
It’s very well written. Paul Laverty is an amazing writer. It’s a very different type of script to normal as it’s not done in a typical style – because Ken and Paul work together all the time they’ve got a shorthand of how the scripts are so there are a lot less scenes in the film than in most scripts which I found quite intriguing. It’s much more economical storytelling, made to be achievable in a small amount of time. Ken likes to work quickly. Paul’s scripts enable him to do that. Most of all though, it was a really good read. There are great characters in the film. I love Scottish humour anyway. I'm a massive fan of films produced in Scotland because of the characters that come out of there. They’re just crazy people. Reading the script I really wanted to help visualise those people because they’re mental you know?
What were your initial thoughts on how you wanted the film to look?
I know Ken’s work from years back. I knew that he would have a certain approach and that’s what we talked about in the meeting – how he would approach a scene and the whole process of how he works. In a way I felt that I would follow that style a bit. He has a way of working that you fit into, not so much him fitting in to my way of working. It’s been great to see a different style of filmmaking: Ken’s approach is different to most filmmakers.
Was that a challenge?
It was a complete change. It was a different kind of film to the kind I would normally do. But to work with somebody like Ken is to learn a whole new process and I wanted to try that out, try a change of pace.
What was different?
Ken’s photography is not a million miles away from mine. We’re both really observational, but his observation is more from a distance whereas mine is as if I'm with the person. Walking and talking with them – that’s the kind of camerawork I am maybe more known for. Ken’s no different in as far as the observing and the details, it’s just the camera is in a different place. He likes to be further away from the action, not to invade the space of the people in the film. The camera style I’ve become known for is much more as another character in the film.
Is the Scottish landscape a major part of the film?
Not really. Because you’re following the story. That’s a little bit of a rule that Ken has that cuts straight to the core of what he wants: he places people in among certain scenarios and it’s really about how they react. You’re concentrating on them and not so much on the location around them. Obviously it’s a beautiful place: that goes without saying. But I think Ken’s very focussed on the people in the piece, not so much the place.
What struck you about Ken Loach’s directing?
Ken thinks about getting what he needs. If he gets it quickly and he’s happy he’ll move on. If he thinks it takes a bit more time to get it he’ll keep going until he gets it. And sometimes he’s looking for accidents that might happen that he can capitalise on – he loves that. He just wants to open up the freedom to see what happens. That goes for everything in the way he produces it. The camera side of things isn’t really to the fore whereas on some films I’ve done the visuals are very strong in order to tell the story. Ken doesn't want to draw too much attention to the visual style. He just wants to have you forget about it so you can really focus on what’s happening with the story.
Most of the time he uses one camera because he loves being beside the camera. He gets a bit concerned if the other camera’s over there and he can’t see what it’s doing. He likes standing beside the camera: he’d be telling me, ‘try this, try that.’ And I should add that that’s great - nowadays digital filmmaking makes everybody sit in tents with black shades around them. Ken comes from a school of filmmaking where the director should be by the camera. Now, with digital, people can be directing from a hotel 300 miles away. That makes such a difference in terms of getting a performance. Whether the person in front of a camera is an actor or not an actor, they need to be told where to go and what to do by somebody. Is it going to be the cameraman or the director? I think it should be the director. Any time I’ve worked with directors who are close to the action and the camera there’s a great energy about that. That’s lost if you’ve got a person in another room.
What was the technical set-up on The Angels’ Share?
Ken shoots on film, he edits on film – he’s one of the few directors that do – and he loves that process. We used 35mm and we used Kodak stock, Arri cameras and prime lenses so very simple really. For this particular film it was a comfortable place to work from: you know what you get, in terms of the look of it. From my point of view I like shooting on film. But it’s an aesthetic choice really now. I can only fight as much as I can to say I prefer 35mm because technically I can’t say digital is worse. But I definitely think I prefer the look of 35mm because of what the chemical process does to an image, as opposed to a digital process. That’s personal preference – and I don’t know how much longer I can hold out. In the low budget world where I come from you can’t really fight the cost of digital versus 35mm. I think people like Steven Spielberg and Ken Loach will continue making films on film because that’s where they’ve made their reputation. It’s going to be a cause celebre for people to try and fight and save it.
The original plan was to film on Islay because that was where it was originally scripted. We went there and looked at all the distilleries but logistically it was too much – so within about two weeks of my starting on the film we realised it wasn't going to be Islay. And then we had to spend the next two weeks rushing around doing recces of mainland distilleries. Charlie Maclean was really helpful with locations and we also asked him to say whenever something wasn’t right in the whisky realm.
The difficulty was you have this idealised view of how a distillery should be and you look at them and think, ‘Aww, that’s so quaint.’ Then you get there and the mechanics aren’t right. A lot of them have had the heart ripped out of them. Some of them are highly mechanised – at the big distillers they tend to industrialise the process. So you see a quite interesting building on the outside but get inside and it’s a man in a glass room pushing buttons. That’s not very romantic.
The process of making whisky is magical – how you turn this grain in to this very sought after drink. There’s an amazing transformation that happens and the whisky industry trades on this. Originally Paul had written the script and it had a lot of those elements in it. We found that some of them were quite rare. The malting floors, for example, no longer exist by and large: it’s all done somewhere else and then brought to the distillers. So elements of that heritage and tradition had already disappeared. We were looking for a mix of what’s best visually and what’s part of the process. It was almost impossible to find that in one place.
We started trying to find somewhere near Glasgow and then we radiated out further and further. We found Balblair distillery, where the climax of the film takes place, quite late on – it’s almost as far north as you can go. It’s fantastic, set in good countryside and with very, very helpful people.
When it came to the city setting, Ken’s always keen to avoid the stereotypical approach. Harry’s flat was difficult. He was someone who’d obviously had a major change in his life. His marriage had broken up, he’d lost his business and his livelihood and was starting afresh in a new town and a new place. But he’s obviously a guy with a commitment to what he was doing in terms of helping turn these people’s lives around. So we wanted somewhere that didn't look too affluent. The problem with shooting in these locations is the practicality of fitting a film unit in. The rooms have to be a certain size and the quality of the light is very important to Ken. He wants to use as much ambient light as possible so you look for large windows and a layout that works in terms of camera positions and shots through.
We looked at countless flats for Harry, but the good thing about Glasgow is a lot of those types of houses belong to Housing Associations so there is a believability in that. Although they look very grand they do actually house people from the right social group. To people from the south they might look disproportionately large and ornate but because of Glasgow’s history and the tenement life style they're actually correct.
For Robbie’s flat it was a kind of squat type thing we were looking for and the one we found was in the Possilpark area. It has an amazing view over Glasgow and all these 1930s buildings. The area had such a bad reputation they’re levelling it and starting again. So the property was almost entirely empty. It was supposed to be Robbie’s friend’s flat and Robbie has a room there. It was very basic, very pared down, no decoration, just scraps of carpet on the floor. Paul Brannigan, who plays Robbie, has been homeless so he knows it for real and he gave us a very clear brief. He came in one day and we said what would you have in your room. He said, ‘nothing.’ There’d be a mattress, a pillow, a sheet over the window, and a black bag with some clothes in. The odd thing was he said he had a bit of cardboard under the bed he would use as an ironing board on the floor. So there was still that idea of caring for your appearance. It’s probably the last thing you can control. Oh, and he said he’d had a weapon in the corner, a bit of metal or a machete, in case someone broke in.
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