I had just finished my short mockumentary ‘Billy Blaze’ and was eager to get it into festivals and let an audience see it. Meeting Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe and the boys at their office in Stratford, I was impressed by their energy and enthusiasm for BUFF. I thought it was very cool that they had taken it upon themselves to celebrate low-budget, urban British film when a lot of the more high profile festivals still favoured entries from studios and the US.
Billy Blaze went down so well at BUFF they showed it twice! The round of applause I heard on the opening night when Billy’s credits went up confirmed what I’d already suspected when we’d had a dream shoot – over three days a few months before – that Billy Blaze was a character everyone could laugh at and relate to. But my high point happened in the insalubrious surroundings of the Genesis cinema’s toilets when two young ladies laughed amongst themselves and heaped praise on Billy and his antics. I didn’t let on that I was the director but it was a wonderful moment.
Fast-forward to 2010 and I contacted Emmanuel to let him know I was on my way to finishing ‘N-Dubz – The Way We Were’. I was excited when Emmanuel agreed to put it into this year’s festival as I knew it was the most apt home for a film about N-Dubz as teenagers starting out.
So let me rewind quickly to 2002 when I met N-Dubz, who were then known as ‘The Lickle Rinsers’. Hardly the catchiest of names but it wasn’t their moniker I was impressed with – it was their raw, untapped talent. Under the guidance of the late Uncle B – Dappy’s dad – the enthusiastic trio had already been slogging their little hearts out, writing, producing and recording British rap and garage tracks. I was introduced to them by my mate Donna Dee, a respected producer and one of the innovators of Two Step. Along with Uncle B, she’d been co-producing and co-managing Tulisa, Dappy and Fazer, and was particularly close to Tulisa. Donna asked myself and Arlene Dignam, my filmmaking partner, to film the three teens, ostensibly as a promotional type video for Uncle B to use when trying to get them a record deal.
Filming took place over one day and we tried to do ‘a day in the life’ piece – with some observational stuff and interviews, conducted by yours truly. The filming was mainly ‘behind the scenes’ stuff of them in their studio, being interviewed in a car and performing at their second ever gig – supporting ‘More Fire crew’ at a non-descript sports hall somewhere in the suburbs (forgive me for forgetting where, it was eight years ago!). The cheery, open youngsters charmed and impressed us but seeing them perform at the gig to a bunch of pre-pubescent teens who fancied them but didn’t really get them, I knew they were a bit ahead of their time.
In my opinion, they were too young themselves to wow an audience of adults doing PAs at raves but their lyrics were too sophisticated and rude for the babyish crowds they were performing for. So I suppose it was only natural that ‘The Lickle Rinsers’ themselves needed to grow up from being the feisty fourteen year-olds I’d met before a record company could snap them up at eighteen or so and turn them into rich, slick chart-friendly fare, complete with expensive videos boasting designer clobber and private jets and with an over-reliance on wind-machines and flashy graphics.They are perfect fodder for young adults who want a touch of parent-friendly rap with their pop, but personally, I felt it a crime that they’d lost the lyrics about politics and streetlife along the way.
Technically, the film we produced and edited for Uncle B in 2002 was a bit rubbish, but Arlene and I have honed our talent a lot since then and it was as if the footage was meant to be stored for eight years and unearthed only when me as a filmmaker and N-Dubz themselves were worthy for it to be made into something more special.
Fast forward to late 2009 and N-Dubz as they were now known were basking in chart success. I decided to wait for a few months before unearthing the two hours plus raw footage we’d accumulated in case they were a flash in the pan. Then weeks later I was in a cab and the driver put on Radio One and I heard them pulling off an impressive performance on Live Lounge and I thought then that N-Dubz might be around for some time tocome.
Then it was a matter of finding the footage, which Arlene and I both swore the other had and which eventually was found hiding in box in my study, so sorry Arlene. Once I’d checked the footage and discovered it, in its unedited state, it was actually rather good (especially, as I’d remembered, the long freestyle rap in the studio); And so started the weeks of indecision. Should I contact the record company through the contacts a mate of mine at the Sun had passed on and see if they wanted to come on board and participate in a retrospective look at N-Dubz? Or should I just put some stuff on You Tube, guerrilla style? Either way, I wanted to use it to bolster the filmmaking image Arlene and I had been busy building in the interim. The only thing I was sure about was that I wanted it to be shown at BUFF.
So getting a 20 minute edit ready for that became the priority and it was shown at the massive Cineworld in Ilford in September. Those who saw it liked it and everyone touched upon the possibility of doing so much more with it and I felt privileged that it was shown alongside the excellent ‘Bad Day’, directed by Ian David Diaz. After the screenings, Ian and I were grilled on stage by Emmanuel who asked us about our experiences in making our films and also the state of the British film industry.
As a former reviewer for a national newspaper and a wannabe (paid) filmmaker, I felt able to give my two pence worth and mainly spoke out about the fact that the government need to support our industry a lot more. It seems obvious when I saw it out loud, but in places like France, if you go to any cinema at any given time you will see one or two Hollywood blockbusters alongside a whole host of indigenous films, because French people want to see French films and the government, distributors and exhibitors support this. Here, you’ll be lucky to see anything British or low-budget in anywhere else but ‘arthouse’ cinemas and until British films get the proper support from all of the above and the publicity and advertising they need to be seen, people will still pay money to see a ‘Clash of the Titans’ over a ‘Looking For Eric’.
British filmmakers also need to stop trying to copy Hollywood (because we don’t have their money or weather but we do have amazing talent) and make intrinsically British films. But Ian and I both agreed, that these films need to be commercial or entertaining – or preferably both.
On a more positive note, I also touched upon the fact that it has never been easier to make films – even with friends – for little money. And the internet and festivals like BUFF are on hand to get these films seen. I’ve never had any problems making films with mates, as people are still attracted by the magic of movies. And bringing us bang up to date, thanks to BUFF and a lot of persistence and utilising of contacts of mine post BUFF, it seems I will finally be getting paid for my art as a production company has agreed to put money in to making N-Dubz into a 70 minute music documentary to be released early next year.
Lady luck is shining on me as I also have a producer on board for ‘One Love’, my feature about the rave and pirate radio scene in 1990, set in our beloved London, written by myself and Arlene. Imagine a film opening on the roof of a high-rise towerblock as two DJs repair a broken transmitter, with ‘You Got The Love’ by The Source, featuring Candi Stanton, blasting out and you get the idea.
Thanks BUFF for giving me a platform, expanding my contacts book and bolstering my belief in my own abilities as a filmmaker. You’re already on the list for the ‘One Love’ premiere.