This month’s BUFF Blog starts with an old West African saying (as the character Matthew would have us believe in the Channel 4 comedy ‘Desmond’s’): “The patient dog sucks the juiciest bone”. To say that the movie ‘Melvin: Chronicles of a Player’ has been a long time in coming is putting it mildly. The same can’t be said for the movie’s director – Lawrence ‘Leroy’ Coke – for whom putting things mildly is about as likely as Roy Chubby Brown going through a whole stand-up routine without swearing (google him). Anyway back to the dog analogy and as far as BUFF is concerned, it is about to have its’ day – on Friday October 12 to be precise – as the culmination of 10 years of blood, sweat and tears comes to a grand climax in the rather buff surroundings of TUC Congress House in London for the UK premiere of ‘Melvin: Chronicles of a Player’ – and this year’s festival opener.
What you’re about to read is a frank, no holds barred blog from a frank, no holds barred filmmaker with a gift for making people laugh (he can do sad aswell). In fact, he can do whatever he chooses to put his mind to but for the next 2000 words or so, prepare to sample a snapshot of the last 10 years as seen through the eyes of this month’s guest writer of the BUFF Blog – the award-winning Lawrence Coke…
As the famous quote goes, “Everybody has a book in them”. Although I think what would be more fitting in this age of all things digital is “Everybody has a film in them”. I don’t know whether either quote is true, they feel true, but then so did the x-files and I ain’t never seen an alien. However, true or not, I have to say that with almost every film-maker that I know, and many that I don’t, according to the various DVD commentary tracks that accompany the many Hollywood films that I’ve listened to, it’s not the films that we should be interested in, it’s the story behind the making of those films. I mean if we look at ‘Apocalypse Now’ for example, Martin Sheen had a heart attack, the sets kept getting destroyed by typhoon Olga, payroll got stolen, helicopters were flown off by the military halfway through filming a scene, and so on and so on. In fact, there’s a whole documentary about all the bad luck, treachery and gigantic egos that brought that film to its’ knees called ‘Hearts of Darkness’ which I enjoyed more than Apocalypse itself. But the point is, good or bad, the story behind the making of most films is just as interesting as the film itself, and my film ‘Melvin: Chronicles of a Player’, which opens BUFF on the 12th of October 2012, is no exception.
I honestly do not know where to start, and in all honesty some of the experiences that occurred during production are still too raw or emotional to go into in any depth. What I will try to do is flag up some of the high points, the low points and most points in-between which best reflect the journey so far…
Melvin started life as a black and white spoof mockumentary short called ‘Melvin: Portrait of a Player’, which I made solely for the people involved. I never intended it to see the light of day and that would have remained the case if a producer called Paul Robinson hadn’t liked it and started sending it out on my behalf to various film screenings/festivals etc. It was entered into the BFM (Black Filmmaker Magazine) short film awards in 2003 where it went on to win two awards (Best film and best actress). But the best thing to come out of the film’s involvement with the awards was the start of my friendships with both Julius Amedume and BUFF’s own Emmanuel.
Myself and both of those gentlemen have seen a lot over the last nearly ten years and I’m using this opportunity to publicly tip my hat off to them for their support both on and off the field. Anyways, when the film was entered into BFM, I ended up talking to Emmanuel who, at the time, was manning the BFM office – asking him about what standard they wanted it on etc. and suffice to say, that conversation has entered into Melvin folklore as Emmanuel made certain predictions regarding the future of that short which are – even as we speak – coming to fruition. I only wish he were as useful at predicting the lottery numbers…
Once Melvin started to play at various screenings both at home and abroad, it became clear by audience reaction that there was mileage in the characters which merited further exploration. This led to a sequel, ‘Melvin: Still a Player’, which was to be the 2nd act in a trilogy of short films. It was on a trip to the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in Los Angeles that the question was asked over and over again that instead of messing around with a third short why not just shoot a feature. So I thought, f*** it, why not?
This is where I’m gonna have to skip forward like a bunny on a hotplate and break it down to bullet-points or we’d be here till Justin Beiber gets facial hair:
- Tried to raise money – Despite comprehensive breakdowns, supporting materials etc, interest from three of the five terrestrial broadcasters and filling out endless funding applications, we gets no love. Eventually we get cash for the project from a group of private investors.
- Production begins – In the middle of an office move and after numerous changes to the lineup, we start shooting and everything is going better than can be expected. However, due to the tragic and untimely passing of a lead cast member, we’re forced to shut down production temporarily.
- Production continues – Despite having to shoot a whole new story arc on half our original budget, we press ahead. Halfway through production and despite the slow start, steady progress is being made and slowly but surely the rushes start to look like a film, a funny film even. The investors are happy, the cast is happy, I’m happy, everyone’s happy. Then the sh*t really hit the fan…
- The dark times – All I can say about this period is that between the three more deaths that occured, the two car crashes, me hurting one leg then the other and ending up on crutches TWICE (not connected to the car crashes mind), the broken heart (cow), the near bankruptcy, the food poisoning (seafood sucks), being snowed in with no food and little heat at my office with the man dem and last but not least the flood which wiped out our principal set (biblical I know), I was all but ready to give up all together and I don’t just mean on the film. At that point I would’ve gladly jumped on the first thing smoking, going in the opposite direction from wherever this film was.
- The light after the storm – There was a chorus of voices ringing in my ears during this time, some were voices of dissent, others of mockery, some genuine concern that I stop production before a piano or a safe fell on my head walking down Brixton high street. But there was a louder more vocal group that even now continue to make themselves heard – ‘don’t quit, you’ve got to keep going, this has to be finished.’ And I know it’s corny but some didn’t stop at just words. Some gave time, others money, some love and support but most, all of the above. There are too many names to mention but I’ll give it a try: Miles, My mum, some of the rest of my family, Ayo, Adoara, Destiny, Pikki, Julius, Ishmael, Daniella, the Bens (both sets), Sam the Man, Nike, Tanya x3, Babatunde, Dre, The twins (both sets), Jords, Dempster, Ari, Sat, Odette, Ashwin, Emmanuel, Natalie, Nicola, Pat, Farhan, girl Sam (both sets), Rich (both sets), Reg (both sets), Andy MC, Steph, Lou, Kasumi, Fabian, Gems, Miyanda, the cuzzys, Manchester, Bolegi, Manager, Nicola, Kunle, Charles, Ewan, Lestyn, Bernard, Kolton, Alexis, Evil Faran, Kevin, Suhail, Tanisha, Visa the Geezer, Ruben, Caff, Antonio, Q, Jinnal, Lloydy, Geoff, Aneeka, Tennille, the Aunties, Marlon, yankee Nik, Neil, Troy, Courts, Alison, Justin, Leya, Bridgette, Carvell, Gina, Rufaro, Jills, AJ, Black Andrew, Charlie, Lisa, Steve, Brother Kwams, Marissa, Adrian, Jermaine, Rudolph, Jackal, Shants, Clifford, Stella, Liz, Ella, Cheryl, Ladrick, Paulette x2, Evey, Demus and last but no means least D. If I forgot ya, don’t mean I ain’t got ya…
There’s a story behind every one of those names and I’ll gladly share, so if you buck me on or off road, pick a few and I’ll happily elaborate as I’m immensely proud to know them all. If you’re still interested in where we are now, after picking myself up (with some of the afore-mentioned help), dusting myself off and getting on with the task at hand, we finished off 99% of the film. I entered a rough cut to the Screen Nation Awards – it won the Independent Spirit Award. I’m sure you’ll understand why, after everything that had gone on before, that I felt like I f***ing deserved it! It was nice to be recognized…
And so, 2 stone heavier, grey hairs where before there were none, talk of a web series crossover and five years later, here we are. Opening the British Urban Film Festival just like Emmanuel predicted almost ten years ago.
Was it worth it?
You bet you’re ass it was; I learnt more about myself, my friends, my peers, this business, this country and you reading (yeah I said you), than I could’ve ever imagined. I learnt you shouldn’t start something if you don’t intend to finish it; I learnt when to ignore and when to listen to the voice inside; I learnt to ignore the haters (f*** ya’ll by the way) and most importantly I learnt no man is an island. A wise man (or woman) knows that his (or her) network is their net worth.
In closing I’d like to refer to a Christopher Hitchens quote, “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay”, and offer my own variation:
“Everybody has a film in them but in most cases getting it made can be a bitch, but I’m up for it if she is… ”
(c) Lawrence Coke
Buff Enterprises is the home of urban film coverage in the UK – keep up to date online, on-air and in person at www.britishurbanfilmfestival.co.uk BUFF 2012 comes to London in October