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New Town Killers - Richard Jobson interview

Richard Jobson

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WRITER-director Richard Jobson talks about some of the challenges of making New Town Killers, his chase movie that follows a banker as he terrorises a youth around the streets of Edinburgh. He talks about his intentions, his influences and why he’ll be turning to a Sin City-style Macbeth next…

Q. Where did the idea for New Town Killers come from?
Richard Jobson: I think it has a real social polemic right at the heart of the story. In some ways, it’s almost a look at social realism… certainly at the beginning of it before it goes into a kind of hyper reality. I thought: “How do you take a subject that you care about and not really bore people mercilessly with it?” So, the idea was to propel it into a story that was almost like a computer game – you know, once you’re in you just really can’t escape from it. You don’t ask too many questions because it’s just so fast.

An executive said to me the other day: “It’s an interesting movie, but for me it was just too fast and too loud.” And I said: “Wow, well first of all you’re too old but most importantly, that’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever heard!” That’s like being told that the music I was listening to when I was 16-years-old was too fast and too loud. I’d have gone: “Yeah!” So, I think it’s quite a good analogy. It does have that kind of punk thing that’s still part of my life. It’s fast and furious. It has something to say but it’s more the general furore that attacks you. It was certainly the way I approached it.

Q. But it is a chase movie, too, so it has to be fast moving…
Richard Jobson: Well yeah, but you still have to set it up. The game thing, for me, is kind of an interesting way to set it up and watch it. But there are other movies that affected the film, like Hitchcock’s Rope, American Psycho to a degree and certainly Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. They all affected the way I looked at New Town Killers – and there’s a bit of Abel Ferrara thrown in there for good measure. I must be one of the few people in Britain who actually likes Abel Ferrara movies. I really do like some of his work. When he’s hot, he’s hot. And there’s also a bit of Don Siegel.

Q. So what were some of the challenges?
Richard Jobson: The biggest one was taking something you care about and making it more visceral and kinetic, with not very much money I might add, but in a way that might actually get to a younger audience. I don’t think I made it for the Amorres Peros audience. I think sometimes with… I remember from just being a reviewer myself, that sometimes people go to a movie and feel that it was meant to be for all of us. Well, that’s really idiotic. I think a lot of my contemporaries in those days could never really come to terms with the fact that a movie wasn’t really meant for them.

You need to look at it in a slightly different way and not go: “Does it make my heart beat faster? Or does it engage me? Why are these things working but I’m not involved with it?” Clearly, it’s not meant for you. It’s not morose middle-class melodrama, it’s something a little bit more dynamic than that. So, all those things are thrown into the mix, but certainly a chase movie is a great way to redress the polemic. You can get it if you want to, but it’s not preaching from the pulpit. I think some movies tend to do that a bit.

Q. It’s also a thriller…
Richard Jobson: This is a territory I’d like to stick in now. I really like thrillers. The movies I’ve made up to this point have really been experiments – playing with form, with narrative, with the camera and learning more and more about how to deliver high end product for practically zero money and not do what’s expected of you. So, I’ve done that and they’ve all been below the radar, which is good. But now it’ll be nice to jump above the radar now and apply all the things I’ve learned. So, this and the next couple of films will be much more about plot-driven material. I have Macbeth, which is a supernatural thriller, and Blood Lines, a Hong Kong hitman in London story that’s produced by Wong Kar Wai. So, it’s nice. I can see where I’m headed now.

Q. New Town Killers is a deeply personal project too because it was born out of your charity work, wasn’t it?
Richard Jobson: It was, yeah, working with some young adults in Edinburgh whose parents and grandparents are heroin addicts or alcoholics. It’s quite clear from early on that these people are not seen as people. I actually felt quite guilty myself, so I’m not just pointing the finger at everybody else. You do look above them or look beyond them, or don’t really see them, because you have a perception that you think they’re trouble and that they’re in a horrible, never-ending cycle of self-destruction. But that’s not the case at all. These are fundamentally decent people who have something to say and a story to tell but who were aware of how the world saw them. And I think that made them feel lesser than human.

So, that stuck with me for a long time. I felt very strongly about it and wanted to do something with it. I think, certainly my best work has always come from being quite angry. I’m a relatively aggressive human being, quite provocative and I get things done. I think you have to be that way inclined. So, this issue made me quite angry but I didn’t want to stand at the pulpit preaching. I think there are people who do that a lot better, people like Ken Loach. I wanted to make something kinetic and fast and actually put one of these kids as the hero in my story. It’s a David and Goliath story, quite literally. He beats the guy with a pebble that he wears around his neck from his Utopian freefall. It’s also structured like a computer game. He’s always going up levels and has to make choices and decisions. He has to make the right one even though, early on, he’s quite clearly making the wrong ones.

Q. Did you base the character of Alistair [played by Dougray Scott] on anyone in particular?
Richard Jobson: Well, I think metaphorically yes. I think I got my timing right with the current financial crisis. He’s a carpetbagger. Everyone keeps going on about people who are losing, but someone’s got to be winning. At the beginning there’s a ticker-tape that says: “Ethical finances…” well that’s a joke in itself. I think a lot of these hedge funds are just obscene because they bet against whole economies. At the moment, the pound is being destroyed because of hedge fund managers – you know, they’re in their money game and are just betting against it. They can destroy communities just like that and yet we created these monsters. Banks… it’s kind of strange to me because banks should really just be banks.

But hedge funds are another territory altogether. I also liked the fact that hedge fund managers are not Alan Sugar types. They’re not out there going: “Look at me, look how wonderful I am.” Or those idiots on Dragon’s Den who just love themselves so much. They’re not like that. There’s a secrecy and they’re more Masonic. So therefore you have two forms of social invisibility clashing. It’s almost bi-polar. It’s a very interesting schizophrenic world that you’re entering.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Macbeth project you mentioned?
Richard Jobson: Yeah, the next thing we’re doing is Macbeth but in the style of Sin City. It’s all green screen and it’s definitely more of a Japanese horror film than it is… people keep saying: “Is it going to be like Polanski’s one?” But Polanski’s one is really pure and beautiful and I really like that film very much. But that was much more an homage to Shakespeare. We’re taking it into the digital age and making it into a supernatural thriller.

To me, it’s almost like sci-fi. You can do what you want then. You can use sound design and take those wonderful poetic soliloquies and visualise them, rather than have some actor rabbiting away. So, that’s where we’re heading with it. We’ll also be focusing on him and his wife. Why does he do this? I think he really loves her. And that’s why we’ve chosen a husband and wife team to do it. So, I think Dougray Scott and Claire Forlani will be perfect. I think it makes perfect sense to me. Vincent Cassel is Banquo and Brian Cox is King Duncan, so you have a really good array of people. There will definitely be blood, though, with a good helping of sex so it’s the right kind of cake I’m baking with it.

Read our review of New Town Killers