Sugarhouse - Gary Love interview

Gary Love directs Ashley Walters in Sugarhouse

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GARY Love, the director of Sugarhouse, talks about some of the challenges of filming on a council estate during one of Britain’s hottest summers, having absolutely no budget and still managing to use the stunt team for Casino Royale!

Q: What was it that appealed to you about Sugarhouse script?
Gary Love: There were lots of things about the film when it came through. When it arrived it felt like it was trying to be another film. It had been looked at by a lot of producers and Dominic [Leyton] Oz and Ben Dixon had tried to place it with a lot of other production companies. They had put a voice on it that I didn’t think was right. I think the writer eventually decided he wanted to put his original voice back on it again and that was important to him – he definitely had a much better effect on the script I read.

So, it went away for about eight months and when it came back to me it had a number of other coffee stains on it from other directors obviously, but it was a much better script the second time around! I said to Matthew Justice, of Lunar Films: “I think it could work.” And he said to me: “Listen, this chap Arvind David is going to want to talk to you because he’s got some money to make this film.” So, I said: “Yeah but is it for real?” I’ve been attached to a couple of films that were supposedly greenlit and all of them were nonsense and drove me and my agent mad for about three years.

But this was definitely green lit and he replied: “No, no he’s got the money, but the problem is he’s got NO money, will you talk to them?” But I wanted to make this film because I think it’s got legs, so I spoke to Arvind and told him all the things that I thought were wrong with the script: it’s a first time writer, it’s the first time he’s written a theatre play I think and it still had a lot of theatre in it. And that was Arvind’s problem; I didn’t want to direct a theatre play as a film and I said the things Arvind wanted to hear and they quickly invited us all off to a sort of summer camp where we all went to talk about the project which was terrific.

At one point, we even had Stephen Frears come in and all sorts of nice people telling us what was right and wrong with what we were doing and it was really helpful. Within weeks we were then into casting – it was really, really quick; unheard of quick, and my agent was going: “I think this is really going to happen, it’s really going to happen!” And it did.

Q: Were you given a warm welcome shooting on the council estate?
Gary Love: Basically, the council estate’s quite a harsh looking building in the film and because we had no money we couldn’t buy any flats. We were also shooting in August, which was a school holiday, so we were thinking this is going to be an absolute nightmare. And one day we were doing a rekkie and we saw this big piece of concrete in the middle of it and there’s this guy growing things in the middle of this aggressive looking estate; growing tomatoes, spring onions and potatoes. But no one had damaged it or wee’d on it – it was amazing and it turned out the estate was really friendly, it was lovely. We did get the odd egg thrown though!

Q: Did shooting digitally help with the spontaneity of the performance?
Gary Love: It’s sharper than the human eye so you had to be careful with the colour of the blood and we had to use real money. A lot of the scars on Ashley’s face and the scars on Andy and the tattoos would sing if they were wrong. It was important to let the team know up front because a lot of people still haven’t worked on digital in this business. I’d shot quite a lot on digital so I knew, so letting them all know well in advance was crucial. With traditional 35mm you can get away with all sorts of things but you can’t with hi def.

Q: For a film that had absolutely no budget, how did you get the stunt team from Casino Royale on board?
Gary Love: Well, Ben Gibson is our producer and he’s the top 2nd AD in the UK, so he did Casino Royale, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory amongst lots of other great big features. So, he knows Gary Powell and his team very well and had just worked with them on Casino Royale. I’d worked with Gary Powell years ago and I guess he kind of thought I’ll do it for Ben and I know Gary as well. It brought the team to the table. At first it was like: “Can you do this bit for us and can you do that, and that?” And by the end of it we knew we had such a small budget that we couldn’t push the boundaries because part of my job was making sure we could shoot the film within the time constraints and within the budget.

But Gary Powell and his team were incredible. I’d go to them: “Right here’s Andy, here’s Ashley and this is the way I think it should go, this is what I’d like to get and this is where I’d like it to end.” And they took all the pain out of it and did it all incredibly on time. You know, you think: They were smiling all the way through and they looked after the actors all the time. It was a great experience.

Q: How much thought and research did you put into to the set/locations?
Gary Love: Lots, not just me but the whole team. Everybody who knew anybody who could do graffiti made a phone call and got them down. They came along in batches, groups of people to do the graffiti – I mean what could we afford on that kind of budget? We got a great deal on the location, on a warehouse and they allowed us to paint it and the colours were really important to me – I wanted the film to be heightened in a sense. I loved Nil By Mouth, I think it’s a great film but the colours in that were very down and dark. Ladybird is also a great film but it’s depressing. I wanted the film to be slightly cartoonish and I think some of the people who’ve watched the film see the aggression as gratuitous. But for me it’s almost like Road Runner, like when someone goes over a cliff and goes: “Ouch that hurt!” We tried throughout to make the film like that.

The colours of the walls and the spraying and the costumes, which were the only things we could afford, were without a doubt purposely colour coded to make the film look the way it does. Andy’s costume is the liveliest of all of them but that’s because the character is based upon a character I know who is incredibly flamboyant in his dress sense, as well as everything else and I wanted to add that colour to it. I wanted Andy’s character to be much more of a fun character than just a headlong animal. The designer did a great job and made all the sets come to life.

Read our review of Sugarhouse