Film Interview by Chris Olson
UK Film Review had the pleasure of reviewing filmmaker Stephen Gaffney's indie crime film, Class A, a little while back. Now, I was able to catch up with the director to talk to him about representing drug use in cinema, avoiding looking like Scorsese, and
Your indie film, Class A, is described as an "intriguing and compelling piece of cinema" (by UK Film Review). How would you describe it, why should audiences want to see it?
I'd describe the film as a very dark comedy crossed with a realistic crime drama. I went out of my way to show details that other films would glimpse over.
For example, there is a scene where the main character is explaining how to 'cut up' ketamine with mixing agent. In every crime/drug film I see this is hardly mentioned, if mentioned at all.
That scene goes on for three minutes. That was the kind of detail I wanted to show instead of the usual drug deal; somebody picking up a bag of coke and selling it straight away and then they're making money. As much as drug dealers ruin lives, they are very clever and work hard at their 'job' 24/7 and I wanted to show this.
Based on screenings, audiences loved the film. I got great feedback. They found it darkly funny and also shocking. That was the goal from the beginning.
As a director approaching a film in the cherished gangster genre, what sort of preparation did you do? Did you look to or avoid certain classics?
Well my favourite film is Goodfellas, I did consider at one stage having narration and characters breaking the fourth wall. Then I completely decided against this because I didn't want it to be compared to a Scorsese film for obvious reasons.
I just wrote the script based on where I grew up in Dublin. It basically wrote itself. I had heard tons of stories about drug dealers getting into all sorts of trouble, being young and making more money than their parents. They were the basis for the script. Especially the character Warren who is completely psychotic. Unfortunately, he is based on a true person.
I really tried to stick to realism, but influences of Tarantino and Scorsese kicked in during editing to make the film a bit more fast paced. In my opinion, this made the film a bit flashy and glamorized drugs. That was always the intention too; to make drugs fun. Because they are, if they weren't people wouldn't take them. It's the long term consequences that are all too often pushed into our faces. I think I handled the balance well.
What are the limitations of making a film like this on an indie budget? And what are the benefits?
The limitations were that we shot on two canon 60D's with minimal lighting. Locations were another problem, but I had all this in mind while writing the script. I had no money to pay cast and crew. We shot for twelve days over three months and for 9 of those days it was a crew of two; myself and the cinematographer Erica Keegan. Needless to say, we were exhausted most days.
Bearing that in mind, the benefits actually outweighed the disadvantages for once. Each actor was in it for the love of the script and not the money. They really got into character and I was extremely happy with all of their performances.
Another perk was having complete control since I funded it myself. I could show what I wanted on screen. I hate nothing more than censorship, especially in a film that is aimed at adults.
Obviously I would have loved a big budget but I wasn't letting that stop me making a film.
As a filmmaker in 2017, where do you see the movie industry going in the next few years? What trends have you picked up on creatively and/or generally?
In the next few years I imagine everything will be streamed. This really saddens me because I am a huge Blu Ray collector. But I can definitely see physical media becoming obsolete.
Filmmaking wise, I think it's great that anyone can pick up a camera and make a film now. I often go through Vimeo looking at people's indie films and some of them are amazing.
The biggest trend I picked up on was just getting out there and making a film. There is no excuse not to. I literally borrowed everything for 'Class A' and my first feature 'Bully'. This has led me on to receiving funding for other projects I am making this year.
If you could work with any filmmaker (dead or alive), who would it be and why?
Mike Cahill. He would not be my favourite director but he made 'I Origins' for a budget of 1.5 million dollars.
I think that is extremely impressive for the film he made. He is obviously very talented to produce a film of that quality for that budget, so he must have some tricks up his sleeve.
I believe he is a micro budget filmmaker at heart and this is how he achieved a cult following.
What advice would you have for filmmakers?
Keep writing every day. keep directing as much as possible. Be bold and confident. Be creative and don't be a sheep, making the same films everyone has seen before. Put your own spin on any genre and make it stick out. Stay away from negative people and keep pushing forward.
What's next for you?
Right now I am filming a horror film 'Red Room'. As mentioned above, the premise has never been done before. I believe that will be very successful (and yes, I got a half decent budget!).
I am also in the pre-production stages of a home invasion film which will be shot this spring. I am very excited to get started on that.
Later in the year, I will be directing a segment for a horror anthology. As well as that, I have a thriller in the vein of Se7en which I am currently writing.
What would you say if you were a dolphin?
Let me out of Sea World.
Class A is available to stream on these platforms:
UK - http://amzn.to/2m96hce (free on Amazon Prime )
USA - http://amzn.to/2lw1chB
The DVD will available to buy soon and will be updated on their Facebook page.