Paul Tanter, the writer/producer/director behind the Jack Says trilogy and new film The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan, talks to Flickering Myth’s Luke Graham about breaking into the industry, making movies and violence in films…
Luke Graham: Hi Paul, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions. I saw The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan a few days ago and I really enjoyed it, it was great! Can I first ask, how did you break into making films and what is your background?
Paul Tanter: Many years ago, Rita Ramnani was attached to a film in pre-production, and the script needed some re-working from someone new. We were friends from university and she recommended me as someone who could give the job a fair go – as I’d always been involved in writing stuff at uni. She put me in contact with the producer, Simon Phillips and I re-wrote what was to become the film Jack Says. From there, we all worked well together and kind of started a little franchise going that has now resulted in a trilogy (Jack Says, Jack Said, Jack Falls). I’ve been able to keep working in film since then but getting into it was really just being lucky enough to be remembered by the right person at the right time! My background is that I grew up in South West London, went to university, lived in Essex for a few years and then back to London. I thought for a while I’d wind up working in radio journalism, but the film stuff took off and now I’m doing what I want to do!
LG: This is your second time directing a full length film; did you find working on this easier or harder than working on Jack Falls? More specifically, how was the transition from the Jack Says trilogy to White Collar Hooligan?
PT: Jack Falls was much bigger budget than White Collar Hooligan and obviously has a much bigger named cast. That said, I’m hugely proud of the production value we’ve achieved on White Collar Hooligan and the performances from all of our cast. Jack Falls was a learning curve – but a great one. We had built sets in Pinewood, had a huge crew, I had a co-director (Dominic Burns) and a very experienced DoP (James Friend) to lean on – so in some ways there was more spreading of the pressure and the responsibility. With White Collar Hooligan we set ourselves the challenge of using a minimal cast and crew, shooting on a small budget and bringing the film in on schedule (three weeks) – and we hit all of our targets and the result is a film that I feel punches well above its weight. It’s also nice to take on the sole responsibility for what ends up on the screen – though of course that means taking the flak if something doesn’t work. I’m fortunate to have Haider Zafar as DoP – this was his first feature, but the guy has done an awesome job achieving a very distinctive look for the film, which is what I wanted.
LG: Can you tell me more about the true story the film is based on, and what else influenced the writing and making of the film?
PT: The film really is based on the true story of a guy called Ray – who is currently in the witness protection program. Obviously, some points have been dramatised or tweaked – and the football backdrop was added to make the financial aspect a bit less dry and more accessible to people, but all of the major plot points – the recruitment, getting into the lifestyle, the arrest, prison, release, the second rise, the robberies, drugs, women and eventual downfall and near death experience – are all things that happened to Ray. In terms in influence, I didn’t try to follow a specific path – just let the characters take me where they took me. Apologies for that last line sounding so wanky.
LG: On a related note, I think my favourite scenes in White Collar Hooligan are the arguments between Mike and Eddie on the bridge in Paris, and the break-up of Mike and Katie. Those scenes felt very natural, was the dialogue improvised, and what was it like working with the cast?
PT: It’s funny you say that because we were talking about this the other day and that’s one of mine, Simon and Nick’s favourite scenes too. I’m very proud of that scene – it’s an uninterrupted steadicam shot on a Paris bridge. You’ve got tourists in the background ignoring us because it’s the 5th or 6th take, the Eiffel Tower in the background and the sun is just poking down over the horizon. Nick and Simon play that scene beautifully and while most of it is as per the script, they bring something of themselves to it and there are a couple of improvised moments they would change in each take to keep things fresh. I never wrote Mike saying “pow!” – that’s Nevern! Working with the cast was great – I was working with some old friends who’d I’ve been lucky enough to work with before – Simon, Rita Ramnani, Peter Barrett and Dave Tremaine – but I got to work with new people who I’ve admired such as Ricci Harnett and Billy Murray, and it was the first time I’d worked with Nick, whom I’ve since done another three films with. Everyone believed in the script and the project and worked their arses off to make it happen.
LG: I discuss in my review that British cinema has a tendency to glamourize crime and violence, was that ever a concern working on Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan?
PT: I don’t think it, or indeed most cinema, glamourises violence any more than Shakespeare’s plays do. No one walks out of a production of King Lear, Hamlet or Macbeth saying that all the stabbing, poisoning and gouging out of eyes glamorised violence. Most films hold a mirror up to it, not revel in it. Most of the “violence” in White Collar Hooligan actually happens either off camera, at a distance, or it’s so brief that you’ve hardly seen it before we move on. I was very careful to not linger on anything. And I try to show the effects of violence – if you get hit; it hurts, if you get shot at; you run, if you get stabbed; you bleed and need to go to hospital. I didn’t want the cartoon thing of someone taking 10 punches and then being right as rain!
LG: Can you tell us anything about your next projects, The Hooligan Wars and Once Upon a Time in Essex, and anything else you have planned?
PT: Once Upon a Time in Essex is a fresh look at the Essex Range Rover killings. As well as the Essex boys themselves, we also focus on the police and their possible role in everything. It’s got some strong performances from a great cast including Kierston Wareing, Kate Magowan, Robert Cavanah, Tony Denham and Jay Brown, along with my regulars Nick, Simon and Pete. The Hooligan Wars is about a footballer who gets injured and, in order to make ends meet, winds up working with some hooligans selling drugs out of ice cream vans – it’s kind of a nod to the Ice Cream Wars of the 1980’s. Also I’ve just produced Riot, which is Simon Phillips directorial debut and something we’re very excited about. It’s about a copper facing off against his old friends in last year’s UK riots. Simon proved himself to be a very capable director, so I’m hoping he’ll step behind the camera again soon. Coming up we have a sequel to White Collar Hooligan and also a thriller called Shame the Devil, which is about a detective tracking a serial killer across London and New York. We’re trying to stay busy!
Many thanks to Paul Tanter for taking the time for this interview.
The Rise and Fall of a White Collar Hooligan is available on DVD now. Check out Luke’s review here.