The stars and director of new British film Vinyl chat to Jason Holmes about how pulling together on a small-budget film makes for some tidy work.
Vinyl's premise is a simple one, based on the real-life hoax carried out in 2004 by The Alarm's Mike Peters: ageing punks, keen to get back into the music business for one last hurrah, discover that the record they cut one drunken night has no commercial value unless it is fronted by a pretty-faced group of fame seekers. 'We don't sign people over 30,' says the shark-eyed record company A&R man to Phil Daniels' character Johnny Jones (pictured) over a gastro pub lunch. So Johnny concocts a plan to get the single out onto the airwaves by fabricating a band of seemingly talentless youth.
The film takes a well-aimed kick at the bosses of major record labels whose current idiotic pursuit of profit is wreaking havoc on the inherent talent of the music world.
'We made the film on a shoestring,' says the film's director Sara Sugarman. 'We couldn't afford a casting director so I was looking online for new up-and-coming actors and I saw a video blog for a West End show called Spring Awakening which had Jamie [Blackley] in it and he was brilliant. So I got very excited and rang his agent and made the offer. It was for Equity minimum but for us it was like offering a $10 million deal,' she laughs.
The writing of the script took about six or seven months, but it took a further six years before the film could be made. 'Jim Cooper came up with the idea,' says Sugarman, 'I asked the original producer John Williams over in Hollywood if I could run with it and make it in my home town of Rhyl.'
The shoot took less than four weeks and the editing another eight. 'We shot what was on the page and it came in long. I wanted to retain the grittiness of the world of the film, so we had a rule that we wouldn't do many takes.'
When in her teens, Sugarman gave up being in punk band The Fractures to take up acting. 'I gave up the music because I was rubbish. I was the drummer and because it was punk you could do anything. I only had two beats.'
And how was it to work with Phil Daniels? 'It was great,' says Blackley. 'He's totally down to earth.'
'Phil's all about the work as well,' adds Sugarman. 'He's very instinctive, and if something wasn't working he'd adapt it until he'd made it his. Phil and Jamie improvised and made the script come alive.'
But how did Scum and Quadrophenia [both from 1979] inform Phil Daniel's performance for Vinyl? 'Well, I suppose my role could be an older version of Jimmy [from Quadrophenia],' says Phil, 'who had gone into music instead of advertising. It was nice to do something about rock'n'roll where I was a musician, rather than admiring musicians.'
Daniels plays a mean guitar in the film. 'I learnt to play at school. I've been in a few bands in my time.' So why acting? 'I don't know really. It sort of took off. That's what paid the rent so I kept doing it. I've also been acting in theatre for a hell of a long time from the RSC to the National Theatre, so it's a big part of my career. I'm playing older people now, and the characters are written in more interesting ways. When I was a kid doing television they'd stick a leather jacket on me and I would be the thug. Although now, in This House [at the National Theatre] I play the chief whip of the Labour Party and there's an element of the thug in there, let me tell you,' he laughs.
'Vinyl is a good look at the music industry,' continues Phil. 'The script was honest. I don't like taking forever when filming and so the speed of the shoot helped me.'
Was that Sara's doing? 'Sara cobbled us all together. We mucked about a bit with the script. I had some input and I did some of the music as well. We were inventing this film for ourselves as we went along.' What was Keith Allen like to work with? 'Keith's his own man. We get on, but the characters had to not get on because there's always friction within a band, whether you're Coxon and Albarn or Jagger and Richards.'
But there's one question a great many people would like to hear the answer to, so I hit him with it: would he consider being in the sequel to Quadrophenia? 'Apparently there's one in the mix,' he says with a grin, 'but I won't be in it as Jimmy. If I'm in it I'll do [MIchael] Elphick's part as the old spunker!' he laughs.
© Jason Holmes 2013 / firstname.lastname@example.org / @JasonAHolmes
Vinyl is on nationwide release on Friday 15 March
Images and footage courtesy of DDA Public Relations
See the whole interview with Phil Daniels here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=eepZ26hREc4
Follow Jason Holmes on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@JasonAHolmes