The estates had changed. I left in 92 and went back 2007. The places I remembered as working class now fell into two distinct camps: the first, a regentrified overtaking of a community. Sold off council housing; the second had fallen off the economic map. Unable to purchase their castle. They had missed out on the private ownership fire sale. The politically incorrect term is underclass. It was the latter group of estates that I went to, street casting for my previous film Better Things. This was pre-austerity.
I saw a kid on his mobile, walking. He looked relaxed, like he owned his environment. It was his walk that attracted me. A slight swagger. Youth. I stopped him and explained I was casting for a film. He was intrigued and told me he was busy now. But, I could meet him that night.
I arrived at a 60's build block of flats at the agreed time. The kid buzzed me in. Second floor. No bulbs in the light-fittings. Just a lamp in the corner. A crack in the main living room window. Almost no furniture. An old sofa. On which sat two other kids. Both around 18. Wearing regulation Gore-Tex jackets. The kitchen was not used for cooking. This was not a home. It was barely shelter. These were kids. Not men. The kid pulled out a wooden chair for me and sat down on another one himself.
I asked them about their upbringing. Their families. Work. They did not remember any places of employment. They did not remember family security and stability. They were born into something already crumbling. The three kids stories were surprisingly similar (this pattern continued when I embarked on research for Bypass). They had built their own coping mechanisms and ways of earning and retaining status on the estate.
One kid was quiet and sensitive. The other suspicious, but became talkative once he realised I was genuinely curious and there to listen. The time it took to move from their suspicion to having their trust was less than an hour. To seeing them laugh was longer. I liked their company.
After around 3 hours, I made to leave. I asked them what they were up to later. The atmosphere shifted, a little, but noticeable. They exchanged looks. I smiled at the main kid. "What, did I say something?" he stared back at me, "You're not police, are you?" "No" I replied, now I was curious. "If I'm police then you've told me a few things tonight you shouldn't have, so you don't think I'm police...so, what are you doing later?"
Silence. Then the main kid explained they were going to wait until 3am, then do 2 burglaries. They knew which houses. Firstly, they would steal a car. One would wait in the car while the other two do the houses. One upstairs, one downstairs. They would then drive the car to a town 25 miles away down the bypass. There they would sell to a fence they knew. He had already ordered the car. Make, model & year. I asked how much they stood to earn. It sounded like less than 10% of the market value of what they were hoping to get.
But it was what they told me next that shocked me: they knew the people they were to burgle. They were friends. They knew that tonight they would be out. It then struck me that I had underestimated how much things had changed. How little I understood of the new rules. How far the levels of trust had eroded. I was shocked, but interested. "Will you see them again?" I asked. "Of course" he replied. "And?" I asked again. "I'll pretend shocked, like I know nothing" he replied.
New rules. New environment. New survival techniques. They had adapted to their environment. This was Darwinism. We created the environment and they had adapted to it.
One of the three kids was conflicted. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He was frightened. His world was about to change. He was at a crossroads. I wonder if his life took a completely different turn that evening. If he was caught. If he got away. If he enjoyed it. If it taught him that he could never do that again.
I went and made my film. But afterwards I found I kept coming back to the memory of the conflicted kid. I went to the area again but they were no longer at the flat. I started to see that night, and those boys, in the context of something wider both in reality and in terms of a story that could articulate the moral dilemma for that kid. I decided to make a film about what that was. About this country we are creating. www.bypassthefilm.com