Paul Tanter is back in the director’s chair this week with his new movie Essex Boys: Retribution, a follow on to his earlier film The Fall of the Essex Boys.
We caught up with him to chat about Essex Boys: Retribution, Riot as well as the movies that he has been enjoying this year.
- You have a couple of projects coming our way this month, and Essex Boys: Retribution is one of them. So can you tell me a little bit about it?
It is a follow on to The Fall of the Essex Boys, a movie that we did earlier this year. There have been a few films down about what are know as the ‘Ranger Rover Killings’ and that was our take on it. That film was set in 1995, and we wanted to not so much do a sequel but a follow on that was set in modern day.
Whereas that was based on real events, we took those events as a springboard and looked at what could happen next in a fictionalised setting. Therefore, we have continued the story and visited the next generation of Essex Boys twenty years later.
We take a look at what schemes they are up to and what methods they are using. The last film was all about these guys that used muscle and intimidation, this time they are more astute to modern policing methods, they are more technically adept and they are aware of forensics and so on. They are more likely to ring their lawyer then a heavy.
- You have slightly touched on my next question. This new film is a sequel of sorts to The Fall of the Essex Boys. So what made you want to return to this story? Where they any ideas or themes that you particularly wanted to explore this time around?
What was nice about it was that it is something that many people have heard of: it is interesting to have that as a backdrop to the story. If you say ‘Essex Boys’ people tend to say ‘I am aware of that story’, that means that it instantly grabs their attention a bit. It’s nice to have a backdrop that is a bit recognisable. People have got an idea or an inkling of what the story is based on or where it might be going.
This time around, this is a completely fictionalised version of what could happen next. It is nice that you are not constrained by real events, not that real events are not interesting, when you are doing something that is based on a true story, and you can’t go on a complete flight of fancy. This time around, it was nice to shake off the shackles of true life and just go ‘in a completely fictionalised version what could we do next?’
- I just wanted to back to that first film as I was wondering what interested you in it in the first place?
It is an evergreen story really. That story is now twenty-three years old and yet it still fascinates fans of modern crime: only the Krays, the Great Train Robbery and Jack The Ripper have had the same impact and interest. If you mention any of them, people have heard of them. It is interesting that in a short space of time they have become almost modern folklore in terms of criminal life and criminality.
The two main protagonists in that story are still in prison and are still alive: in most of these other instances when you have these stories that have taken on legendary status, the people in them have passed on. What is interesting about the original Essex Boys story is that although it is still quite recent and fresh in everyone’s minds, there is still a lot of ambiguity.
These two men have been found guilty and sent to prison, but to this day, they still protest their innocence and are still going through the appeals process. They are still protesting it. There is not so much ambiguity, but there are still a lot of questions surrounding it.
In addition, many interested parties would have benefited from those three guys dying. So there have always been whispers as to whether the police were involved, links to Ireland, was it a rival gang from the North? Or was it just a rival gang in Essex? Therefore, there is a rich tapestry of protagonists there.
- This new film sees you in the director’s chair as well as pen the screenplay. Can you talk a bit about your writing process - do you start with plot then characters?
It depends; there is no hard and fast way. My producer Simon Phillips and I will often reverse engineer, so we will look for what distributors are looking for and the come up with something that they have semi-requested. Often, I will sit down, write out a fairly detailed plot before going through it with the producers, and work on ideas.
Then I will go off and will do a ninety or hundred-page script. When I am sitting down to write the actual script, I already have a good idea in my head of what scenes are going to happen. I will do a treatment that then moves into what we call a scene by scene: I already have written down what is going to happen in each scene and which scene is going to follow which, but I may not have the dialogue.
The final process is then to go through it and flesh out the dialogue. There is usually a bit of feedback from the producer, but it does tend to be a fairly solitary process where you are locked away on your room until five in the morning when you realise that the sun is coming up.
- A new set of actors is on board with Ian Virgo, Ryan Winsley and Alex Esmail are all set to star. Can you talk a bit about the casting process and what you were looking for in the actors for these central roles?
A lot of the time, Simon Phillips and myself have a stable core of actors that we quite often go to: we have some favourites that we use quite a lot. In this instance, some of them we couldn’t use because they had featured in the previous film.
One thing we are always trying to do is find new up and coming talent that we have seen and who we are quite excited by. The main cast is a combination of people we have worked with but only had them in small roles or it is people that we have been aware of for a while.
We have nearly worked with Ian Virgo a couple of times, but have never had the chance due to scheduling problems. I am a big fan of his in Rise of the Footsoldiers - it is one of my favourite films of all time - and it was great to have him on as the leader of the Essex Boys.
Ryan Winsley is someone we have used before in quite a small role in the original Essex Boys: he is the only actor who is in both films and not playing the same character. I took a slight liberty with his casting. He had a small role in the first one, but he was so good that I knew that I had to get him back and give him something bigger. I have worked with Kyle Summercorn before, while Alex Esmail has worked with Simon in the past.
It is good to get these young bloods and up and comers together as they have a lot of energy and ideas. Three of them play brothers and Alex Esmail is the none relative of the group. All of them have a great chemistry: within an hour of meeting each other, they were all horsing around like guys who have known each other for years. It is great to see people to connect like that.
With the supporting cast, I was quite lucky as a few people that I have used before and are recognisable faces and names within this genre were free and came on board. I got Billy Murray, who I have worked with before, and Vas Blackwood; most people know him from Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Lorraine Stanley, who is a good friend of mine, is also on there as well. It was nice to get them in as supporting roles.
- Riot is another film project that you are involved with, so can you tell me a bit about that?
Riot is a re-release. We released a film over a year ago called GBH through Revolver. When we were making it, the title for it was always Riot as it is set to the backdrop of the London riots. The film went to Revolver and they changed the name to GBH, which we absolutely hated; once the distributor has a film there is not too much that you can do about it.
Revolver sadly went into administration recently, and we got the opportunity to re-release the film through Lionsgate, and we jumped at the opportunity. However, one of our stipulations was that it had to be released under the original title.
It slipped out before and wasn’t really noticed. We are hoping that it gets a bit more attention and noticed a bit more. It is a really well made film, and it is Simon Phillips’ directorial debut. Nick Nevern is in the lead role and this is one of the best roles that I have ever seen him play. Kellie Shirley is also phenomenal in the co-lead.
- You are serving as producer on the film, so how difficult is it to switch on the director side of your brain when you are on a project and just focus on producing?
You are wearing two different hats when you are doing these things. When you are directing you are always thinking about what looks best and what visually will end up best on screen. When you put the producer’s hat on, you have to think about how much everything is going to cost and logistics. Therefore, they are two completely different jobs.
Because I have always had a hand in the organising and producing of things, when I am directing I do still have half an eye on that side of things. It is interesting when you are just producing something, in that everyone has their own ideas and own creative things that you would do, but you have to focus on the one job. I have done that a couple of times now.
The Last Scout is the other project - Simon Phillips directed that as well - and it really is a different challenge. You are fine as long as you trust the guy who is doing the other job: I trust Simon implicitly because he is a fantastic director. So you just get on and do the best job that you can.
- You have worked with Simon Phillips as an actor and a producer for many years, how exciting was it for you to be on board Riot and see him make the transition to the director’s chair?
It was great it was awesome to watch. He has worked on so many films and he has picked up a lot of ideas and skills along the way. He hit the ground running. Riot was a short shoot but it was done throughout one of the coldest winters that we have ever had.
We were shooting in a disused building in North London, with a hundred extras rioting with fires and police raiding it, and he just handled it and co-ordinated it as if he had been doing it for years. It was impressive and slightly frustrating for those of us who had learned gradually to see someone do it so well first time. I really did have to pat him on the back when we wrapped that one.
- I was reading that you are set to do a movie about the Krays, is that true? And what is it about their story that interests you?
Yes, we are going ahead with that and the film is called The Rise of the Krays. It is something that we have wanted to for a while. It is now twenty-three years since the release of the last film about the Krays - the Martin and Gary Kemp film - but no one has done one since, despite the fact, everyone knows the story and what you are talking about.
Again, there is that thing of real-life characters where myths and legends have risen up around them and anyone who was vaguely connected to that time claims to have known them or has stories. It is something that has always interested me as a story, and is something that I have always wanted to do.
There is an appeal of doing something set in that period, as there is a lovely look in terms of style and costumes. In addition, there is also something else that we have in this instance, and that is a direct link to their story because Billy Murray - who we have worked with often - knew them and was part of their crowd when he was an up and coming actor.
He has stories about them and has introduced us to several of their gang - for one want of a better word - whom we were able to sit down with and talk to about various things that they did. You are not making a documentary, but you can take those real aspects and make it that bit more authentic. That is something that I am really excited about doing next year.
- 2013 is coming to a close so what movies and performances have you been enjoying this year?
I saw Gravity recently and it absolutely blew me away. It is an amazing piece of filmmaking. A few weeks ago, I had the last ticket for the BFI London Film Festival where the Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron was doing a master class with his special effect guy on the special effects for Gravity.
It was on a Friday at about 6pm or 6.45pm, and I had been waiting all day for someone from British Gas to turn up and fix my boiler - I am not kidding. It got to about 5.15pm and he eventually turned up. The guy took so long that I wasn’t able to go to the master class.
A week or so later, I saw the film and it was just brilliant. I have never been a massive Sandra Bullock fan, but she was great in this. The real star of this film are the special effects - you feel like you are in space and your heart is in your mouth all the time.
Gravity has been my film of the year. I also really liked Star Trek Into Darkness, but that was mainly because of Benedict Cumberbatch. I think he should just play villains all of the time: any time Hollywood needs a villain they should just get Benedict Cumberbatch to his deep sonorous voice.
- Finally, what is next for you going into 2014?
We are in pre-production at the moment for The Rise of the Krays. We are probably going to be going White Collar Hooligan 3 first. We deliberately left number two on a bit of a cliffhanger, and we are going to go back. Rise of the Krays is going to take a lot of our time this year.
Also, we are in post-production for sci-fi film The Last Scout - we went to L.A. to shoot that earlier this year. That follows a group of astronauts who are trying to find a new earth.
Essex Boys: Retribution & Riot are out now.