Ahead of This is England 88’s network premiere on Tuesday, we rewind to issue 20, where we pressed the gushingly talented Shane Meadows on his then newest effort, Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee. Here’s a snippet of Damon Wise’s piece.
Shane Meadows could have gone to Hollywood. Some time in the last decade – not long after his little-seen 1999 film A Room For Romeo Brass confirmed him as an emerging British talent, and its disastrous follow-up, Once Upon A Time In the Midlands, almost finished him – the Staffordshire-born director sat down with the suits from Walt Disney for a breakfast meeting. The ball was in his court: they made it pretty clear he could do anything he wanted. So Meadows played along. He told them he wanted to remake The Love Bug, the 1968 comic fantasy about a VW Beetle with a mind of its own. “I was joking,” he recalls. “I said, ‘But this time Herbie goes ram-raiding with gangs in Manchester…’ I was severely taking the piss – but they really wanted me to do it.”
Meadows was surprised by two things: the tenacity of the executives who pursued him, and also their decision to take his advice and make it (the result was the 2005 flop Herbie Fully Loaded). But he has no regrets about the decision he made when he firmly and politely said no. “It was hilarious,” he says. “I could have made a million quid and done it as a laff, but I just don’t want that blot on my body of work. If I make a mistake, if I make a crap film, I want it to be on my own terms, I don’t want to set off knowing it’s crap. I’ve turned my back on two or three projects like that. I’ve turned my back on Hollywood projects because I just can’t live with the pain of making shit.”
Instead, the 36-year-old former skinhead has decided to put his energies into films with smaller budgets and much more heart. At a time when he could have been making big-budget studio fodder, Meadows made Dead Man’s Shoes, a bleak smalltown revenge fantasy, and followed it with the bittersweet memoir This Is England, about a young boy’s coming of age in 70s Britain. He followed that with the intimate London drama Somers Town, about a Polish boy befriending a runaway, and just when his films should be at their biggest and starriest, he’s made possibly the smallest film of the lot: a comedic two-hander, shot on digital video in five days for a budget of just £50,000.
Called Le Donk And Score-Zay-Zee, Meadows’ latest is a short, whimsical and frequently hilarious mockumentary, in which Meadows follows Midlands roadie Le Donk (Paddy Considine) through the most important weekend of his life. His ex-wife Olivia (Olivia Colman) is due to give birth to his son, while his musical protege Score-Zay-Zee (himself) is about to land a prestigious support slot at an Arctic Monkeys gig. If you’ve only seen Meadows’ recent, more mature work you might be surprised. But Le Donk And Score-Zay-Zee is very much from the Meadows mindset, a scattergun comedy that recalls the rough-edged breakout films he made in 1996: the cheap and very cheerful Small Time and Where’s The Money Ronnie. Meadows admits that the decision to turn the clock back a little was quite deliberate. “This Is England was very taxing,” he sighs. “Not just because it took a long time to make, but it was about something that was very personal to me. It was kind of a cathartic experience for me. ”
At the same time, Meadows wanted to break free of some of the restrictions that come with even low-budget movies. He came up with the idea of Five-Day Features, a Dogme style of filmmaking that involves shooting with no script and next to no money. And for his first Five-Day Feature, Meadows went straight to his old friend and longtime collaborator Paddy Considine. “Me and Paddy had had this character of Le Donk knocking around for 20 years,” explains Meadows.
“We were in bands together, as kids, and we came across all these really shyster businessmen. Y’know, they’re meant to be in the business, they’re meant to have contacts with EMI, and you’d go round to their house and all they’d have is a tiny Tascam four-track cassette recorder in a briefcase and they’d try to get you to sign a contract on the back of a baked-bean tin. So we came across a lot of these real foul people in the music business that were small town crooks, really. So Paddy started to create this phoenix from that, almost like a locust character that would feed on any talent that he came across, because he had none himself. We made four or five short films with this character – just for ourselves, for fun – and I said to Paddy, ‘Look, let’s make a feature with him.’”
Meadows says he “cannot express enough” how accidental the film was. The film’s Sundance Kid to Le Donk’s Butch Cassidy is Score-zay-zee, a deadpan white rapper who brings a fantastic bathetic humour to the film, in his scuzzy tracksuit pants, Elvis sunglasses and a baseball cap that reads Kids Need Hugs Not Drugs. “We didn’t know about Score-zay-zee at the start,” says Meadows. “All we knew was that the Arctic Monkeys might give us some backstage passes and that Le Donk could be a roadie for them. But that was it. Score-zay-zee was never in our plans. We never had any ideas for Le Donk to rap; that happened accidentally, at the casting sessions. Score-zay-zee showed us a few of his old raps. I said to Paddy, ‘Jesus, mate, should we not just take him with us to this music festival and see what happens?’”
The result is a buddy movie that works like a charm. But, surprisingly, although its tone is much more flippant than almost all of Meadows’ post-1996 features, there are definite signs of the director’s personality in there. For one thing, it features a theme that has appeared in several of his films: that of the older guy befriending a younger guy, and not always with the most generous motives. Is that conscious? “I dunno,” Meadows shrugs. “Obviously, my childhood does give me a huge amount of resources, and in a lot of small towns you get these really weird people that are left behind. You go to a shopping precinct and they’ll be six 14-year-old kids and a bloke who’s 25, and he’s hanging round with the young ones because his own friends don’t think he’s cool. So it’s maybe something I’ve witnessed a lot. And then when you’re in bands, you do get these people who come looking for impressionable kids. So it’s maybe not just from my own experience, it’s probably something that’s just part of life. Those people that can kind of… deceive you, almost. People that you look up to for six months, and then six months later you think, ‘What was I listening to that idiot for?’ I suppose it’s part of growing up, and I saw my fair share of those kinds of people.”