Warp Films 10th – Mark Herbert Interview
When Sheffield-born Warp Records reached its tenth anniversary in 1999 the influential record label celebrated with a three day music festival – in London. In 2012, the beloved and still independent Sheffield Movie Production Company Warp Films are celebrating their tenth anniversary with a blow-out – in Magna! Warp’s live rescore of Dead Man’s Shoes showcases the award-winning filmco’s connection to its Sheffield home. Even the iconic gasmasked Paddy Considine – as Dead Man’s Shoes avenging angel – a figure of terror for his home town foes, has a familial familiarity for Steel city residents. Give it another ten years and the people of Matlock’ll be voting for a statue, mark my words.
We caught up with Warp Films head Mark Herbert to talk about the anniversary, Shane Meadows’ forthcoming Stone Roses film and Die hard 3…
Exposed: Congratulations on being ten years old Mark! Given how busy you always seem I guess this might be a rare chance to reflect on what Warp’s achieved?
There’s a lot of stuff I’d forgotten about. When you start to talk to the people you work with – the directors and talent and that – you’re like, ‘Oh yeah I forgot about that…’
Warp’s changed a huge amount over the last ten years. What have been the big turning points?
Well the reason we chose Dead Man’s Shoes for the celebration event was it really helped shape the company and the kind of films that we make: auteur directors doing things that have got an audience. Dead Man’s Shoes isn’t an arthouse film but it’s got a festival award vibe and yet it appeals to that genre-loving, revenge thriller audience.
There’s two events really. This Is England got recognition from winning the BAFTA [This is England ’88 won the award for best mini-series at this year’s awards] but what we didn’t realise at the time was that we were creating these characters that would become their own family. The best stuff we’ve done, the best decisions we’ve made have been based on the material we’re reacting to. So This Is England on TV came out not from, ‘Let’s cash in and do some TV…’ It was, ‘We’ve got all these stories we didn’t tell in the film. What happened to Combo? What happened to Lol?’ As Shane and Jack [Thorne, This is England co-writer] wrote the film it they got so excited by what the stories and the characters and the actors did that we just had to do it.
So there’s that and being able to cement the company into Sheffield more than it was… This Is England on TV and Four Lions were both shot in Sheffield. One after the other. I was based here in Sheffield but the meetings were in London. I had a phone line and a desk but we weren’t firmly Sheffield. The turning point was making a few films back to back in Sheffield – Kill List (Exposed’s review here – Ed) more recently.
You’ve suggested before that bringing Sheffield more into Warp Films was always part of the plan…
Yeah, but you have to play the game a bit. As your stock rises that allows you to go ‘We don’t want to shoot that here. We want to shoot it in Sheffield.’ I didn’t want to offer Sheffield to any director. It was right for Four Lions and it was right for This Is England. Some of the films it’s not right for.
Dead Man’s Shoes started life as a light-hearted superhero romp before taking a rather darker direction. This isn’t the only example of a mid-production change in direction in Warp Film’s history though is it?
We still do that! We’ve actually approached The Stone Roses film as if it wasn’t a documentary in some ways. In traditional documentaries you’ll have somebody with a camera sat on them telling you about something that happened. We really just wanted it to feel as if it was all happening there and then. And even when we can’t be in the room – when we’re looking at some old stuff – you’re there. You’re not having someone tell you about what it was like to be there. You’re always in the now.
I’d imagine it’s tricky cos although there’s a hell of a lot more work and stress involved in that kind of course correcting a lot of Warp’s greatest successes have come about as a result of changing direction in that way.
To be truthful a lot of it is purely practical. We needed to shoot Dead Man’s Shoes in three and a half weeks. The story had to take place over a week because we didn’t have enough money to keep changing the clothes. I do think that sometimes, when you’ve got loads of time and loads of money to throw at a problem you don’t think of the best solution. Whereas when you’re on your knees figuratively speaking you can come up with more innovative, interesting solutions. A lot of the most creative things that we’ve done have come about that way. On Dead Man’s Shoes the Super 8 footage was shot on my Grandad’s camera. And it’s real – it’s authentic. I grew up in a place similar to the estate in Dead Man’s Shoes. My Grandad lived on an estate like that. It all felt right. If we’d had time and money we’d just have just spent money trying to make it look like Super 8, do you know what I mean?
So everything’s trying to be honest. And true to how it feels.
Is there a problem with how Warp’s perceived sometimes? One of the things Shane’s provided is a sense of authenticity and realism.
Films can’t be crazy for crazy’s sake. I like experimental films, but I also love mainstream films. It’s very easy when you’re in certain cities to say, ‘That’s the arthouse crowd – and they’re the guys who go to Cineworld…’ Whereas in my world they’re completely blurred. I can watch an Italian Neo-realist film at the Showroom [Sheffield Indie Cinema] and the next week I can wanna go and see Die Hard 3. There’s no snobbery.
How’s Sheffield influenced Warp?
Well you go to these swanky dos that cost more than Dead Man’s Shoes did to film then you come home to Sheffield and I play football and mates take the piss out of you, basically. It’s a great business and it’s easy to become obsessed with it. But I love Sheffield as a city. It’s got its problems like any city but there’s a sense of the people and honesty. And you can’t bullshit people here. I think that’s helped.
The events you’re putting on in Sheffield – from PubScrawl to the celebration tomorrow – have got lots of connections to theatre but they’re also part of this People’s Republic of South Yorkshire localism.
International is important to us. But we get it right locally too.
I think there’s an outsider feel to Sheffield too. We’re not part of the North, we’re not a glassy city like Leeds and Manchester. Was it a natural choice for the celebration event?
Yeah. For one thing I get to come home and sleep in me own bed! That’s the first thing (laughter). Magna’s an amazing venue – if you get it right. It’s got wow factor. It’s not like hiring a club – this is a place with history and it feels like that. A vast space. And it’s like a festival what we’re doing. We’ve got ten hours of films plus the Dead Man’s Shoes rescore – which might be the only time that happens and DJ from all over. We’ve just confirmed Kayvan Novak who was Waj in Four Lions as well as Facejacker. He loves it here.
We couldn’t do a music event and people at a cinema would just be a screening. It wouldn’t have the sense of a party. Dead Man’s Shoes has a very specific feel – it’s a very internal soundtrack. A couple of people are going down to listen to the soundcheck today.
Are you going?
Nooo. I want the surprise!
Warp Films Live Rescore Event is tomorrow from 6pm to 4am at Magna, Sheffield. More information and tickets here. EDIT – It's happened! Click here to read the Exposed review.
Interview by Rob Barker.