This Is Shane Meadows
From a life of crime to self confessed Sony fan boy, director Shane Meadows explains how advances in camera technology are liberating the filmmaking process. By Will Strauss.
Despite leaving school with no qualifications and dabbling, unsuccessfully, with a life of crime, British filmmaker Shane Meadows has done pretty well for himself.
A Bafta ‘Best Film’ award winner in 2008 for This Is England, Meadows is currently being offered £10m features and is co-writing and directing primetime hits for Channel 4 television (C4). It is a far cry from the early days of his career, much of which was spent either on the dole or selling jewellery at raves.
Meadows’ initial flirtation with filmmaking came about through the Nottingham based Intermedia Film and Video Ltd where he would work for free in return for borrowing camcorders and editing equipment in order to make “crap films with my mates.”
His first film of note, the short Where’s The Money, Ronnie?, was produced using that very same borrowed kit.
Despite this beg, borrow and steal approach, the quality and honesty of Meadows’ storytelling shone through and …Ronnie? went on to win a short film competition and was spotted by The Crying Game producer Stephen Woolley with whom he would later work.
The prize money paid for Meadows’ next short film and in the period that followed he made more than 100 shorts and eight features and has gone on to both critical and commercial acclaim [see biog below].
Learning the hard way
As befits a director who learnt about filmmaking the hard way, Meadows is now keen to share his experiences with up-and-coming directors. This desire to give something back brought him to Manchester in November 2011 and a speaker appearance at the Sony seminar theatre during the BVE North expo.
Meadows spent an hour talking candidly to current and future filmmakers about his career, about the film industry and, perhaps most uniquely for a director, about technology.
A self-confessed ‘tech head’, Meadows is well known for self-shooting on many of his projects and admits to regularly trawling Internet forums looking for information about the latest kit.
“I am a bit of a Sony fan-boy,” admits Meadows. “I had a VX2000 because of the low light capabilities. I had a PD150. I’ve shot maybe a 100 short films on those two cameras. I always wait for the new Sony camera to come out because I’ve got used to it and I like the shape but I’ve tried every type of camera out there.”
His latest experience of working with Sony cameras came during the shoot for This Is England ’88, a trio of Christmas films for C4 that Meadows describes as like a “very brutal Nativity.”
“I always wait for the new Sony camera to come out because I’ve got used to it and I like the shape but I’ve tried every type of camera out there.”
A follow-up to C4’s This Is England ’88, itself a spin-off from the movie This Is England, the 60-minute films were shot on Red and the Sony F3 with just a small amount of Canon 7D thrown in for good measure.
Despite some initial reservations, it was during a preview screening at Bafta that the quality of the F3’s images became apparent.
“Although I had seen the Sony footage intercut with Red in the edit suite, we’d never seen the image on [a screen] bigger than about 27 inches,” he says.
“The Red originated at RAW and came down to 2k, while the F3 is 35 Mb/s. I swear on my life it was completely seamless.”
When the shoot started, the S-Log recording option wasn’t available so expectations of the F3 were low.
“I was going to use it as a B or C camera that I could shoot myself,” continues Meadows. “My expectations were that it would be OK in small chunks. But then we started handing stuff to the DIT [Digital Imaging Technician] and blowing [the pictures] up in the van. [Considering it was] XDCam [that] it was recording to, it was phenomenal really. “
Getting more involved
Meadows explains that, as the shoot went on, the Sony F3 went from being a B or C camera to being involved in almost every scene and every shot.
As a result, he’s become such a fan that his next proposed project, a feature-length documentary about the Manchester band The Stone Roses (pictured), will be shot at 4:2:2 on two Sony F3s using S-Log.
“I got a call from [singer] Ian Brown and he told me they were getting back together,” explains the director. “They are my all-time favourite band. I said ‘if you let anyone else film it, I’ll kill you.”
A £10m feature film project has been parked so Meadows can work on the project.
Although the director admits to not being a documentary filmmaker, he admires the work that Martin Scorsese has done in music documentaries like the Bob Dylan film No Direction Home. This gives him hope.
“Because of his love of music Scorsese can go and make music documentaries. Hopefully that applies to me and it’s not rubbish. It was one of those jobs that I just had to do.”
For Meadows, the introduction of the F3 and other cameras of its ilk illustrates how the move to affordable but high quality digital cinematography has liberated the filmmaking process.
So much so that he believes that young people who want to get into filmmaking have never had a better chance.
“You can always find a way through,” he urges. “If you don’t get the funding, you can go off with this new range of cameras and [because of the quality they deliver] there is still that potential of a cinematic release.”
For Meadows, it’s the realization of an ambition that goes back some years.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for a 35mm sensor in [a camera] like I used to shoot with when I was 21,” he says with gusto.
“Musicians have always been able to play a great song on a acoustic guitar that sounds great and only costs £10. Film is not quite like that. Film is bound by needing a crew and a soundman to make stuff look and sound great. That gap is now closing. Fifteen years ago, for people like myself from a normal working class town, 35mm [film] quality was very unavailable. Now, for [comparatively] little money there’s no excuse for not making something that can’t be shown in the cinema.”
This Is England ’88 aired 13-15 December 2011 on Channel 4.
About Shane Meadows
A self-taught filmmaker from the Midlands, Shane Meadows is currently one of the UK’s hottest directing talents. Acclaimed for telling low-budget semi-autobiographical stories that are often touching, occasionally violent and always honest, his breakthrough feature film, This Is England, grossed $8m at the box office and has since sold more than 1.5m copies on DVD. His early filmography includes Twentyfour Seven, Dead Man’s Shoes and Once Upon a Time in the Midlands.
[An edited version of this article appeared in the Sony Producer magazine in Spring 2012.]