Films In The Making: Director Paul Morris On ‘Angry Young Men’

Angry Young Men takes place in the barren Scottish town of Mauchton, following youths who have formed gangs in order to establish a form of structure within their environment. However, their power is threatened following the arrival of a new group, a war will determine who has what it takes to seize control. This coming-of-age film aims to create a surrealist portrait of life within Scottish housing schemes, delivering fantastical thrills blended in themes of contemplative social commentary.

Council of Zoom recently chatted with director Paul Morris (@MarloFilms) about the multi-year process behind the independent production, the difficulties he has faced, and the mindset necessary to undertake a feature-length project.

Onset photographs provided by Joshua Porter and Gary McClellan

You have done your fair share of comedy shorts. What about this genre was particularly welcoming in your early days of filmmaking? Is a comedic tone still apparent in Angry Young Men?

It’s not something I ever thought about as a conscious decision to “do comedy.” When I was younger, things I remember being on repeat were Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, The Big Lebowski, and The Royal Tenenbaums, so maybe it was just early influences like that I was trying to recreate. The comedy side is, hopefully, within Angry Young Men, but not so much as a setup and punch-line style of comedy but more the absurdity/surreal side and the comedy born out of the characters’ situations.

With this being your first feature, how far from the script do you allow your actors to deviate? Have you found yourself changing the story as you have filmed, or have you stuck close to your original script?

The script has been tightened along the way but that was just a personal decision and something I anticipated once it was done. I was really happy with the finished script, but it was really long. Mainly due to the fact I wrote a lot of description and detail that shouldn’t really be in a traditional script. Due to being a no-budget film and an ensemble piece I had many challenges relating to actors’ schedules that had to be overcome with shooting a shot in the morning one day and a reverse shot in the afternoon or the following week/month. This is not ideal, but it was either this or wait and wait until everyone can make it/weather is right, etc. I did do this in the early stages, but it was soon clear that just waiting for the perfect scenario (as much as I wanted to) was not the solution.

I had to balance getting what was needed with people’s patience and overall morale of the shoot. So, what I would do before each scene was boil it down to the essential plot needed, shot list for the minimum number of setups whilst still being dynamic/interesting and then figure out which actors could make it then roll with the punches on that day. In terms of actors improvising there wasn’t a whole lot of that. Partly because I felt the scenes didn’t really call for it and we were under a lot of time pressure to make the day each shoot. The only changes made by cast would be word changes to certain bits of dialogue that didn’t feel right to them. This only happened a couple of times.

You mention in your “The Making of Angry Young Men: Writing” video that you wanted to capture more of a “feeling” than a factual recount of the area you grew up in. How have you attempted to achieve this balance of fact and feeling? What particular feelings do you strive to invoke with this film?

When I think about recounting my memories in a sort of autobiographical way it’s not really appealing to me but there are moments of high drama, suspense, terror and heartbreak that can be mined and developed with the imagination. That’s what I’ve tried to do here. Ideally, I wanted a film that rang true emotionally but wasn’t just a replay of most people’s childhood in Scottish schemes. So, there is violence, there is alienation, ambition, a feeling of loving and hating where you come from, being called into the trap of adulthood, etc. But it’s placed in a world that doesn’t exist.

Do you feel as a Scottish filmmaker there is a pressure to stick to realism to a certain extent, due to the industry’s history with it?

I suppose it would depend on how this film is received. I love Ratcatcher, Sweet Sixteen, Red Road, and My Childhood. They’re poetic and true to life in Scotland and they’re also revered by the art-house film lovers all over. But I also love action, plot, dynamic set pieces, and violence in films that are perhaps more enjoyed than revered. I hope I’m able to serve these two methods. Make a film that typical filmgoers can enjoy without having to be “in the know” about technique or deeper meaning. Made in a way that utilizes the form to maximise emotional impact like the great directors I love have been able to do and those who are “in the know” can appreciate.

You have been outspoken about this arduous task you have undertaken. Your cast appears to be extremely supportive of this endeavour. How have you kept your goals consistently clear throughout this multi-year production for both yourself and them?

The cast and small crew I’ve had have been amazing. There have been many early mornings and long days in terrible weather for no pay and no real idea of what they will see at the end of this. I had a moment early in the film, particularly with one scene that took a couple of months, that due to me biting off more than I could chew, I seriously thought about stopping. This was one of the first scenes that required nine cast members in one scene at the same time. I finally got a date where everyone could make it then one boy cancelled last minute and that threw out my plan for the opening shot, so I was already having to compromise. Then the day just got away from me and I felt totally defeated. I saw what was ahead of me, how many of these kinds of scenes I still had to shoot, how hard it was to get everyone, and I still couldn’t mark it as finished. I felt the film was impossible and we hadn’t even gotten to scenes where I needed 40+ cast members.

But when I reviewed the few scenes we had shot, I reminded myself of the script and the potential it had if I could just see it through and luck was on our side. Then I decided to push through and work with what I could get each shoot. The mind games are tough, but I tried to have the mentality of: “This film is getting made by any means necessary. Whatever obstacles we get along the way we just need to overcome or make work for us, that’s it.” I knew that this was going to be the hardest part as the actual filming was rewarding. But the uncertainty of when we could film and the unseen obstacles were the most maddening.

With COVID-19 appearing to put the entire film industry at a standstill, how has this impacted this independent production? Do you feel having no set time scheduling has been a benefit? How has it affected motivation?

You would think that having massive amounts of time would only be a good thing for filming as it would allow you to consider every angle and possibility. But, for me, you can only plan so much in advance. However, one good thing from the lockdown restriction is it forced us outside for a scene I had planned in a classroom. Since we couldn’t film anything inside or out for months, I reassessed the scene and its place in the film in relation to what we had shot so far. I instead tied it into a location we had used a few times already so that was a plus as I much prefer what we adapted compared with the original idea. By the time lockdown came, I already had so much footage I was really proud of, it wasn’t really disheartening for me to wait a bit longer as I was already committed to completing the film. I just used to time to catch up on hundreds of films. Luckily, the majority of scenes left were all outside anyway, so I found a way during lockdown to really distil what we needed down even further to expedite the film’s completion.

How do you feel self-funding this project impacted the approach to how you film it?

I don’t have a paid film project to compare this to but what I have learned so far from self-funding is all about time and efficiency. I want to avoid people and crew standing around for shots they aren’t in or aren’t needed for. And I love working with a small crew where we can work intimately together, get what we need and keep everyone’s energy levels high. I was already well prepared before starting the film and continue to shot list and tighten each scene before we are due to shoot, but I suppose I also love the style that’s born out of this way of shooting. The cast seems to be on their game more if they know they are needed in the shot, we can avoid close-ups and pickups if we shoot like this, showing off the full world in a more immersive way. It’s also taught me a lot about patience, what you want versus what you need, and how to see this before throwing a tantrum. I’m extremely proud of what we have so far but I don’t know how the film will turn out once edited. However, I feel the most important lesson here has been how much doubt can ruin you. If I had stopped when we failed to complete the scene that day all I would have to justify it would be “it wasn’t going to work, too hard, we were never going to get everyone together again that many times with the Scottish weather and no money.” But, by pushing through this I was rewarded with so much luck. The weather and obstacles turned into new ideas, and these amazing people who helped on the film have supported me to follow it through.

Final Note

Angry Young Men is set to wrap filming in the following months, kickstarting post-production with the hope of a finished product this year. The task of producing an independent feature cannot be understated. Projects like this remain at the heart of our industry and in order for it to remain that way we must make an effort to support these types of ventures. Morris has offered valuable insight into the mindset required, obstacles faced, support needed, and workarounds necessary to create with a minimal budget, in pursuit of providing a unique depiction of life in Scotland, and the people within it.

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