LONDON – When the chunky Shane Meadows stepped up onstage next to Bob Hoskins, star of his feature debut “TwentyFourSeven,” at the London Film Festival, they easily could be mistaken for father and son. Laddish, ebullient and blessed with a natural sense of showmanship, Meadows takes pride in his working-class origins. And, uniquely in the New British Cinema, his work marries the hip, witty, cine-literate sensibility of the post-“Trainspotting” crowd with the social awareness of one weaned on the small-screen work of Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears and Ken Loach.
“I’ve been trying to show that, irrelevant of what situation working-class people are in, they’ll make the best of what they’ve got,” Meadows says. “The people that no one else will touch are the people I want in my films.” But it’s his infectious sense of fun combined with a great ear for dialogue and eye for character that has made his films critical and popular faves on the international fest circuit.
Meadows first came to attention last year with the 60-minute comedy “Small Time,” which he made in a week on a budget of 5,000 ($8,200), including $50 for the hire of some outrageously unconvincing wigs. Set — like all his work — in his hometown of Nottingham, central England, it follows the declining fortunes of a band of grifters and drifters (their feckless ring leader is played by the director with the self-declared mission to “steal from the rich and sell half-price to the poor.”
But “TwentyFourSeven,” which arrives at Sundance in the wake of Venice, where it won the Fipresci (Intl. Critics’) Prize, and Toronto, could catapult Meadows from small time to big time. Hoskins plays an idealistic type who sets up an amateur boxing club in the post-industrial wastelands of a dreary housing project.
It attracts a motley crew of charming losers who look highly unlikely to fulfill the club’s aim of bettering their lot in life. Shot in stylized black-and-white (“With the clothes these lads wear,” says Meadows, “if we’d shot in color, you wouldn’t be able to look at it.”) the pic’s melancholy poetry represents a quantum leap forward, stylistically, for the filmmaker.
Born in 1973, he grew up at a time when Britain, especially provincial Britain, was a cinematic desert. He learned about films by renting as many as 10 movies a week from a street market trader, then, after Channel 4 launched in 1982, started watching its pioneering “Film on Four” series, then a haven for Britain’s most interesting new directors.
Like his own characters, he drifted for a while, enrolling in various art, drama and photography courses from which he was invariably expelled. He also admits to dabbling in petty crime, and was caught shoplifting such items as a chicken tikka (curry) sandwich and a breast pump for one of his mates who had just had a baby.
While on welfare, Meadows worked as a volunteer for a media center for the unemployed in return for access to its video equipment. The bug soon bit, and he made 25 short films in two years, using friends as cast and crew and undaunted by minimal budgets. “When people try to tell you how difficult it is to get anything done, you say, ‘Funny you should say that. Here’s a film I made — it took me two hours, then I edited it in an afternoon, showed it at a cinema in the evening and 300 people turned up.’ ”
One of these, “Where’s the Money, Ronnie?” won a tube competition and came to the attention of Stephen Woolley, whose company Scala eventually produced “TwentyFourSeven” with coin from pubcaster BBC.
It will be interesting to see if the pic will reach a wider audience when it is released in the U.S. by October and in Blighty by Pathe this spring. Meadows however, already has a two-picture deal with Company Pictures (headed by George Faber, ex-head of Single Drama at the Beeb) And he intends to plow on regardless: Next up is a Western set in Wales. “If this film isn’t successful and all I’ve got to make the next one is 7,000, then I’ll make a film for 7,000. Money is not a factor. I cannot be broken in that way.”