‘You know, in the film making business no one ever gives you anything’ – James Cameron
You wouldn’t know it by reading its Wikipedia, or if you you’ve ever made a fleeting visit but if you went to school there you’d know Cramlington is actually a hotbed of talent. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who went to Cramlington High School and they’ll have a story about one of it’s famous alumni. Ross Noble was in the same year as my sister in law, footballer Jamie McClen played football in scouts with by husband and I went to middle school with Trevor and Ian from The Longsands.
Thanks to the joys of Facebook and Twitter it’s way easier to find out what people you went to school with are up to these days, so how lovely it was to find out a few years ago that Garry Sykes, who I did GCSE Media Studies with is now a superstar filmmaker extraordinaire, like it’s his actual job that he gets paid for and everything (safe to say he did more with that GCSE than I ever did – although I will point out it was the subject I got my highest grade in!)
Two things that Garry’s done recently that peaked my attention were his film LXHXN – a film made up entirely of YouTube footage chronicling the turbulent relationship Hollywood starlet Lindsay Lohan has with the media and his first feature film Drunken Butterflies which is set and filmed entirely in Newcastle. Anyone who was ever a teenager and earned their drinking stripes down the Bigg Market drinking Pink Kangaroos and Lager which rated a 9 on the fairy liquid scale will be able to relate to it and as the BBC said ‘there’s no excuse for missing it’ (and I personally never defy the BBC!)
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not one to be modest about a bit of nepotism, so I had a chat with Garry about how on earth he made it from Mr Scott’s GCSE Media Studies class, to meeting Stephen Fry…
Cramlington isn’t really known for its booming film industry, how did you get into film making?
Cramlington should be known for its booming film industry! One day maybe. I remember back when we were growing up there was no cinema for miles around, and having to rely on the local video man who brought rental tapes round the streets in the boot of his car, at least until I was old enough to make it to Ritz or Blockbuster or go into town. Kids now have the big Vue, which I went to the other Christmas to see Gravity and was a bit blown away by the big showcase screen. If only they’d built that twenty years ago. Better late than never though.
Getting into filmmaking was something I’d always wanted/needed to do, and so I went and did film at uni, and then moved to London to try and make it in the big city, which is still work in progress. Just doing random jobs, working hard, making things with friends. I started a night at a local club screening people’s short films and putting bands on and met a lot of like-minded people that way and went from there.
Who or what influenced you growing up?
Everything really. Growing up I wasn’t exactly a social butterfly so I ended up spending a lot of nights watching random weird films they’d show after midnight on BBC2, which in hindsight was a great way to get a film education. Then when I was a bit older and a bit less shy, going into town to gigs, music all of the time, going to festivals, all of that was so important and has stayed a big part of everything – that point where you realise you don’t have to be part of the main crowd or make things the same way as everyone else is making them or go down the official route, that you can just start a band or make a film with friends and do things your own way.
How did Lxhxn come about? Where you always a fan?
Yes, me and a bunch of my friends are big Lindsay Lohan fans and I’d had this idea to make a kind of silly fake documentary about her career for the fun of it, and everyone would dress up and do fake talking head interviews playing LA scenesters or famous film critics. Then I started digging around on YouTube for footage and realised that the off screen part of her career was much more interesting, to the point where it stopped being about her really at all and became about the media, and the way celebrities are seen and represented – not in a boo-hoo, poor me, alone with all my millions of dollars sort of way, more the politics of the whole thing, how everyone has a vested interest, the way that people become the thing that everyone wants them to be, even when that thing is really destructive. It’d always been one of my big life goals to make a feature film by the age of 30 and at that point I didn’t have the resources to do something totally new so I ended up making a film out of hundreds of hours of YouTube clips, which is one way of doing it.
Did you go and see her play in London?
I didn’t see it, no. I don’t really like the theatre, plus tickets were very expensive and I was pretty much Lohanned out by that time, it was kind of the last thing I wanted to see. People said it was good though.
Was it always a goal/vision to make a film back in the north east?
Yes, totally. There are so few films shot in Newcastle, and when they are they often bring in the cast from elsewhere because producers are worried that the accent won’t travel, which is just not true. We wanted to make a film that was Northern and proud, with an all-local cast, and were lucky to be able to do that without toning it down or making any concessions.
How was coming home and filming?
I come home a couple of times a year anyway to see my Mam & Dad, they still live in Cramlington, but there’s a difference between family visits and getting to go out and shoot in the city, see how it’s changed, see how it hasn’t. Myself and some of the core crew lived in a house in Heaton for the month we were filming, the same house where they have the big party at the end of the film, and the first night staying there we had fish and chips with batter scraps – which you cannot get down south anywhere – and it definitely felt like being home.
How did the idea for DB come about?
It was partly based on things that had happened to me in town as a teenager, partly based on reality TV shows like Made In Chelsea, and partly based on the ideas that the cast brought to it and developed over the course of filming. We had a 20 page outline that I’d written as a starting point, but from the outset the idea was that we’d work with the cast to develop and change the story to fit them and their changing relationships with each other, as they do in a lot of reality shows, as well as their own experiences of growing up in the region. It was really important for it to feel like a teenage perspective and, much as I’d like to think I’m still a teenager, those days are long gone, so we needed that cast input to make something very authentic and fresh and that would feel real.
How different was making a feature film to the other projects you’ve done?
It took longer! And was a thousand times more exhausting and more rewarding!
How did you cast it?
We put out casting calls via Tumblr and Twitter, posters and flyers around town. Because of the way the film was being made, we needed people who were natural performers, who could really live their roles and develop the story as their characters as they went, so it was crucial that we got the right people, which I think we really did. We could’ve easily cast many more of the people who attended auditions if we’d had the roles, we met some fantastic young performers.
How did you find the comparison to Geordie shore?
I can see how it’s an easy reference to stick, it’s reality TV+Tyneside, and Geordie Shore is the thing that’s already circulating in the consciousness. DB isn’t really out to shock in the same way, it’s much more about playing with and flipping those reality TV cliches, but there’s probably some grain of something in the comparison, both of them could only have been made now, and both of them feel like the end of the world, just for different reasons.
Who is the nicest and rudest celebrity you’ve ever met?
The nicest/most famous celebrity I’ve ever met is probably Stephen Fry. I don’t know, I don’t meet many celebrities. The ones I have met have tended not to be rude at all, which is probably part of how they get to where they are. I think the rudest people you meet in life are people who are somehow frustrated themselves, it’s the same anywhere at any age – that’s probably why Mean Girls is so popular with adults.
There’s a plan for a feature film set in Cramlington and Whitley Bay, but I think it’s a few years away – we made Drunken Butterflies so independently and there was a lot that was great about that, but there were big downsides too, especially when it came to money and resources, so I want to come back with something bigger and better and that takes a little time to pull together. Working on a couple of short films at the minute, and something photography related too, definitely keeping myself busy.
You can watch Drunken Butterflies here (and I strongly suggest you do, it will be 3.99 well spent!)
And follow Garry’s film making adventures on twitter via @GravenImages