By John Curley
The Manchester-based writer-director Chris Green has long been a fan of the music of Paul Weller. A feature film that Green has in the works, titled The Pebble And The Boy after a song on Weller’s 2005 album As Is Now, draws a great deal of its inspiration from Weller’s music. In order to get like-minded people interested in the project, Green raised money through a crowdfunding effort and shot a fantastic 20-minute promo film comprised of several scenes from the feature-film script. In the Q&A below, Green discusses the film, his love of Weller’s music, the Mod lifestyle, and other topics.
GOLDMINE: Were you a Mod in your youth, going to Jam gigs, etc.?
CHRIS GREEN: I was a Mod from the age of around 14. Many of the older boys on our housing estate were into the clothes, the scooters, and The Jam. A few of us started wearing parkas, although whereas theirs were the real deal, I had a ‘little kids’ one with red lining instead of the proper green that I bought from a mate at school. It didn’t stop me sewing Jam and Mod patches on it, though, as well as a line of badges down the lapels. It was about this time that I went along to my first Jam gig at Stafford Bingley Hall on the coach. It was my first-ever music gig. I remember wearing a button-down shirt, narrow Mod tie, a Harrington jacket and my fishtail parka! Big mistake, I think I nearly passed out a few times once the gig got started. It was amazing, though, bouncing up and down near the front. An experience I’ll never forget. And since then, I think I’ve always had Mod sensibilities, although I’m not a traditionalist, more of a Mod with a contemporary twist. I like my Fred Perry's and my Ben Sherman's, but I’m also an advocate of Liam Gallagher’s Pretty Green clothing. I probably own about 20 different pieces at any one time.
GM: What is it about Paul Weller’s music that inspired you to want to do this film?
CG: Paul Weller was one of my main influences as a writer. I was in awe of the lyrics for songs like “The Eton Rifles,” “That’s Entertainment,” and “Private Hell.” His music has been the soundtrack to my life in lots of ways. My first gig was a Jam gig, as I mentioned, I bunked off school to buy Jam singles and albums on their first day of release. I associate his music with so many great times in my life, listening to the chart run down in the ‘common room’ at our school, all bouncing around when the DJ revealed that “Town Called Malice” was at number one, drunkenly taking over teenage house parties when “Going Underground” came on, thrashing invisible guitars and screaming out the lyrics. We were young, we were full of energy, and Paul Weller’s music spoke to us, a generation of working-class estate kids, a gang of Mods who strutted around like we owned the place. But it wasn’t just the vibrant, aggressive, in-your-face music we loved, I think many of us, as our voices broke and we discovered girls, liked to lie on our beds dreaming about Julie down the road as we listened and sung along to songs like “Monday,” “Fly,” “Tales From The Riverbank” and, later on, “You’re The Best Thing,” “Long Hot Summer,” etc. Not only did Paul write absolute bangers, he also had a deft touch when it came to songs that touched your heart. “English Rose” being a classic example. Which leads me to the title track of the film. “The Pebble And The Boy” evokes memories of my dad and the wonderful relationship we had until his sad passing in 1982. It’s a haunting, stunningly beautiful track. I used to listen to it while writing the film script and there was many a time that I just cried thinking about John, our lead character, and his sense of loss at losing his father, Phil. Because John’s loss is my own. I'm that young boy who lost the man he adored.
GM: Has Paul Weller seen the promo film? If he has, what was his response?
CG: I sent the 20-minute promo to Paul via his office, and then I thought to myself he’s not going to sit down and watch a 20-minute film, so I better send him the two-minute teaser instead. Only to find out that he’d already watched it and really liked what I’d done with the story and his music. As a film maker that was great to hear, and as a fan...well, I’m still on a high to this day to be honest!
GM: Three songs by Weller—the solo songs “Wild Wood” and “The Pebble And The Boy” and The Jam’s “That’s Entertainment”—were used in the promo film. Are you planning on using additional Weller songs as well as those by other artists in the feature film?
CG: Those three songs were chosen because we felt they most suited the mood of the particular sequences/scenes they are featured in. Because the film is very much inspired by Paul’s music and what it means to me and the story I’d love to have lots of his songs on there. We’ll just have to wait and see if I can make a film worthy enough of association with such amazing music. There could very well be opportunities to use other music as well, it’s something that we’ve talked about. Maybe some young Mod bands who are looking for the right kind of exposure.
GM: How did the story come to you?
CG: It was a chance meeting with Paul after a gig he did in Cork, Ireland back in 2009, I think. I bumped into him in the airport, and although a bag of nerves, I managed to get a photo with him. And it was on the plane home afterwards that I started to think about the story and the imagery, about a father and son and their relationship. I really enjoyed the process and remember listening to Paul’s music constantly throughout the writing of the first draft and getting very excited about the possibilities and how certain scenes would be elevated incredibly by a Jam, Style Council, or Weller solo track. With so many beautiful songs, you're pretty much spoilt for choice, aren't you?
GM: The shots of the Brighton seafront and the Brighton Pier in the promo film are quite beautiful and evocative, and are somewhat reminiscent of Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia film. How much of an influence was Quadrophenia on your film? And did other films inspire it as well?
CG: Like John says in the promo, Brighton is the “spiritual home of the Mods” and it was obvious to me that the family of a Mod would want to scatter his/her ashes there. I was conscious of Quadrophenia while developing the story, how couldn't you be, really? It’s the defining Mod film, loved by people of my generation. [See what I did there?] But I can honestly say that Quadrophenia isn't an influence where The Pebble And the Boy is concerned. Yes, it’s one of my favorite films, but I never thought to myself “I’m going to write a Mod film like Quadrophenia.” Mine is a contemporary story, and although it's a coming-of-age tale and similar in that our protagonist is a teenage boy, that’s pretty much where the comparisons end in my eyes...apart from the Scooters, oh and the Mods! What I am aware of, though, is that there hasn’t been a ‘Mod film’ since Quadrophenia, and a lot of the messages I get from around the world via The Pebble And The Boy Facebook page think that it’s long overdue. With regards to other films that inspire me, I’m a lover of the Ken Loach film Kes and also Shane Meadows’ This Is England. They’re the type of films that I want to make.
GM: Could you discuss the crowdfunder that was used to make the promo film? How much did it raise? And how much do you need to complete the feature film? How can those who are interested in contributing to the crowdfunder for the feature film get involved? Is there a Web site for the feature-film crowdfunder?
CG: I knew what I wanted to do to raise the profile and gain support for the script, and that was to make something that people could watch, that would titillate and create an interest. But I didn’t have any money. I’d previously raised £3500 (approximately $4867 US– Ed.) for a short film via crowdfunding, so I thought I would try again. I managed to raise £11,000 (approximately $15, 297 US—Ed.) in a very short time, and we went out and shot the promo over four days, two in Manchester and two in Brighton. Obviously, we need a lot more than that to shoot and release the feature. We’re in advanced talks with a major scooter manufacturer and a Mod clothing company for sponsorship money, but we need around £150,000 (approximately $208,595 US—Ed.) more if we’re to go into production this summer. So, another Crowdfunder is being considered and details will be posted on the Facebook page if we decide to go down that route. What we’re also looking for are philanthropic Paul Weller fans. There must be a few millionaire fans out there that could get us over the line, and have a great time in doing so! Anyone who wants to help can get in touch with me on email@example.com or via the Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pebbleandtheboy).
GM: The funeral scene in the promo film, with all of the Mods on scooters and Lambretta hearse, was quite something. Where did you find the hearse? And how did you get all of the Mods on scooters involved?
CG: The Mod community is very supportive of each other, and when I set up the Facebook page I was approached by some lovely people from London who said they’d like to help. One of their number is a lovely chap called Steve Winik, who at the time was running his own Mod Funeral company and I was introduced to him by an equally lovely man called Martin Porter. When they said I could use a Lambretta Hearse in the film, I was blown away. It looks amazing onscreen with its Mod coffin and red, white, and blue flowers, and we’re hoping to use it again for the feature film. In regard the scooter boys and girls that came along for the funeral scene, some were mates, others were generous Crowdfunders who paid for ride-on parts and others were members of various local scooter clubs. I only expected about 15 to turn up, but when they all arrived, well over a hundred of them, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. They gave their time to help us make that scene look fantastic, and I can never thank them all enough for their support.
GM: John, the film’s protagonist, doesn’t understand Mod and doesn’t appear to like it, either. When Geoff tells John that his father, Phil, was “a Mod of distinction,” John answers derisively, “He was a postman.” Was having John be something of an outsider to the world of Mod important to you?
CG: John is indifferent to Mod and what it means when we first meet him. I thought it was important that John’s journey, both physically on the Scooter run to Brighton with his dad’s ashes and also metaphorically would be more interesting for an audience if John wasn't a Mod and that he actually starts to learn more about it, and his dad as the story unfolds. I think John is angry at himself for not taking more of an interest in his dad’s ‘way of life’ and regrets the times that he preferred playing on his Nintendo instead of helping his dad rebuild a Lambretta engine in the back garden! But by going on this journey he comes to learn that not only was his dad cool as F***, but that Mods are actually quite cool too!
GM: The Penny character, Geoff’s daughter, seems to be quite a free spirit. Is her character based on a real person?
CG: I don’t think she's based on anyone in particular, but she’s definitely the type of girl I would be fascinated by if I was in John’s shoes. She's quite feisty in the promo, but wait and see what she gets up to in the feature film. She’s funny, sexy, and, most importantly, she’s a strong woman who takes no shit and can look after herself.
GM: I was impressed with the promo film. What has the reaction to it been like?
CG: I'm glad you enjoyed it! The reaction has been amazing. I never expected to get almost 500,000 views for the two-minute teaser trailer when I uploaded it to Facebook. I just wanted all the kind Crowdfunders to see that I hadn’t ran off with their money! But when I started to get messages from all over the world, I realized that I’d touched a nerve, in a good way. There seems to be a lot of love for this project and we need to keep up the momentum in order to deliver a great film. “The public gets what the public wants” [I hope].
GM: When do you hope to start filming the feature film? And how long of a shoot do you anticipate it being?
CG: If the money comes in, I hope to shoot the film over four weeks starting in July.
GM: Would you like to see the film get released in the United States? Do you think American audiences might have difficulty understanding the importance of Mod in British culture?
CG: I would hope that American audiences will warm to a film about a vibrant subculture here in the UK and, yes, the intention is to get it to the USA. But just as importantly, this is a story about a boy and the love for his father. It’s a universal story that most people will be able to relate to, anywhere in the world.
GM: Has music played a big role in your other films?
CG: Not yet, but I’m hoping that The Pebble And The Boy will be the first to feature tracks that I’ve chosen. It’s definitely a big part of the script process as I’ve always got tracks in mind for certain scenes and I think that music plays a massive part in films. My first film as writer/director, Strangeways Here We Come, which comes out in May, shares its name with a famous Smiths album, but I didn’t get to choose any of the tracks on it. They used a lot of unsigned bands from Manchester, and they’re brilliant. The soundtrack is great and a real boost to the film.
GM: How would you define Mod? And do you see it as more of a youth phenomenon or something that one will be for their entire life?
CG: For me. it's both. I became a Mod because my peers and elders were Mods, and because a certain Mr. Paul Weller was a Mod. It was the look and the fashion I aligned myself to as a teenager, but it’s still there today and I’m fifty years old. As the saying goes, it’s a ‘way of life.’ Looking sharp, wanting to turn heads, and be a little bit different than the norm. It never goes away....Weller’s certainly still got it!
The trailer for The Pebble And The Boy’s promo film can be viewed below: