Kicking Off, Big Time…

In a corner of South London, a cast and crew of experienced veterans and newcomers defied the riots to create a story that blends football, gangs, bullets and temptation. Impact reports exclusively from the set of Payback Season which is released this week in cinemas…

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A police car goes by in the distance and just for a faint second everybody glances first in the direction of the sound and then at each other. It’s less than forty-eight hours since London experienced the worst riots in a generation and everyone gathered at Millwall Football Stadium knows that though things appear to have calmed down, it’s wise not to take anything for granted.

Today, the stadium is almost empty apart from the film-crew, actors, the occasional security-guard and the lone lawnsman carefully trimming the blades of grass in a set pattern and stopping every five minutes when the cameras roll (he’s not a stunt lawnsman, he’s the real thing). But the day before things had been different. Shooting out in the streets of North London, producer John Adams admits that everything was ‘under advisement’…

“Yesterday was quite a nerve-wracking day in terms of the fact it ultimately fell to me to make the decision on whether we filmed or not. We were meant to be in Hoxton Square, which is around the corner from where the rioting had been the night before. I took the decision – and in hindsight I think it was the right one – that we would start during daylight hours and see how things progressed,” he explains. “We did have extra security for the day and when the point came where the Metropolitan Police came along and said ‘You have to close down now as it’ll be dark soon…’ we came out quickly. Production-wise, you’re in a kind of damned-if-you do and damned-if-you-don’t scenario. But the buck stops with us.”

Payback Season follows Jerome Davis (Adulthood’s Adam Deacon) a young man who has become a premier-league footballer against all the odds. He’s got out of the housing-estate where he grew up and managed to escape the gang-life that could have defined him if he hadn’t. Today he has all the trappings of success – but history is a fickle thing with a long memory.

“His mum and brothers still live on the state where he grew up and he gets dragged back into that old life to try and help his brother out, who has become involved with gangs.   His old gang start trying to blackmail him –hence the film’s tagline ‘When the payments stop, the football stops…’  It’s all set against the backdrop of an interview he’s doing about his lifestyle and how he originally got himself out – the irony is that it comes back to haunt him…”Adams explains.

Inside the Stadium, Deacon is kicking a ball around by the very edge of the pitch (the lawnsman glancing nervously from time to time to make sure his handiwork isn’t being undone) with co-star Leo Gregory – who, already a veteran has already appeared in the likes of Green Street, Stoned and is soon to appear with Dolph Lundgren in One in the Chamber. Leo plays Andy, the football tam’s trainer and a mentor-like figure to Jerome.

“Andy had aspirations of being a footballer but got terrible injury years ago. However he found employment via a club and still remains within the field that he loves – even if not to the financial excesses that could have been. He’s very much the voice of reason here, he looks out for Jerome like a little brother,” Leo explains. “Apparently the role was written for me, so I read the script last year. It was of a similar model and a similar way to some recent urban movies, but it had something different as well – it was a cross-genre piece. There was the urban element, there was the cockney element, there’s the football element… but all mixed in together.  There was also an opportunity for a real love story in there as well. That cross-genre thing was what appealed to me. It was also a story that hadn’t been told and wasn’t being told for just story-telling sake. It’s a story that I know to be reality for some premiership footballers… and beyond that.”

It’s a bit different from One in the Chamber where he’s playing a Russian henchman…

“Yeah! It couldn’t be more different than this. It was Dolph Lundgren and Cuba Gooding Jnr… completely different. It was an action film, all a bit silly in some ways, but I was playing a Russian, which was nice to stretch yourself as an actor and it was good to shoot on location (in Bucharest), but the real excitement was two-fold. I’d grown up with Rocky and Dolph’s performance as Ivan Drago and I was working with Cuba, who’s an Oscar winner,” he smiles and acknowledges that in a tough time for the profession, he’s been able to work pretty consistently.

“Before that I’d done a Lynda LaPlante project, Above Suspicion, which will be out in January. Before then I did a film called Hamilton (out in January 2012) which is a big political-based action film with a Bourne/Bond vibe… that’s with me and Jason Flemyng,” he notes. “I’ve shot in Bucharest, Stockholm and Jordan… so, yeah it’s been not bad at all. It’s about getting the most out of what you do and that’s by virtue of places you travel, the roles you take as a sort of chameleon… if the writing is good, the director’s good and the cast around you are good… then you get a My Left Foot or Nil By Mouth or My Beautiful Laundrette or many of the films Sean Penn or Gary Oldman have done. There isn’t one defining role that I have to do, but there are many defining roles I’d love to do. It’s what you do with the role you get. If everything is there, you can’t help but enjoy it.”

Between takes on Payback Season he’s demonstrating a non-unimpressive technique with the ball himself – ranging from basic ‘keepy-uppy’ to bringing the ball down neatly onto the back of his neck then flicking it back into play. Somewhere in the stands, director Danny Donnelly  (helming a feature for the first time but already an acclaimed producer, writer and music supervisor) is making sure the extras appearing as training team-mates know their positions and movements for a pitch-side scene. It’s a short scene, but the past week has been a busy one and with only a few days left of principle shooting, he’s determined to get it all right.

“I line-produced a film for Danny last summer and on the back of that they asked me to get involved in a production they were doing at the start of this year and then this. Unfortunately I wasn’t available at the start of the year, but Danny kindly rang me and asked me to be onboard with this one and they actually slipped their dates to accommodate me, which is nice and always a compliment,” Adams explains about his producing role. “The screenplay is Danny’s own idea. He co-wrote it with James Fitzpatrick and when I came on, I went through it, we got a script-editor in and we developed it a little bit more – but it’s very much Danny’s story from start to finish…”

Adams, an ex-army officer has a strong track record in both independent and major Hollywood productions.

“ Yeah, I come from that background as… well, first thing as seven years an army officer, so logistics and that kind of thing come in VERY helpful, it’s like a military operation but without some of the danger (or more in some cases). I’ve First AD’d (Assistant Directed) about twelve films, I’ve Line Produced quite a few as well,” he explains. “I’ve been lucky enough to have experienced working on the big Hollywood movies as well – in various roles. Because of my military background, I also run a company that does military support and casting for films. I was one of the military team on Spielberg’s Band of Brothers, I did the military stuff on The Queen and I script-edited and wrote additional-dialogue and ADR for DOOM, with The Rock. I’ve done them, they’re great fun and you get paid more, but I have to say the thing that attracts me to these (smaller movies) is the challenge.”

“From a line-producer’s point of view, if you have a Harry Potter budget, then there’s never any challenge because you can throw money at it.  With these kind of movies, where things change day-to-day, you haven’t got the resources to throw money at it, so it’s a much more a ‘think-outside-the-box’ situation and therefore it’s much more satisfying at the end when you can see what you’ve accomplished and feel proud to say ‘I did that!’ There IS satisfaction in those big-budget movies… to say you’ve worked with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg… but with these smaller films I just love the challenge,” he continues.

That’s not to say that Payback Season doesn’t have some impressive on-screen moments of its own. For one of the action/fight sequences, the team used some of the most up-to-date equipment to get a real kinetic feeling to the scenes…

“There’s a sequence we shot on a Phantom camera where we’ve done it at a 1000-fps (frames per second) which is the same technology they used on the Matrix films for the fight scenes. We did take the decision to build that as a set, mainly because it IS a fight sequence and we needed to take walls out to film it. That was, so far, the most expensive day of our shoot – at least I hope it is!” he smiles. “ We had stuntmen going through glass-topped coffee-tables and things of that nature, all shot in that Matrix style. That’ll be good for the trailer and get people’s attention!”

The film will wrap in a few days’ time, but like the actors, Adams won’t be resting on his laurels. His next project is a cross between Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and The Full Monty… and called The Magnificent Eleven…

“It’s kinda my baby, something I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. I originally co-wrote it with my father and then Irvin Welsh, the writer of Trainspotting, came forward and did a polish on the script. Irvin is directing and I’m meant to be starting that pretty much straight after we wrap on Payback Season. It’s fully-funded and ready-to-go. Basically, it’s the Magnificent Seven except that instead of a group of cowboys trying to save a village from a group of Mexican bandits, it’s an out-of-work Sunday league football team saving the local Tandoori restaurant from a group of thugs who are after ‘protection’ money.  It’s almost unapologetically The Full Monty meets East is East by way of Bend it Like Beckham and Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. As we all probably know the original story of the Seven Samurai, I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say they save the day in the end…”

But for the moment, there are the last days of Payback Season to shoot. Adams says that he hopes the film crosses a few genre boundaries and attracts a wider audience.

“It terms of the nature of things that are made, it does seem to go in a cycle. People get influenced by what other films are successful. On the  back of the fact there’s been a spate of urban-type movies, if someone did a period-drama and it was the most successful film of the last two years… suddenly you’d have a load of period dramas… but they are more expensive for obvious reasons – costumes etc. I hope Payback Season is an ‘urban cross-over’ film, a much more mainstream thing than we’ve seen over the last couple of years. I like the subject-matter, I think it’s worthwhile, I think it’s got a good moral subject and I think it’s something kids will watch and subliminally take the message that they should aim for the sky and you never know – they might get there.”

As the crew get ready to film another shot, the lawnsman brings the mower to an emergency  stop and the actors get ready to start their lines… there’s suddenly the sound of a vehicle from somewhere outside the stadium… then… an ice-cream van’s melody fills the air. Everyone breathes out then begins laughing. No more sirens today.

“Tell ‘em mine’s one with a flake!” Leo Gregory laughs.