Schemers is the first feature-length movie to be made in Dundee, and follows the adventurous early years of music producer David McLean. Ahead of its premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I was fortunate to sit down with writer/director McLean and leading actor Conor Berry to chat about their film.
What triggered the project and why did you decide to make it now?
Dave – Well it’s been a work in progress for a good few years…I’ve always fancied being a writer. I’d wrote the original script in 10 days but that was four years ago. Pals say to me ‘why don’t you do it? You’ve got loads of stories’ so when the band I manage (Placebo) had a bit of downtime, I thought this is the time to do it. We got the script, we got the money, and we just made it. We thought we’d make it about the early years because there was a good soundtrack for that time. It was a good period. It was exciting.
It’s refreshing to see a Scottish film that’s not set in Edinburgh or Glasgow…along with the brilliant Beats which came out earlier this year, are films like Schemers paving the way for cinema to look at all of Scotland and not just the major cities?
Conor – I really hope so! It’s a shame when a Scottish film comes out and people just automatically compare it to Trainspotting. I think it shows there’s a big gap in the market when the only film we can talk about came out nearly 25 years ago. There’s definitely an opportunity to make more films in Scotland and I hope Schemers helps make that happen. It’s not really about the drugs or the poverty which you see in a lot of Scottish films. This is a celebration of Scottish culture and there needs to be more of that for sure!
Moving away from Scottish films, the style of Schemers actually reminds me of Guy Ritchie’s early work and Snatch in particular. The plot is similar too with the protagonists getting on the wrong side of the wrong people. Was this an influence when making it, or did you look at any other films for ideas?
Dave – I can honestly say no! (laughs) What I know about films you could write on the back of a matchbox! I’m a music guy, but what I do know is my life, and what it was like for me in 1979. If it’s compared to films like Snatch then wow, that’s amazing!
Maybe the similarities came from the edit?
Dave – Maybe! We had a brilliant editor. His name is Khaled Spiewak and he is a genius of the highest order. When folk say ‘it’s all in the edit’, they’re bang on.
Conor – We had two shoots with two separate directors, so it’s funny that you mention the editing. I think the style of editing came out of having to patch the shoots together and to fix mistakes! The whole film is a bit of a rescue job!
Dave – Khaled revamped it during the edit, and we wrote 12 additional scenes together which he used to build a different structure to it. We were really lucky at the end of the day, and the second shoot was really when it all came together.
As well as the choppy editing, I really enjoyed the authentic dialect with words and phrases like ‘chipper’ and ‘heid-the baw’ featuring in the script. What’s your favourite line from it?
Dave – “Up the hackey, doon the blacky!”, which locally means ‘up the Hawkhill, down the Blackness Road’. Or there’s a great bit from Davie Bowman (former Dundee United footballer) who has a cameo as a fitba coach in it. Someone says to him ‘the pitch is looking good’, and he replies ‘Aye, it should be with the amount of shite that was on it last season!’ There’s lots of wee stupid jokes we put in there.
I liked the nod to Jack Vettriano…
That story’s actually true! This guy owed me twenty quid. Angelo Vettriano was his name and he said ‘I’ve no got the twenty sheets with me Davie but I can gee ye a sketch from my cousin. He’s gonnae be big!’. It was nothing to do with a priest but we tweaked it to get it in the film. If I’d taken that sketch back then, I could’ve bought a new house with it now! (laughs)
As someone who’s grown up in Scotland, I felt like I could relate a lot to David’s character. Conor, how much of a stretch was it for you to transition into the role?
Conor – It wasn’t much of a stretch to be honest! When I first read the casting call, it said ‘young footballer, likes a gamble, wants to get into the music business’ and if you swap out music for acting, then I felt like it was me. I could relate massively. I grew up playing football and wanted to be a professional. I broke my ankle, and then had to figure out where to go from there…so it felt really similar!
One of the other things I loved about Schemers was that Tara Lee is in it. She’s been in a few Edinburgh festival movies, and I wondered how it came about casting her in this?
Dave – I love that story actually. I live in Bangkok now and as usual, I was stuck in traffic there for hours. I had my iPad on watching The Fall and thought ‘Who’s that blonde woman? She’s fantastic, and she’d be great as Shona. Who is she?’ I watched to the end of the episode to get her name and tracked down her agent online. I flew from Bangkok to London to meet her a day later and that was it. Boom! Now we manage her because she’s a singer too, and she’s really great! She was a real good signing to the project late on! She’s so enthusiastic!
Conor – A last minute, transfer deadline day signing!
With Schemers being your directorial debut Dave, do you have plans in the pipeline to make more films?
Dave – Schemers is actually the first of five that I’ve signed on to do, and we’re hoping to make a wee spin-off mini-series of it. Six forty-minute episodes.
There’s a different type of film we’re working on called The Mill, which is about land-grabs and corruption in Dundee in the 1960s, seen through the eyes of a twelve-year-old boy. That one will be quite heavy and political, but there’s another fun one I’m doing called All or Nothing. That’s about when me and Scot go to London after the events of Schemers. I’m promoting bands such as Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, being a big-shot music guy and Scot goes onto develop his business interests. He’s king of the mountain doing what he does, and I’m doing what I do, and we go off to Miami and LA. Scot’s story is massive! Funny story from when he got put in the nick for six months and asked me to bring him in some books. I bought him The Wolf of Wall Street and after he read it, he said ‘The Wolf of Wall Street?! That Belfort is a pussycat compared to me!’…which I must say is true! Scot was a legend.
With all the bands you’ll have come across and booked over the years…if you could promote a dream gig with any three acts, alive or dead, who would it be?
Dave – Great question! (…)
Conor – Stone Roses for me…
Dave – and Faithless. A combined three! That’s a no bad night isn’t it?!
Check out my review of Schemers here!
Photographs credit: Kristi Louise Herd