GFF21 · Interviews

Creation Stories Interview: Dean Cavanagh – ‘McGee gave us carte blanche to do with it as we pleased and we certainly did!’

Flying the flag for bands such as Primal Scream, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and Oasis, record label Creation Records was founded by the iconic music exec Alan McGee. His amazing, drug-fuelled tale has been immortalised by director Nick Moran, with a script penned by Dean Cavanagh and Irvine Welsh.

I seized the opportunity to ask screenwriter Cavanagh some questions about the making of this madcap biopic…

Creation Stories is a celebration of not only Alan McGee himself but also of Creation Records and it feels very passionate about that period of time. What do you think was so special about that beloved ‘Britpop’ era both musically and personally for you?

I was in a band during that period and spent a lot of time in London knocking about with people who were classed as ‘britpop’ artists. I knew a lot of the movers and shakers but I wasn’t really a fan of the music. I was more into underground clubbing but the paths often crossed and it was hard to ignore all the success and excess if you know what I mean.

Me and Irvine were both part of the scene but kept managing to avoid each other.  My mate Paolo Hewitt was writing a book on Oasis so I got invited to a lot of the shindigs and was privy to it all. I loved Oasis’ first album. It really made a statement and put that indie spirit back in the charts. I knew Britpop was just a lazy media term so never really took it seriously.

How involved was Alan McGee in the screenwriting process? I can imagine his life and career are so packed with tales that there’d be a challenge in itself in whittling this down to a 90-minute movie.

Alan just left us to get on with it. He gave us carte blanche to do with it as we pleased and we certainly did. There was never any point in doing a faithful adaptation of the book because the book isn’t imagistic or cinematic.  Me and Irvine have been involved in many biopic projects, at one time Howard Marks wanted us to adapt “Mr Nice”. The problem with biopics is that you’re never going to please everyone. You will always have people wanting a faithful rendering, but the truth is, that doesn’t always work in a 90 minute film. You need to have lots of invention, mythologizing and ultimately some iconoclasm to keep it interesting. 

From all of the material at your disposal, what is your favourite ‘creation story’?

Well for me, that would be how New Labour tried to ride the ‘Britpop’ wave without having a clue of what it was all about. There’s a whole film that could be made about how politics tries – and always fails – to jump on the cultural bandwagon. Politicians are so out of touch with everything and it’s absurd when they try to become relevant. 

I know that yourself and Irvine Welsh have collaborated a couple of times before. Given that you can’t always be in the same room or even in the same country, how does your writing partnership work? 

We’ve been writing together on and off since 1999 and it’s just second nature now. Things are proposed and we simply crack on. We very rarely sit down and write together. Either Irv will write an outline or a 1st draft or I will, and then it’s just a matter of passing it back and forth over e-mail. We hardly ever disagree or rewrite each other. Because making film and TV is such a long process we find it works if we don’t become too precious with certain scenes or character arcs. We are very collaborative with producers and directors and if they bring something that makes the writing better we’ll use it. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case though. Every producer is different and some really don’t understand the screenwriting process.

First and foremost, we’re good friends. Irv travels a lot so we’re never in each others pockets, plus I also get to visit Miami where he lives for half of the year. It’s just never complicated. No egos or trivial arguments. We both also love music so there’s always something other than just work to talk about.

There are some surprise real-life characters that pop up through McGee’s story, from the likes of Bobby Gillespie, Oasis, Tony Blair, and Jimmy Saville. How did you approach writing these particular moments and were you worried at all about how these cameos would be received?

Saville would have been really interesting to explore further but it could have tipped the balance and took the film into another mood, obviously. Because it’s ultimately McGee’s story we had to keep the focus on him and not get dragged into other avenues. 

Between writing for TV, the stage, and cinema, you appear to have your fingers in a lot of pies. What type of project do you prefer working on and why? 

Writing for film and TV is totally collaborative, whereas writing for the stage is authorial and brings a great feeling of freedom. You can really fly when you are writing a stage play and it teaches you to master dialogue. It’s nerve wracking watching your play being performed but worth it if the audience dig it. 

What’s next for you as a writer? I read that you are working with Irvine Welsh again to adapt his novel Crime into a series – what can you tell us about that at this stage?

We are adapting it for Britbox and Dougray Scott plays the lead. There’s not a lot we can say at the moment as it’s in pre-production. It’s a bit of a departure for us, so who knows. It’s been a lot of work writing a series. We’re also working on TV series about the life of poet Rabbie Burns. We’re really pushing the envelope on it and making it very hyper-real. We think it could be very successful if we’re left to keep experimenting.

Irvine Welsh has provided this passionately worded message which sums up his feelings around the film…

“Creation Stories reminds us of all the fun and freedom we’ve lost in our modern age -and not just with Covid- to the crushing mediocrity and conservatism of the corporate technocracy of modern neoliberalism. Nowhere is this more bland in its manifestation than in the entertainment industry, which has sucked all art, risk and excitement out of its representations of life. We saw our film as a punk/acid antidote to the star fucker mentality of the Queen/Elton John biopics; a show about the unique working-class culture of those islands, told through the eyes of one person, rather than a tedious ‘great men of history’ piece so beloved of the toff establishment and their media apologists.

I hope our culture will reignite and the kids of today will have their own mad creation stories to tell. The pacy, shambolic madness of the film tries to capture those crazy times before the social bromide, the private newsfeeds dripped into us, did their damage and made a proud and rebellious working-class into a bunch of weak-kneed, bigoted, nostalgic Tory supplicants. Its success is so much about Nick (Moran) and Ewen (Bremner), the film’s director and its star. I’ve been privileged to work with many talented people and those two are right up there with the best. They just got on with it and never compromised and produced something better than we could ever have hoped for. Like most British Indy movies, our total budget wouldn’t even cover the cocaine at the after party of a Hollywood studio movie, but fuck me Nick and Ewen made it go a long way”.

Creation Stories is available on Sky Cinema & NOW!

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