Shane Meadows is responsible for some of the most powerful British films, not just of the past decade, but of all time.
His best movies – Dead Man's Shoes and This Is England – are masterclasses in realism, storytelling and the art of extracting explosive performances from untrained amateur actors, often plucked from obscurity from the local communities of his beloved midlands.
Here, the judge of the Virgin Media Shorts film competition offers his tips on getting started as a film maker...
1 | Equipment
When I first started out, even the very lowest end equipment was pretty expensive. It was quite cumbersome and the results weren’t amazing. The big difference now is the digital SLR revolution from Nikon, Canonand Panasonic. You can make a film on your telephone now. But even though everyone’s work looks loads better, it still comes down to the stories and the energy – that’s what stands out.
2 | Location
I don’t like to put actors in sets or on studio lots. I like to find real houses. Genuine places on real housing estates. It can be stressful doing it that way – there’s people going to work, comings and goings, the odd time you get people trying to rob the bloody equipment off the vans – but it’s worth it so you end up with something realistic.
If you are doing it that way, you have to develop a bond with the people who live there. The main thing for me is always to go and make sure that every single person on the crew knows that they have to be pleasant and know that it’s not their right to be there. The actors on This Is England in particular would sit around with locals, we’d hire locals to do security and we’d involve people as much as possible. And overall you end up with a place that feels vibrant that feels alive and that feels real.
3 | Cast
Me and my wife were on holiday in Southern Ireland a few years ago and we were at this fantastic pub and I met a woman there called Helen, and somebody said to me: ‘you’ve got to hear this woman sing, she’s incredible’. I met her and she had something really special about her as a person. She’d got four children and was married and thought any career in music acting had passed her by. But I never forgot her, and when I started writing This Is England ’88, I wrote a part for her and I rang her up.
I’m always weirdly tuned in to looking for the performer or actors all the time, I just kind of can’t help myself if I see someone that’s got something about them. I suppose over the years perhaps you stop and learn, you almost have an instinct for who can do it and who can’t. It’s a weird skill really that I couldn’t put into words but sometimes you just know that someone could act, even if they don’t themselves.
5 | Editing
Here’s a tip. When I was first learning how to edit, I found that working to music helped the drama gel together straight away. My very early short films had a lot of energy in them because I chose to use a lot of music. Rather than trying to start with a very serious scene, I would start with a mental opening title sequence or something like that that kind of led me in, and made editing really enjoyable.
6 | Distribution
Before the Internet existed, I went and rented a little 15-man cinema and showed four or five of my films, and it created a buzz. Today’s generation are just doing the same thing, but on Vimeo and YouTube. It’s an incredible time to get work watched and shared.
The public can also help vote for the winner of The Nikon People's Choice Award by tweeting @VMShorts and using the hashtag #VMShortsVote or at Facebook.com/VirginMedia. Voting closes at midnight on Monday 21 October, 2013 and the winners will be announced in a ceremony at the BFI Imax on 7 November, 2013.