Part 1 of Interview with George Clarke - director of Battle of the Bone and The Knackery.

As the head of Yellow Fever Productions, Northern Ireland's first independent film production company, George Clarke has his work cut out for him. Currently in the midst of filming his latest project, a crazed Halloween Night-set slasher film about killer clowns and escaped lunatics, and having already thrown himself into preparations for the second Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival next August, I thought it was about time I caught up with Mr Clarke to have a chat about low budget filmmaking, genetically modified zombies, the film industry in Northern Ireland, the importance of self belief and, er, killer clowns!

When and how did you go about setting up Yellow Fever?

I officially launched Yellow Fever Productions when I kicked off production on Battle of the Bone. I had always wanted to name my company Yellow Fever because of my love for Asian cinema. It has been the biggest inspiration to me in regards to film making so I wanted to pay some sort of homage to it with my name.

I also wanted to let people know where myself and my projects where from. I needed something that represented home more than anything, and that came in the shape of the infamous Harland and Wolfe cranes. They also just happened to be yellow! The symbol of the double cranes in YFP also represents a few other things, like strength, longevity and creation.

You are a huge fan of Martial Arts movies – what is it about this particular genre that appeals to you most?

To me, there is nothing more amazing or entertaining than seeing Jackie Chan in his prime, kicking ass while pulling some incredible acrobatics – and the same goes for all the Hong Kong super stars. This is genuine talent – blood, sweat and tears – to entertain the fans; not some glorified actor made to look good because of camera angles and special effects. Over the years, my love for Asian cinema has spread from kung fu to drama, horror, comedy and more. I don't laugh harder at any other film, than I do at Chow Sing Chi comedies or Hong Kong humour. Another reason I love it so much is the amount of work and creativity put into each film. As a film maker you learn to respect that; even if the film is bad. Whereas in Hollywood, they have fallen into this thing where they think CGI is going to save them. I honestly couldn't name ten great films to come out of Hollywood in the past 5 – 10 years that gives me as much enjoyment and repeated viewings as HK cinema does.

What ideas/themes/stories capture your imagination most as a filmmaker?

Hmmm... I reckon anything apart from real life situations. I believe film was created to take people away from their problems and entertain them in a fantasy world, but you don't see enough of this in the film world right now. When you watch a film on the big screen, you should be getting lost in your own imagination by getting connected with what's up there... There's nothing better.

This is another reason for my love of kung fu cinema. Flying swordsmen, gravity defying martial artists, and Buddha's Palm Blast... You don't see much of that in real life do you? I guess it’s who and what I dream of being – perhaps everyone loves their own genre of film because it’s who they really want to be. I think I'm bald enough to become a Shaolin monk...

How did Battle of the Bone come about? What inspired it?

Battle Of The Bone started off as a bit of a joke. It was my reaction to a solution for peace in Northern Ireland, and the more I talked about it, I didn't realise I was actually developing the film in my head. I could see it scene for scene. After dinner one night, I completed the script in just 5 or 6 hours, and the rest as they say, is history. For the record, the BOTB I filmed wasn't the original script I had written. We just didn't have the budget, locations or time to do what I really wanted, but it will come about! I was approached by a first time producer, who wanted to make his first movie with me and my ideas. At the time, I was hearing stories that you could only get a movie funded in Northern Ireland by the film commissioner NI Screen, if it contained something about the ‘troubles’ or the religious divide - something that has thankfully started to fade - but I really wanted to make a crazy kung fu movie. I joked around with the idea of making the ultimate, mother-of-all ‘troubles’ movies.

Obviously, as an inexperienced first time film maker, I was aiming pretty damn high with this, but I was determined to show that I could do it. The original producer pulled out – without giving a reason - the day before we were set to film a £10,000 promotional trailer, so I went ahead and filmed what I could, funding it out of my own pocket, with the grand old total of £37.

Soon afterwards a friend, Andrew Mawhinney, stepped in and offered to fund the full feature. Which was amazing! I quit my job on the same day and set out to find a cast and crew and begin causing trouble on the streets of Belfast.

What are the challenges of working with little to no budget? Are there any benefits to speak of?

Making a movie! It’s always a challenge to do something so big and creative without any money, yet when you manage to complete such a challenge, there's no better feeling. What I love is the pressure of making something that still looks professional, has quality, and can entertain. Having no money forces you to think harder and be more creative, which can bring the best out in some people. My way of getting around having no budget, is to think about which resources are available to me – locations, props, cast and crew, and create the film around that. Works a treat!

How did the idea for your latest film The Knackery come about?

The Knackery replaced our other production, Splash Area, which was put on hold when I knew it wouldn't be finished on time for the YFIFF. I needed to create a new movie quickly, and design a project I knew could be shot and made in record time with no money. After watching a movie about underground, illegal fighting, I thought that genre was a bit out-dated, and wanted to try a new twist on it. I started writing and as I did, started to create a new reason behind it all regarding the extremities of reality television. The Knackery script was finished in 3 hours, and filming began the very next day. As for the title, I wanted something that was new, catchy and would get people asking questions. I looked in a little book I have based on old forgotten English, and came across 'Manqueller'. I liked it, but it didn't sound right for the game show, so as I read through its description I came across 'The Knackery' and straight away it clicked!

Was it a difficult shoot, considering the low budget, isolated location and the number of stunts involved?

For me and most of my team, The Knackery shoot was a breeze. For a few others and those not used to making a Yellow Fever production, things seemed difficult. Our schedule was like 5 days a week, for about 5 hours a day over the 4 week period and with the distance to travel and physical contributions; everyone was pretty much 'knackered' by the end of it all. On top of that, when I got home I basically spent most of the night editing into the early hours of the morning.

I love the pace and pushing myself, and others, to create something that most would say is unachievable. After we completed The Knackery and had some amazing feedback on it, I asked the guys if they would be happy making 8 or 9 features a year... I can't repeat what most of them said.

It is currently screening in festivals – what is the response from audiences?

The initial (world) premiere at my own festival went down a treat! I was pleasantly surprised at everyone's reactions both during the film and afterwards and it was the perfect finish to a great weekend.
We had the pleasure of playing in Battle Of The Bone's old slot back at the Freak Show Film Festival in Orlando, and for such a no-cost, incredibly independent film to play alongside 20 others with budgets as high as half a million dollars, was great! As our film played on the Sunday afternoon, I was able to see most of the other films over the weekend. What excited me was that almost every other film there was the usual horror styled flick that everyone had seen before, but The Knackery stood out – and in a good way – because it was something a little different.
Like BOTB did the year before, The Knackery brought in a huge crowd for its North American premiere and there was a lot of excitement. As the film rolled on, I got goose-bumps watching everyone's reactions. The place was electric! Our fan-base in the States is steadily growing, and the Freak Show is something I've vowed to return to every year.

Is there any difference in the response your films receive from NI audiences compared to audiences from elsewhere in the world?

I don't think it's a difference in audiences – but more or less, certain groups of people. I have just as much fans and support at home than I do elsewhere, but there are quite a few people in the same line of work here (NI) that will go to great lengths to make sure my work gets bad publicity – even if its just a comment on a forum or under someone’s review. One of my favourite comments about me said 'Clarke is to film, what paedophiles are to kids!' Hilarious!
I could line up 10 people that were friendly with me before I began my career and single out what each of them have written, said or done to try and shoot me down. All they need to do is get off their backsides and make a move on their own dreams... It's not so hard when you believe in yourself.

What I have found strange though is that, in Northern Ireland – if you aren't part of a certain circle of film makers and friends, then life in the industry can get very tricky. There is a lot of negativity and jealously geared towards those who do well, yet, when you go across the pond to the States or elsewhere, other film makers and industry workers will do nothing but praise and appreciate you and your work – no matter how well or bad they are doing. The film industry in Northern Ireland has still to begin, and those involved need to support each other to make it work.

Part II of this interview will follow after a brief commercial break.

Or, you can click here to read it.


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