Interview with Screenwriter Steven Cutts on the Hackney-based film “Adieu Marx”

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Screenwriter Steven Cutts  has written a new low-budget film inspired by his own true story from his wild school days called ‘Adieu Marx’,  which will have its premiere in Hackney on the 27th of October.  ‘Adieu Marx’ was mostly shot in Hackney during the very eventful Olympic summer of 2012 and concerns the lives of five 20 something flat mates who seek to form a political commune in the area.  Hackney Hives Melissa Palleschi, asked Cutts to explain a bit more about the folks who inspired his story and what his thoughts are on making micro-budget films.

HH:Can you talk more about the  “whacky politicised” characters who inspired this story were?

SC: I was a student in London for 8 years and in that time I did meet some truly colourful characters, including quite a few political activists. I caught the tale end of Thatcherism and the Cold War and although its difficult to explain to kids today, the passions associated with those issues really were intense.

One group in the early 90s did form a Christian/socialist commune in East London and I very nearly moved in with them on more than one occasion. Even at the time, I sometimes thought they’d lost it but at that age and in that environment their views and their way of life seemed entirely reasonable. I remember my friend Dave – who was the role model for our central character of Rupert – rode his bicycle to the Chinese Embassy and joined an all night protest in heavy rain straight after the Tiananmen Square massacre. I opened the door at about 8 am. He was drenched by the weather and when I told him he was mad and he started to rant, I actually heard him use the words, “But I was saving the world!”

HH:  You say that this story is partly about “new technology and its influence on film-making”? Can you elaborate on how this fits in with the film? Do you think that the new developments in technology have been positive ?

SC: We could never have shot a film of this length on our budget if we hadn’t had access to new technology. In the old days, a film like this would have been shot on 35mm celluloid. Just to hire the cameras for two weeks and to purchase 30,000 feet of film would have cost 20 to £30,000 and that kind of base line start up costs held a lot of wannabe film makers back. But the Cannon 7 which we shot this film on is easily comparable with 16mm celluloid and because there is no film, you can take multiple shoots. With celluloid, directors would be limited to 3 or 4 takes of each scene. Any more than that in the first week of filming and you’d be genuinely concerned that you would literally run out of film in the second week. But with digital film making, the film is free and you can take as many shots as you like. Even the camera on my I phone is better than the cameras used for BBC drama in the 1970s.

Down side to all this? Every film school graduate and his dog  are making their own feature film and there just aren’t enough screens in the cinemas of this world to show them all. When I was in Cannes, a movie producer told me that about 19 films a year take 80% of the ox office cash. The other 20% is shared between everybody else. It’s not at all uncommon for a company to spend $50 million on a film and then $60 million on advertising. Microbudget film makers just can’t compete with that.

HH: Why did you choose Hackney as your location to shoot ? How come the decision to use local actors ?

SC: When I was writing the script I was often distracted by my day job and a lot of the time, I fell back on my memories of the real people in my life who had inspired the events in the film. Perhaps for that reason, I decided to set the project in Hackney. It would have been cheaper to shoot in Norwich where I live now but we’d have to have brought the actors up from the capital. It really is amazing how many talented people have based themselves in London and how many people are willing to give their all for a project like this for minimal wages.

We shot for two solid weeks in August 2012 and then we shot additional material over 6 weekends in the winter of 2012 through to the spring of 2013. Once we’d lost the property we had rented as a set and as accommodation for some of our crew, we couldn’t go back there and we had to fill in gaps in the story by filming – guerrilla style in the street and in the parks of this city. I remember last December, Jamie Korn tried to grab a shot from the back of a ferry boat on the Thames and the staff came over and stopped us. It’s pretty crazy, we would only have promoted the boat and their company but the number of people trying to stop you finish a project like this will always exceed the people trying to help you.

If you take a shot of the House of Commons, then there’s nothing to stop your shot being just as good as the very best of shots in the industry. We couldn’t afford named actors so we shot with people who were hungry and looking for a break. Since the characters they were playing were supposed to be about 22 it’s easy to believe that they wouldn’t be played by established stars anyway.

HH: This is your second feature but it was shot on a “micro-budget”. How did being on a smaller budget influence the way you shot the film? Did it make you become more creative in some way ?

SC: I think that a lot of big budget projects are clouded by apprehension. If you’re investing a 100 million dollars, it’s hardly surprising that you might have concerns about what the actors are actually going to say. Any investment carries risk but investing in film is one of the most precarious things you could ever do. I think that for that reason a lot of movies stay within quite narrow confines. If you take risks with your story and try to explore political and economic theories, to question history as we know it and push the story line beyond certain margins then either your funding will be withdrawn or they’ll bring in another script writer.

In micro budget film making you have to be fearless. By definition, we aren’t really committing much money to this thing anyway and the only way we’re going to get any attention at all is by sticking our neck out and doing something different.

 HH:You’ve taken this Hackneybased film to Cannes, what is the next leg of its journey or do you have another project on the horizon?

SC:My director, Charis Orchard is planning a shoot in LA in the new year on a much bigger budget. I think the kudos that Adieu Marx has bought her in Cannes helped her to get funding for doing something the next rung up. I’ve actually got other screenplays on stand by and the only thing that’s holding us back is financial backing. Let’s see what the future holds.

For more information on Adieu Marx and to check out a trailer, visit – http://www.adieumarx.com/.

 

About Melissa Palleschi

Melissa Palleschi New York actress living in London and trained in Italy, New York and here in London at the Actors Studio. She is also a founding member of the Planktonic Players, who made their London debut at Camden Fringe Festival in 2012.

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