In 2012, I had been asked to contribute a chapter to the book World Film Locations: Glasgow on underground filmmaking in the city, of which whatever there was was not particularly well documented. Luckily, Billy Samson, who died last week, had just co-directed, with Gavin Mitchell, Death Of The Mod Dream. In the book, I likened their film to “a Scottish no-wave film directed by Roy Andersson,” but really there’s not much like it.
Purportedly based on a 1980 novella – Death Of The Mod Dream, by Edna Barnstaple – Billy and Gavin’s film concerns “a young man out of time who considers himself to be the last Mod on Earth. He lives in the City Of Scotland, a depressed, paranoid, curfew-controlled community with his mother and sister, who all fail to understand each other.” The synopsis continues:
“One day, this humdrum existence is disrupted when he uncovers what he has been led to believe is a mysterious ‘Mod time capsule’ buried on the beach. He takes it home, hoping for at best a wallow through a glorious mythical past he never knew. Little does he know the contents of the capsule are not what they seem and his reality is about to be turned upside down…”
Anyone will tell you making a feature-length film is a very particular achievement, requiring equal measures of talent, inspiration and determination. To make an episodic, blackly comic, semi-psychedelic musical in Scotland, for £250, also takes admirable perversity. Death Of The Mod Dream, like Billy, is a little extraordinary.
The questions I asked Billy in 2012, via Facebook message, were mostly for background research. This interview is published here for the first time, unedited. RIP Billy x
How much and what was shot in Glasgow/where?
All of the indoor scenes at the mod’s house were shot between 2 friends’ flats in Glasgow. The indoor parts of the dream/horror sequences were shot in Glasgow or Knockentiber, depending on where the actor lived, with black bin-liners/green screens taped to the ceiling to give it continuity. The beginning and climactic scenes at the beach were filmed between Irvine beach and an embankment in Crosshouse (for the scooter plummet). The cop sequences were done in a pub in Kilmarnock that was halfway through being redecorated. Extra bits were filmed by ourselves and others in Edinburgh, London and Amsterdam. All the special effects/animation sequences were done at home.
How did you go about picking the locations and did you have any problem getting permission to film/did you even have to ask?
Just had to ask to use people’s houses, which was handiest for all concerned so they all agreed to it. The beach stuff we just turned up and filmed. Only minor problem was concealing the camera so passers-by didn’t keep jumping in front of it.
Can you give me some technical details – budget, casting, equipment used, how long the production took?
Budget worked out at around £250 (probably), which mostly went towards transport costs and endless AA batteries swallowed up by the camera. All actors and contributors gave their services for free, on the condition they’d get something out if it in the event it went global 😉. The bulk of the film was shot on a 1st generation Flip camera a friend ‘borrowed’ from her work. When that had to be discreetly returned, the last few bits were filmed on actors’ own cameras. Casting was straightforward- Adam Smith was such an obvious choice to play the main character we barely had to think about it! Most roles were like that, didn’t have the time or budget to train up ‘proper’ actors (and didn’t it want to seem ‘stagey’) so just used friends for their obvious attributes that would suit the role. Although we did chop and change between cast and crew- some actors were originally to be soundtrackers/effects people and vice versa. Filming started early June and the final edit was around early October. The editing + effects (and waiting for other parties’ contributions) took substantially longer than the live-action filming.
Did you have any support or advice from institutions/individuals or funding at all?
We never approached anyone for funding, mostly through not knowing how to go about it, but also because we thought it probably wouldn’t be necessary (and a worry it may involve compromises to get access to that funding) considering it would always be low-budget (we had no intention of casting any megastars, or real actors come to that). Various people advised us on certain effects, for example my dad suggested filming a glass of Resolve in close-up for the underwater sequences. Ended up using it for blood cells and cloudy wispiness in the horror + dream sequences (by utilising different filters) too.
What was the inspiration to make the film and do you see it as part of any kind of continuum in Scottish/contemporary filmmaking?
It arose from a drunken night with Gav, the co-creator. We imagined a film billed as the ultimate mod sci-fi experience, but with loads of Phil Daniels/Leslie Ash types storming out the cinema when they discovered all it involved was 3 boring hours of a guy playing My Generation at every speed on his record player then jumping off his bed. But other ideas arose, and gradually we realised the story had a deeper resonance which we could flesh out. Once we took it seriously, it rapidly began writing itself. While of course, remaining faithful to Edna Barnstaple’s original novel 😉. I’m not sure where it fits in, historically. I liked the idea of an ambiguous story which the viewer could interpret as merely having been a figment of the central character’s warped imagination, like Once Upon A Time In America or JG Ballards’ Unlimited Dream Company (the Keith Moon/Rolls Royce/fish tank sequence was subconsciously inspired by the cover of my edition of that book). Plus of course it’s a musical where no-one literally bursts into song, like Dirty Dancing!
Have you heard about any similar projects taking place? I.e. other independent or DIY features getting made?
Heard about quite a few short films, which friends and friends-of-friends have been involved in. I read something about a feature length film in Scotland recently, looking to attract some big names, but I can’t remember much about it.
What’s the plan for releasing and distributing it?
I honestly don’t have much of a clue! There’ll be a premiere at the Old Hairdressers on 3rd Feb, and it’ll probably be made available online at some point. Still to work out how one goes about having it on iTunes and suchlike. Promotion will probably be just the usual haphazard spammy way I plug any records I’ve been involved with!
Will you do another and what if any are your plans?
No plans as such, I never consciously set out to be a director of feature-length films, this one just kind of ‘demanded’ to be made. Particularly once we recruited Adam in the lead role, he insisted we should start ASAP and it rapidly grew legs from there, interrupting a Paraffins promo video I’d half-filmed and have still to resume! But who knows, I’ve had plenty other addled conversations with friends about imaginary films, so there’s every chance another one might demand to be made 🙂.
Buy or rent Death Of The Mod Dream on Amazon here (or watch it on YouTube below)
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