Maybe one of the hardest working showmen in the UK right now, Brit renaissance man (director, writer, actor, producer, playwright) Noel Clarke, who we've given a lot of pixels to on this site since it was started in 2009, is certainly one really busy fellow, doing just about everything it seems.
If you've been reading this site even just in the past 12 months, you'd have read more than a few posts about upcoming projects of his. I'd say he's maybe the most prominent black British movie talent who's still relatively unknown outside the UK – specifically here in the USA.
This year alone, saw him release at least 3 new films in the UK – the sports drama Fast Girls; the wedding rom-com The Knot; and most recently the sci-fi horror, Storage 24 – also a project that will be the first Noel Clarke-branded film to receive a theatrical release in the USA, beginning on January 11, 2013 (although it's currently on VOD platforms – released on December 6 – for those who can't wait until then, via Magnolia Pictures' genre arm Magnet Releasing). None of Clarke's previous films (those he wrote/directed and/or produced) has received a theatrical release in the USA, although you'll find Kidulthood, Adulthood, Fast Girls and 18.104.22.168 on home video – DVD/streaming.
We all know about Idris Elba, Sophie Okonedo, Thandie Newton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Oyelowo and others; but Clarke seems to have reserved himself almost strictly for UK audiences. Unlike his contemporaries, his role in the upcoming Star Trek Into The Darkness aside, he really hasn't starred in, or directed a single Hollywood studio-made and distributed film project (not that he has to, by the way), and he seems to be doing just fine in the UK, despite all the chatter about the so-called UK talent drain as black British talents heads west to Hollywood where better opportunities apparently await them.
But Clarke certainly isn't resting on his laurels; he definitely has his eye on Hollywood and success in the American marketplace, as he's indicated in the past, and reaffirmed in my phone interview with him a couple of weeks ago, as he does the American press tour in anticipation of the upcoming USA release of Storage 24. – a brief interview during which we covered not only that film, and his plans for extending his brand Stateside, as well as his POV on the state of blacks in cinema in the UK, and a little more.
– On the genre switch to horror/sci-fi, given that he's never quite done anything like this before, and whether Attack The Block was an inspiration:
I've been a sci-fi fan for a very long time, and I've always wanted to do sci-fi, and weirdly, if you listened to Joe Wright [director of Attack The Block] he said Attack The Block was partly inspired by Kidulthood. But I'd read about 4 or 5 sci-fi scripts, and some of them were even before Adulthood, and they just never moved me. But I've always wanted to do something different. I did Kidulthood and Adulthood and that's what people wanted and expect me to always do. They want me to do hood films, and be the guy swinging baseball bats, and saying "Yo Blood," and beating up others in the street. And you know what, I said, "now I want to change, I want to do something different, because I believe that I can. I want to try different things." And so that's what I did; I never really stick to one thing. Because, as a film fan, I love different genres; and as a film creator, I want to be able to work within different genres. And as a black guy, I feel that it's important that I do different things, so that if in the future some young black kid wants to do something different, they can't say, "well, the guy that pioneered did the same thing all the time so you have to as well." They'd have to look at what I did and say, well he did different things, so if you want to write about fairies in the forest of White Town in the Whitest place in the world, you can do that too.
– On Storage 24 being his first movie to open theatrically in the USA, and how that came about:
Kidulthood and Adulthood kind of slowly trickled out over there [the USA], so people can see them over there. And 22.214.171.124. was put out by Universal in the summer on home entertainment, so they actively put that one out. But I kind of sat back and analyzed everything we do, and I looked at the numbers, and I looked at how we could change things. And the plan, if you can believe this, when I sat down in my agent's office in the UK, I said, "we're gonna make a film that sells US," and I said, "this is how we're gonna do it." And he agreed with me, and we sat down, and that was the plan, and now here we are. The plan was to make a film that would sell internationally, and to put myself on screens that I had never been on before. Like, I'm going to be in the cinema in Japan, in the cinema in China, Hong Kong, I'm going to be in the cinema in the USA, etc. So that was the plan; that was what we set out to do. Unfortunately we didn't make the UK numbers we wanted. My films usually do better in the UK. But in terms of the long-term plan to steadily crawl over to the US, we're on track.
– On conquering the UK market, and heading to the USA to try and do the same:
[Laughs] I don't think I've conquered anything yet, and I don't think I'll conquered anything. I just want to be able to work, and I want to be able to do it, but I don't want to say this naively, but I want to be able to do it partly on my own terms. We have this theatrical release, and we had no studio backing, we had no interference, and we've done it all out of an office in the UK, with a very low budget indie film. And, like I said, that was the plan. We're not being arrogant, we're not being overconfident. We just want to be able to work in the USA, but we want to be able to do it in a way that we can try and control what we do, and this was the beginning of that.
– On film financing in the UK, briefly:
Well, there are many different ways. But generally an indie film in the UK is put together, much like in the states. We got a tax credit. You sell the domestic rights, which can be quite low, but it's enough to push you over the line. And you get a tax credit on-top of that, and then you cobble it together with private equity or gap financing, and things like that. But it can be very tricky to put a film together over here, without studio backing. We found a way to do that through the home entertainment arm of one studio, who was then able to push the films out theatrically. And that's kind of how we've been doing it, and steadily trying to improve the quality of the films and get bigger etc, and that's where we are today. But there are many different ways to put financing together. [I add that a separate series on this would be a good idea for US readers]
– On the so-called black British talent drain from the UK to the US, because there's little work for them in the UK; and also how he's been able to succeed when others seem to be struggling:
They're completely right [that there's little work for black Brits in the UK]. The thing that I'm doing that they're not, is that I started directing and writing at a lot earlier stage. Some of them took years to go, "Oh my God, I need to start writing and directing my own stuff instead of waiting for the work to be handed to me." But I'm really not doing anything that they're not. A lot of them have gone over there to America and have been very successful. Some of them are good friends of mine, like David Oyelowo, who's a good friend of mine. And it's a case of it just being so difficult. I think the one thing I had was mainstream TV – I was on a sucessful sci-fi TV show [Doctor Who] – and I got lucky because I got some recognition and awards. I was on a mainstream TV show and then sort of, at the same time, Kidulthood was just kind of starting to form. So the combination of all those things put me in a place that was very different than some of the other people. And from there, from that point on, you have to grab every opportunity you can, and you cannot stop working. You cannot rest on your laurels and go, "I'm here, I need to stop working." You work harder, you work harder, you work harder. And that kind of has enabled me to just keep going. The reason I just haven't up and left to come to America is because of the producing, the directing and the writing. If I wasn't doing all of those things here, I would've been following all of them on a plane and just been over there. It's beccause I've been trying to build a brand and trying to build a company that could steadly come over there, but then have some claws and hooks, and have some sort of longevity. That's why I've just been taking my time, biding my time, trying to do it right. My past films came out on home entertainment in the US, so the next question was, how do we get a theatrical in the US? Well, you put a monster in it. That will do it, because people love monster movies. Etc. And now, come January, I'm going to be in the cinemas with Storage 24. And that's that. I saw the post on your website asking, how does a black guy with no massive following, no studio backing, end up on his own movie poster for a theatrical release in the US. It's plotting, it's planning, and work. And it doesn't always work and it won't always work, But what having this release does, is just that – having a theatrical release in the US. Even some American actors don't even have that, so it's a big deal.
– On upcoming projects:
Obviously, Star Trek Into Darkness is coming out; and I really enjoyed doing that. I'm in a movie called Saving Santa, which is an animation, and we did the voices early in the year with with Martin Freeman. And that comes out next Christmas. I'm also doing an army movie in January. And I'm supposed to be directing a movie in April or May, for me to direct and star in, which will be another sci-fi project.
– What about the previously-announced UK version of Bad Boys?
It's been very difficult to set that up for various reasons. But that's supposed to come after the sci-fi one I'm doing next year. Me and Ashley [Walters] have been working on it. The script is ready. We have people that want to do it. It just needs to be… there's a little hole that needs to be filled, and we're just working on that right now. But that's a very exciting project. It's called Full Clip. And Ashley and I have been working very hard on that. We've got it in a good place. And we really need a movie like that over here in the UK. And I feel like with stuff like Storage 24 coming out in the US, and Ashley's Top Boy released in the US as well, I feel like the time is about right, and hopefully, by the end of the year, during the 4th quarter of next year, we should be moving on to that.
– And finally, last words on Storage 24?
You take the film for what it is; we had no money. We had a fraction of the budget of Attack The Block. And we were ambitious. It's a film about normal people acting when something extraodinary happens. We did pracitical effects. And I think the fact that it's getting a US release shows the ambition of the movie, and shows that we tried to do something different, something special and hopefully people will see that. But if you try to compare it films like Cloverfield… it's not Cloverfield. But for what it is, it's ambitious, it's scary, and it has humor, it's not a comedy, but like life, it's got humorous moments in it, and hopefully people see that. And even if it doesn't do great in the US – I want it to do big – but it's the fact that it's coming out theatrically, which is a start. And if it doesn't do big, we'll plot and plan for the next one.
And that's that. I thank Noel Clarke for the time.
Once again, Magnolia Pictures' genre arm Magnet Releasing acquired USA distribution rights to the horror sci-fi film, Storage 24, which was released in the UK earlier this year.
A quick recap; its synopsis reads:
London is in chaos. A military cargo plane has crashed leaving its highly classified contents strewn across the city. Completely unaware London is in lockdown, Charlie and Shelley accompanied by best friends Mark and Nikki are at Storage 24 dividing up their possessions after a recent break up. Suddenly, the power goes off. Trapped in a dark maze of endless corridors, a mystery predator is hunting them one by one. In a place designed to keep things in, how do you get out?
Clarke, who co-wrote the screenplay, stars in the film; he plays Charlie.
Rounding out the starring cast are Antonia Campbell-Hughes as Shelley, Colin O'Donoghue as Mark, and Laura Haddock as Nikki.
This is one of 3 films Clarke has released this year in the UK; the other 2 being rom-com The Knot, and the sports drama Fast Girls.
Fast Girls can currently be found streaming on Netflix USA. The Knot was only recently released in UK theaters.
Magnolia/Magnet will release Storage 24 via its Ultra VOD program, meaning distribution via all VOD platforms (starting on December 6th), followed by a limited theatrical release on January 11, 2013.
Storage 24 (which has sold to several international territories) was directed by Johannes Roberts.
"Storage 24 will be a real delight for monster movie fans… It delivers scares in spades," said Magnolia president Eamonn Bowles.
Again, USA audiences who don't want to wait for the theatrical, will find the film currently on VOD platforms.
Here's the US release trailer from Magnet: