In 1996, Adam and Joe, broadcasting from their bedsit in Brixton, created teddy bear parodies of popular films and developed a cult following that has stayed with them ever since. Fifteen years later, and with one of the most well-loved radio shows around, Joe Cornish has decided to branch out into the real-life film world.
Alongside Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, he is one of the writers for the upcoming Tintin movie. We sat down with Joe (using the questions you submitted via the website, facebook and twitter) to talk about working with his heroes, the future of the radio show and, his first film, Attack the Block.
How did you come up with Attack the Block and how was the writing process for you?
The idea didn’t come from one place, it was a combination of my love of 80s creature features like E.T., Critters, Gremlins, Predator, Tremors and stuff like that, and gang movies I loved when I was growing up like The Outsiders, Rumblefish, The Warriors, Streets of Fire. It was generally a result of a feeling I had when I was young; that America makes these amazing fantasy movies set in suburbia but nobody seemed to do it in British suburbia. So that’s where the idea came from.
I also had a little mugging encounter about nine years ago. It was a pretty mild one. I lived in Stockwell and Brixton all my life and it was absolutely an exception to the rule. People stereotype that area and, when you live there, you spend a lot of your time defending it if you love it like I do and it was the first thing that ever happened to me that actually lived up to the stereotype. So it was this exceptional incident that suddenly reinforced that stupid cliché. I was really disappointed by it. I thought “Man, you know what, I spend my whole time defending this area and I love this area and suddenly it’s being what everyone says it is" for a moment even though it was a pretty tame encounter.
So, I didn’t want to let it go. I wanted to pursue it and I wanted to research and I wanted to talk to young people and find out why they might end up in a place where they thought that was a reasonable thing to do. And it also started me thinking about all those places in my head that I would escape to when I was growing up. They would always be little fantasy movie scenarios happening in my environment. You did that as well right?
Of course! How different is making a real film to making teddy bear movies like you did in The Adam and Joe Show?
Well the actors are less cooperative. You can’t stick things into them. You can’t use a hot glue gun to glue their costumes to their skin as much as you try. The sets have to be quite a bit bigger and I couldn’t do it all myself. I had to have like 150 people helping me.
How did you find meeting and working with Steven Spielberg? Have you shouted ‘Steven?’ to see if he responds ‘Just coming…’?
No I didn’t do that to him. I should’ve shouldn’t I? I didn’t really have the courage but it’s a while ago. I finished working on Tintin before I started shooting Attack the Block. It was amazingly exciting and a huge privilege and I wouldn’t have been there without Edgar Wright.
It was Edgar that was asked onto the project and he brought me in because he knew I was a Tintin fanatic and it was everything you would imagine it to be. It was dream come true, scary, very hard work, enormously enjoyable but mostly it’s about the work, you’re there to work. Plus working for your heroes like that, I wanted to do the best that I possibly could so I tried to forget who they were and knuckled down to doing the best work I possibly could for them. But yeah, massive privilege. I was one of three writers – Edgar, Steven Moffat and I – and then there are the amazing cast and obviously the extraordinary talent of Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Jackson so my contribution is fractional. And I’m excited as you are to see how it comes out.
Which film would you live in?
Oooh. Crikey, that’s one of those questions that you need like ten weeks to think about. Which film would I live in? I’m just thinking of the most paradisiacal possible film. What’s a film that’s set in an amazing beach resort? It’d probably be something hideously anodyne. Which film would I live in? Jeepers creepers, there is no short answer to that. I have no idea.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to get into writing or filmmaking?
Just to do it. There is no excuse not to do it. All the technology’s there. It wasn’t when I was young but you had Super 8s so it kind of was there. Now you can edit and you can pick up a camcorder for not too much money. So just do it, just do it. Don’t wait for someone to come and help you do it. Don’t wait for funding. Don’t wait for somebody to notice you. Just do it, keep doing it and they’ll come to you if you get good enough. So, my advice is just stop reading this and go do it right now. Show it to your friends as well and take their comments seriously and try and improve it. A lot of my career is just competitiveness with Adam. Well it used to be. We were quite competitive so we used to just try and one-up each other.
Does Adam contribute a lot to your filmmaking? Did you talk about Attack the Block?
I didn’t on Attack the Block to be honest because we’re getting on now and he lives in Norfolk and has a family and stuff. But certainly when we made The Adam and Joe Show, we would make those little toy movie things individually so we would try and one-up each other. It became a sort of arms race like who could do the most spectacular thing. “I’m doing Titanic”, “Oh then I’m doing Star Trek”, “Well then I’m doing Saving Private Ryan”. It was like who could stage the biggest, stupidest thing. Not in a nasty way but that kind of fun, friendly competitiveness is quite cool. So it’s good to have friends around you that want to do the same thing. All I’m saying is just keep churning it out and review what you’ve done and be honest about it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses and focus on them really.
You went to Bournemouth film school. How was that experience?
I had a great time and the weird about that and the thing to remember is the good friends you make there and the like-minded people are not going to go away. A lot of the people I went to film school with – Chris Dickens who edited Slumdog Millionaire and Submarine – stick with your friends and don’t imagine that people are going to leave your life. In thirty or forty years time, they’ll still be around and if they are serious about working in the industry then they probably will be working in the industry.
Does your film success mean we will get less Adam and Joe podcasts in the future?
I don’t know. It’s going to be impossible for me to do both and this is what I’ve always wanted to do. But I love Adam and I’m crazy about our audience. I feel so privileged to be doing it and to have got the recognition that we have got for it. But, at the same time, we can’t stay there forever because radio is just forever. It’s every Saturday and Adam’s impression of the queen might stop being funny and some stage.
What were the best and worst parts of making a film?
Pretty much all of it is the best part, you know, it was real wish fulfilment for me. I’ve wanted to do it since I was a kid. So, I never allowed myself to get that grumpy or pissed off. So, It was all good. The best part of this film was probably working with my cast – with Jodie, Nick and Luke – the young actors who play the gang. That was just amazing and I love them and they’re brilliant. They brought such energy, positivity and enthusiasm to everyday. It was as new to them as it was to me. The worst thing is how quickly you have to do it and I had no idea how hard you have to work, how little sleep you get and how quickly you have to do really important things you planned for years and then you have ten seconds to do it.
How was the premiere and how did Adam’s clothes go down?
The premiere was brilliant. It was so exciting and such fun and it was an excellent turnout. It was really cool and Adam looked extraordinary. Nick described him as looking like the man who owns Monopoly. He was dressed basically in his morning suit and a top hat. I didn’t see him though, it quite ritualised in the way you do it. So, I got pushed down the line first and, by the time he was making his grand entrance, I was out of sight which is a shame but I have seen the photos and they are stunning.
If possible, perhaps you can add in secret lines to future films that Black Squadron can acknowledge?
Yeah, you’re right, I should shouldn’t I? I mean, Buckules is in there, he’s in Attack the Block but I was purposely keeping Attack the Block a separate pursuit in case I messed it up and I didn’t want to bring Adam down with me but I hope we can do something in the future and that’s a good idea. It would be a very good idea. You know, Black Squadron are an extraordinarily powerful force. As each week goes by, they become more highly trained and the day will soon come when we will unveil the true purpose.
But you have stuff that's just on the podcast and not the live show and vice-versa...
Well, maybe that’s a test. Maybe that will become significant or maybe we’re just making it up as we go along.
Attack the Block is in cinemas everywhere from 11 May 2011. Find out how to use your NUS Extra discount at Odeon.