Writer/director Malachi Smyth talks to us about bringing a really rather ambitious British independent movie to the big screen with The Score.
You can’t accuse writer/director Malachi Smyth of taking the easy path. Having previously tried to get his directorial debut off the ground and had it fall apart, he continued his screenwriting work, before coming up with the idea for his new project. That’d be The Score, a hugely ambitious independently-funded British crime thriller, that just happens to be set to the music of Johnny Flynn. And on the eve of the film’s release, he’s been telling us a bit more about it.
Where did The Score come from? Can you take us into the genesis of the project?
I wrote a first draft and I wrote that quite quickly. I had the notion of two small time crooks and a life changing moment. But also, a drama about two guys, with a wrench in the works. I had all those elements, and it wrote itself really once the characters started coming alive.
I had a first draft that I was pretty happy with. A nice, small, easy to make low budget film. I showed it to a few people, including Ben, one of the producers. He ummed and aahed at first. His concern was how to make it stand out. To make a film that didn’t just disappear when we’d made it. And I didn’t want it to have that feel of a low budget British movie.
Where did the music of Johnny Flynn come into it?
I was working on the second draft and I was listening to Johnny [Flynn]’s latest album, Cillian, that had just come out. I’d met him once and was aware of him and his music. But this was the first album of his I really listened to a lot.
Is it usual for you to write with music in the background?
Yes. I often listen to music when I’m when writing, and it just started chiming. A lot of elements that were connecting to what I was writing. The timelessness of it too.
And so you rewrote the script again, with Johnny Flynn’s songs woven in and it became something of a musical. What happened next?
I met Ben again and I used to have a running gag where I showed him a script and he wasn’t quite sold on it, and he’d say why not make him a musical. I was reminded of this. I started then listening to more of [Johnny’s] songs. I sent the first six pages to Ben and said what do you think of this.
He said this is great, do the rest, so I started digging through Johnny’s back catalogue and finding more songs.
Didn’t that make your relatively modestly planned film that bit bigger?
I’d created a problem for myself, but it was a nice problem! Then it was a case of can we make other people believe in this? Can we convince people this makes sense?”
For a long time I kept saying to people this isn’t a musical, it’s a film with songs. Songs that are doing different things. This isn’t just a case of people breaking into song, there’s something going on in the songs that’s internalised.
All the people who read it seemed to fall in love with it. Then the question starts: is it going to work? That was the big question mark. Because of the reactions we started getting, and the amazing actors signing up, it became a realisable project. Those people bring in greater investment.
How easy was it to raise funds?
Getting financed is an absolute nightmare. It’s very hard to get people to believe in you. I haven’t done TV either, which is now a route in. I’ve done a couple of shorts to show that I can control a set. But ironically, I nearly had a big break 15 years ago where it collapsed just as it was about to shoot.
But with this one, you got it going. And, unusually for an independent film, you got decent time with your cast in advance. How did it all come together from there?
You don’t always get to meet cast and have long chats. But to me it was always essential. The offer [of the film] was conditional on us meeting and getting on.
Johnny [Flynn] was easy. He was involved from very early on, giving script notes, cast suggestions. I felt very much an affinity with him, and felt I got him and we could get on well.
With Naomi [Ackie] we met and she was just wonderful. We hit it off.
Will Poulter became involved later on and much closer to shooting, I loved meeting him. It felt like he was in tune with it, and he’d met Johnny as well.
And this was pre-Covid?
Yes. The whole thing was thrown into some disarray by Covid. Although [when lockdown lifted], we were able to get a longer shooting schedule. 26, 27 days.
Was that enough?
It was still tight. Some days we were shooting nine or ten pages a day, although ironically, they were some of my favourite moments in the film. There were problems that arose in the areas you’d expect. The decisions you have to make to prioritise one thing over another. To work out how to shoot things as economically as you can.
And it worked?
Yes! I guess that awareness comes from having spent so many years in the industry, trying desperately to get my films made!
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