How to be successful

A Sheffield-born film director finding acclaim with his debut movie talks to Ian Soutar about the unusual route he took to his goal.

IT took five years to complete but a debut indie movie by Sheffield-born Oliver Irving,, How To Be, has made a rapid impact on the other side of the Atlantic.

The writer-director, with two of his old mates from Sheffield, Joe Hastings, who has written the musical score, and musician Johnny White, who acts in the movie, have been touring the US to introduce the film to audiences after it won plaudits from several international film festivals.

How to Be, a comedy about a twentysomething wannabe musician who is forced to move back in with his parents, hits a quarter-life crisis and signs up with a self-help guru, now gets a preview screening in Sheffield on Sunday before its UK release on Monday on DVD and download.

Irving, who grew up in Sharrow, says he has always been fascinated by film since seeing Ghostbusters when he was about four. "I was about 10 when I made my first attempt at making a feature film with a mate who had an 8mm film camera. It was the days before everyone had videocams and it proved a bit of a nightmare trying to sync sound and stuff.

"I carried on through my teenage years, eventually getting hold of an uncle's video camera," he recalls. The High Storrs student joined an evening class at Norton College in order to use the film equipment there and then after GCSEs decided to go to the college full-time on a media course.

"There was a guy called Dave Hill who was really nice to me, this kid who was always coming in to edit at night and taught me a lot, also sometimes driving me home when I missed the last bus. I owe him a lot," says Irving.

At weekends and in the evenings he and his mates made a movie called NZO (standing for Nuclear Zombie Overload) and finally he got himself on the director's course at Bournemouth Film School. "I knew I wanted to direct so I held out to get on it rather than a general film course," he explains.

The usual route for young film-makers is to make short films to begin with and use them as a showreel to impress someone into funding bigger projects, but not Irving.

"I struggled to make a short film, I never really understood them or had the discipline and decided I go straight to making a feature film," he explains. "So for the next two or three years I was writing and trying to raise money."

This involved buttonholing anyone who looked as if they had a bit of spare cash, whether he knew them or not. He was supporting himself by teaching the drums (he cites Toni Cannelli in Sheffield as an inspiration) and would ask parents of pupils and says he was not above approaching strangers on the Underground "people in nice suits who looked like City types".

But then he went into partnership with a film lawyer who was equally ambitious and came in as producer and raised the bulk of the finance.

Irving used a similar approach when it came to casting. "I thought it would be great to have the comedian Jeremy Hardy play a straight part, so I went up to him after a gig and told him about the film. He was very nice and I sent him the script but I didn't hear back from him for a while. Eventually he contacted me and said he thought it was funny and would like to do it."

The lead is played by Robert Pattinson who has since become an international heartthrob from the Twilight movie which was another lucky break for the film.

"He came into audition and had done Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire about a year before," reports Irving. "He said he was looking for something a bit more challenging than the fantasy roles he was being offered. That was before Twilight, though he was talking about it and I think we knew the movie was going to be big. There was a buzz around him with agents and he had something about him, so it hasn't been a complete surprise."

Another interesting piece of casting is Anglo-American actress Rebecca Pigeon, wife of writer-director David Mamet who was sent the script and suggested to her that there was a part for her. "She has family over here and said she'd come over and stay with them and do it for cheap, " says Irving.

"I've since got to know David when I've gone over to the States. It's extraordinary, in the space of a year I've gone from a complete schmuck to someone who can go to LA and lunch with David Mamet."

How to Be is being screened at the Showroom on Sunday, when Oliver Irving will take part in a Q & A.

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