COMEDIAN and TV presenter Joe Cornish admits to being something of a poacher turned gamekeeper in writing and directing his first movie, Attack the Block.
“I am a film fan and a lot of my career has been spent mocking film,” says one half of BBC 6 Music comedy duo Adam and Joe, “and I will think twice about that in future because I had no idea of the amount of hard work that it takes. I know it sounds dilettante saying that but as a punter you don’t know how much goes on. I now have respect for anyone who makes a film, however bad it is.
“I have wanted to make a film since I knew what they were, aged about 11 or 12, so for me it was an amazing opportunity and a privilege to get to make one myself.”
Attack the Block is a cheerful mix of urban street drama and aliens as a group of hoodies attempt to fight off an invasion of woolly extra-terrestrials on a South London tower block.
The idea stemmed from an experience back in 2001 – “a pathetic mugging by some young kids”. It made him curious about why they had carried out what seemed a “ritualistic” act which was also unreal and definitely scary and reprehensible.
It happened in Stockwell, the area he had lived for most of his life (though he “was ferried off each day to a posh school”) and it started him thinking about what he was like at their age and the movies he liked at the time.
Attack the Block took shape after Cornish went to youth clubs in South London and talked to kids about their lives and the movies they liked combined with looking again at movies he remembered from his own youth such as ET, Critters, The Warriors and Assault on Precinct 11.
The film begins with Jodie Whittaker’s trainee nurse getting mugged by half a dozen hoodies on bikes. It’s not a pleasant scene and yet the perpetrators proceed to be the main characters in the film, fighting off the aliens.
“We thought about that beginning and were conscious we were starting with a stereotype,” says Cornish who sees them as anti-heroes. “I think contemporary studios nowadays have a fear of anti-heroes but cinema has a history of anti-heroes. I wanted these boys to earn back from the audience not necessarily sympathy but empathy.” He aimed to show the desperation of the kids.
And so to the more fantastical elements. Unlike in most sci fi films made today, the aliens in Attack the Block are not CGI.
“As someone who has always enjoyed drawing and art I don’t think that truthful detail which is what CGI gives you is the be-all and end-all,” insists Cornish. “In the Eighties special effects were essentially puppets, painting and models – and those are the terrain of kids.”
He thought it important that the creatures were practical and in any case they couldn’t afford CGI. “I thought that was a plus rather than a minus and it was the opportunity to make a positive out of a negative,” he declares. “I am 42 and feel I grew up in an amazing time in cinema for teenagers and adolescents.”