The Movie Waffler Waffling With...<i>ANTI-SOCIAL</i> director Reg Traviss | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With...ANTI-SOCIAL director Reg Traviss

With Anti-Social about to hit cinemas, we spoke to its writer-director Reg Traviss.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

TMW: An aspect that sets Anti-Social apart from similar Brit crime movies is the authenticity of Dee’s immersion in Graffiti subculture; it simply feels real. How did you go about achieving such realism? What sort of research did you engage in?

RT: I’m over the moon that it came across like that. I think two aspects contributed to getting a sense of realism to his character. The first is that I loosely based Dee on several real people I’ve known, not graffiti-artists but creative individuals nevertheless who grew up in similar kinds of surroundings as Dee, during the 1990s. One went on to become a successful graphic artist, but had grown-up on an estate in East London – some of his family members were actually criminals but he wasn’t. And the other was a friend who grew up on an estate in West London – his family weren’t criminals but the area was rough and he knew all the local gangs but completely did his own thing and dressed in his own way. He went onto to become the lead singer of quite a famous band. So in terms of trying to make Dee’s interaction with his family and locals authentic and contrast it with his new friends and the fringe scene he’s a part of – I used these two people in particular as a basis. Incidentally, the fringe scene which he is a part of is reminiscent of the kind of scene I hung out in myself when I was younger and it felt right that Dee would hang around in a similar kind of scene, in between the phases being a ‘local youth’ which he would have been prior to the events in the film, and, moving onto the wider world as he does at the story’s end.
The second aspect was interviewing and speaking at length with real-life street-artists, in order to get an understanding of the lifestyle, what kinds of personalities serious street-artists usually are, and what it is that they have to do to prepare for making a piece of street-art. I had gathered anyway that street-artists would probably spend many hours alone making stencils but learned that many are quite reserved people, have a lot of patience, and can be very meticulous and neat and tidy – so I tried to portray all of that in Dee as I developed the character further. I learned a lot from Snub23 – by the time we met I had already spoken with various artists but Snub23 and I were able to spend a lot of time discussing things once he came on board, and from him I also observed something of the craftsmanship demands too. 

TMW: I was impressed by how ‘London’ the film was. I’m not sure you did the tourist board any favours, but, again, the cosmopolitan experience of our capital felt true! The choices of locations were interesting; I’m thinking of the heaven spot that Dee and Jason climb to, and, of course, the shopping mall that Marcus’ firm robs. Were these locations difficult to secure? How was the Mall shoot organised?

RT: Actually, both were relatively easy to secure. The old factory rooftop was the easiest of the two; it’s no longer a factory and now houses art and design type studio space. We went there to recce for another scene (the photo-studio sequence) and literally spotted the height of the roof and from the ground it appeared as though we could gain safe access to it. We hadn’t yet found a suitable location for the ‘heaven spot’ scene and so asked if it would be possible to use it and they said yes – thankfully it was as simple as that really. The previous locations we had recce'd for that scene either had views which were not suitable or just weren’t practical for the cast and crew.
The Shopping Mall location took longer to secure, but wasn’t too difficult either. I was adamant the location for that sequence should look as similar as possible to Brent-Cross Shopping Centre (where the real-life robbery occurred) due to the fact that the CCTV and phone-footage of the real-heist had been seen by the public so often on the news and internet. I wanted the film’s audience to feel connected to the scene and feel that it was ‘real’, so I believed that trying to re-create not just the physical resemblance of the location but also the angles of the now-familiar CCTV and phone-footage, would enhance that.
We couldn’t get permission to shoot in Brent Cross and then found a disused Mall in West London where we could get permission but it would have taken a lot more than we could afford in terms of art-department to make the disused Mall appear to be operational. As we were going to be shooting the council flat interiors in Budapest (they were all built in studio to spec) we thought to recce some Shopping Malls there and found a newly built one who were happy to have us. As the Mall was a new build it looked just like any you could find in the UK, and also bears a striking similarity to Brent-Cross. There were other Malls in Budapest who were also happy to have us and who were asking for less in terms of location-fees, but I had to go with the new-build because of its physical resemblance to Brent-Cross. We were able to shoot some of the sequence while the Mall was open for business – which was great atmospherically – but the majority of it was shot during the night while it was closed. There was an empty unit in the Mall which we spent several days dressing and rigging as the Jewellery store. As for the London ‘feel’ of the film, I always felt it was very important to try and make the city a kind of ‘character’ in itself. So I tried to exploit London’s various cityscapes and locations as much as I could for the exterior scenes and to show the contrasts within London, from district to district – and that concept goes hand-in-glove with the story as the film’s depiction of various ‘sub-cultures’ and ‘social-groups’ also reflects London’s multitude of contrasts. We shot an important story-driven sequence on the West Way, which I’ve always felt is a dramatic, very cinematic stretch of road which ‘describes’ London very well in a visual sense as it traverses so many varying neighbourhoods – and I don’t ever recall seeing the West Way on film.

TMW: Anti-Social seems to sidestep the usual hard man cartoon caricatures that many Brit films fall prey to. When you were writing the script, were you conscious of certain clichés that you wanted to avoid?

RT: Well, first and foremost it was exactly those ‘hard man caricatures’ that I wanted to avoid. British films with gangland, underworld and even working-class settings seem to be grossly over-populated with them and I’ve often found myself questioning how realistic these kinds of characters are anyway. I was inspired by real-life contemporary criminals and gangs and wanted to portray them in a realistic, day-to-day light – as often as I could throughout the script – and there were people I had observed from afar over the years who I tried to draw-upon while writing, so in hindsight I don’t think there was much danger of falling into those stereotypes, but on the other hand I wanted to be careful not to let the film’s criminal characters fall into other emerging stereotypes – such as what might be termed as ‘urban gangsters’.
I just wanted to keep the characters as human and realistic as I could at all times, as of course somebody doesn’t have to be a loud-mouthed, imposing figure or overtly violent, to be none-the-less extremely dangerous. The characters in Anti-Social are the kinds of criminals who do not rely on being physically-tough alone, and their ‘breed’ is more to do with nerve and organisation, daring, audacity and disregard for law and order – some of the characters are quite mellow and genuinely charming for much of the film. They are not protection-racketeers or enforcers – who may rely on brute force and a necessity to uphold violent reputations – they are serious, organised criminal-businessmen and robbers, who whilst needing to be prepared to use violence, they actually rely more on remaining low-key.
In other areas I did aim to avoid having Kirsten fall into the cliché American girl out of her comfort zone – I think I managed it and again I did use a couple of real-life people I have known as direct references for her, she wasn’t just simply invented as such – and hopefully by the end of the film it should be clear that she, like the others, is not drawn-by-numbers either. The characters who form the ‘art-clique’ were initially more of a concern, although here I could draw upon direct personal experiences having been around and within that environment many times – but the concern while writing was that when characters analyse or discuss anything artistic or creative is that it may come across as pretentious or clichéd – nobody has mentioned it so far, so I hope potential clichés were by-passed there too!

TMW: I am an unabashed fan of the film. However, there is one aspect that I don’t understand: the name of the film! It seems unrelated to the themes and plot; in which social bonds are really important. Could you explain what I am missing with the title of Anti-Social?

RT: Great question – and I did wonder how people would find the title. As you say, the film is very much about the social bonds between the individuals and groups in the story. The title refers to several things; the characters and their groups all exist ‘outside’ of mainstream society and socially-accepted activity, however, the characters and their activities are all ‘socially’ acceptable within their respective groups – which are in effect ‘self-contained societies’ and who to a point can relate to other groups equally outside of the ‘mainstream’ within the story. Dee openly pursues a lifestyle which is on the fringes of social-norms – his best friend lives in a communal, activist-style squat and he daubs public property with art that mocks and challenges social conformity. He has casual-work as a motorbike courier and is something of a free-spirit who wants nothing to do with conventional society. Though he is not a common criminal as such (graffiti is a crime as we know), he does gladly accept cash from Marcus which he knows comes from criminal activity – but he views Marcus’ crimes with a kind of ‘robbing-the-rich’ rationale, which fits his socio-political outlook. Ironically, through his artistic talent and its anti-establishment sentiment, Dee later becomes socially accepted, albeit via another ‘group’ - the art-clique, who themselves effectively exist outside of mainstream society. Marcus on the other hand lives a visibly mainstream, normal existence but is in fact an extreme danger to society, conformity, the public and law and order. Unlike Dee, he is not consciously opposed to social-order or norms, in fact his activities rely on the order-of-the-day and society’s material prosperity, which he and his ‘group’ exploit. When Marcus is eventually exposed to the wider public, he is referred to not merely as a criminal but as a ‘gangster’, a level of criminal regarded by the authorities as a security threat (which could put him on the radar of Special Branch) and he is never socially accepted, he is ‘outcast’.
So, in short, the title doesn’t simply refer to the fact that both graffiti and armed robbery are anti-social activities, but moreover makes reference to the idea that the story is about individuals who belong to self-contained, self-governing groups or ‘societies within Society’, and so essentially live ‘outside’ of conventional society – they are literally ‘anti-social’, be they criminal or philosophical, because they are in their own ways ‘against’ society as it currently stands. It is about the bonds between them and how they interact and are ultimately dealt with by both Society and the others who share their space ‘outside’ of it. If ‘Society’ is the term given to the nation’s regular, law-abiding mainstream, then ‘Anti-Society’ is the other – the space which the film’s characters occupy. I do think the title certainly remains a topic for debate but those were my reasons in a nut-shell for giving the film the name it has.

TMW: As a writer/director your career has been enviably diverse; working on horror with Psychosis, prison drama in Screwed and the war film with Joy Division. Is there any genre you haven’t worked on yet that you’d be interested in in the future? 

RT: I’m more inspired by stories, personalities and situations rather than specific genres. I think that’s largely why the four films I’ve made so far are all different regarding genre (though I admit that one of the motivating factors behind making Psychosis was the 1970s Hammer-style sub-genre, which I’d always wanted to try and re-create, Psychosis being an adaptation of a film from that era). I can’t envisage myself making a comedy or anything fantasy orientated as my interests are more in real-life stories and scenarios, but of course in terms of ‘genre’ that does or can cover quite a lot.                                        

TMW: Ok, over to you. Why should Movie Waffler readers be interested in watching Anti-Social?

RT: It’s a very different approach and storyline to a film which has an essentially ‘underworld’ and ‘street sub-culture’ setting, and it’s one which is also realistic. The cultures and types of gangs featured are all currently in existence in London and cities across the UK right now and the crimes they commit in the film are all based directly on real crimes which have recently occurred – enacted in the film as authentically to the real-events as possible. Alongside all of this there is a story which challenges the difference between the philosophical and the criminal outlaw, in the form of two brothers.