Joe Cornish has been working with Edgar Wright (the needs-no-introduction director of Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim VS. The World) for awhile now, but in years past he’s kept to the writing side of things: the two wrote the still-unproduced Ant-Man screenplay that Wright’s been talking about making for the past few years, and awhile back they completed a series of rewrites on the Adventures of Tin-Tin script that Spielberg and Peter Jackson had written for their forthcoming, animated, 3D epic. But now Cornish has stepped into the director’s chair on his first feature film, and Attack The Block is supposed to be a hell of a lot of fun.
Attack The Block features a quintet of south London street toughs– all no older than their teens– whose lives of petty crime and tough-guy posturing are interrupted when a full blown alien invasion comes to their neighborhood. While these kids might not be the most upstanding members society’s ever seen, they find out they have a talent for taking out aliens. Collider.com contributing writer Scott Wampler sat down with Cornish, Wright, and Nick Frost– who appears in a major role in Attack The Block— at SXSW this weekend, and here’s what he was able to find out about Cornish’s first film (along with some of those other projects he and Wright have worked on).
Joe, you’ve worked in TV for a long time. What was it about Attack The Block that made you think, “Y’know what? It’s time for me to step up to the plate and direct a movie, and this is the one”?
Joe Cornish (Director): Well, I made a show in the UK called The Adam and Joe Show that went from the late 90’s to the early naughties. We used to shoot it, light it, write it, direct it, it had animations, so we kind of did everything. I kind of trained to direct on that, and I went to school for directing–
Edgar Wright (Producer): Same college as me.
Joe Cornish: Right, same college as me. And I watched a lot of my friends step up to the plate– Garth Jennings and Edgar– and I was just kind of waiting for a really good idea to come along, and I kinda thought I had a good idea. That was it, really. It was just waiting until the material that was good enough.
And what was it about this specific story that made you get excited?
Joe Cornish: I really admire first-time directors who try and do something in a genre and do something that’s quite cinematic, like Spielberg’s Duel, or the first Terminator movie, y’know what I mean? Little, low-budget genre movies that are just a little too ambitious. I really love those, just as a consumer. Sometimes a high-concept movie done on a low budget is better than a high-concept movie done with a huge budget, because it feels more personal. That’s what I wanted to do, and I was waiting for something with a bit of action, something very cinematic– y’know, something that reminded me of those American movies that I love– and it was just a matter of waiting for the right time, and this was it. And it was something I knew something about, as well. This movie’s set in South London where I grew up. So it was writing what I knew and combining it with that action-adventure feel.
Joe Cornish: I prefer movies to TV, because I think it’s more of an art. You only make a movie when you really care about the story, and a lot of TV is kinda made by commission. They’ll say they want a kind of show, and they’ll make that kind of show. Movies are more of a labor of love, because it’s such hard work. Especially in the UK: getting the money, writing the script, shooting. So, people don’t tend to do movies in anything other than a kind-of passionate way. I’d love to do more.
A lot of directors will screen certain movies before they start shooting, things they want their film to be informed by. Was there anything in particular that you used in that way for Attack The Block?
Joe Cornish: Yeah, definitely. Attack The Block is kind of a fusion of a monster movie and a gang movie, so we watched The Warriors, we watched Rumble Fish, we watched Assault on Precinct 13, we watched The Outsiders— for the gang aspect. For the monsters we watched the first Predator, The Terminator, we watched Tremors, Critters, Gremlins— I say “we”, but “I” did–
Joe Cornish: Yeah, so, absolutely. I didn’t copy shots from them, though: I tried to direct instinctively, without copying set-ups. I got a lot of inspiration from those movies. And the cinematographer– Tom Towne– had watched a lot of Walter Hill, a lot of John Carpenter, Streets of Fire, because we shot primarily at night. So, we tried to use those techniques, the way those guys got those results with very little money. And I think we did. I mean, you tell me.
So, Edgar, you’ve got a couple of your friends here– Nick and Simon Pegg have Paul premiering tomorrow night, and you’ve got Joe here with Attack The Block— and I’m wondering how it feels to be without your own movie to represent as a director. A little less stressful?
Edgar Wright: It’s nice! Both Paul and Attack The Block are made by the same production company that made my films, so there’s a certain pride in that aspect of it. I think all of us– Joe, Simon, and Nick– kind of all grew up in a time when…y’know, the British film industry has a great history of genre films, but when we were growing up, they were pretty much sniffed at through the 80’s and 90’s. I think that a lot of British genre history is sort of lauded in retrospect…wouldn’t you say?
Joe Cornish: Yeah, yeah.
Edgar Wright: Y’know, like the Hammer films, cult films like The Wicker Man— the original version.
Nick Frost (Actor, Attack The Block): There’s an original?
Edgar Wright: So I think me and Joe both felt a similar thing when we wanted to get into films, and I agree with what Joe said: I made Shaun of The Dead in 2004, but I wanted to make a film– I had made a film in 1994– for a long time before. And you look to a lot of other British filmmakers and a lot of foreign genre films (including America and Canada), and you’d think, “Oh, why can’t we make more of that stuff here?” So, I think that Shaun of The Dead and Attack The Block come from the same…they have the same genesis. Kind of like, “Wouldn’t it be great to sort of do this genre mayhem on our own doorstep?”
Do you have any interest in getting back into TV? I was a big fan of Spaced. Would you be willing to take something like that on again?
Edgar Wright: Yeah, I think, if it was the right thing. Especially because American TV is amazing at the moment– and so is some British TV. But it’d have to be the right idea. If it was something like, “Oh, I have to do this”, sure, or if it was the right idea…something more in an episodic form.
You wouldn’t want to commit to something long-term, then?
Edgar Wright: Well, I– (stammers)
I’m not offering anything.
Nick Frost: Yeah, whatta you got?
Edgar Wright: (Laughs)
Nick Frost: Would you (direct an episode of) House?
Or The Walking Dead would be good.
Edgar Wright: Frank asked me to do a Walking Dead, actually. But I feel that there’s some subject matter that, like, even though it’d be great– and I love that show: I actually watched four of the six episodes uninterrupted in one run; it was like zombie Pringles– I think that with something like that, with some TV shows, you wanna be in on the ground floor.
Edgar Wright: Well, I really enjoyed the first season, and I wouldn’t wanna be the guy that comes in and fucks it up.
Nick Frost: You probably would, too.
You guys (Edgar and Joe) have another project– something further up the road– which is The Adventures of Tin-Tin. You getting excited about that?
Edgar Wright: Closer than you’d think, actually. That’s basically kind of in New Zealand being worked on by hundreds of artists–
Joe Cornish: We’re really excited about it, because we finished working on it a year and a half ago. And we’re just like you, we can’t wait to see it. And we had a pretty fractional contribution to it– we did a couple of drafts on it together, but then it was handed to the greatest brains in the business, a great cast…and now we’re just like you: we just can’t wait to see it.
Edgar Wright: Y’know, I think– I think I can say this, but: I saw five minutes of it, finished in 3D, and it was really amazing. It’s sort of like a living painting. It’s so painterly and beautiful to look at. I don’t know why I was surprised– you’ve got Peter and Steven, the two most creative brains in cinema, and I was just like, “Oh, wow, this looks so beautiful”. I suspect that a lot of people will want to disappear into it, it’s a really sort-of beautiful world.
Now, Joe, Attack The Block still doesn’t have an American distributor, right?
On Channel 4, is that right?
Joe Cornish: Well, it’s Studio Canal in Optimum. So it’s got got distribution in Europe and the UK, but not here.
You feeling good about its chances? There’s a lot of buzz about it online.
Joe Cornish: I made the film I wanna make, I’m very proud of it, and if a distributor in the U.S. is adventurous enough to pick it up, I think that’d be fantastic. I think it’s a British film– it’s not Battle L.A., it’s not Cowboys and Aliens– it’s a very particular film, and I think people will dig it. It’s just gonna take a distributor with a little imagination, and I hope someone does. I think it’s gonna be the cool little movie that you have to discover yourself, but as a consumer, that’s what I like. I tend to go not for the big movie that’s on all the billboards and being jammed down my throat. It’s always cool when you have that sense of discovery, and I would love for my movie to be a movie like that.