A new independent British crime film has been turning heads recently by the name of Brash Young Turks, I got the chance to interview the film’s director, Naeem Mahmood to talk about his career, how he got the film made, on the film production itself and more.
How would you sum up Brash Young Turks? What is it that makes the film?
Naeem: Brash Young Turks is a fresh take on London youth. It’s about a gang of go-getters from the wrong side of the tracks who decide to make their own rules and rise up the food chain by any means necessary. I was tired of seeing the same old cliches of British films depicting young people stuck in the hood or period dramas about posh royalty. I wasn’t seeing anything showing youth in a more aspirational light where they take charge of their lives. It is about a new London that’s there for the taking.
How many screenings of Brash Young Turks have you had?
Since its premiere at the British Urban Film Festival it’s been released in cinemas in the UK and we’ve been touring colleges and universities, so there’s been a lot. I feels like we’ve been on the road with this film since September 2015. We also screened at the BFI as part of their crime season which was cool and at the ZOOM International Film Festival in Wales, the UK’s largest youth film festival. So it’s been getting around. It recently had its TV premiere on London Live.
How has the reception for the movie been like since its release?
It was the fastest selling film in the British Urban Film Festival’s ten year history. A lot of people have picked up on its fresh take on British films. The hyper-stylised feel and look to it, the fashion, the style, the bold characters. We’ve had fantastic reviews and audiences have been inspired. It was described by UK Film Review as “genre-defying” which kinda sums it up. It’s been great considering this was a film that was born out of a small youth centre in Hackney, there was no real backing.
For the record, this was basically a no-budget film that happened to grab a few pennies from some local councils right?
You wouldn’t believe it to look at it but pretty much. We hustled a number of councils and a few organisations (laughs). Send the boys around at night (laughs). Nah, we managed to grab some funding that was needed to keep people fed that sort of thing.
If you could describe it as an industry, how did you break into the media industry?
I went to the Berlin International Film Festival about a year and a half ago plugging Brash Young Turks at the European Film Market. I attended an exclusive “UK Films party” and there was this stiff who asked me, “so, are you part of the industry?” I said fuck the industry, create your own industry. So when you were talking to me about how did I get into the industry, I don’t even care about getting into the industry. It’s not about that. I will be making films, industry or no industry.
How did I break into making films? I started bunking off school. I just found it uninspiring, this sort of Orwellian school system which I feel kills potential, wasting time studying about the Tudors and Stuarts which had no relevance to me. I decided to bunk off and my brother and I would gather people from the neighbourhood and start shooting films with a crappy home video camera. This was a way to channel our energies into something constructive rather than just hanging about on the streets and causing havoc.
The more short films we made, the more people we met that took an interest in our work. We made a short called Home Sweet Home which was about young refugees coming from war torn countries and trying to settle in the streets of the turbulent inner-city. That film was shown on ITV and through that I got a job on ITV, working on stuff like Pop Idol, The Graham Norton Show, GMTV, CD:UK…
Exactly the stuff that you’re not interested in.
You’re damn right! But that was an eye-opener because I got to see how the television industry worked and see all the poor content that was being churned out. That gave me even more motivation to do my own thing. I went to the Prince’s Trust with my brother and managed to get some funding which helped set up the production company Trailblazer. We were able to start producing stuff, starting off with community projects with young creatives, short films, music videos, corporate videos, commercials, so we were able to generate finance through that to build the company.
In Brash Young Turks you deal with characters that although commit crimes we see them as heroic. Could you talk about how you portray characters who aren’t bad guys, but who resort to doing bad things to meet their own ends?
The characters background, the environments where they’ve grown up, restrains and restricts them from realising their full potential. They’re brought up and brainwashed to be slaves, to follow a certain path, and not find their own identity. But they’re not gonna allow anyone to define them or put a label on them. That’s why sometimes they have to go against the grain, hook or by crook to try and make things happen for themselves. It’s not because they want to be criminals or bad guys, but there’s very limited options, especially if they want to progress they’re gonna have to take action.
It kind of mirrors what I was saying earlier about how I made the movie, I had to kind of hustle to get it done or you’re just always going to look up and dream that one day I’ll make these films, which is never gonna happen. The industry doesn’t give much support so you got to find ways, it’s the same with the film, these guys are gonna do whatever it takes to get the most out of their potential in life.
When we see these characters we can see that in spite of their actions, their core values are more righteous than compared to the London elite, the bad guys.
Totally! I don’t see Terrell and his crew of hustlers as bad guys. Terrell is working for a corrupt property mogul, who has hired Terrell to carry out his dodgy dealings for his own gain. So it stems from the top of society, where that corruption and criminal element comes from.
Do you feel that society tries to play a narrative of all criminals are bad no matter where they come from?
No, society plays the narrative that majority of criminals are from certain backgrounds. You open up most mainstream newspapers and you always see criminals from working class backgrounds or are of particular races. But it’s our governments and people in power that are the biggest criminals, like Tony Blair, taking us to an illegal war in Iraq, I mean how much more criminal can you get with hundreds of thousands of people being murdered. So if society is going to focus on small time criminals at the bottom then they better look at the real criminals, the ones who are rinsing out this country for billions, the ones killing people in illegal wars, what’s more criminal? It all stems from the top.
Was it important to cast a multi-racial group of characters?
To be honest, race wasn’t a primary issue. When I cast these people, I was casting them regardless of race. Terrell’s crew could’ve been of any race. Shaz is white and Terrell’s black even though they’re brother and sister. I was just looking for the right actor who could deliver the right performance.
Growing up in West London, my dad had a shop on Portobello road in Ladbroke Grove which was a very vibrant, multi-cultural area. I think maybe that stems into my work, so I didn’t really see class or race.
Let’s talk about the style of the film. What were behind the decisions behind the look of the film?
I was fed up of London being portrayed in British films as this grey, grim and gritty place. So I wanted to inject a wash of colour, vibrancy and transform the city into this hyper-stylized reality. When it comes to individual style I see a lot of people being dictated what to wear whether they realise it or not. People have certain uniforms like the Adidas tracksuit, the hoodie, the dark suit. I wanted the Brash Young Turks, particularly Terrell’s crew to be very diverse and loud in terms of their fashion, to be willing to explore different looks, different costumes, and that reflects their daring and ambitious nature. They want to be worldly, they don’t just want to settle for the same old shit. It’s about carving out their own identity.
How did Julian Glover get involved in the film?
I met Julian when I was developing a film a few years ago based at the Prince’s Trust. He was an ambassador and I convinced the Trust to get him to star in that film. I think he was bored of just being rolled out to do speeches. I got a call from him and I told him that I wanted him to play a villain and he said, “Not another bloody villain!”. I worked with him on that film which was called Gangster Kittens but unfortunately was unable to complete it as it was this huge movie that just spiralled out of control.
I didn’t let that finish me and began developing Brash Young Turks from the youth centre in Hackney and there was a determination to work with Julian on a completed film. My brother chased him up, sent him the script, Julian loved it (and the fact that it wasn’t another bloody villain) and he was down.
I’m a fan of Julian, I always saw him as a great villain like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I remember when my dad would finish Sunday Market when I was growing up and I’d be like, “Dad, step on it, we need to get back home quick time, For Your Eyes Only the Bond film’s on!”. So I grew up watching him in loads of films, and to be able to direct him was a great buzz.
Over the course of making the film, how do you think London has changed over that time?
There seems to be a lot more rules and regulations that are being imposed every day. I get the sense that… slowly, without even necessarily knowing, little freedoms are being taken away bit by bit, more and more. I see more train stations being redone into this metallic, soulless kind of… bland, almost oppressive feel to it. It sums up how a lot of places are losing their character. I feel like a lot of communities are being broken up more and more and a lot of expensive flats are being built. Real Londoners are being pushed out, and wealth from all over the place is moving in.
Do you think this shift in London’s personality is going to change how you make future films?
Very much so. I feel like support for indie filmmakers is getting less and less. It’s becoming a lot more difficult to shoot in London especially if you haven’t got a massive budget. People are becoming less willing to support new filmmakers unless there’s money involved. You have to have ingenuity and determination especially if you want to create anything of any sizeable scale.
What was the best moment you had making the film?
There was a couple… not many (laughs). I think one of the best moments was finishing the bulk of the shooting. I remember doing this last shoot on the tube where it was me, the Cinematographer, my brother Ash and the 1st AD. By that time a lot of the crew had whittled down (laughs), people who just couldn’t last the distance had gone. It became this tight unit, a no nonsense crew. When we first started there was a lot of hangers on, and people who were just there for the social club. So when we got the job done on that last shoot that was a great buzz. I remember finishing it knowing that we had crossed a big hurdle. It’s no mean feat getting a feature film done.
You don’t have to be specific but after releasing Brash Young Turks have you had other film offers?
I’ve had offers for a couple of features and I’ve been working with some writers developing new material. I’ve also begun production on a raucous crime thriller called ‘Us.’ But the ultimate goal is this epic feature which I’ve been developing that is gonna flip the script on the gangster genre. It’s gonna be one of the greatest fucking films ever made man, seriously! I’m super excited about that! Just imagine… actually, I shouldn’t say.
Thank you for your time.
No problem at all.
Brash Young Turks will be having a free screening at the Portobello Film Festival in London on 7th September. And will be available online and on demand in August. You can find the Brash Young Turks Facebook page here, and Twitter here.
*Featured illustration by Julia Czepek-Spears.