In Conversation with Joe Cornish

Admittedly, having never seen ‘The Adam and Joe Show’ or been exposed to any of his work in fact, I didn’t really know who Joe Cornish was before today. I’d seen the trailer, though not the film, for ‘Attack the Block’ though and was interested to learn what I could about it, especially as it has such a refreshing concept to it. I soon discovered that Joe Cornish is awesome and is now one of my favourite people at the festival this year.

I was swiftly impressed with the way he spoke about his work and the amount of sincerity and openness he expressed when talking about his process, he has a love of creating mood boards of his drawings and photographs and for ‘Attack the Block’ began with these to go with his outline for the idea. From those initial tools he then fleshed out the story.

Prompted by a question he spoke about his choice to reveal the ‘monster’ of his story early in the film as opposed to only hinting at it until later in the movie. He answered that there’s two schools of thought, the ‘withhold the monster’ thought, which he’d seen a lot in his youth but which often proved to be a bit of a let down if, when the monster was finally revealed, it was rubbish. The alternative thought which is about revealing the monster and using multitude to add tension was therefore the approach they took. When making the film he had to prove that they could create the monsters and that they worked some six months before shooting. As both writer and director, he mentioned how tiring it can be to take on both roles. He has an ethic of ‘plussing’ (improving) the work as much as possible but to be in production meetings and then go home to re-write and improve the screenplay left him fairly sleep deprived through sections of the process. The kids in the film are real teens playing their own age, and he worked to wherever possible, record only unmitigated behaviour in the actors. He spoke of impro being something that doesn’t really happen on set as it’s too expensive. Even those directors who improvise heavily tend to do that before shooting or at least get what’s on the page as a take to fall back on.

The towers in ‘Attack the Block’ being named after fantasy writers, Joe admitted his love of books. A Clockwork Orange was a big influence for the way he used language and slang with the film.

Tin Tin is his next project to be released but the script he wrote was actually finished prior to his work on ‘Attack the Block’ and that was a project that came to him via Edgar (Wright). The challenges with the screenplay for that revolved around things like having to condense the continuity of the characters so that they could all be present in the film at once and how some of the original work was quite weak in terms of story.

In a Q&A Joe Cornish was very giving with his replies, unflinching about the things he cared about with a forthright honesty that I really admired. He’s a very confident man and confident about his writing and filmmaking and I’ve gone from not really knowing who he was an hour ago to finding him to be one of the people I’ve been most impressed by out of today’s very good sessions. He’s an awesome person and I liked him a lot. This is one of the things I love about the screenwriters festival. There is always something very refreshing about the things and the people you discover. That’s certainly been my day today.

I finished up my day by joining the satelite hook up session with Chris Vogler and then networking drinks in the bar. A very, very full, very long day and an extremely pleasant one filled to the brim with incredible people both delegates and speakers alike!

Leilani Holmes

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