A movie shot in York hits City Screen this Sunday (July 27). Chris Titley talked to directors Kit Monkman and Marcus Romer about this pioneering piece of filmmaking
1. It began as a critically acclaimed book
The Knife That Killed Me is a book by Leeds writer Anthony McGowan. It tells how a teenager, Paul Varderman, gets caught up in the gang of school bully Roth. Paul is given a knife – with fatal consequences.
Marcus Romer, artistic director of Pilot Theatre, read a review of the novel which called it a “contemporary Kes set in Yorkshire”.
“Within two weeks of the book being published we’d got the rights,” he said. “As Pilot we’re used to getting those things.”
Tragically one of writer Anthony’s former teachers was stabbed to death in school earlier this year – he described his “huge shock” at the killing in an interview with YorkMix.
2. The movie mixes live action with digitally created backgrounds
The film has a unique visual flair. All the action was shot in front of a green screen, and the computer generated backgrounds were added later.
Co-director Kit Monkman, who founded creative technology company KMA in York said this allowed them to tell “a story from inside a boy’s head”.
It mixes realistic, gritty backdrops with dream-like sequences so it looks like no other movie.
“Cinema from its very early days was incredibly good at pulling the wool over people’s eyes. You sit back, we will take complete control of your reality,” said Kit.
“One of the things we set out to do with this film was to bring back to cinema a little bit of the audience engagement which is so typical of theatre.”
3. This enabled the directors and actors to experiment
The film was shot entirely at Green Screen Productions‘ Bubwith studios, with post-production work taking place at Heslington Studios at the University of York.
“Working in a green studio is like working in a rehearsal room,” Marcus said.
“The ability for us to experiment and to play – which is what we were doing with the technology – we were able to do with the cast.
“The scenes weren’t dependent on, ‘oh the light’s going, we’ve only got this road closure for 15 minutes’.
“We were in a green box. So therefore we could take our time with the actors.”
4. The star almost missed his audition
Jack McMullen plays Paul in The Knife That Killed Me. But he got stuck in traffic on the M62 and turned up so late for his audition at York Theatre Royal that the directors were about to leave.
“We got him to improvise the conversation he’d have while he held his dead mother’s hand,” Marcus recalled.
“I put him on the spot at a quarter to six on a Friday night after a drive across the M62.
“He held his dead mother’s hand – which was my jacket on a chair – and absolutely nailed it.”
4. Jack’s experience showed through
Although still only 23, Jack McMullen is a veteran of television drama. Best known for playing Finn Sharkey in BBC One’s Waterloo Road, he also had parts in Brookside and Grange Hill.
Marcus said: “His televisual experience – eight years at that time – working for different long-running dramas meant he was absolutely able to turn on a sixpence.”
5. The film is a school drama – with a difference
“We set out to make something that the audience of Waterloo Road and Grange Hill would watch, but also it would look nothing like those dramas,” Marcus said.
“Because visually, and textually and emotionally, it takes them to another place. It’s lifting something of those dramas and making it something completely new.
“If we’d shot this in a school it would have looked like an episode of Waterloo Road. That’s a fine drama but we didn’t want to make that.”
6. The film aims to connect with young audiences
“It’s not a ‘hey kids don’t do knife crime’ – you’re on a hiding to nothing there,” Marcus said.
“You make it because you want those people to engage with the story and feel they’re not being patronised and they’re not being spoken down to.
“Something they can connect with because it actually feels like it’s made for them.”
7. It’s not just about the knife
“The cyber bullying, the selfie are additions to the actual novel. But they are things which are absolutely around.
“For me, there’s an insidiousness around some of this sort of manipulation. So it isn’t actually about the knife necessarily, it’s about all the other methods.
“For those generations who are living through it – my daughter’s 16, Kit’s daughter’s 16 – the idea of someone posting something on a social media site about somebody: the bullying’s taken to another level.”
8. This is a movie you don’t have to see in cinemas
Did anyone see The Knife That Killed Me at @voiceofmos? I love the beanbags! pic.twitter.com/jAuNGBMR6n
— We Are Manc/Hannah (@WeAreManc) July 17, 2014
A Kickstarter campaign successfully raised £20,000 to enable a multi-platform premiere of The Knife That Killed Me on July 15.
It was shown simultaneously at three venues – including the National Media Museum in Bradford – and streamed live to a global audience.
“Again it’s using the technology and the platforms and trying to be ahead of the curve,” said Kit.
“What’s the best way of telling this story? How can we best get it to our audiences? And what’s the best method of delivering and helping to share that?”
9. Although a cinema is good…
Particularly when there’s a special showing at City Screen on Sunday, July 27 at 6.30pm followed by a Q&A with the directors.