Set in early-80s Coventry, Clubbed follows timid factory worker Danny who is coping badly with a failed marriage and hard-knock existence when his life is transformed by a group of nightclub doormen who take him under their wing. Geoff adapted the film from his autobiography Watch My Back about his years sweeping floors and working club doors for a living.
These days the softly-spoken writer has a raft of best-selling books and a BAFTA to his name. “The whole thing’s hard to take in,” admits Geoff. “Genuinely, the book was written in the toilet of a factory where I worked at the time. And now I’m getting calls from people telling me they’ve seen the trailer at the cinema!
“Me and the film’s producer, Martin Carr, used to sit in my kitchen talking about how we’d like to make the film,” he recalls, “and now we’ve taken it from a factory floor right the way through to a two-million-pound film. It gives you a Barack Obama moment – anything is possible.”
The tale’s modern-day relevance attracted young actor Mel Raido, whose screen credits include British comedy Grow Your Own and ITV drama He Kills Coppers, to the part of Danny. “I think the film’s theme, and Geoff’s philosophy in his writing, is very contemporary: now is the time, anyone can achieve anything they want in life if they confront their fears head on,” explains Mel.
And Mel was glad to have his character’s real-life counterpart close at hand throughout the shoot. “It was a gift to have Geoff on set during filming. Having him there to tap into and to answer questions, and being able to soak up his experience and then interpret that myself really helped.”
Meanwhile Colin Salmon, seen most recently in Doctor Who and heist movie The Bank Job, drew inspiration from his own family for his character, head doorman Louis. “I didn’t get to meet the guy Louis’s based on, but I know the archetype,” explains Colin. “I had uncles who were doormen – big men, tough men. It’s quite interesting because no one’s really been surprised by Louis’s actions in the film, including me, because I know men like that.
“Talking to Geoff, it seems that being a doorman is like urban martial arts,” he adds. “What’s interesting in the film is that you don’t actually see my character fight. I use my voice which I think is a very important part of their trade.”
Geoff learned all about using verbal and body language to deter confrontation, the psychology of working nightclub doors as he puts it, over nine years on the job. Despite the skills Geoff picked up in the clubs and his flair for martial arts (he’s a former World Karate Champion), it was never an easy job. Director Neil Thompson wanted to reflect that on screen: “As filmmakers it’s our job to tell a compelling story and to search for truth and authenticity. Clubbed is set in very recessionary, hard times, and we didn’t want to hold back from that. The nightclub was where people went to escape their woes for a few hours and have the time of their life.”
But just because the film’s fictional club is in Coventry, don’t expect to hear any tracks from The Specials. “The film’s set in 1981 and we wanted to remain faithful to that vibe,” explains Neil, who has directed music videos for the likes of M-People and Prince. “They didn’t really listen to The Specials in nightclubs then. In the UK at that time working class people were listening to Northern Soul, authentic 60s Ska, US R’n’B, and the new LA sounds like Chic and Sister Sledge in the clubs. That was the sound of the city.”
As for the look of the city, Birmingham proved to be the perfect place. “It’s a fantastic city,” says Neil. “The old Victorian red-brick architecture you get there is great as is the range of parks, hills, countryside, canals, and terraced housing. It’s really useful that the city changes so much from one area to another. It’s also very competitive when it comes to prices and it’s pretty easy to organise everything there too. London is so expensive to shoot and so difficult to move around. In Birmingham it’s easier to do everything.”
Indeed Neil and his team had such a good experience shooting in the city that they’re hoping to return for their next film. “We just need to find the right office building or empty warehouse in Birmingham that we can use both as a location and as a base for our offices. All the locations we need are in the area. If we can find an interior space that’s soundproof enough and where we can build then it makes sense to stay in the city and do the whole lot there.”
Geoff would love nothing more than to see the region, particularly his hometown, at the centre of UK filmmaking. “Screen West Midlands have championed me right from my first short film Bouncer through to Clubbed. It would be great to attract the film industry to Coventry as it’s a city with a lot of energy and strong voices, and it would be nice to showcase that. Making more films, winning more BAFTAs, an Oscar… that’s what will make people believe it can happen.”
And with Clubbed already receiving a British Independent Film Award nomination as well as favourable comparisons to award-winning British films Trainspotting and Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Geoff and the film’s crew have high hopes for the future.
Clubbed is in cinemas now.
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