Calling card to the big time

Many youngsters dream of following in the footsteps of Steven Spielberg or Alfred Hitchcock and become a movie director.

Andrew Clarke

Many youngsters dream of following in the footsteps of Steven Spielberg or Alfred Hitchcock and become a movie director. Suffolk schoolboy Adrian Vitoria did just that as Arts Editor Andrew Clarke found out.

From an early age Suffolk schoolboy Adrian Vitoria knew what he wanted to do with his life - act and make movies. Even though he was captain of St Joseph's rugby team and played for the Suffolk Sevens, there was no doubt that he wanted a film-maker's life rather than that of a sportsman.

“I was nine years old when I watched The Great Escape with my grandfather and he turned to me and said 'You know this is a true story' and I thought that was amazing - that you could take a true story and recreate it. That is really what inspired me and then I looked around saw the people who were famous directors and thought that you had to be really old to be a director, so I got a scholarship to go and study acting in New York.”

After years of toiling away in acting school, doing odd jobs on Hollywood sets, shooting shorts and episodes of Hollyoaks and The Bill, Adrian Vitoria has just released a British gangster movie which, he hopes, will be his calling card into the big time.

The Crew, based on the cult novel Outlaws by Kevin Sampson, is a tough, almost slice-of-life look at the world of Liverpool's underworld. Vitoria's independent movie has been picked up by mainstream distributor's Momentum Pictures which have made it one of the featured releases on DVD this month.

Most Read

Adrian says that British gangster movies have a strong and discerning following and with well regarded examples of the genre like Sexy Beast and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels being held up as high-water markers, it means that anyone entering the genre has to know what they are doing if they don't want to be laughed out of court.

“It's a genre which is so easy to get wrong, to make it seem clich�d and laughable. It's a real minefield so you have got to keep your wits about you and know what you are doing. It's the same for any genre piece really but particularly with British gangster movies because the audience really know their subject and have firm opinions on what is good and what is not.”

Adrian said that he knew that he wanted the film to have an 18 certificate because it took away any sense of doubt and confusion about what they could shoot. He said that trying to juggle with a 15 certificate would mean too many compromises on the already tough subject matter. “As a director I love reality. Whatever I shoot, I try and capture the reality of a scene or a character - I try and bring a sense of reality and truthfulness to what I do. I try not to romanticise things. If it looks real then people will buy into the story and into the characters more readily.

“The Crew is a tough story to start with, peopled with tough characters, so you don't want to dilute the impact of the narrative by watering it down. One of the key features to me is if you have violence then you have to show it hurts. People have discussions whether film glamorises violence. If you show that violence hurts, that it is ugly, destructive and painful how on earth is that glamorising it? Who would want to voluntarily do that to yourself?

“But, at the same time, these people live in a violent world, so in order to make it believable; you have to show that world. I wanted the show the violence as realistic but also ultimately tragic. If you are truthful to the story, if you are truthful to the people within that story, the audience will buy into your film.”

Certainly this theory seems to have paid off because The Crew, after two weeks on release tops a couple of High Street store video charts and has an approval rating of 8.1 out of ten on the all-important imdb (internet movie database) ratings guide on the internet.

Comments left by happy viewers include “nihilistic and brilliant… The Crew goes where many British gangster flicks tend to skirt around. As well as “I really do dream of a better time for British cinema. This film is a glimpse of what could be. This film like all good movies focuses on a good story line, actors in roles they suit and a good pace for its style.”

Comments like this are music to Adrian's ears. He feels a little aggrieved that the film, for various finance and distribution reasons, didn't get a cinema release but is pleased it is obviously taking off on DVD.

“The reason we went straight onto DVD was purely commercial. If you get a cinema release then that puts another half million to a million quid on your budget with no guaranteed prospect of getting that back - particularly when the Hollywood majors are tying up screens in your local cinema. So we made the decision to release straight onto DVD and this has been a huge success.”

As with any young director, Adrian hopes this will lead onto bigger, better projects and show potential backers that he can direct different styles of work - in fact his ambition is to direct a sharp-edged historical drama.

Adrian said at the age of 39 he realises that he is one of the few British directors to have “made it” and is still looking for ways to move forward. He says that it is not easy to get films made in the UK and certainly not easy to get them seen even if they are made. Hollywood maintains a stranglehold on both studios and screen space.

Releasing movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on seven prints at one cinema doesn't help the situation, particularly when you follow up with Sex and the City on five prints the following week.

Adrian remains optimistic - the reviews and sales for The Crew show that there is a market for his work out there and he already has a follow-up project, Detour, in the works but the credit crunch has meant that promised funding has temporarily vanished and they are currently searching for replacement finance.

He said that although he enjoyed life as an actor, directing remains his true calling. “Even when I was a boarder at school, I would write plays. Being in them was never enough, I wanted to be able to shape it, I wanted to be able to tell the story.

“It's partly about control but it's also about being creative. When I was acting I was never content to be a small cog in the machine I wanted to be the guy in charge, I wanted to be the big cog, simply because I wanted to tell the story in my way.”

He said that he was lucky with contacts in order to land a scholarship to the Lee Strasburg Acting School in New York, home of The Method, he still needed talent to make good the doors that had been opened for him.

“Having good contacts will only get you so far. O nce the introductions are over, then you have to deliver.” He said that a chance meeting with a youthful Patsy Kensit at a London nightclub in the early 1980s helped get him started.

“The whole thing was really weird. I had left school and I was just hanging out with some friends of my sister in London. I had made friends with this actor who took me to this club where I was introduced to this actress, who said 'you ought to be an actor', and I said 'well funny you should say that I was thinking pretty much the same thing.'”

The actress turned out to be Patsy Kensit, who at that time, was fresh from her success on Absolute Beginners and was making her name on London's party circuit.

“The following day my telephone rings and there's an agent on the phone from the famous William Morris Agency. They had been told of this hot young actor they needed to represent, so I was invited along for an audition, I was taken on and they arranged for me to take a scholarship with the Lee Strasburg school. They were over in London at the time looking for British actors to train. I did a speech from Look Back In Anger, I think, and then they took me on. I was a very lucky boy.”

He said that he has tried a large variety of jobs within the world of show-business many gained from just hanging around on film-sets in the US watching how the films get made and then doing every job available from running cables, standing in, to swinging boom.

“I moved to the United States at the age of 17 and, after graduating from the Lee Strasburg school, I moved out to Los Angeles with a friend, Billy Wirth, and whenever he would get a job on a movie I would go with him and he would help me get a job on set. What was brilliant about it was that it gave me the opportunity to learn about film in a first-hand capacity by watching how films get made. If I wanted to know anything I could simply ask the DoP (Director of Photography) or the soundman, the director or whoever.

“It was a very different experience to going to a proper film school because I was in a professional environment, on the ground floor learning about all these various characters and watching professional actors and an experienced director at work.

“I remember having a conversation with my brother Richard when I was in the States, worrying about whether I should apply to film school, and he said: 'Are you mad, you've got the best education right here, working on proper film sets.'

“Indeed I was learning a great deal just from working.”

He said that he gave up acting at a fairly early stage in his career - preferring the control that directing afforded him. “Acting is great but I just could cope with just drifting from one job to the next. I needed to follow a project through. I needed to make an emotional investment in a film. An actor comes on board at a fairly late stage, just a few weeks, while a director is there for virtually the whole period - months if not years.”

He said that although he may like to make an Alfred Hitchcock style cameo from time-to-time, he has no desire to do a Kenneth Branagh and act and direct in the same film. “I don't know how he keeps everything in his head. As a director you have to be on top of everything and I think he is extremely brave to act as well as to direct.”

He said that he came from a fairly creative family. His brother Richard was a successful photographer and his family had connections with a Lowestoft theatre company which date back about 100 years. “I am not terribly sure on the details. I think the connection is on my father's side and I do own a copy of a play that was supposedly written by a great, great uncle, so there is definitely a creative slant to the family.

“My father did amateur dramatics when I was younger and my grand-parents painted, so you could say it's definitely in the genes.”

He said that The Crew came about through Ian Brady, his producing partner. “As a director you are always looking for projects. Ian and I were working on another film, Detour, which we are still going to make, when the opportunity to make The Crew came along.

“Ian's company had optioned this cult book called Outlaws and there was a possibility of raising finance if we made Outlaw first, which has been re-titled as The Crew. We looked at the money we would get if we made Outlaws first and there was no real decision to be made, so we went with it.”

He said the fact that The Crew was shot in the UK also helped tip the balance. “Detour was going to be shot outside the UK, which, by necessity, meant many more months of planning and pre-production and as film-makers all you really want to do is make films, so if you can get moving on one that is fairly simple to shoot you go with that.”

He said that financing films in this country is always an uphill struggle. “Getting funding from the UK Film Council and the regional bodies is difficult simply because, being a commercial enterprise, we often don't tick the boxes they need. We need to get financing from private investors and at the moment that is very difficult.

He said that ultimately he wanted to direct a wide variety of different sorts of movies. “I don't want to get pigeon-holed as a gangster movie director. Guy Ritchie, for example, he's a good director, he makes all sorts of movies and that's the route that I want to follow. Mind you I don't think I am like Guy Ritchie as a director. I don't think I would be very good at the big, epic Hollywood type movie, as I have said I think that I am far more concerned with reality and the truthfulness of the movie.

“People like reality, that's why reality TV shows and documentaries are so popular at the moment. Whether it's about life in prison or someone working as a red coat at Butlins, people like reality and that's the quality that I try and recreate in my films.

“What I would love to do is do a film or a series of films based on actual historical events. At the moment I have to be realistic that anything historic costs a lot of money to stage but I hope that eventually I will be in a place where I can get something like that off the ground.”

Next on Adrian's long list of things to do is Detour which is all about a serial killer preying on young students in the Ukraine. “Apparently, the Ukraine is the serial killer capital of the world. There are some statistics about that out there somewhere, so we thought it would be fun to make a thriller about that - providing of course we can get the money.”

The Crew is currently out on DVD, released by Momentum Pictures.