Meet the Salford director making waves on Netflix with Strangeways, Here We Come

We caught up with Manchester's Director Chris Green to talk about the recent success of his film, Strangeways here we come
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Last week, Chris Green’s Strangeways Here We Come shot up to number 9 on Netflix’s most viewed.

The film was created over four years ago now, but seems to have found its audience when it was added to the global streaming site.

The film, which was made for a couple of hundred thousand of pounds, was tussling with huge budget films which had nearly 45m budgets in the top ten line up.

We caught up with Chris, who was born in Salford and is founder of Shout to the Top Productions, to talk about the film, and the talent around in the North West and Manchester.

If you’d like to know more about Shout to the Top, or could help them by investing in their slate of projects, please click here.

For those who might not be aware, please can you tell us about Strangeways, Here We Come.
So, the basic premise is a load of residents on a council estate in Salford, up against it financially, are being preyed upon by an evil loan shark. If the residents can’t afford the repayments he makes them pay in other ways, like sexual favours and other devious stuff. This guy, Danny Nolan has a real hold on the local community and he is despised by everyone who comes in contact with him. Then one night, at a rather wild party the residents all come to realises that they are all in hock to the same person, and under the influence of a few drinks and drugs, they all knock together this plan to kill him. But in the cold light of day they comes to their senses. But Nolan discovers their plan and it all goes down hill from there, with almost every resident getting involved. It’s a crazy film, but is a lot of fun. It’s mental really. It’s really mad but great fun.

You said the reaction initially wasn’t positive?
The Guardian absolutely slated it when it came out! They called me a middle class film maker taking the piss out of the working classes. But this film isn’t aimed at Guardian readers, and to call me middle class is silly really, given that I was brought up on Spike Island in Lower Broughton! Quite a bit of what happens in the film is based on my own experiences as a post man many years ago when I used to deliver letters on Salford Precinct. There’s a postman in the film who is constantly getting abused by people as he delivers bills. That used to be me!

Some people have likened the film to a cross between Brassic and Shameless, which is a nice compliment. It’s very northern and rude, but ultimately, it’s very funny. In terms of locations, we shot the whole film in and around Salford Precinct and the local community came out in their droves to help us and make us welcome. And some of the characters we encountered. Well……there’s a story in itself!

Can you tell us a bit about your background, how did you get into film?
I loved writing stories as a kid, and at high school I was pretty much a grade A student until the final year, which is when my dad passed away. After that I went off the rails for a bit and got into trouble, so all the qualifications I was on target to have before I left school just didn’t materialise. I remember one time being behind a plot to take the whole school on strike one lunch-time. We locked the gates and wouldn’t let the kids back in. I was grieving, but there was no grief counselling back then so I was letting the grief out in other ways. But one of the constants throughout this time was writing, short stories and attempts at a novel, but nothing really serious. But years later, in 1999 I was told about a new writers competition that was being run by Nicola Schindler’s Red Productions and CH4.

It was called Northern Soul and If you came from the North West you were eligible to enter. So I sent them a 30 minute script about insurance fraudsters called Blaggers. Anyway, it got in the top ten and at the awards ceremony in Manchester and I came runner-up. I got an agent and then I started getting invited into productions like Casualty and The Bill but it never quite worked out. So, around 2010 I decided to make a feature film. It was called “Desperate Measures” and the total budget was around £45,000. I followed that up with a script called “Best Laid Plans”, but despite people liking it I couldn’t get it made so I approached Stephen Graham and Maxine Peake and they agreed to be attached to the project. It was a case of them saying to each other ‘if you do it I’ll do it’.

So then, the script became a package and producer Mike Knowles of NOW films took it on and got it made. It was a great experience being on set with Stephen and Maxine and watching them bring my characters to life. They’re both brilliant people and unbelievable actors.

As far as directing goes, Strangeways Here We Come was my first, then I was asked to direct another comedy “Me, Myself and Di” which is currently on Amazon and features some amazing talents including Larry Lamb, Will Mellor and Lucy Pinder among others. Then came the “Pebble and The Boy”, my ode to the world of Mod’s, Scooters and Paul Weller which we made with the support of the Weller family and Den Davis who is The Jam’s official archivist. The film has been really successful and stars Sacha Parkinson, Mark Sheals, who is also in Strangeways and my good friend Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield from The Stone Roses makes a great cameo appearance. It played in 170 cinemas and is available to watch on Amazon prime.
And now, Strangeways Here We Come, almost four years after we made it has been released on Netflix and in its first week it went to number 9 in films.

What do you make of the recent success of Strangeways, Here We Come?
I am surprised, but absolutely thrilled. It seems like it’s finally found its right audience. People who just want a laugh with a curry and a few pints on a Friday night. The fact that it’s suddenly caught fire and people are raving about it and asking for a sequel is really satisfying for me as a film maker.
It’s a bit mad really when you think about it. That this micro budget film was going head to head in the Netflix Top 10 with huge budget films like ‘All quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘The Stranger’. I’m not knocking it though!

Can you tell us a bit about what inspires your work?
Strangeways was inspired by the colourful characters I encountered on my Postie round, but mostly it comes from ‘male bonding’ films with great soundtracks that I watched as a kid. Films like the Wanderers, the Warriors and Quadrophenia was a big one for me because of the music and band. That film was partly responsible for me becoming a Mod, as did The Jam when All Mod Cons came out. Although Grease is actually my favourite film.
So yeah, films with great music is what I’m inspired by, and what I like to write. Strangeways Here We Come is inspired by the Smiths album of the same name. I wanted to get some Smiths music in the film, but we couldn’t, and so turned to our Mancunian friend Terry Christian who curated a soundtrack for us with unsigned bands which he knew and recommended. The Moods, Little Sparrow and some others – the soundtrack is phenomenal. It’s music and nostalgia that works for me. I’d say those are my main themes.

The next films is also music inspired. It’s called Thick as Thieves and it’s a comedy set in the Brit Pop Era, about two idiots who get mistaken for undercover cops and they use that as a way to start making money in Manchester. One is a Blur fan and the other loves Oasis.
You can look at some of Chris’ previous work here.

Do you think Manchester has a lot of talent being under-utilised?
There’s a load of talent up here that goes unrecognised. I know Maxine Peake has spoken about this but it’s still very London centric. Lots of actors I meet are struggling a bit because they are working class and they haven’t done RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). I mean, it’s alright if you’re Benedict Cumberbatch – you’re laughing aren’t you?

If you’re someone up here who doesn’t have the exposure and is working a day job and has to find £150 to get down to London for a 2 minute audition, it’s tough going and I admire actress who keep going. With my new company Shout to the Top I’m trying to rectify that to some extent. We wants to create a stable of great northern talent that we can draw on to produce great content. We started it with Strangeways with talents like Jimmy Foster, Mark Sheals and Michelle Keegan among others. Stephen Lord, who plays Danny Nolan in the film is from Salford and his wife Elaine who plays Steph is based in Manchester.

I want to use the talent pool we’re got up here and get us noticed. I know other production companies have done it but we want to keep hammering it home that what we’re doing up here is great. But we need help to survive, so if any of your lovely readers want to invest in the next big thing then they can get in touch via The website by clicking here. 

Finally, any advice to young writers and directors in Manchester?
Make the best calling card you can. If you’re gonna make films, direct, act, write: you have to show up to build up those credits. There’s a lot of working for free in the early days – I’m sure it’s the same across a lot of professions. So, if you’re a writer or director and you’re working with no money – you have to take the extra time to just create the best film you can. Take the time – get the right collaborators in and make a calling card that will make people sit up and take notice. I know you’ll want to give roles to your mates down the pub, but you really have to try and make the best collaborations you can and use the best actors you can as it will improve the work you’re doing by working with the best. The edit might takes ages, but it’s worth it because in this
business it’s hard enough being from around here but if you’ve got some content you have to grip the viewer. You might only get ten minutes to pitch it so make it the best you can. Make it sing!

Strangeways, Here we come is available on Netflix now.

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