Purely Belter director Mark Herman
After the success of his first two films – Brassed Off and Little Voice – Mark Herman scores again with the soccer-themed Purely Belter. Pauline Adamek spoke with Mark Herman at the Cannes Film Festival.
How important is football for you?
“Very important! Unfortunately I support a team that is at the bottom of the bottom division, Hull City. I've given them 35 years of my life and they've given me nothing in return. What upsets me is that the rich clubs are getting richer and the poor clubs, like the one I'm supporting, are getting poorer. It used to be the people's game and now ordinary people just can't walk in on a Saturday anymore. With Newcastle United, you have to be a season ticket holder and that costs 600 quid every year. A whole generation of kids are missing out. I remember getting hooked on football when I was about ten years old. People who go and see Newcastle, with maybe two kids, that's nearly two grand! The city of Newcastle really breathes football. It's like a religion there. You can feel it when you're walking around the street. All the kids have got the shirts on even when it's not a match day. They just talk about football all the time.”
How much of the original book, Season Ticket, did you have to throw away?
“It was a lot of restructuring. It's actually quite a depressing book. The slide is constant and by the last chapter everything goes wrong. It's very bleak. So the end of the film is not the end of the book. I actually wrote the film up to the last page and then I spent a lot of time working out what that last page was. Also, the book was called Season Ticket and what we found was that a lot of people who hate football but love the film wouldn't have gone to see a film with that title, or with any football connotations. I don't really feel it is a film about football and we wouldn't want to lose that audience.”
Do you think of your films in terms of a trilogy?
“Well, nah, they're all a bit different. Well, it's more similar to Brassed Off. Little Voice was more of a fairy tale, really – set in the same area but that's all – and the other two are very real stories. I was keen not to do another Northern England film because I didn't want to get typecast. But then when this book arrived I fell in love with these characters and decided that if we could do it quickly, within a year, then I would do it. And the book didn't come out till about April 2000 in England. It did happen very quickly. Film Four put the money up and it was a quick writing job and we shot it before Christmas, 1999.”
How tough was it to cast the boys?
“That was quite scary because the whole film hangs on those two. Susie Figgis, the casting director, saw about five hundred northeastern kids. Not a very pleasant task! [He laughs.] She narrowed it down to about a hundred for me to see then we got it down to about fifteen or twenty and started pairing them off to see who played well against each other, to get the right duo. These two turned out to be the least experienced. A lot of those kids have done television but with these two, their freshness and lack of pretentiousness were appealing.”
Do you have any favourite football memories?
“We [his team Hull City] got a draw somewhere once! Yeah, the first time I went, I was nine years old. Most people who are football fans treasure that first memory. And the first night game, I always remember that. It was similar – my Dad taking me. Oddly enough Hull City was a popular team then, so there were about 40,000 people there and for a little kid that was just great.”