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The Heavy The Film Story.
The Heavy tells the story of two brothers; one (Gary Stretch) a henchman for a successful, yet shady businessman (Stephen Rea), the other (Adrian Paul) with ambitions to be Prime Minister.
Presented with an opportunity to take a long considered revenge against his estranged family (Christopher Lee, Jean Marsh), while being hunted by a psychotic police detective (Vinnie Jones), our conflicted anti�hero must come to terms with the fact that, sometimes, getting out means getting even. As the story unfolds, the protagonists find themselves drawn into a web of lies and deceit, from which no-one will escape unscathed.
Story about the making of The Heavy film.
THE HEAVY actually started as a modest undertaking. I originally saw the project as a short. It was basically a story about two people in a flat. A guy breaks in, the apartment is supposed to be empty, but there is someone there who he has to get control over and maintain the situation over the course of the night. But when you put two people in a situation like that you start to wonder why he went to the flat, Who the person already there is etc. All these layers started to expand and spilled out of the flat and into the outside world. I started to see the other opportunities, how nice it would be to do this or that. Suddenly it wasn’t such a small project any more.
My love of London shaped the screenplay. I always felt that I never saw the city in a film the way I was seeing it in reality. So I wanted to shoot it my own way, with certain types of characters. I was helped by a lot of people who had a much better assessment of the British culture than I might have had at the time.
This is an ambitious film, but very modest in terms of production size and even budget. Thankfully people believed that I could realise it. Because of my background in music videos and commercials I knew how to work fast with limited resources to hopefully make something visually exciting. I like to think that THE HEAVY is an interesting approach to merging Hollywood and British independent cinema.
None of the characters are based on any one I actually know. It’s more my perception of people in the media, the characters that you see on the front pages of the newspapers or on television. The Long Good Friday was a major influence for me. One of the major challenges was getting the tone right. I think it’s a shame that people tend to think of cinematic London solely in terms of the Guy Ritchie movies (good as they are). All credit to him to having such an indelible fingerprint on modern British film but I think that I would probably draw more on the likes of Performance. I don’t consider THE HEAVY a gangster film. It is a political crime thriller. There are some shady characters in the movie, but no real gangsters as such.
The making of the film was not easy. My business partner Mark Cellier and I tried for a long time to get the film on its feet. Oddly enough it was composer and world renowned producer and DJ Paul Oakenfold who was one of the first to get behind me on the project, talent wise. Having met through a friend, Paul understood very quickly how important the music in the film was going to be to telling the story.
I had Hollywood producer John Daly, who’s an old friend, help me attach some key talent such as Vinnie Jones. With him and Lee Ryan (who also signed on to the project early) the wheels of financing became lubricated. Things slowly started to take shape. Very late in the day I met, again through John Daly, our producing partner John Cairns. He was able to attract enough finance to at least get us going.
We had a stumbling block early on in the form of one of the financiers pulling out. But we were able to struggle on to the completion of shooting, which was our saving grace. This happens to so many independent films, and if you can’t at least get to completion of shooting you’re dead in the water. We were able to make it. We’ve had some stops and starts and struggles after that, but to be honest they were all for the good of the movie. THE HEAVY was able to come together in the way that it should have come together.
The casting felt very organic. Having Vinnie play a police officer could be seen as different and unusual. But it just felt right. Then we had the idea of putting him in a different look – a beard and a suit, giving him a different persona and challenging the audience’s perception of him. Vinnie is an incredibly focused and disciplined guy. Always fun and very accommodating, but just so professional and focused. He strives to be as good as possible; in fact I think he’s very competitive about his acting. His background in football shaped what he brought to the character and the film.
Gary Stretch was another recommendation of John Daly. I was a big fan of Gary as an actor; his performance in Dead Man’s Shoes really impressed me. From that I knew that he had the talent. After talking to him I knew that he also had the character we were looking for. And now I cannot honestly see anyone else playing the role. Boots was always a physical guy, but not necessarily a bad guy. And Gary has that sort of presence, which probably comes from his boxing. It would be so different if we had ended up with someone who knew nothing else but acting – I don’t think we would have believed in the character as much.
Claire is a tricky character to play. It was someone that obviously had to be attractive and alluring, yet believable in the context of how she fits into the story. Shannyn Sossamon was on a very very short list of people I had in mind to play her. I’ve always been a big fan, she’s an incredible actor, so getting her was a real coup.
Lee Ryan is someone who I knew prior to making THE HEAVY. He does an amazing job as an actor and the character is interesting. I’m sure Lee drew from his own experiences to build up the role, which is really colourful and interesting.
I met with Richard Attenborough about playing the father role. He was very flattering about the screenplay, which then gave me the confidence to start approaching other people. Richard couldn’t take part in the end, but we got Christopher Lee instead – who now seems the obvious choice.
I’ve wanted to do something with Stephen Rea for a long long time. Like Vinnie he plays a type of character that you haven’t seem him play before. That was a high note in terms of the right casting.
Everything I have shot so far in my career has been on film. But for THE HEAVY we used a camera system called The Genesis. The Da Vinci Code shot on 35mm and Genesis side by side because they filmed in the Louvre, where you are not allowed any lights. Just seeing that made me realise that this was a superior format. Mel Gibson also used it on Apocalypto, another movie which I loved the look of. I now really prefer the look of the Genesis every time. On an economic note it also worked. As a first-time director the last thing you want is someone on your back saying “you only have one more can of film for the rest of the day” or “you’re burning too much film”.
Most of the film was shot on location in and around London – 36 different locations to be precise! The story is set in the West End. That’s expensive, crowded and noisy. But I was adamant that we had to get the right locations. One of the best days was when we got to shoot on Whitehall, right in front of the Ministry of Defence. That was a logistic nightmare in terms of getting permission to point cameras at such as sensitive building. There was even talk of us blowing up a car there, but in the end we had to shoot that segment in Greenwich.
Both Batman and the Bond movie were shooting in London at the same time as us. So we were all fighting for parking spaces and for resources. For example, when we shot in Mayfair our base had to be across the river in Waterloo - two and a half miles away. So if someone needed wardrobe or to go back to their dressing room it meant a 30 minute trip there, and another half an hour back. But it was all worth it.
You could probably shoot ten movies in London and see the city differently in every single one. But logistically it is hard, and it is expensive. I lived in LA for a long time – this is a city that would shut down the busiest of main streets for a production. London has a lot to offer that I wish could be taken advantage of much easier.
The London Eye was a big feature in the original script. But we had a problem - because of the violence the owners did not want us. So instead Boots now works out on a rooftop. And to be honest it probably makes more sense and works much better in the context of the movie. The roof we used was on top of a Magistrate’s Court. I was really surprised how easy this actually was. We were allowed access through holding cells and places that you would think would be high security areas. But they gave us free range and were surprisingly relaxed about having a film crew around.
There is nothing that has changed drastically from the original concept. In fact the most radical change is that the eventual film jumps back and forward in time. That was an editorial choice in the cutting room. If played out in a conventional timeline practically the whole second half of the movie would be spent in the flat. That started to feel a bit stagnant to me. I’ve always liked fractured timelines, so the very simple conclusion was to intercut the flat action throughout the story.
As with anything in life, when you decide to do something you have to stay the course. This film (like many others) has faced a series of problems and difficulties along the way. It is so frustrating at times when things are going wrong, it can prove overwhelming. This is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. But it has been an amazing experience too. Making a film is a real commitment. THE HEAVY has been start and stop for a long time, but I think that is the way the movie was always supposed to happen. I had several opportunities to re-edit. We’ve had far more time to score it than usual. Those would not have happened if it was all smooth sailing. We’ve all been through experiences in our lives where we wished we had have done things differently. I’ve actually had all the chances and opportunities I could wish for, allowing me to make the film I always wanted.