Rishi Opel, Writer and Director of The Grind, discusses the making of the film

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What was your inspiration for making The Grind?

I had many inspirations. I’ve always been an avid film watcher and a film buff, so I was naturally drawn to film making as a teenager. I am a big fan of Martin Scorsese's films, along with Alan Clark, Shane Meadows, Ken Loach and the French New Wave films of Goddard and Truffaut. I am always pulled into their films through their vivid depictions of characters and stories. One of my favourite films ever is Mean Streets I must have watched it over a dozen times over the years. This was a big inspiration in preparing for The Grind. I bought hundreds of screenplays by the likes of Paul Schrader and Quentin Tarantino over the years to see how they were written on paper, thus aiding my creative vision and inspiration for writing my own script. I also read books about filmmaking and scriptwriting.

I wrote a short story which evolved into a twenty page treatment in around 2001. From the treatment I wrote the script of a short film titled ‘Young, Armed and Dangerous’ with the concept of Mean Streets in mind, but with different characters and a different story arc. A reinvention if you like.

Once the short was completed, I showed it to various people and many of them enjoyed it and felt that it could be developed into a feature.

I always wanted to direct a feature, but I knew I didn't have enough experience to direct one, so I tried to get as much experience as I could by working on my friends films, sometimes for free when I was working on shorts at the London International Film School, as well as working on bigger budget films until I felt ready to make my feature.

Once I felt ready I began writing the treatment. From this I wrote the feature length script titled ‘Young, Armed and Dangerous’, which then changed to The Grind.

Once I felt ready I began writing the treatment & from this I wrote the feature length script titled Young, Armed & Dangerous, which then changed to The Grind. 
What was it about Mean Streets that influenced you?

The whole movie was hugely influential. In terms of the characters, you felt for Charlie when he had to look out for Johnny Boy and deal with Tony about Johnny Boy’s debts.

It was a personal piece of work. Harvey Keitel is Scorsese on screen, a young Italian American struggling with responsibility, guilt over sex, confusion about what God wants from him and how to be a good person. Technically Mean Streets is brilliant, from the hand held camera work, use of colour in the lighting through to the music… using classical, pop and rock.

Why did the title of your movie change?

The title changed to The Grind because there were concerns that the title was not suitable for the film and the public would think that a film titled ‘Young, Armed and Dangerous’ would have been an action packed film as opposed to an urban drama. Overall I believe the title is very suitable for the film as it portrays the characters lives and also works as the name of the nightclub.


How did The Grind develop?

Once I had a version of the script I was happy with I decided to start crewing. I had known Paul Young (Co-Producer) for a number of years and we were always talking about movies. Paul Young read the treatment and the script. He felt it was an excellent concept and he wanted to produce.

I was casting for the film and a young actor, Freddie Connor, auditioned for the role of Vince. He was superb and when I offered him the role of Vince he showed such enthusiasm for the film that we brought him on board as a producer. Freddie was one of the main producers and he also brought to the table some new producers; Brendon O’Loughlin, Stephen Follows and Sheraiah Larcher.

Can you explain how you created the characters in The Grind?

The main characters were influenced by people who I had met over the years and had enough of an effect on me that I remembered them. They were also a mix of different sides of my personality.

The creation of the character Bobby (Gordon Alexander) came from various people I used to know while working in a supermarket in West London when I was a student. The character, Travis Bickle, from Taxi Driver also inspired me in the creation of Bobby and his desperate situation.

The creation of the character Vince (Freddie Connor) also came from various people I used to know while working as a DJ. In the mid 90's we used to DJ together throughout nightclubs in London. A number of them went on to run clubs with artists such as Asian DUB foundation, Juggy D and Rishi Rich. It was my experience of being around these guys that helped me develop the character of Vince and his goals and story arc.

The creation of the character Phil (Danny John-Jules) was inspired from a group of guys who I studied with at college. Everyone has a friend who is loud, one of those life and soul of the party types. I wanted Phil to always look smart and be the kind of bloke who can get you anything you wanted, but never delivered anything. A likeable character, yet unreliable and untrustworthy.

The creation of the character Dave was inspired by Paul Sorvino’s character Paul Cicero from Goodfellas. A lot of British and American gangster movies helped me develop the character of Dave. The creation of the character Nancy was inspired from Lorraine Bracco’s character Karen Hill in Goodfellas. I wanted Nancy to be feisty and possessive, but yet supportive to Vince's career aspirations.

To get the film made did you have to make compromises?

Yes, I think every film maker has to compromise especially when it comes to finding investment and funding. I learned that not everyone was happy with my vision and unless I funded my own films from my own cash-flow then I needed to make changes.


Tell me about the locations, The Grind nightclub had an interesting look?

Tell me about the locations, The Grind nightclub had an interesting look? Hackney Central nightclub was used as The Grind nightclub. Originally I wanted a big venue like Fabric, but when Paul Young (Co-Producer) and I went to visit, we realised it would cost us a fortune to light it and make it look like it was filled with a huge crowd.

We then went to another nightclub that I knew really well called Ruby Blue and it was perfect. It had three private rooms off the dance floor and a long bar running along the back of the club. The size was perfect too, as we didn't need too many people to fill the club. Unfortunately they were renovating when we needed to shoot the film.

We starting looking at other clubs in London and we came across one in Hackney. I had reservations because the area was well known for being a bit of a dive and I always had my heart set on hiring Fabric or Ruby Blue. Nothing else was going to be good enough. The building was once Hackney Central Tube Station and I thought we would be interrupted by trains passing through every five minutes.

We went for a couple of drinks and when they started pumping the dance music and the strobe lighting hit I soon warmed to the place. It had huge ceilings, exposed beams and brickwork. It had an urban feel to it. It was like the perfect place to hold an illegal rave. I could see Vince running a place like this and Hackney Central was soon to become a very important character in the film.

We also had 24 hour access to the nightclub areas which meant we could store the equipment there without having to take it down each night, which we would have needed to have done at the other venues. The location also had another bar area on the other side of the building which meant we could also use it as an office. So in the end it was a blessing in disguise.

We tried to group the locations together as much as possible, but I wanted to keep Bobby’s council flat and his last scene in West London. The supermarket was also in West London. We had the option of using a large supermarket, but I decided to go for a smaller one. I knew for a fact that all cash tills have a limit of around £500. With the amount of CCTV cameras about there was no way Bobby would get away with robbing a large supermarket. The smaller supermarkets would have its takings transported to a safe and would have had limited security measures.

Why was West London chosen for some of the filming?

About fifteen years ago while I was studying, I was reading a book on Scorsese (and I'm not comparing myself here) and I found out that he always used to go back home to Little Italy in New York. I used the Ivy Bridge Estate in Isleworth for my short film (Young, Armed and Dangerous), but we were too close to the Heathrow flight path.

We were interrupted regularly, so the next council estate I knew best from my childhood was Harvey House in Brentford and when I went to visit that high rise block I instantly knew that that estate had to be Bobby's home. The location for Bobby's last scene was very important as it had to be in a huge, but still and secluded spot. In my short film, Bobby's last scene is in a subway under a dual carriageway, but The Grind required a bigger location for the ending.

The end scene of The Grind was filmed underneath the A40 flyover. It was perfect. It had huge iron girders and concrete pillars, covered in graffiti on either side, holding up the dual carriageway. You could even hear the strange hum of the traffic passing above you when you stood underneath it.


Tell us about the music and why you chose it?

Tell us about the music and why you chose it?

I wanted to use some of the classic tracks that I listened to back in the 1990's. I was a big fan of Faithless. I remember when Salva Mea (Save Me) was released in the summer of 1995 and the impact it had on the dance floor whenever we dropped that track.

I wanted to use Hip-Hop throughout the film. I was heavily into Nas, Biggie Smalls, Gang Starr, Wu-Tang and De La Soul. One of my favourite tracks from that period was Stakes Is High by De La Soul, and it felt right for the characters.

During the edit I realised that Hip Hop did not suit the film. I leaned towards House music, because I wanted to appeal to a wider audience and it felt right for the club culture it portrays.

Will any of the tracks used in The Grind make the final cut?

it depends on how much the copyright costs and whether we can afford it. We definitely want tracks from Faithless & Daft Punk in the film. If not, there are a number of up and coming artists who want to provide us with tracks.

Tell us about the visual look of the film?

I wanted to use long scenes without cutting. I did not want The Grind to be edited like a music video, and I didn't want any fast cutting especially with the dance floor scenes. The music was very important, but I still wanted the audience to feel that what they were experiencing was a feature film, not a jumped up TV drama or music video.

The fast editing would have taken the audience away from that feeling. I wanted the audience to feel the large crowd around Vince and let the audience have a certain amount of information that Vince didn't know about which helps the audience sympathise with Vince. I also used a couple of slow motion shots. I think Danny John-Jules has got great screen presence and he always ended his scenes with an awkward sly but funny look towards Vince, Big Guy or Bobby. It worked.

Bo Bilstup was a great DOP. I had interviewed around ten different cinematographers who were all great, but none had shot anything similar to what I wanted. When I saw Bo’s work I knew immediately he had a good eye. We sat down and discussed the look of The Grind. We had a lot in common and we had a similar taste in movies. He told me his favourite movie was Magnolia. Bo told me he thought the movie should be hand held with a fly-on-the-wall look. Bo was also the only person to send me an honest review of my script which led me to think that he really believed in the project.

The future

What advice would you give to a new Filmmaker?

I would say start of by writing a short film. Start with a 10 page script. Go out and shoot it on one weekend and then edit it. Show it to people, ask them what they liked and what they didn’t like. Get some training and learn how other people make their films. You can join film networking sites like Shooting People, Raindance and Mandy.com.

Watch as many films as you can and then go out and make films. Try and get as much experience as you can before attempting a feature film. Shane Meadows made dozens of short films before making his first feature. Don’t give up; if I can do it you can do it.

What would you do differently next time?

I would have liked to create a better business plan and ideally have had experienced producers on board at an early stage. I would have liked better control of the overall spend of the production as well. I also would have liked to have stuck to my original vision of what I wanted. In some ways I did get what I wanted, but there were changes during pre-production and during the production to keep certain people happy. That's just how it is in the movie business.

There were changes to the script too. A lot of the darker scenes were removed from the film and several producers involved wanted to remove these scenes and concentrate on the character development and drama side of the story such as the back story of the characters. Many people believed that my vision was too violent.

I also wanted more realistic drug references such as drug taking, drug dealing and there were scenes with strippers which the producers removed, although not entirely sure why? There was also another scene where Bobby cuts himself across his chest because of the pain he had put his family through. This was a scene I visualised before I had even started writing the treatment of my short film in 2002. Again this was deemed too extreme, but in hindsight this was an admission too far. It told us of Bobby's extreme nature, and his ability to self-harm.

So you wanted to keep true to the world that you knew about?

The Grind was not only a commercial product for an audience, but it was a story that was a part of me. The Grind was my own life experience.

The clubs we used to go to all had some form of violence whether it was a fight or an argument over a girl or going too far with a stripper. The drug culture was huge at the time and no one could do anything about it and you could get hold of anything you wanted. Ecstasy was readily available and I was exposed to that world from an observational viewpoint. Teenagers were dying from overdoses from dodgy batches of Ecstasy pills at the time and there was a lot of media frenzy about how people were getting access to drugs.

I’ve seen a couple of UK gangster films where the violence is pretty unrealistic. I think you have to respect your audience and not only give them what they want, but give them a true portrayal to the world that you're introducing. However, if I hadn’t made the changes I may have not got the brilliant cast that I did get. Getting a good cast also allowed us to raise more money and we managed to achieve a very high production value. Overall it was a team effort and a great collaboration.

Any ideas for your next project?

Yes, there are a couple ideas. I want to make a modern day reinvention of a Hitchcock classic set in London for instance. I’ve also been asked to develop a number of high concept features including a film about the racial tension in Bradford set in 2001, a radio talk show host with strong views, a political thriller about the Iraq war and I would like to make a heist film. I have a lot of ideas swimming around in my head and I never know which one I want to make next.

How would you like The Grind to be remembered?

I would like the film to be remembered as a movie that offered something fresh and new, however clichéd that sounds, but I believe the film still stands up well. I hope we gave an honest and realistic portrayal about the nightclub world.