Writer/director Malachi Smyth talks us into bringing a really rather ambitious British indie film to the big screen with The Score.
You can’t accuse writer/director Malachi Smyth of taking the easy route. After having already tried to get his first film off the ground and make it fall apart, he continued his scriptwriting work, before having the idea for his new project. It would be The score, a wildly ambitious, independently funded British crime thriller, which just happens to be set to the music of Johnny Flynn. And on the eve of the film’s release, he tells us a little more.
Where does The Score come from? Can you explain to us the genesis of the project?
I wrote a first draft and wrote it pretty quickly. I had the notion of two little time crooks and one life-changing moment. But also, a drama about two guys, with a key in the works. I had all of those elements, and it really got written once the characters started to come to life.
I had a first draft that I was quite happy with. A fun, small, easy-to-make, low-budget film. I showed it to a few people, including Ben, one of the producers. He ummed and aahed at first. His concern was how to make it stand out. Make a movie that doesn’t disappear after you’ve made it. And I didn’t want it to have that feel of a low-budget British film.
Where does Johnny Flynn’s music come from?
I was working on the second draft and listening to Johnny [Flynn]Cillian’s latest album, which had just been released. I had met him once and knew him and his music. But it was his first album, I really listened to a plot.
Is it usual for you to write with music playing in the background?
Yes. I often listen to music when I write, and it just started ringing. Lots of elements that connected to what I was writing. Its timelessness too.
And so you rewrote the script again, with the Johnny Flynn songs put in, and it became kind of a musical. What happened next ?
I met Ben again and I used to have a running gag where I showed him a script and he wasn’t quite convinced, and he said why not make him a musical. It was reminded to me. I then started to listen to more [Johnny’s] Songs. I sent the first six pages to Ben and told him what you think.
He said that was great, do the rest, so I started digging through Johnny’s catalog and finding more songs.
Didn’t that make your relatively modestly planned movie a little bigger?
I had created a problem for myself, but it was a beautiful problem! Then it was about whether we could get other people to believe it? Can we convince people that this makes sense? »
For a long time, I kept telling people that it wasn’t a musical, it was a movie with songs. Songs that do different things. It’s not just a case of people getting into the song, there’s something going on in the songs that’s internalized.
Everyone who read it seemed to fall in love with it. So the question begins: will it work? That was the big question mark. Thanks to the reactions we started getting and the amazing actors who signed up, it became a doable project. These people bring in more investments.
Was it easy to raise funds?
Getting funded is an absolute nightmare. It is very difficult to get people to believe in you. I haven’t done television either, which is now an inward path. I made some short films to show that I can control a set. But ironically, I almost got a big break 15 years ago where he collapsed just as he was about to shoot.
But with this one, it works. And, unusually for an independent film, you had a decent time with your cast beforehand. How did it all come together from there?
You don’t always have the opportunity to meet actors and have long discussions. But for me, it has always been essential. The offer [of the film] was conditional on us meeting and getting along.
Johnny [Flynn] was easy. He was involved early on, giving script notes, casting suggestions. I really felt an affinity with him, and I felt that I had him and that we could get along well.
With Naomi [Ackie] we met and she was just wonderful. We got on well.
Will Poulter got involved later and much closer to the set, I loved meeting him. He felt like he was fine with that, and he had also met Johnny.
And this was before Covid?
Yes. The whole thing was thrown into some disarray by Covid. Although [when lockdown lifted], we were able to get a longer shooting schedule. 26, 27 days.
Was it enough?
It was still tight. Some days we were shooting nine or ten pages a day, although ironically those were some of my favorite moments in the film. There were issues that cropped up in the areas you would expect. The decisions you have to make to prioritize one thing over another. To know how to film things in the most economical way possible.
And it worked ?
Yes! I guess that realization comes from having spent so many years in the industry, desperately trying to get my movies done!
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