Written and Directed by
Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway and Nick Frost
John Boyega, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh,
Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Jumayn Hunter
Release Date: May 11, 2011 / Running Time: TBC / Certificate: TBC
Neil Bhatt firstname.lastname@example.org
Marina Vear email@example.com
Suzanne Noble firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: 020 7534 2700
Production stills are available to download from www.optimumreleasing.com/press and www.picselect.com
WRITER/DIRECTOR JOE CORNISH
PRODUCERS NIRA PARK, JAMES WILSON
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS MATTHEW JUSTICE, TESSA ROSS, JENNY BORGARS, WILL CLARKE, OLIVER COURSON, EDGAR WRIGHT
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY TOM TOWNEND
EDITOR JONATHAN AMOS
PRODUCTION DESIGNER MARCUS ROWLAND
COSTUME DESIGNER ROSA DIAS
HAIR AND MAKE-UP DESIGNER JANE WALKER
STUNT CO-ORDINATOR PAUL HERBERT
CREATURE EFFECTS MIKE ELIZALDE – SPECTRAL MOTION
VISUAL EFFECTS DOUBLE NEGATIVE
ATTACK THE BLOCK is a fast, funny, frightening action adventure movie that pits a teen gang against an invasion of savage alien monsters. It turns a London housing estate into a sci-fi playground. A tower block into a fortress under siege. And teenage street kids into heroes. It’s inner city versus outer space.
Trainee nurse Sam is walking home to her flat in a scary South London tower block when she’s robbed by a gang of masked, hooded youths. She’s saved when the gang are distracted by a bright meteorite, which falls from the sky and hits a nearby parked car. Sam flees, just before the gang are attacked by a small alien creature that leaps from the wreckage. The gang chase the creature and kill it, dragging its ghoulish carcass to the top of the block, which they treat as their territory.
While Sam and the police hunt for the gang, a second wave of meteors fall. Confident of victory against such feeble invaders, the gang grab weapons, mount bikes and mopeds, and set out to defend their turf. But this time, the creatures are bigger. Much bigger. Savage, shadowy and bestial, they are hunting their fallen comrade and nothing will stand in their way. The estate is about to become a battleground. And the bunch of no-hope kids who just attacked Sam are about to become her, and the block’s, only hope.
It’s an age-old question, posed by scientists and philosophers the world over: what would happen if ferocious aliens invaded a South London council estate?
Well, at long last we have the answer, thanks to Joe Cornish and his debut movie ATTACK THE BLOCK. And that answer is, they’d soon meet their match, in the form of a group of teenaged youths – or, if you prefer, hoodies - who start the film as the de facto bad guys, mugging an innocent nurse (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home from work. It was exactly that intriguing dichotomy, that clash between outward menace and inward steel, that compelled Cornish to take a group often condemned and demonised by society and turn them into heroes over the course of one crazy night.
“That’s what excited me, starting with a kid who did something bad, like mugging somebody,” says Cornish. “That was a fun thing to write, the challenge of trying to turn your empathy around over the period of the film.”
Although ATTACK THE BLOCK – the title of which is an homage to the little-known South Korean movie, Attack The Gas Station – is a pure sci-fi film, transporting the tropes and conventions of the genre to a tower block teeming with life, its origins are much more mundane. “A gang of quite young kids nicked my wallet and phone through sheer force of numbers,” recalls Cornish, citing an incident that took place in 2001. “I’m a typical coward and I gave them everything.”
Well, not quite. They may have made off with his material goods, but the mugging – or, to be more accurate, enforced borrowing – set Cornish’s thoughts racing. “I was struck by how young they were, and I thought to myself, I probably see you in the park every day. We’re probably on the same level of Call Of Duty!”
A few months after that, he saw M. Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi horror, Signs, and that sealed the deal. “Signs reminded me of a script that John Sayles wrote called Night Skies, which became ET and Gremlins,” says Cornish. “I’ve always loved the idea of a siege, and humans on earth under siege by aliens, and it struck me: what would happen if that happened in my neighbourhood where I grew up, in South London? Then I thought, what would happen if something like that went down during my mugging? Those kids who some people are frightened of would suddenly become quite important – suddenly all their strengths would be usable for a good reason. It went from there, really.”
BEGIN THE BLOCK
That, of course, was back in 2001. ATTACK THE BLOCK – Cornish’s debut as a director – will be released in 2011. During that time, Cornish was working on his successful TV and radio career, often working in tandem with his old friend Adam Buxton, while beavering away on a succession of screenplays. “I’ve been trying to write a screenplay since I was about 13,” he laughs. “I could never finish one. I had amazing first acts and loads of ideas for endings, but I had what everyone has, which is the middle act black hole.”
But eventually one of those screenplays – The Astonishing Ant Man, co-written with his old friend, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright – made it to the finishing line, and that gave Cornish the impetus to give ATTACK THE BLOCK one more go.
Having secured funding from Film4 to write the screenplay, Cornish took the idea, along with several others, to two producer collaborators he'd long known, Nira Park and Jim Wilson. Park's Big Talk was the production company responsible for the success of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. "I came to Nira and Jim with three or four ideas, and this was the one that everybody leapt on,” says Cornish.
Recognising the potential in the idea, Big Talk took advantage of a slate deal it had recently struck with the UK Film Council and Film4 to fund the development of a series of British-set comedies. ATTACK THE BLOCK fit in perfectly with their plans. “What stood out was the idea of a genre film in which the protagonists are London council estate teenagers,” says producer, Jim Wilson “but which subverted the stereotypes of that world and those characters.”
The Attack had begun.
DEVELOP THE BLOCK
His film may have its roots in science-fiction, but from the off, Cornish was adamant that ATTACK THE BLOCK would feel as realistic as possible, with dialogue and characters torn straight from the streets and estates he’d grown up around in South London. In the case of phrases like Moses’ “allow it”, and “believe, bruv”, the film seems like a ready-made treasure trove of golden quotes in waiting.
“The language for me was a really attractive thing,” admits Cornish. “I love A Clockwork Orange and remember novels I’ve read like The Colour Purple and Butcher Boy that are written in argot. For the first couple of pages, they’re impenetrable but then something magic happens and you pick it up by osmosis. So I thought there was an opportunity to maybe do a similar thing. Those kids have their own little language and it’s a sci-fi film, so it’s Klingon, isn’t it? For me, that’s a sci-fi element.”
To get fully acquainted with that language, Cornish and Associate Producer, Lucy Pardee, embarked on a year-long tour of youth clubs in South London, interviewing kids there in an attempt to get inside the heads – and lingo – of his would-be characters. “Despite having grown up in South London, I’m not as street as I might be,” laughs Cornish. “So we did a lot of research. I wrote the story in a quite cartoony way, the outline of what I wanted to happen, and got a friend to do illustrations of what the creatures looked like. We blew them up onto big bits of card and we talked to groups of kids who were the real thing, and talked them through the story, recording everything they said.”
The sessions were incredibly rewarding for Cornish. “The amazing thing is that they pretty much would follow the story without being told,” he marvels. “We would say, ‘What would you do?’ ‘If it jumped on me, I’d fucking kick it!’ It was very satisfying. They endorsed the story and often went in the same direction we had hoped they would go.”
They also provided Cornish with the phrases he sought to establish both the shorthand between his five heroes, and the authenticity of the world he was building. “It was fun to learn what all the little words mean,” he says. “We built ourselves a lexicon of about ten words. I thought it would be best to keep the lexicon to about ten and then use them repeatedly, so eventually by context you know what they mean.”
Executive Producer, Matthew Justice was also blown away by that first script draft and Joe’s attention to detail, “Watching him do the painstaking research that he did and the amount of thought that went into all of his choices, even though he hadn’t directed a movie before, you knew that he had a huge amount of film knowledge and was incredibly film literate.”
Eventually Cornish had a script he was happy with, and a good idea of the sort of film he wanted to make. “More like a John Carpenter movie, or a sort of early low-budget high-concept 80s monster action film, really,” he says. “It’s definitely influenced by Carpenter, trying to be a little minimal with dialogue and make it a bit less dialogue-driven than your average British film and make it about kinetics and action and movement.”
He also had five unique selling points; a quintet of heroes that would be unlike anything else that British cinema had given us before.
“It struck me that there was a chance to make a genre film, that these kids looked fucking great, like they were ninja or out of a western,” says Cornish. “They have vehicles like mopeds and bicycles and mini-mopeds. Not only do they have great costumes and great vehicles, they have very cinematic weaponry as well, with samurai swords and baseball bats and fireworks.”
Sounds great. Now all he had to do was find them.
CAST THE BLOCK
ATTACK THE BLOCK starts with Jodie Whittaker’s nurse, Sam, walking home from a tube station following a hard shift, where she soon runs into trouble, in the form of a mugging by five hooded youths. The clumsy mugging is interrupted when a meteor falls on a nearby car, allowing Sam to make her escape in the confusion.
Most films would follow Sam, but ATTACK THE BLOCK stays with the kids – Moses, Pest, Dennis, Jerome and Biggz - as they encounter and kill a tiny but ticked-off alien that emerges from the blasted wreckage of the car.
As a first-time director, Cornish was aware of the risks of casting five similarly inexperienced actors in his lead roles – but it was a challenge he also embraced, attending drama workshops and the same youth clubs he had been to before with Casting Director, Nina Gold and Lucy Pardee. And one by one, he found his gang.
The gang is led by the stoic, strong, silent Moses, a young boy torn between his innate decency and the chance to escape the drudgery of the block by entering the employ of local druglord, Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). Continuing the John Carpenter theme, Cornish saw Moses as a throwback to one of that director’s iconic heroes. “I had a Snake Plissken thing going on for Moses,” says Cornish, comparing him to Escape From New York’s one-eyed hero, played by Kurt Russell. “He doesn’t have an eyepatch, but he has three scars on his cheek and he gets arrested and they cut the cuffs off, so he ends up with these two little handcuff bracelets on. He’s got a combat jacket which gives him a little bit of agitprop rebelliousness. I did think of the characters in terms of little action figures – I imagined what Kenner would do with my cast!”
Eventually, he found his own life-sized action figure, with fully articulated, posable parts, in the form of John Boyega, a young actor who already had some experience under his belt in the form of a number of plays. “When they gave me the full synopsis, I was like, ‘I’m in this film. I don’t care. I’m getting in this film!’” laughs Boyega. “Moses is a silent and brave type. He’s a good kid in bad circumstances and he deals with what he’s got and you can’t really blame him – he has no choice. He’s silent because he doesn’t want to open up too much. He doesn’t want people to ask questions and he finds it hard to trust anyone.”
A sharp-tongued motormouth who takes something of a shine to Sam, and who has an ever-ready array of fireworks at his disposal, Pest often lives up to his name. So it was important to Cornish that he find an actor who wouldn’t overstep the mark. “What was important for Pest was that he was sweet and loveable and endearing despite being annoying, because he’s got the most lines in the film,” says Cornish.
Enter Alex Esmail, a first-time actor whose only experience of acting came from drama class at his school. There, he was handpicked by the Block casting agents and went through several auditions before getting the role. “Pest is a weed-smoking, crazy, firework wielding idiot,” explains Esmail. “He’s always doing some craziness – you might be in a room and something will explode and everybody will turn around and look at Pest and he’ll just be sitting there with a big grin on his face.”
Moses’s right-hand man, Dennis is a cool cat whose unflappable nature and skills with a samurai sword come in handy when facing off against the worst that space can throw at the kids. “He’s a cocky, good-looking Han Solo roguish type,” says Cornish, “and we found a kid like that. We were lucky in that way, I think.”
That kid was Franz Drameh, who had already acted on screen, in Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter (which shared a location with ATTACK THE BLOCK). But Dennis is a part that the actor welcomed with open arms. “He’s the hothead of the gang. He’s fascinated with bikes, motorbikes, mopeds and BMX’s,” he explains. “He’s the rash one. When I read the script, I was happy with the way that the gang was portrayed. As the film goes on, the audience begins to see that a gang is more than just youths that go and rob people, and you see how they’re just normal people too.”
With his big NHS specs and school uniform peeking out from under his street clothes, Jerome seems the most incongruous member of the gang; a level-headed and studious young man who tags along with his mates. “He’s a good kid, basically,” says Cornish. “He’s probably the most timid and the most unlikely to be involved in the mugging at the start of the film. He’s quite sensible. Leeon had exactly what we wanted in his personality, and had an intelligence and gentleness that was a really nice counterpoint to the rest of the gang.”
Leeon in this case is newcomer, Leeon Jones, who admits to having given the premise almost as much thought as its director. “There’s no movie like this really, because you’ve seen all these movies of aliens, but then you always ask yourself what would happen if aliens attacked my hood,” he says, “and I thought this is exactly what would happen and the weapons we use and everything is so realistic as to what we’d do in the situation. Joe’s written a believable gang – there’ll always be the Moses character who’s the leader, there’s definitely a hot head, the one that’s always fighting, and there’ll be a young guy who wants to be ahead of his age. And there’s always someone who’ll be high. That’s what makes the gang a family; we look out for each other.”
Last, but not least, is the wiry and wired Biggz, one of the most youthful members of the group and who winds up spending most of the movie in a decidedly unusual and uncomfortable position. “The kid we cast, Simon Howard, was a really stylish kid and he would come to the castings with really cool clothes,” recalls Cornish. “We let him choose his own costumes and he ended up looking like a little Inspector Gadget". For Simon Howard, acting was a new experience. “Biggz is the youngest in the gang and the others all look out for him. I think he’s probably the most scared, but he wouldn’t show it because he wants to big up himself in front of everyone,” he says. “The script came to my house on Christmas Eve. It was a happy Christmas present! I was like, this is gonna be a sick film because I’ve always thought there’s gangs in films, but why can’t there be like a gang versus a ghost, or a gang versus an alien? And now the film’s finally come!”
Aware of the strain that could be placed upon his young, inexperienced cast, Cornish was cautious to slowly indoctrinate them into their new world. “I think the big jump was getting them to work with the script,” says Nira Park. “It’s one thing being brilliant in an improvised group, but learning and delivering lines from the script without losing the naturalness of their performance, which was what excited us about them as performers in the first place, was a much harder challenge. But Joe did a lot of rehearsal with them and it made them really connect to him as a group. It was like they could talk to Joe about anything. They obviously felt very comfortable and totally trusting of him and they definitely wanted to do their very best for him.” According to Cornish, the boys never flagged. “It was lovely to come onto set every day and have a group of actors who were as naïve and enthusiastic as I was,” laughs Cornish. “It didn’t wear off. They loved it. At the end of the shoot, I said to them, ‘imagine if this was the first day of the shoot – could you go through all that again?’ And they looked at me and said, ‘yes!’”
Cornish actually let the kids have genuine input into their characters, particularly the look of the gang. “That was very important, actually,” he admits. “There are all sorts of codes and signifiers in young people’s clothing. They were like, ‘I can’t wear a purple bandana! I’m a South London kid!’ It’s all very codified. The kids chose their own trainers, they chose their own bandanas and their own clothes from within the designer’s selections. We learned a lot about how you will wear two pairs of trousers, like a pair of jeans and then over the top a tracksuit so they can hide shit in the pockets if they get patted down by the police. We learned how important it is to wear dark clothes if you’re out on the rob and how the colour of a bandana indicates your territory or your turf. How you swagger and when you swagger and when you don’t swagger."
The script also changed as the cast was cemented, with Cornish penning the final couple of drafts to reflect certain characteristics in his young cast. “We used them as a resource,” he says. “For example, they were much more harsh on Sam, because she snitches on them and tells the police. I originally had them being nicer to her faster, and one of the things that we did when they came in was try and make it a bit more truthful in that respect.”
With his five kids safely locked in, Cornish turned his attention to the other major roles in the movie – trainee nurse Sam, the posh boy Brewis, trapped in the block after stopping off to buy some weed, and Ron, a drug dealer based in the block whose cannabis garden proves crucial in the fight against the invading hordes.
For Sam, he turned to Jodie Whittaker, the star of St. Trinian’s and Venus. "I was looking for an actress who was natural and unmannered enough for her style to blend with the less experienced actors around her" says Cornish. "Jodie was one of the last actresses I met for the part. Meeting her was a very big relief, because I hadn't felt I'd met the right person before, and I'd been starting to get worried. Luckily, she was perfect."
Once she had been cast, Jodie attended the final shortlisted auditions for the gang parts, as ensuring the chosen gang had chemistry with Sam was crucial to the character arc in the film. “It’s a very different type of casting than what I’m used to… all these kids were sat in rows, learning their lines and they come in and do group workshops and let me sit in on that,” explains Jodie, who particularly cherished that opportunity as it has allowed her to forge close friendships and watch the boys grow as actors, “They’re such intelligent lads…this incredibly sparkly group of lads and it’s so exciting to think that they are potentially a next generation of actors.”
Having moved to London from Huddersfield herself several years ago, Jodie could easily identify with Sam’s fish out of water character. “Sam has moved to this block very recently and it’s kind of a world away from what she’s been brought up with…It’s that thing of moving to London, finding an area, moving in, and standing out like a sore thumb…It’s so obvious my character’s not from there.”
Up-and-coming actor Luke Treadaway got the nod as Brewis, a character that Cornish admits may have been modelled upon his younger self. “When I was in my 20s, I sometimes enjoyed the occasional 'jazz cigarette', and I would occasionally go to the local 'jazz club' to get some 'jazz herbs'. Sometimes I would be left sitting alone in the 'jazz club', while the lead trumpeter was out getting some more 'reeds', and I’d think, anything could flipping happen right now. A rival gang could burst in, or the police could raid the block. Once I saw this dealer wrap a machete in a towel and pop it in the airing cupboard…”
Luke describes his character further as “that kid who’s at university who’s dealing a bit of weed to make a bit of money and he probably thinks he’s very good at skateboarding but maybe doesn’t have a skateboard. He loves his old school hip hop but he comes straight out of Chiswick, not Compton. He’s a little bit of a pretender, but he’s a sweet enough lad.”
For Ron, based on the owner of that Jazz Café, Cornish turned to an old friend, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Paul star, Nick Frost. “Ron’s this drug dealer who runs this grubby little cannabis-growing factory in a disused flat at the top of the block,” explains Cornish. “Nick was wonderful to have on the set. He was easy to direct... He was with us for a couple of weeks and it was exciting for the kids. It was really inspiring for them to be working with an actor who had made it in the business without any kind of high-falutin’ training…”
Frost, who describes Ron as “like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but not as camp and with more weed”, is self-effacing about his contribution to the film, and the kids’ development. “Yeah, it fell on deaf ears, that advice!” he laughs. “To their credit, they weren’t fazed at all. The first time I was on a film set, it was Shaun of the Dead and I was a mess for a week, so either they don’t think about it, or it doesn’t bother them. Either way, that’s pretty cool. They were courteous to everyone, they listened and they did a great job.”
Shoot The Block
ATTACK THE BLOCK takes place in Wyndham House in South London, but there’s no point trying to seek it out on Google Maps. It doesn’t exist. Instead, it’s a composite of a number of London locations – a bit of Islington here, and a lot of the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle there. Heygate has been seen in the likes of Hereafter and Harry Brown and gave Cornish exactly what he was looking for. “That place was fantastic,” he remembers. “It was a completely deserted estate that you could lock off without disturbing the neighbours. Although we did stir up the neighbourhood during the police van attack. We did set off some quite loud fireworks on residential streets late at night."
In his director’s statement, written during development, Cornish sets out what he wants to do with the eponymous block, mentioning it in the same breath as the Nakatomi Plaza from Die Hard, Alien’s Nostromo and the Posideon from, erm, The Poseidon Adventure – self-contained single locations that became iconic and ultimately defined the action that took place within their walls. For Cornish, Wyndham House could stand alongside them. “Estates are amazingly peculiar environments which, when first conceived, were fantastic, escapist and futuristic,” says Cornish. “Now, to modern eyes, they seem extremely retrograde and downbeat and nasty. But when you look at 70s movies like Logan’s Run or A Clockwork Orange, they use that architecture as a futuristic thing, not a depressing thing. Like a kind of sci-fi playground”.
To that end, Cornish knew exactly how he wanted to play with his sci-fi toys. “The ambition was to make the tower block feel like a spaceship,” he says. “We put big lights on the roof like rocket engines. We had sound design that gave it a rumble, like the sound design they give spaceships.” In fact, one shot which goes under the block recalls the camerawork of James Cameron or Ridley Scott on their respective Alien movies, while the interior of the block is all tube lighting and ominous sounds, designed to make corridors and flats seem dark, claustrophobic and maybe even alive. “You get amazing distorted sounds in tower blocks,” he explains. “You hear a scream, you can’t tell whether it’s a baby or someone laughing or someone being attacked. The stairwells in tower blocks act like pipe organs because they have these hinged windows. When the wind blows through, if you adjust the windows, you can hear this massive note on them and get these amazing tones.”
It’s indicative of Cornish’s meticulous preparation and his approach to the visual side of the movie, something he was very clear on from the start, to the point where he drew a map of the estate as he was writing the script. “I was just trying to apply as many fantasy ideals to the film as I could. I remembered reading The Hobbit as a kid in the school library and how exciting it was to see a map on the fly-leaf. Then, walking around my neighbourhood, I saw all these maps outside various estates and it’s the same. Nobody gives the maps a second look, but what if there was an amazing incident in that park over there, and then an amazing chase up that walkway, and then an explosion up there? We wanted to stamp a clear layout on the audience’s minds early, and since we couldn’t afford to show an aerial shot of the estate as it doesn’t exist, the way to show it was by showing this top shot of the map at the very beginning of the film.”
ATTACK THE BLOCK started filming in March 2010, for eleven weeks. Six of those were on location and, in keeping with a decision taken very early on, that meant six weeks of night shoots.
“We decided to shoot it all after dark, which was very important,” says Cornish, who loved the thrill of shooting at night. “We thought that would immediately make it different from other British movies that take place in a similar place. And we wet down every single street, which gives it that look that The Warriors and Streets Of Fire had, where you double your money with the lights. We tried to use similar lenses to what they used in The Warriors to get the same depth of field, so that the lights in the background become jewels glistening in shadow.”
Anyone who knows Cornish’s masterful work as a parodist of Hollywood movies – particularly with an assortment of stuffed teddy bears on The Adam & Joe Show – would know that, like the likes of his Big Talk stable-mates Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, he’s astonishingly cine-literate. So it’s not exactly a surprise to find him name-checking the likes of Walter Hill’s seminal gangland movie as an influence. It wasn’t alone.
“We looked at The Outsiders and Rumble Fish and Escape From New York and The Warriors and ET, and lots of different movies,” admits Cornish. “Diva, for the moped chase, Subway for the foot chases. My favourite movies are movies where you forget the director’s style, and you become absorbed in the moment-to-moment action.”
To achieve the look and style he was after, Cornish needed a director of photography who knew his way around in the dark. He looked at a host of candidates but couldn’t find the right person for the job. Until he was watching TV one night and happened upon a Virgin Mobile advert that saw its protagonist drop into a game of Halo. “It was brilliant,” says Cornish. “It was all at night and it was legible. It wasn’t grainy. We investigated it online, found out the name of the guy who shot it and gave him a call.”
It turned out that the advert was shot by Tom Townend, who, like Cornish, had yet to cut his teeth in the features world. “I met lots of DOP's but no one was as good as Tom – his work was never grainy or shaky-cam or bleak. All those things that British films so often are.”
Nira Park says ”Because Joe was a first-time director, for the last year of development we started putting together a team of the very best HOD’s around him, so that he could really begin to make the film he had in his head a reality and work through his ideas. Tom was absolutely Joe’s choice, and was an inspired one. Joe does his due diligence. He knew what he wanted from a DOP. He watched tons of show reels and met lots of people. We shot a little test early on, which Tom did, and he did a fantastic job and Joe knew he was the right person for the film. And now I think Joe won't ever work with anyone else but Tom!”
Park laughs as she recalls Cornish’s early days as a director, struggling to get to grips with the idea that a crew was there for him, after years of self-contained DIY existence. “Coming from The Adam & Joe Show and other things that he’d done that were much smaller, he was used to doing pretty much everything himself,” she says. “It was a massive learning curve for him, which I think he really enjoyed.”
On his radio show with Adam Buxton, Cornish has been known to dabble in songwriting. But when it came to the soundtrack for ATTACK THE BLOCK, he didn’t want to go down the John Carpenter route and write it himself. Instead, he handed over composing duties to Steve Price, another first-timer, and Basement Jaxx. “Score is a hugely important thing,” he propounds. “It affects the tone, it affects everything.” So he turned for inspiration once again to the minimalist electronic-infused music of John Carpenter. “It’s got orchestral elements and percussive contemporary urban elements,” he says of the score. “We listened to a lot of John Carpenter’s stuff. The brilliant thing about his stuff is it’s percussive but you stay absorbed in the story.”
Cornish was keen to stay away from source music. “If you stick a source cue on there, or a pop song, you often end up having to shape the action to the track in the editing room” he says "which can turn things into a pop video. We went totally the other way. There’s no ATTACK THE BLOCK rap! We had the picture locked well before the score was composed.”
ATTACK THE BLOCK
Giger’s Alien. Joe Dante’s Gremlins. The Thing from that man Carpenter’s film of the same name. All great movie monsters that were also all great practical effects – something that Cornish was keen to emulate with his aliens. “The technique we used is quite old-school,” he concedes. “I didn’t want to do CGI creatures because a) we couldn’t afford them and b) I wanted there to be something in front of the camera. I’m fed up with the aesthetics of CGI creatures. They’re overly detailed and too ornate. I used to enjoy drawing the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, but you try drawing a four-headed hydra from Harry Potter and you need a fine art degree!”
He also wanted to help out his young cast as much as he could by scaring the bejesus out of them with face-to-face encounters with the real thing. Which in this case meant guys in suits. But when one of those guys is Terry Notary, a highly-respected movement coach who Cornish claims “can chase you on all fours in a terrifying way”, the real thing might make for a welcome change. “Our aliens are quadrupeds,” explains Cornish. “And Terry’s the best quadruped runner in the world. He ran Tim Burton's Ape School for Planet of the Apes, was the movement coach on Tintin and the Viperwolves in Avatar. Having him there meant we could put a creature in the room with the kids. If an alien crashed through the window, it would actually crash through the window. If it landed on them, it would land on them. If they had to slice it with a samurai sword, it was there and they could slice it.”
From the off, Cornish knew that he wanted the aliens attacking the block to be different from pretty much any space alien that had gone before. In the film, the gang refer to them as "big, alien, gorilla-wolf motherfuckers" – and that’s pretty much on the money. They’re large, nasty, savage, hairy beasts, hell bent on killing virtually anything that gets in their way with their razor-sharp claws and glow-in-the-dark teeth. It’s virtually impossible to come up with a new concept for a screen alien in today’s cinema – but Cornish and his team, including Oscar-winning genius Mike Elizalde, of US company Spectral Motion, have managed it with aplomb. “The creatures are like shadow puppets,” Cornish says. “A bit like the wolf at the beginning of 300 or the Dark Riders in Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings animation. It’s almost a rotoscope technique we use to create them.”
For Cornish, it was hugely vital to make his “nasty space bastards” truly scary, which meant that they had to slice and rend and tear and kill major and minor characters with those teeth and claws, to create a sense of jeopardy. “It was important to me that they were beasts,” says Cornish. “They’re all the things that the press and people call those kids, made into a monster. People call these kids monsters, they call them feral, they call them animalistic, they say they’ve got no morals or values and all they care about is territory and competitiveness. So what if there was a creature that really was like that, and then you pitted the kids against it? The aim was to bring out all the humanity and character in the kids by facing them off against something that genuinely was all those things.”
As Moses and his crew try to escape the alien infestation on mopeds, bicycles, and on foot, it gave Cornish a chance to flex muscles he’d been waiting to for a long time: his love of action cinema. From the van attack – where Dennis and the kids try to rescue Moses from incarceration – to Moses’ heroic last stand, or the sequence where the kids first try to get back to the block when the aliens first land, ATTACK THE BLOCK is filled with visceral and thrilling action sequences. “I absolutely loved that stuff,” he laughs. “I’m most at home when people stop talking and start running around and jumping over things and fighting things. I don’t think there’s enough movement and action in British cinema – good movies for me are movies you could watch with the sound down and still follow. I wanted to make a film that was about action, not talk.”
It’s been an experience that, for Cornish, has been draining (it’s taken two and a half years), challenging but hugely rewarding. “It’s the movie I set out to make,” he says. “If anything, it’s more fun and escapist. I’m pleased about that. The whole thing is a chase, basically. It starts with the mugging and doesn’t stop. It rattles along. It’s 87 minutes – I love shorter films. Maybe it’s an age thing – I just want to skip to the last act!”
But, is the last act ever really the last act in a genre film? Or is there a chance that Cornish, and his cast (what’s left of them, at any rate) could return to Wyndham House at some point for another go at attacking the block? “Inevitably we all ended up riffing on sequels while we shot it, especially the kids,” laughs Cornish. “They all liked to imagine what would happen next. I could definitely think of something – but not immediately. I’ve got lots of other ideas first. But it would be fun.” His eyes twinkle. “After all, these things could land anywhere…”
About the Cast