THE CURZON INTERVIEW Mark Herbert, head of Warp Films
Head of Warp Films, producer Mark Herbert has brought acclaimed, genre crossing films including Four Lions, Tyrannosaur, Submarine,Kill List, Dead Man's Shoes and most recently, 'troubles-man' thriller '71 to Curzon screens as well as creating the beloved This Is Englandseries. Working with directors including Shane Meadows, Chris Morris, Peter Strickland and Lynne Ramsay, he's an independent producer with a track record to measure against Hollywood royalty like Scott Rudin. But Rudin is unlikely to scythe you down with a cynical challenge in a five-a-side game on Pitsmoor's football pitches. Or even unlikelier places, as we discovered when we met with Mark at the opening of Curzon's latest cinema in Sheffield to discuss the latest This Is England, his favourite movie houses and how cinema is conversation...
Curzon Sheffield: I loved the way you used [divisive brutalist indoor market] Castle Markets in the last series of This Is England. It's thrilling to see places you know as a Sheffielder reinvented as settings for Lol and Woody and the rest of the gang's dramas. Is there anywhere in the new series that's gonna be as special?
Mark Herbert: Well everywhere's special for me in Sheffield. But without revealing anything, because it's 1990 in the new series, we've done some stuff taking the gang out of the estate and into the summer. We've had some great weather and it's just been phenomenal to show Sheffield in a different light. Just literally driving out for ten minutes is incredible.
Do you get to explore the city outside of filming?
One of my favourite weeks of filming was just shooting out in the peaks where I walk my dogs. But with the cast.
It sounds a bit like taking your girlfriend to somewhere you really like and worrying if they'll get it - but with Stephen Graham instead. Is it good seeing how Shane photographs these places in the city you've known all your life?
Oh God, yes. Shane and the people we work with will always find beauty anywhere but it's lovely when you're outside under a sky.
So we're here at the brand new Curzon in Sheffield. A new cinema for the city and hopefully one that'll become a central part of the landscape. Do you have any favourite cinemas?
Being in Sheffield, when [independent cinema] The Showroom opened it was like a blessing. I've always loved Hyde Park in Leeds. I've filmed there, I've watched films there. It's just an old cinema – been going for years. But I think probably my favourite one of all time in terms of memories is The Film House in Edinburgh. That was the first time I ever saw a cinema have an atmosphere beyond the films projected on screens. I was there for a film festival where we were showing Dead Man's Shoes. And this was a hub. I'd go in and five hours later I'd still be there.
You do get that feeling from Curzon. When I was going to the Soho, which was my main one before Sheffield, you got the feeling it was as much a meeting place or somewhere to break away from work as a cinema for some people.
Sure. The Curzon Soho's probably been one of our best performers. I remember This is England, Four Lions, '71 more recently – all really strong. 'In and out, in and out, in and out', you know? We’ve had some good Q&As at the Soho too.
Independent cinema for me has always been a thing where it's a bit like how I am with producers. Where we're all fighting against a massive machine. If you compete, you're screwed. Whereas if you all work together and build an audience...
Have you got any advice for Curzon Sheffield actually?
It's a lovely building. It's a lovely space. I can imagine coming here and not even watching a film! What they've done is create somewhere people can read and whatnot.
I'm a film producer. I love watching films. But I have three kids and two dogs so I very rarely go to the cinema. But if I have a babysitter who can look after the dogs at the same time – and we can have a night out – we will come here cos it's a beautiful place to sit in and chat.
So I think they've nailed it design-wise. The only thing I'd say is to hold onto people, like Warp do. If you've got a core audience – core people – just keep them coming. Make it somewhere special to go to.
I just love having seats laid out so you can hear what someone else has said at next table and start a conversation with them.
Cinema is always about conversations. The thing I love about TV is you can get on a bus the morning after your show's been on and pick up conversations about it.
Have you done that?
Yeah! I'm a fair weather biker so I get the bus into Sheffield if it's too wet to cycle, and I love those conversations. With a film it takes a lot longer for people to discover it, for those conversations to happen.
Unless you’re sat next to them somewhere like here.
But if the film's good... If you've come out of a film like Dead Man's Shoes hopefully the drama's so good you're speechless. Sometimes we do Q&As and everyone's like that. You don't really know what they think.
So you wind up getting on bus behind them to find out?
[Laughs] No, but it is great to have a bar where people can congest.
Have you never been tempted to poke your head in between them and say 'well, you've got that wrong'?
Nooo! I love it! I love the immediacy of TV and I love the art of cinema. They co-exist for me.
This is England 90 will air in 2015.
Interview by Rob Barker ( @tiemachine)