Arts

Dirty work: Director John S Baird talks Filth

Irvine Welsh's novel Filth was considered unfilmable before writer/director Jon S Baird turned it into a cinematic smash. David Roy quizzed the Scottish film-maker about his 2013 hit, which he'll be discussing at Derry's Foyle Film Festival on Friday afternoon

James McEvoy as DS Brian 'Robbo' Robertson in Jon S Baird's adaptation of Filth by Irvine Welsh

FIRST published in 1998, Filth was Irvine Welsh's first novel in the wake of Danny Boyle's hit movie adaptation of Trainspotting – the box office success of which turned Welsh's works into hot property in the film world.

Yet it took 15 years and many false starts for Filth's sordid, tale of unrepentantly nasty, psychologically challenged copper DS Brian 'Robbo' Robertson to hit the big screen.

Scottish film-maker Jon S Baird was the man who finally nailed it, after a parade of other behind-the-camera talent had walked away from the project in defeat.

As he explains, the seeds of Filth's film success were sown here in Ireland, following an all-day pitching/drinking session with Irvine Welsh in Dublin.

"I think we started on the Guinness at 9am and by the time the pubs had closed we'd shaken on the film," recalls Baird (44) with a chuckle.

"The first thing I said to Irvine when I met him was that I wanted to do Filth as a dark comedy," explains the Peterhead-born man, who made his feature debut prior to Filth with 2008's football-violence-themed crime drama and biopic, Cass.

"I think he was really interested in that approach. The others had been trying to go too dark with it – they didn't really get the black humour in Irvine's writing, whereas I have always considered it his foremost trait.

"Also, my inspirations are people like Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese (more about whom in a moment), so I was going to try my best to channel them into something slightly more fantastical, brightly coloured and energetic than your normal dark and dingy British arthouse film.

"I think Irvine was definitely into that."

With writer/director/producer Baird having fought tooth and nail to fund and make his stylish, cleverly streamlined vision of Welsh's novel, Filth went on to become one of the top-grossing UK 18 certificates of all time, featuring a career-best turn from his fellow Scot James McAvoy as the debauched 'Robbo'.

"It's still finding new audiences today," enthuses Baird, who remains firm friends with Welsh (the pair are collaborating on a new adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's classic novel Ivanhoe).

"Myself and Irvine have been all over the world with Filth, so we've been really lucky," he tells me.

"One of the things I'm most pleased about is that a lot of the people who worked on the film have now gone on to do some really interesting stuff.

"For example, our cinematographer Matthew Jensen is now doing the Wonder Woman movie in Hollywood."

You can learn more about Filth's difficult genesis this afternoon at the Foyle Film Festival where Baird will be presenting a case study on his labour of love's journey from page to screen at the free From Shorts to Features event.

The kinetic, visually inventive and uncompromisingly deranged film has become his calling card, attracting acclaim from the likes of Danny Boyle (who tapped him to direct the first three episodes of Channel 4 cop satire, Babylon, featuring James Nesbitt – another of Baird's pals) and the aforementioned Martin Scorsese.

The latter legend recently hired Baird to direct an episode of his new HBO TV series Vinyl, a glossy yet gritty drama set amid the carnage of the music in 1970s New York.

It's set to air early next year – and the Scot is sworn to secrecy about all the juicy details.

However, he did admit that working with "one of my heroes" on Vinyl was a dream come true.

"I definitely had a great experience in New York working with and learning from The Master, Martin Scorsese," he enthuses.

"He's an unbelievable man, the most impressive guy I think I've ever met in terms of his encyclopaedic knowledge of film and ability to be inclusive while working with the film-makers around him.

"It was just overwhelming. I was invited over to direct one episode – and then three days later I got a call back to do a few additional scenes for other episodes as well."

With Baird, one of Scotland's hottest new movie-making talents (who is set to direct the Laurel & Hardy biopic next year) in Derry today, he reveals how he got his start behind the camera here in the north.

"About 15 years ago I was in Belfast for three months doing the Patrick Kielty Show and had a really great time, so I have real fond memories of working over there, " he says.

"Funny enough, that's where I first met Jimmy (Nesbitt). He was one of Kielty's guests and we had a very good night at the aftershow in the Europa Hotel.

"He doesn't remember it at all – and that's all I'll say."

:: Jon S Baird is at the Foyle Film Festival on Friday afternoon. For tickets and full programme information, visit Foylefilmfestival.org.

FOYLE FILM FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

:: Friday

Bone Tomahawk, Brunswick Movie Bowl, 8pm – NI premiere for 'cannibal western' starring Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson

:: Saturday

Running Man McGrath, The Guildhall, 7:30pm – Fermanagh-born marathon addict Tom McGrath visits Derry for a 12 hour charity run and to attend this screening of a new documentary about him.

:: Saturday

My Beautiful Laundrette, Brunswick Moviebowl, 11.59pm – a 30th anniversary revival for Stephen Frears's critically acclaimed gay drama starring Daniel Day Lewis.

:: Sunday

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, Brunswick Moviebowl, 6pm – Stanley Nelson's powerful documentary explores the story of the Black Panther Party.

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