Last week I sat down and had a chat with my friend and namesake Nina who also happens to be the screenwriter of ‘Midnight Of My Life‘ – a short film about Steve Marriott. Yep, you heard right. Former Small Faces lead singer and uber mod Steve.
The interview is quite long, hence I don’t want to bore you with a long introduction but if you want to find out, how a girl from Germany managed to get Martin Freeman, Phil Davis and Andy Bell working together on a Steve Marriott project, then you definitely need to take the time and have a read. Grab a pint or a cuppa and be amazed. This interview will make you realise that life happens, while you’re busy making other plans. It furthermore gives any human being hope and motivation, to persevere and to not give up on their dreams – because if you’re truly passionate about something and happen to be at the right place, at the right time, meeting the right people, then any dream can come true.
What Nina Spotted: Hello Nina, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing screenplays?
Nina: Well, okay, ehm, I think the turning point for me was when “Lord of the rings” came out and that really inspired me how to teach myself how to write screenplays and at the time I was still living in Germany and because I didn’t have A-levels film school, it was out of the question for me, so I just taught myself but when I moved to Cardiff, I did like a script writing course and my tutor there said ‘You’re really good, you should apply for film school (Newport University) and I did that and they accepted me and I studied filmmaking and after that I did MA screenwriting at the London film school. So, I was self taught but then I got the chance to go to university but only in this country, I wouldn’t have been able to study in Germany, so I am really greatful.
WNS: And when did that happen?
Nina: I graduated from Newport in 2007 and from the London film school in 2008.
WNS: So Nina, what made you move over here to the UK?
Nina: Music initially because I’m a musician, I write songs, play the guitar and sing and I always felt a bit like an outsider in Germany, cause no one was into the music, I was into, like all the British bands such as Oasis, Stone Roses and all the good stuff. So I knew that I had to move eventually, I was 21, I had some money saved and then I just said good bye and moved away and never looked back.
WNS: Yes, I can definitely relate to that, pretty much the same reason why I moved over here as well. Okay, how many scripts have you written in the past?
Nina: Okay, so I’ve written a few short film scripts like during my time at film school but I’ve written a feature film script, which is in a pretty good state, I mean I worked on it for about 8 years now and I’ve written a few treatments for feature film scripts as well but they’re still in development.
WNS: So you know when you watch a film and you ask yourself ‘Why did he or she write about that? What inspired them?’, now obviously with your background in music and the mod scene but what has inspired you to write a short film on Steve Marriott?
Nina: In 2009 I made a documentary about the Mod scene in London called “We Are The Mods” and while I was making it, I met this guy John Hellier who wrote the official biography about Steve Marriott and when I interviewed John, we just got chatting. I’ve always been a ‘Small Faces’ fan but didn’t know much about Steve’s life and talking to John, I realised what an amazing, funny and actually tragic life that guy actually led and John just said to me ‘ Well someone should make a film about Steve’ and I said ‘yeah, absolutely’. So I started to develop a treatment but because getting a feature film off the ground is so difficult because it’s so bloody expensive, me and my producer decided to do a short film first and we are kinda using this as a starting point, so hopefully we’ll get some funding to develop a feature film script after the short film has been released, that’s like our long term aim.
WNS: So when you mention funding, how did you fund the short film? How did that develop after you’ve written the script.
Nina: Well, we had three ideas: One was official film funding bodies , then crowd funding which is pretty much fans donating money and private investors. What happened was, we didn’t get any official money from film funding bodies and we didn’t get any money from private investors, we just got the money from the crowd funding campaign. Basically all fans of Steve, Mods, who loved the idea of a film about their idol Steve. So we raised about 15.000-20.000 £. It’s quite ironic because, ehm, because it’s so difficult to get official money but it will be interesting if the film will be screened at the London Film Festival because then obviously all the film funding people will see we got the project off the ground without their help, made an amazing film and it goes to show, you don’t necessarily need their money.
WNS: No, you don’t. How long did it take to come up with the money?
Nina: Ehhhm, actually not that long because the campaign only ran for like six weeks. During those six weeks, it was a lot of Social Media such as Twitter, Facebook but yeah, it didn’t take longer than that. But we had to get 12.000£, that was our target money in six weeks and people pledged the money and if we wouldn’t have achieved the goal, we wouldn’t have gotten anything. So it was really important to reach target within those six weeks and we actually got over funded, which is great, we got about 15.000£.
WNS: Okay, that’s great. So, talking about the process, how long did it take you to write the script?
Nina: Ehm, actually not that long. It didn’t change that much from the first draft, maybe a year but obviously I wasn’t working on it constantly. I think all in all I’ve only written about 6 drafts.
WNS: Now after you’ve finished the script, what happened?
Nina: I’ve actually left out a crucial point, which is meeting my producer. So for many years I’ve written on my own, not finding any directors or producers who were giving me a chance. So then I met Hatty Hodginson, she is also a London film school graduate and we met at a networking event at the film school like 3-4 years ago. At that time I was still developing a feature film script and she was the one who said let’s do the short film first, it’s more realistic to do that and it was absolutely vital that I hooked up with her because I’m not a producer, I’m just a writer and you need a producer to make it happen and she is absolutely brilliant, she worked her socks off and made it happen.
WNS: Wow, how interesting! We obviously don’t want any spoilers but what is the rough plot of the short film?
Nina: The hook is actually a true story. It really did happen to Steve on the night of the Live aid concert, he was playing in like a dingy pub in London for a few people, so that’s the realistic backdrop of it, that really happened. We took that as an inspiration to come up with a story and I built a story around it, exploring why he wasn’t up there playing Live aid with all the other great musicians such as Bob Geldof, Keith Richardson, Sting etc. in front of millions of people and how it made him feel and also what is says about him as a musician, as a character. It pretty much explores the notion of someone who has been so talented but not becoming like a worldwide superstar for some reason. I’m not gonna give away too much about the plot but that’s basically the theme.
WNS: So… Phil Davis as the director. How great is that? Were you keen on him being the director?
Nina: The story behind that is, we wanted someone who was experienced and who also had a connection to the mod scene and because Phil is an honorary president of the London film school, Hatty met him at a networking event. He’s directed two feature films in the past, he’s experienced, he’s a brilliant actor and connected to the mod scene, which made him the perfect candidate. So we submitted the script to him and he loved it, he’s a massive Steve Marriott fan and he said ‘Yes, I wanna work with you guys’, he came on board, which was amazing and that obviously opened the door to get Martin attached as well.
WNS: Speaking of Martin. So Martin Freeman as Steve Marriott. Wow. Did you have him in mind whilst you were writing the script?
Nina: Yes!!! From the moment I started to write the feature film treatment for the older Steve, Steve in the 80s, I always saw like Martin playing the character because first of all, I am a massive fan of Martin, I just think he’s one of the best British actors of our time and also because he’s a mod, so Steve must be his hero. So when we did the short film I said to Hatty – and I didn’t believe it for a single second – but we need to get Martin on board. And as it turns out, he always wanted to play Steve and he actually said to me during the shoot ‘ I always wanted to play Steve but the older I got, my hopes were fading because I thought, I never get the chance to play him until your script came along about Steve.’ So for Martin it was sort of like an ambition coming true as well.
WNS: Did you get in touch with Phil and told him you want Martin Freeman for the lead or how exactly did that happen?
Nina: Hatty and I spoke to Phil and pretty much told him, that Martin would be our first choice and even though he knows Martin, he hadn’t thought about it himself and he said ‘ Wow, that’s actually a really interesting idea’ and they knew each other from some previous project, they did an episode of Sherlock together and a few others. Phil just talked to Martin about it and we submitted the script via Martin’s agent and Phil also said at some point ‘ Martin owes me a favour’. Martin loved the script but I think for him it was really important that Phil was attached to the projejct because he’s experienced and they know each other and for an actor it’s always important which director they are working with.
WNS: What a great turn out, perfect timing etc. It seems like fate – everything has worked out so well. So Nina, you also went to London for the shoot and we will be seeing you in one of the scenes.
Nina: Yeah, I just saw the latest cut and unfortunately or fortunately, however you want to look at it, I am only in there for a split second but yeah, I’m in the crowd scene at the gig, which was pretty amazing.
WNS: How was it being on set and watching your words come to life?
Nina: It was the best experience of my life. It was just the best thing in my life because I have been working towards that for so many years and as I said earlier, it was only a dream to be working with one of my favourite actors and I never thought it would actually become true. So when it did and also because the whole cast and crew were also pretty awesome and good at their jobs, it was just the most rewarding experience ever and I’ve never been on a professional film set. Especially because it was MY film and MY words. All this hard work over the past couple of years had finally paid off.
WNS: I’m just so chuffed for you. I think it’s amazing for Martin to be participating in this project and it goes to show that he really loves acting not because he’s getting paid for it but just because he loves it. Taking a step back, shooting an independent film… absolutely fab.
Nina: Yes, definitely. He didn’t have to do it and the tricky thing also was to find a time where he was available. I think that’s why Hatty and the other producer Pamela did a great job scheduling because for a long time we knew, Martin wants to do it, we didn’t know whether he would be available for two days in spring. That was a very difficult time because we knew, he wants to do it but maybe we can’t get him and how frustrating would that have been and then they actually managed to get him for two days just before he was off to the US. And you know, he’s not getting any money out of it, no one is getting paid on that project, cast and crew wise. He didn’t have to do it and we’re so greatful for it because this is our springboard to get recognized as well.
WNS: Aww, that’s so lovely.
Nina: Yeah, and I tell you something, I’m sure you want to hear like anecdotes and stuff about him and I have a really nice one about him. So, the problem was, he had a bad back during the shoot, he was in a lot of pain and still he was a true pro, kept going and did an amazing job. I thought, that after the final scene, which was a gig scene and was quite physically demanding for him, he was just going to say his good byes and I won’t see him again. So, I said good bye to him, it was quite emotional and I tried not to cry and thanked him, gave him a big hug and off he went in costume. Then, after the shoot was over, we all went back to the pub where we had filmed for cast and crew drinks and I thought, well obviously Martin isn’t going to join us, he’s in pain, he’s going back home. So, I’m getting there, everyone is already at the bar, getting drinks, I’m sitting down with Phil and the other guys enjoying a drink and just starting to talk and after like five minutes, I’m looking at this bloke opposite me, most dapper person you’ve ever seen, proper shirt, jeans, fantastic socks, nice brogues, really nice hat as well and I’m looking at him and I’m looking at him again and I go ‘ Oh sorry Martin, I’ve not realised it was you!’. So obviously it was Martin and I didn’t recognize him in casual clothes and I felt really embarrassed cause I sat opposite of him and ignored him, haha. Yeah, so he stayed for a few drinks, we had a really nice chat about the mod scene, what he likes about it, what he doesn’t like about it.
WNS: He really does seem like a very humble and down to earth person. Okay, so we’ve been at this for a while. It’s so interesting. One final question. Let’s get talking Soundtrack. Who is in charge? Is there going to be original music? Will there be other artists involved?
Nina: So that’s another amazing thing. We actually got Andy Bell as the composer for the film and he might be known to people as being in Ride, Oasis and Beady Eye and he’s doing a reunion with Ride at the moment, so he’s touring around the world, he’s quite busy. The interesting thing was, Andy wants to get into film composing and I think a friend of a friend told him about the project, so that’s how he got in touch with us. Andy is a massive Steve Marriott fan, so he wanted to come on board and we’re really lucky to have him. He also came to the shoot and observed. It will be a very brief soundtrack. It was quite crazy to meet him, he’s a very nice guy. Being a massive Oasis fan, I said to him ‘ I love Oasis!’ and then he said ‘ So am I!’ haha. He’s like a really quiet guy actually.
WNS: Wow, this is all so overwhelming. Thank you so much for taking the time and all the best to you.
Nina: Thank you for having me.
A few days later Andy Bell tweeted the lovely Nina to let her know how amazing her script was. She must’ve been pretty chuffed.
A special thanks to our friend and photographer Madeleine Ovrenius for snapping some lovely shots:
Never give up on your dreams!