From start to finish, Attack the Block is a rip-roaring mash-up of comedy, fun, action and horror—and for me—a complete surprise. If not for word of Facebook, I might have missed this little gem. With a sort of British Stand by Me group of kids attacked by aliens, the bullies are forced to prove they’re as tough (and smart) as they want to appear. The crazy situation turns enemies toward a common goal, staying alive and destroying the horrible (and slightly hilarious) critters. The film is like one of those roller coasters that doesn’t look like much, but then the ride starts and you find yourself laughing and screaming like a kid—“Hey, let’s do that again!”
1. Attack the Block is Writer, Joe Cornish’s (The Adventures of Tintin, “The Adam and Joe Show”) directorial debut. Cornish always admired the first films of directors he loved (Spielberg’s Duel) and being inspired by “low-buget high concept movies,” thought this was a cool idea for his first film. The director grew up in South London and though he had a good upbringing, he also lived near and had friends who grew up in “blocks like this.” After being mugged himself in 2001, “The very first idea that came to me was a mugging, which I experienced, interrupted by an alien falling from the sky. The next idea was how exciting it would be to stay with the perpetrators, not the victim.”
2. Cornish used mostly unknowns, kids who were involved in drama clubs or had otherwise demonstrated interest in acting. “1,500” young people were auditioned over and over, in part so Cornish would know the aspiring actors would show up on time and have self-discipline. During the process, they learned lines and did improv. After casting, the last two drafts Cornish wrote were influenced by the actors. “I let them go through all the dialogue and change anything they wanted to or we discussed any changes they wanted.”
3. The original soundtrack was composed by Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton (aka Electronic Dance group Basement Jaxx) and Steven Price. Cornish wanted a soundtrack similar to those used by Director John Carpenter. “…we studied John Carpenter and one of the things that I noticed is that he never or very rarely uses a snare drum, so he’ll never have a 4/4 beat. He’ll do bass (drum) and high-hat and other movies when they do a 4/4 beat, it turns it into a pop promo, and Carpenter’s movies, even though they have these contemporary rhythmic soundracks, it never feels like a pop promo. You still get absorbed in the action.”
4. The first alien performer, Arti Shah was chosen because she fit into the suit—“She had never done anything before.” Shah’s only other entry at imdb is for an appearance as herself (4 ft. model) on “Britain’s Ugliest Models.” Cornish called her a “brilliant woman.”
5. In the opening title sequence, all the names on the map are British Science Fiction and Fantasy authors: Herbert, Wells, Clarke, Wyndham, etc.
6. When doing research for the film, Cornish showed a group of youths photographs by American photographer Charlie White—”…who does lots of amazing photographs of aliens in real environments.” Cornish asked one of the girls, “What would you think of this creature if you found it?” The girl said, “I wouldn’t touch it, don’t want to get chlamydia.” That quote went straight into script; many lines were taken directly from research.
Cocktail Party by Charlie White:
7. The film was shot largely on Heygate Estate, which is now undergoing a long demolition process (scheduled through 2015), after which the area will be regenerated. Heygate Estate had earned “…a reputation as one of the capital’s worst sink estates, riddled by crime, poverty and dilapidated housing.” (BBC)
8. The Brewis (Luke Treadaway, Killing Bono, “Rubicon” ) character was based on Joe Cornish in his 20s. “He’s got a tight relationship with his dad…going to pick up some weed and trying to look cool.” The director said “I used to find myself in lots of towers.” Cornish related that one of his favorite films, Withnail & I, was sold to him as a marijuana paranoid film—and he thought Brewis embodied that (feeling).
9. Nick Frost (Pirate Radio, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), who played Ron, noted his hair was leftover from Paul. “Looks like I’m a killer whale with a wig on.” Frost also speculated about Ron’s relationship to Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter, “The Bill, Casualty”). “Ron probably ran the block on his own at some point, and then Hi-Hatz realized what was going on, stuck a gun in Ron’s face and said “We can split 60/40 or you can just get out.”
10. Two flats (apartments) were used for all the flat settings and redressed again and again. Cornish complimented Production Designer Marcus Rowland (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Hot Fuzz), who took a lot of reference from the actors’ actual rooms. “He gave them cameras and had them take pictures of their own rooms.”
11. After making the film, Cornish was surprised to find out that the woman who played Biggz’s Mum—Jacey Sallés—was one of the “Loose Women.” “Loose Women” is a British television show “…like ‘The View,’ with ladies talking usually about men, often in slightly derogatory fashion.”
12. One night journalists from various tabloids heard about filming and came, trying to get pictures of the aliens. Cornish said they played a “weird game” where they’d move shooting back and forth to be at the opposite end of the street from journalists. Cornish had the crew keep big lights shining to hinder the press from getting pictures.
13. Cornish lamented having to look all over Britain for a fireworks company who would support them, “…and finally we found—I forgot the name, but they must have been thanked in the credits.” The film takes place on Guy Fawkes Night, aka Bonfire Night
14. For the underground garage shoot, they “could only afford one BMW, so we could only shoot it (the crash) once.” The director said “Jodie (Whittaker) thought it was an innocent underground garage—remember Aliens? We had a bit of an Aliens moment (like) when the alien was crawling in the ceiling. On the second day shooting in the garage, we realized what we thought was water dripping down was actually sewage from the building. Peoples’ waste was dripping on us. We had to go wrap all the pipes and everything in plastic. Lots of rats too.”
15. Cornish “Always had Boba Fett from The Empire Strikes Back in mind when we did Pest’s (Alex Esmail) costume. Boba Fett has his little rocket packs.”
16. Jodie Whittaker’s (“Marchlands, Cranford”) character, Samantha Adams is so named as a nod to Cornish’s comedy partner, Adam Buxton and a development guy at Film4, Sam Lavender.
17. Cornish noted his learning process, “A director has to make a lot of choices you don’t anticipate. You put ‘guns’ in the script, the armorer says, ‘Which gun do you want?’” (He relied on the armorer’s expertise.) Cornish was “very keen” that only Hi-Hatz used guns. “He’s the genuine villain, the only villain. He’s the only guy who shoots anyone. If I put guns in hands of other characters, it would become a whole different film.”
18. On filming a scene with five boys and five girls—all with dialogue—Cornish said he didn’t realize what a major deal it is getting all the eyelines; “You need a great DP (Director of Photography).” Thomas Townend (Manic Street Preachers: Shadows & Words) served as Cinematographer. The director watched a lot of Larry Clark (Kids, Bully, Another Day in Paradise) films to figure out how Clark filmed scenes of teenagers chatting. “He does it in a very naturalistic style.”
19. Cornish hadn’t let Probs (Sammy Williams) and Mayhem (Michael Ajao) see the aliens; he wanted to film their reaction to first seeing one of the Creatures. “I rolled the cameras and they saw the Creature and they both just laughed. I was genuinely quite upset—I had to walk away and breathe for a bit.”
“Probs and Mayhem lit the room up. When anyone asked the girls which of gang they fancied, they would always look disgusted and then say, ‘Oh, Probs and Mayhem.’”
20. The Creature was designed by the director, who was inspired by his memory of Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings ringwraiths and the wolf at the beginning of 300. Cornish knew he didn’t have the budget for CGI and wanted the creatures to be practical, using some digital effects. Movement Choreographer Terry Notary (Cabin in the Woods, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Avatar and the upcoming The Hobbit films) worked with Spectral Motion to design the Creature suit(s) and digital effects were added by Digital Negative and Fido.
Cindy Davis never looks through peepholes.