We catch up with Simon Rumley, director of the recently released feature film, Once Upon A Time in London
The film is a sweeping saga of the madness, mayhem and manipulation reminiscent of British crime favourites Legend and Peaky Blinders. It chronicles the legendary rise and fall of a nationwide criminal empire headed by the notorious Billy Hill and Jack ‘Spot’ Comer between the twenties and the mid-fifties. Known as the founders of organised crime in London, Hill and Comer were the forerunners to the infamous Kray Twins. In fact, Hill served as a sort of mentor during the Krays’ formative crime years. Not for the feint-hearted, it graphically depicts their ruthlessness and the absolute power they wielded in the East End and beyond.
What inspired you to make this film?
The script came to me, actually; I didn’t write it. Although I write my own stuff, I’m also a ‘director for hire’ so I take on projects that others have written. The script looked interesting and it just fell into place.
How did you get involved in the film industry?
I started out studying for a law degree at Hull University. I was also interested in film and at some point I decided I wanted to direct but I was also doing a load of other things – I was a ski guide and was also writing a novel. I wanted to get to Japan to teach English as a means of earning money so I ended up getting a job at the Telegraph selling ad space in order to fund the trip. The desire to get into directing was still there so I eventually got a job as a runner for Molinare, a production company in central London and progressed to production assistant. During that time I started writing, financing and producing my own films. In those days you could go on the dole in between jobs so I did that, which helped make ends meet, along with some journalism.
How do you do your research for your films?
I mostly use my imagination. I get an idea and start to flesh it out. I also use books, music and films relevant to the timeframe and location of my idea to ensure continuity. But really, each component has its own way of researching; the costume designer, set designer or make up artist, for instance. They bring their knowledge to the project, so it’s really a collective effort and everyone does their bit.
What’s the easiest part of making a feature film – or is there one?
That’s a good question actually – no one’s ever asked that before! In a weird way, the writing is the easiest bit because it’s just you and the page with your own ideas. You are alone and have total freedom to set down what you want. There are no arguments at that point because no one else is involved. Not that it’s all easy – of course not – but at that stage it’s totally yours. All the negotiating and collaborating comes later.
And what’s the hardest bit?
Definitely getting a film seen and distributed. And, to a lesser extent, but equally important, ensuring you have the right actor for the right part.
Who are your industry influences?
Nicolas Roeg was a huge influence. He directed the Bowie film, The Man Who Fell to Earth as well as The Witches and several others. He’s gone now, sadly, but two of his films, Don’t Look Now and Performance were listed as the 8th and 48th greatest British films of all time in the BFI’s Top 100 British films poll in 1999. Quite an accomplishment. I had the pleasure of working with him as he was the executive producer for my film, Crowhurst. I also have a lot of time for Martin Scorsese.
What advice would you give to those starting out in the film industry?
Keep doing stuff. Write shorts, push your ideas out, get others’ opinions and feedback.
GET THE DVD here
Images © and courtesy of Simon Rumley