Joe Cornish discusses Attack The Block

attack the block pic

CREATIVE folks often use their own experiences when coming up with new material.

A childhood phobia. The death of a loved one. Being attacked by aliens.

Ok, that last example is a lie (kind of), but first-time director Joe Cornish has used an incident from his past to inspire his sci-fi film Attack The Block.

Joe, thinking back to 2001, said: “A gang of quite young kids nicked my wallet and phone through sheer force of numbers.

“I’m a typical coward and I gave them everything.

“I was struck by how young they were, and I thought to myself, I probably see you in the park every day. We’re probably on the same level of Call Of Duty!”

And after watching M Night Shyamalan‘s Signs, it got Cornish’s imagination racing – what if aliens landed in a London council estate? How would the locals cope? And more importantly – how would the other-worldly arrivals cope with the gangs who are extremely territorial?

Cornish said: “I’ve always loved the idea of a siege – humans on earth under siege by aliens – and it struck me: what would happen if that happened in my neighbourhood where I grew up, in South London?

“Then I thought, what would happen if something like that went down during my mugging? Those kids, who some people are frightened of, would suddenly become quite important – all their strengths would be usable for a good reason. It went from there, really.”

It’s certainly been a long and winding road for Joe to finally get behind the camera for his own film – having worked on Edgar Wright‘s hilarious Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

“I’ve been trying to write a screenplay since I was about 13,” he laughs. “I could never finish one. I had amazing first acts and loads of ideas for endings, but I suffered from the same problems everyone has – the middle act black hole.”

But eventually one of those screenplays – The Astonishing Ant Man, co-written with Wright – made it to the finishing line, and that gave Cornish the impetus to give Attack The Block one more go.

Once funding to write the screenplay was secured from Film4, Cornish took the idea, along with several others, to two producer collaborators he’d long known, Nira Park and Jim Wilson.

Park’s Big Talk was the production company responsible for the success of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead.

“I came to Nira and Jim with three or four ideas, and this was the one that everybody leapt on,” says Cornish. “What stood out was the idea of a genre film in which the protagonists are London council estate teenagers,” says Wilson “but which subverted the stereotypes of that world and those characters.”

The next big hurdle for Cornish was getting a grip on the colloquialisms that the youngsters use to communicate.

He admitted: “The language for me was a really attractive thing.

“I love A Clockwork Orange and remember reading novels like The Colour Purple and Butcher Boy that are written in argot. For the first couple of pages, they’re impenetrable but then something magic happens and you pick it up by osmosis. So I thought there was an opportunity to maybe do a similar thing.

“Those kids have their own little language and it’s a sci-fi film, so it’s Klingon, isn’t it? For me, that’s a sci-fi element.”

Cornish added: “Despite having grown up in South London, I’m not as street as I might be.

“We did a lot of research. I wrote the story in a quite cartoony way, the outline of what I wanted to happen, and got a friend to do illustrations of what the creatures looked like. We blew them up onto big bits of card and we talked to groups of kids who were the real thing, and talked them through the story, recording everything they said.

“The amazing thing is that they pretty much would follow the story without being told.

“We would say, ‘What would you do?’ And they’d reply, ‘If it jumped on me, I’d fucking kick it!’ It was very satisfying. They endorsed the story and often went in the same direction we had hoped they would go.

“It was fun to learn what all the little words mean. “We built ourselves a lexicon of about ten words. I thought it would be best to keep the lexicon to about ten and then use them repeatedly, so eventually by context you know what they mean.”

Now, with the hoodies set to go toe-to…whatever it is the aliens have, the world will finally see what urban warfar would really be like.

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