If the Safdies made a film in Springburn it might look something like the scuzzy aesthetic of Diamonds Into Dust, a collaboration between DN alum (now for the third time) James Price and Zopa bandleader Michael Imperioli (best known for playing Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos), it wears the inspiration of Summer of Sam and Scorsese films on its sleeve. With a highly tense cold open breaking into a liberating Bonnie and Clyde style crime spree, it sees the Glasgow-based director play around with the crime genre with exhilarating results. We talk caught up with Price to chat collaborating via Instagram, improvising on set, creating a feeling of tension, acting in his own film and the secret to making project with basically no budget.
Zopa is headed by the legendary actor Michael Imperioli, tell me how you got in touch with him?
I just went for it. I just messaged him on Instagram. I sent him a long message with a bunch of links to my short films. He got back to me pretty quick. I wasn’t expecting that.
That was the whole plan, to take a big New York-feeling movie and ground it in a really rough Glasgow reality.
What were the next steps?
First he was apprehensive about letting me do it without a proper budget. I told him, “Fuck the budget, just let me do it” and he agreed. He didn’t really tell me what the song was about. I pitched him something and then he told me the song was about hope when the original idea was a bit depressing. So I went back to the drawing board and just made what you saw there.
So, did he have any input himself?
He didn’t even tell me what the song was about. He didn’t even want to influence it. He wanted it to all come from me. The freedom he gave me was so generous.
It’s interesting. Just last week I watched Summer of Sam, which he co-wrote with Spike Lee…
I love Summer of Sam. I think genuinely that was the main thing that I kept bringing up. I didn’t mention The Sopranos, because I thought he’d be sick of hearing it. I’ve got such a love for that film. In my teenage years I used to watch it non-stop.
He’s a classic Italian-American actor with his films set in a specific New York milieu. But it feels like there are those similarities between Springburn and New York in terms of the energy and the creative use of swear words. Was it fun to take one sensibility and see if it could fit on top of the other?
Definitely. That was the whole plan, to take a big New York-feeling movie and ground it in a really rough Glasgow reality. I really wanted to get that Abel Ferrara, Safdie Brothers-vibe kind of going. I just feel like Glasgow is kind of made for it. I think we match that seventies New York feeling.
The cold open is very intense, how did you shoot it?
The biggest secret weapon in the project was DoP Alan McLaughlin, who was just amazing. I sent him a bunch of movies that I liked and he got it instantly. He was a one-man band, it was all on a handheld Sony Camera with no lights, no nothing. He just used the vision we had in the room and made it look great. He’s such a master! We didn’t even intentionally record audio, so we had no idea what the sound was gonna be like. The plan was to just use the images, but when we got that footage we had a surprisingly high audio quality. I’m a massive fan of the music videos of Daniel Wolfe and the way he does a cold open, so I realised that if I put it in there it actually sets everything up quite well.
When trying to get the specific vibe of somewhere like Springburn right, the casting goes such a long way. You also have a role there! What was the process like?
In that opening scene, apart from David Wilde and Brian McCardie, who are proper actors, a lot of them were real people. One of them was my cousin’s friend. One of them’s a really close friend of mine. They are the real deal, there’s an authenticity to them that you just can’t fake. They didn’t even get a script. They basically just showed up and I explained the gist of it to them. The actor who was to play my role dropped out, so I stepped up. I’m really glad I did it, I had so much fun with it. We just did it a bunch of times to keep intensifying with each take.
That’s something I noticed in my writing early on. I don’t know what it is but I’m really just drawn to really contained amounts of time. I loved those movies growing up like The Warriors, Adventures in Babysitting and 48 Hours. You’re along for the ride, it almost feels like in real time. I remember as a kid I would always start Die Hard at 11 pm on Christmas Eve as that’s when it was actually taking place in the movie.
I love using real people and creating these interesting worlds, these sides of Scotland that people don’t really get to see.
What are you working on next?
I just wrapped on a little short movie I made with a fantastic writer called Graeme Armstrong, who wrote this book called The Young Team. We made a short film together for the Edinburgh Book Festival, which will be screening this month. I’ve got a few things in development, a few TV things and a little short movie. Also Dropping off Michael is becoming a feature with Sigma Films.
You’ve made so many shorts with small budgets. Can you tell me the top tips for success?
I just always stay hungry. I always want to keep doing another one. I like pushing myself and trying to take things forward and making films a bit more interesting with each one and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It’s just so much fun. I love using real people and creating these interesting worlds, these sides of Scotland that people don’t really get to see.
Diamonds Into Dust is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.