Following a young man as he becomes indoctrinated into a local gang, James Price’s film Infectious Nihilism and Small Metallic Pieces of Hope is about the personal cost of finding a sense of belonging in a criminal world. Dubbed the ‘Springburn Scorsese’ Price grew up amongst Scotland’s once prominent violent and territorial gang culture, an experience that he channels regularly into his storytelling. Visually, Price has a strong interest in reflecting the hardened realism of the scene but within a minimal and artistic framework that can feel poetic and deeply cinematic. DN is delighted to premiere Infectious Nihilism and Small Metallic Pieces of Hope on our pages today and caught up with Price, who at this point has become a true DN alum, for a chat about the creative inspiration he draws from his own life, his cinematic approach as a self-taught working-class filmmaker, and his latest project Skint with Scottish acting and filmmaking legend Peter Mullan.
Did I read correctly that Infectious Nihilism conceptually began as a companion piece to a book?
Infectious Nihilism and Small Metallic Pieces of Hope was funded by the Edinburgh Book Festival with WhiteStag Films producing. It was supposed to be created as a companion piece to Graeme Armstrong’s book The Young Team. Me and Graeme hit it off after we met over another project and he put my name forward for this. The Young Team is currently being developed as a TV series with a phenomenal writer Ben Tagoe developing the book into script form and an amazing director called Adrien MacDowell. Synchronicity Films are producing it, so with that team including Graeme onboard overseeing things it’s in really good hands and I truly believe it has the potential to change the landscape for Scottish television forever.
Was it a challenge at any stage to differentiate this film away from the book then?
The only challenge we faced was because it was in development as a TV series we couldn’t adapt or reference the book so instead, Graeme showed me an amazing short story he had written called The Mad Hoose then he developed elements of that short story into his writing for Infectious Nihilism and Small Metallic Pieces of Hope.
What was it like collaborating with Graeme? What does he bring to a short film production?
Graeme Armstrong genuinely is one of the most important voices to come out of Scotland ever, not just in recent years. He is one of the most intelligent, generous and thoughtful people I have ever worked with and I wanted to make sure he was on set for the shoot so I cast him in it. I originally was going to act in it with him but we only had two days to shoot it so I pulled out last minute. Beyond his writing, his acting was fantastic and really authentic. I love working with non-actors and Graeme did not disappoint, it was strange for both of us being back in a fabricated version of an environment we used to know so well. His instincts from a filmmaking standpoint were also really stellar, every idea he had during the shoot turned out to be the best parts of the short film.
And, from what I’ve read, you both share similar histories?
Me and Graeme both have remarkably similar backgrounds, we were both involved in Scotland’s gang culture. Graeme was based in Airdrie and I was based in Springburn in the North of Glasgow. Strangely though we both attended a rave called FantasyLands each with our ‘Young Teams/Gangs’. So we may have passed each other or even conversed in 2007 and not realised it. We have so much in common it’s really strange, he is a friend for life now and I genuinely mean it when I say he is one of if not the most important voice to come out of Scotland in recent years. He is currently working on his follow up to phenomenal best-selling book The Young Team and I know it’s going to be an epic masterpiece that will exceed everybody’s expectations.
It was strange for both of us being back in a fabricated version of an environment we used to know so well.
My main goal with Infectious Nihilism and Small Metallic Pieces of Hope was to do Graeme and his beautiful writing proud. There are little things we both would like to tweak but the reason Graeme is so talented at anything he turns his hand at is because he is a perfectionist to the utmost degree. I have gotten good at letting go of films at a certain point because if I could I would go back and re-edit or re-shoot parts of everything I have made so far. As they say you never really finish editing a film they just take it away from you.
Dare I ask if there are any parts of this film that you feel that way about?
There was a version that had Graeme doing voiceover through it as if he was speaking for the Youngster in present day, and it really was stunning. I didn’t expect to like it because I loved the energy we captured in the “Gaff” with the cast but Graeme is effortlessly powerful in his writing and he put together something really abstract and beautiful. It actually made Shaun Hughes cry when I sent an early screening of him. Shaun is an amazing director I really respect and a good friend. His film Life of Riley was included in Directors Notes Top 10 of Glasgow Short Film Festival this year. We ended up not using it because we had such a quick turnaround that we couldn’t finesse as much as we wanted. I would like to screen that version at a later date.
What is the origin of your ‘Springburn Scorsese’ moniker?
Haha, my Springburn Scorsese moniker I think just comes from me being from Springburn and ripping off Scorsese any chance I can get! I like to think my short films are Who’s That Knocking At My Door and Boxcar Bertha and I’m gearing up for my first feature to be my Mean Streets. He is a real hero. I encourage improvisation in all of my films, and we both grew up in rough urban areas with health issues surviving on a steady diet of films as well so I suppose that’s another thing we have in common.
You’ve recently worked with Peter Mullan! How did that come about and what did you learn from working with him?
Yeah I got to direct Peter Mullan in an episode of a BBC 4 series called Skint that I wrote and directed. It was a dream come true. His film Orphans was the first film I saw that had authentic Glaswegian voices in it. It deserves all the praise that Trainspotting gets for Scottish cinema but is criminally overlooked. I also think Peter Mullan’s short films Close and Fridge might have been the first short films that I ever saw so he has always been a massive influence on me as a filmmaker alone, never mind his astounding acting skills.
I think the main thing I learned from him is it’s possible to be an absolute filmmaking and acting legend and still be one of the nicest people in the world, haha! They say don’t meet your heroes but in this case, he exceeded every expectation I had. Absolute angel of a human being.
You were also recently on the Reel Filthy Podcast, how was that experience?
I love the Reel Filthy podcast, I am good friends with the host Gary McLellan who is also an extremely talented filmmaker. Any excuse to get hopped up on Red Bull and argue why Manhunter is better than Silence of the Lambs, I’ll be there with bells on.
Back to the film, how did you approach the visual style of Infectious Nihilism? One aspect of the film that really drew me in was the sense of atmosphere, something you rarely see in shorts as they’re typically more concerned with plot-driving dialogue.
Steve Cardno was the DoP and he had shot my film Boys Night which Directors Notes premiered online for me. Steve is a master, I think we were shooting on an Alexa but I can’t actually remember. I’m not very technical as a director I just try and not get in the DoP’s way and make sure I’m giving him interesting and vibrant things to shoot.
I like to think my short films are Who’s That Knocking At My Door and Boxcar Bertha and I’m gearing up for my first feature to be my Mean Streets.
It’s good to see you reunite with actor Kyle Gordon in this.
Star of Boys Night, Kyle Gordon, is also the star of this, and he’s a little taller now. He is a natural authentic talent and anybody looking for an actor in Scotland around 16 to 17 really should not look any further than Kyle Gordon. I have a short film I really want to make with him soon but it’s just taking its time getting it off of the ground. The entire cast was fantastic and the chemistry was palpable almost instantly.
Speaking of, what’s next?
Graeme and the Ruchazie DeNiro Kyle Gordon will definitely be collaborating again soon so watch this space…