Kam Patel talks to Brian Izzard, director of the first 'genuine' British musical this decade, about the right to be pretentious and the right to fail. It is a fair bet that many of the famous comedies of the late 1940s and 1950s such as Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers were shot at Studio 3B at Ealing Studios, London. The well-worn floorboards of the surprisingly small and cosy studio are strangely evocative of its eventful past: you can almost smell the history of British film.
Ealing Studios nearly became a closed chapter in that history when they went into receivership in 1994, but they were eventually bought by the National Film and Television School, which is planning to move in next year. In the meantime, as the studios' management is very keen to point out, it is business as usual.
A few weeks ago an all-British musical began filming at 3B. Julie and The Cadillacs is being promoted as the first "genuine" British musical movie since the disappointing Absolute Beginners (1986). Julie, which features an original score by John Dean, follows the progress of a young Liverpool-based pop band in the wake of The Beatles.
Many of the cast are newcomers to film and have been plucked from the musical theatre. Imposing a fatherly presence on set is director Brian Izzard. For Izzard, who has directed many television dramas, music programmes and sit-coms, Julie is a "straight down the middle, feel-good movie" inspired partly by Alan Parker's brilliant The Commitments (1991). "That was a great step forward for British musicals. It is one of Parker's wondrous entertainment-documentaries and I've tried to make Julie a bit of a 'docutainment'," says Izzard. He says: "We've tried to get that 1960s feel which is fairly plain but with great wadges of colour every now and then".
Izzard, who will turn 60 next month, has little sympathy for the plight of European film makers struggling against the might of Hollywood. He says: "Why don't European film makers make better films! Like Ken Loach's Land and Freedom - that is a brilliant, commercial film. Julie is going to be a commercial film. It will be jolly and I hope you will enjoy it. It will last 100 minutes and I hope you will feel it has lasted just 30 minutes. I enjoy making and being involved in things that are about bums on seats."
He feels very strongly about the lack of proper training in universities and colleges of young people who want to enter the industry: "It is dreadful for the kids today because they cannot earn the right to fail as we did. You cannot have a success every single time in this business but young people it seems to me are made to feel that if they do one dum-dum they are out." Experimentation, which was so important in the 1960s, has been outlawed. "People say 'Oh we don't want all that pretentious stuff' but everyone who starts off in this business is a little pretentious. I must have been an impossible prick in the 1960s but you grow out of it.We are all so busy avoiding danger these days that we have become terrified of taking risks."
He singles out the widely used single video camera unit as "one of the biggest enemies the industry has ever had". It encourages sloppiness in the planning of shoots: "Being taught how to plan is one of the greatest things lecturers can teach students and I don't think it is being done today. They get so carried away by other things that they forget the rudimentaries, the practicalities, the basic grammar of how film and television works."
Julie is backed by Parker Mead, an Ealing-based production company to the tune of Pounds 2 million, making it a low-budget film. The cast and director are tapping into producer Sean O'Mahony's first-hand experience of the music business. In the 1960s he was responsible for publishing official magazines for bands including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Monkees.
Julie tracks the progress of a band over just two years, 1964 and 1965. Those years may have been fun, exciting and relatively drug-free but there was also uncertainty. O'Mahony remembers the Beatles backstage in Brighton in 1965 being very concerned about their future: "They thought the average life of pop stars was two and a half years. They were wondering if they were over the hill."
So does he think John Lennon would have enjoyed Julie? He says: "Oh I think so. I hope he would."