Noel Clarke, a British filmmaking and acting phenomenon and co-owner of the brilliant film and tv production company Unstoppable was on the 200th episode of podcast this week.
With huge success in the ‘Hood trilogy, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet , Doctor Who, 4321, Storage 24, Bullet Proof. Noel is a real go-getter. Someone who from the beginning of his stardom has been making brilliant stuff and doing it for himself.
Host and director Giles Alderson, who was really inspired by Noel as a young creative and actor and said “you are a massive inspiration for so many filmmakers.”
Noel developed his career due to necessity, not desire. “I think what people don’t realise is it came from necessity. I always wrote anyway, but I didn’t intend to become a writer. I didn’t intend to become a director. I didn’t intend to become a producer.”
“Essentially, if I just acted, like I wanted to, I would be homeless right now.”
After a period of not getting acting work, he decided that he would have to write. “After Adulthood, the first film came out, I wrote a bunch of stuff and no directors wanted to direct them, so I had to direct. And then I got completely robbed and these producers took all the money from a certain film. And then I had to learn to produce. It’s all been necessity.”
Diversity in the Industry
Although he has a successful career now, Noel had a tough start in the industry.
He faced a lot of prejudice in the beginning due to his skin colour and social background; sharing that it impacted his initial contact with industry professionals and they way in which people treated him.
A certain UK distributor turned down Kidulthood and made sure that Noel’s work wasn’t seen by anyone in the company until she left.
“They’re a really high brow, powerful distributor and production house that could change careers. If they had embraced me after Kidulthood or Adulthood, I could be winning Oscars by now, because they’re that sort of place.”
He didn’t feel discriminated against straight away. “It took me a while to figure out what was happening.” After winning a BAFTA, he felt like he was basically “Rapman and Michael Ward rolled into one. You’ve got Michael, the award-winning rising star and brilliant actor. And Rapman, the director.”
“And then I started to realise the more I kept progressing and the more I’d say how come these people aren’t seeing me? Literally almost like a month after she left that place, I was in the door.”
Noel set up his production company Unstoppable with Jason Maza (pictured with Noel above) after Kidulthood. He had written a hit film and had thought that people might want to see more of his work.
“I wrote the second movie thinking someone was going to make it and nobody wanted to make it. Then Pathé came on board. And the director of the last one didn’t want to direct it.” So they asked Noel if he wanted to direct.
His response was: “I’m not a director. I’m an actor who writes, I don’t want to direct it.”
He had thought that he might direct in five years, maybe ten; but changed his mind when his wife reminded him of his position five years earlier. “She said: ‘five years ago, I was lending you money for travel cards. How do you know you’re going to be in a position to direct in five years time?”
So he agreed to direct. “At that point, I knew that for everybody else involved in that film, if the film didn’t work, they could walk away, but everything was on my shoulders. So I said that I wanted my production company to have a credit on the movie.”
Their answer: Unstoppable can’t have a credit. So Noel said that he wouldn’t do the film.
Noel figured that there would be no film without him. “You have to be willing to walk away. And eventually they relented. And there the first credit is, but it still wasn’t at the front. The first credit for Unstoppable is on Adulthood at the back – in association with Unstoppable Entertainment.”
His mum, a pediatric nurse, worked a lot and usually on weekends, leaving him to watch “TV and films all day and to play with my toys to fuel my imagination.”
He would also create and write stories with his toys. “I would write a little story of what I was going to do for that day, who the bad guys were, so-and-so was going to turn on them. And then I would play that out. So I was just writing and that just kept going.”
Giles said “I say this to a lot of filmmakers. When we were kids our imagination was the best in the world. We created stories out of nothing. And as soon as we get to eight or nine, we get told to stop daydreaming. But daydreaming is what we do, and we get paid for it. We just have to put it down on paper or put it onto film.”
Writing for Film
After writing on Word, like most of us at the time, he found out the people were using Final Draft to write scripts.
“And it was like 300 pounds, like an unbelievable amount of money. So it took me like four months to save up for it while working in a gym.”
After buying Final Drafts, he didn’t know what to do with it. “Faber and Faber used to publish screenplays. You could buy American Beauty and you’d open it and it would be in the screenplay format. So I just used to buy screenplays and taught myself how to write.”
Noel said that Kidulthood was probably his 5th or 6th screenplay, after writing a few with friends and by himself before then.
“At the time I wasn’t writing to get movies made. I was writing because I was creative and I had just wanted to say stuff.”
He’d watch a horror film and not like something about the script, so would write his own. The same with thrillers. “10 x 10 starring Luke Evans and Kelly Reilly. I wrote that ages ago. I wrote it for me as well. Because I thought it would be good to show me in a different light.”
In the end he realised that that he could star in the film “and it’s going to make X amount of money or I can get Luke Evans to star in it and then the film’s in profit before it comes out.”
Noel’s Final Advice
And it’s great… “You need to block everything out and forge your own path. You need to really just keep working as hard as you can because work breeds work.”
For more info from the brilliant Noel Clarke, have a listen to the full episode.