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Attack The Block

We talk to Joe Cornish about his directorial debut in which a south London street gang battles a colony of aliens

When a colony of vicious aliens descends on South London, who would you turn to for protection? Joe Cornish reckons, in his directorial debut 'Attack The Block', the safest place would be tagging along with a gang of estate kids. It’s obviously not entirely a monument to social realism, but he’s probably got a point. When leader Moses batters one of the aliens to death, the gang attract every furious furry space monster that lands on London. What follows is a chase movie around their tower block on bikes and a moped as they duck, dive and hide while trying to figure out how to blast the remaining aliens back to space.

Despite a few niggling inconsistencies, the film is fantastically fun; the gang are highly energetic and entertaining, and it’s refreshing to see these kids being represented on screen as humans and heroes rather than one-dimensional thugs. Joe Cornish manages the treacherous task of balancing disparate genres, combining realism, fantasy, horror, humour and tension with a degree of authenticity and warmth. Dazed Digital caught up with Joe Cornish to talk about making Attack The Block.

Dazed Digital: What inspired the film’s story?
Joe Cornish: It was basically sparked by quite a tame little mugging incident that happened to me near where I live in Stockwell in South London. But it was also inspired by 80s creature movies like Critters and Gremlins and E.T. and also gang movies like Warriors and Over The Edge and Outsiders. And you know that little mugging was the first bad thing that had ever happened to me having lived in that area for 40 years. So it wasn’t as if I was mugged and I thought “typical”, I was mugged and I thought “untypical.” Because I spent my life defending that area of London from the stereotype.

DD: How did you develop the character and aesthetic of the aliens?
Joe Cornish: In terms of the conception of them the idea was to take all the adjectives that people used to describe those kids, like “feral”, “bestial”, “amoral” and “animalistic” and “territorial” and “vicious” and turn them into a creature, then set that creature against the kids and bring out the humanity in the kids by doing so. Practically, I wanted to evoke the creatures that I enjoyed in creature movies when I grew up like Critters and E.T. and Gremlins. I wanted to do something physical that was on the set and in the space so that when they attack the kids they properly jump on them and they smash through doors, they properly smash through doors.

DD: How was it working with kids who had never acted before?
Joe Cornish: They’d never acted on the screen before. We auditioned at least a thousand kids. We went to youth groups and theatre groups. It was an absolute flippin’ pleasure and it was an honour to work with all of them, they’re amazing. They bought a huge amount. They’re excellent dedicated serious actors. They were only 16 or 17 when we cast them, but they helped with the script, they helped fines the dialogue, helped with their costumes. And for me as a first time director, they were an amazing boost because they were as new to the process as I was. As a first time director you’re the least experienced person on the set yet you’re supposed to be in charge.

DD: Did you do much research for the dialogue?
Joe Cornish: Yes. I’m a bit less street than Prince Charles and there was no way I was going to go Westwood on anyone’s arse, pretending I knew how to talk like that. So I did a great deal of research and I talked to hundred of kids and youth groups around South London. I recorded everything they said in response to the story. I transposed everything they said myself as if I was leaning Italian or French until I felt I had the ear for it and then I went about writing my script.

DD: Had you always wanted to direct?
Joe Cornish: Yes, since I was a little kid. When I used to play with my toys I used to play the game then I used to do the making of, I’m afraid that’s true.

'Attack The Block' is out tomorrow, Wednesday May 11, 2011