Last night we saw a preview of Eran Creevy's low-budget British film Shifty, starring Daniel Mays and Riz Ahmed. It's set over 24 hours in a thinly disguised version of Harlow, Creevy's hometown, and follows Chris (Mays) as he returns to the town for a party after four years away. He hooks up with his old friend Shifty (Ahmed), who has now become a crack dealer.
As Chris accompanies his mate on his rounds, he realises what a hole Shifty has dug himself into and pleads with him to get out of his dangerous lifestyle. However, a violent chain of events has already been set in motion and is about to come to a climax. We also find out – gradually – why Chris left in the first place, and what that meant for Shifty.
The most remarkable thing about the 86-minute film is its budget; it was shot in 18 days for just £100,000, under the Microwave scheme supported by BBC Films and Film London. In the Q&A, Creevy said they managed it by rehearsing every scene exhaustively in advance and storyboarding the whole film, so they could get on location, get the camera rolling, shoot the scene and get out again.
Creevy has a background in music videos and commercials, but his confident debut film is very naturalistic. It might seem an obvious reference point, but the way he depicts recognisable small-town life and avoids 'in da hood' cliches reminds me very much of Shane Meadows' early features. He handles the emotional beats very well too, considering this is the first time he's worked with actors.
In particular, the script succeeds through its simplicity. When I'm writing, I think my default setting is to cram in as much incident and as many reversals and complications as possible. However, Creevy keeps it low-key and straightforward, while allowing the increasing emotional impact of the action to intensify subtly.
While there's a lot of humour in the script, he also doesn't shy away from the complexity of depicting a charismatic and seemingly likeable drug dealer; a sub-plot involving addicted builder Trevor (Jay Simpson) makes the effect of drug abuse on families very clear.
At the Q&A, Creevy said that for both Shifty and his next film (which he is currently writing), he started off with the characters and their intimate-level stories before moving it out into a wider world. He said he always starts with a scene from the middle of the film and then builds his script up from there.
Sadly, NFT1 only seemed about 60% full for the event, and I guess the bad rep of many recent British films may affect Shifty's distribution. But it's a very accomplished and satisfying film. See it if you get the chance.