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Irvine Welsh - Talking 'Filth' & Film with Novelist, Director & Screenwriter.

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

In 1993 Irvine Welsh’s début novel ‘Trainspotting’ was unleashed into the public’s consciousness. The interlinking short stories of heroin addicts living and existing in late 1980s Edinburgh seared into the retina. Garnering praise, and contempt in equal measure, 'Trainspotting' and ultimately Irvine Welsh were to the novel what 'Sex Pistols' were to a crumbling, and stale 1970s British music industry where it attracted a sharp neon outrage from critics and the literary establishment alike.

As we fast forward to 2013. ‘Filth’ Welsh’s 1998 novel about detective sergeant Bruce Robertson is released in the Autumn.

Via email, I posed some questions to Irvine Welsh regarding film directing, the casting of ‘Filth’, and why it took so long to get it on-screen.

Hello Irvine Welsh,

Let’s talk Filth!

The novel came out in 1998, and the film is due out in the Autumn of this year. I take it, it hasn’t been easy getting it funded. It never is with independent movies. With Filth, Dean Cavanagh had done a very good script which was bought by Miramax/Hal then the European operation of Harvey Weinstein. However, the companies split in two and there was a dispute between them over who owned the rights which put the project back in limbo. When it went back to me there were various other producers and directors involved, all of whom wanted to do their own adaptation but they were nowhere near the standard of Dean’s. Then Jon Baird, whom I met through my friend Cass Pennant (Jon had done Cass’s autobiography as his first film) took over the project. He did a great screenplay and got me involved as a producer.

How involved were you with casting the film? Jon’s game plan was to finance the film through Hollywood contacts. We were both repped by CAA and they did a great job packaging it financially and putting together casting suggestions. We were assisted by Janet Hirchenson and Jane Jenkins, who are the doyens of Hollywood casting agents. So, I was pretty involved Jon wanted me with him to speak to the potential actors to see how they got the characters. Bruce Robertson isn’t even an anti-hero. Yet, he is strangely sympathetic. Do you think that it’s still important to have sympathetic characters someone who the audience still has a certain empathy with?

Yes, especially in Cinema. You really need an actor people strongly relate to playing Bruce. It’s not enough to make people laugh or disgusted and shock them. You need to break their hearts too.

Will the tapeworm be a CGI effect or will it be more realistic than that?

I’m keeping quiet about the tapeworm as he isn’t as prominent as he is in the book but he’s in there.

You’re quoted as saying ‘Filth’ is the best British film since ‘Trainspotting’. Some people might agree with you some might disagree but still, that’s a pretty bold statement to make.

I believe that it might even be a better film than 'Trainspotting'. There is an element of mischief in this on my part of wanting to start the debate but a lot of people are going to be seriously shocked by how good and moving a film it is.

How did you get involved with directing music videos? It doesn’t seem like an easy transition to make from writing novels. Who was the first person to let you near a camera and direct their video?

It was the band 'Gene' who got me to do the ‘Is It Over’ single from the 'Libertine' album. I hit it off with Martin Rossiter and Steve Mason from the band who are excellent guys and wanted me involved. I worked on some more with 'Primal Scream' and 'Keane'. They are great fun to do, and I’ve been asked to do more but it’s all about time.

With the success of your novels, you can do pretty much what you want. Have you been tempted to go back to making short films without time or financial restraints? Something spare that could be shot in 8 hours or less.

I’ve got more involved in cinema, and I’m doing a low-budget feature next year. There are always time and financial restraints in any collaborative activity like filmmaking.

What’s healthier? Scottish cinema or UK cinema.

All filmmaking, be it in Scotland or the rest of the UK is pretty much a cottage industry. One of the great things about working in Hollywood on film and TV projects is that the whole thing is taken more seriously. When you look at the resources they have, Scotland, England, Wales and especially Northern Ireland punch massively above their weight in cinema.

I spoke to someone who makes documentaries and works in the film industry. They said there is money but it’s in the wrong hands. How do you see this?

When was that not the case? It’s been a huge challenge to get as much of the money dedicated to cinema up on the screen as possible. Whether the structure in the UK is right to deliver this or not, I can’t really say as I’ve been out of the scene for so long but there are still great films coming out of the UK/Ireland.

You’ve got a strong working relationship with the screenwriter Dean Cavanagh, and now Jon Baird. When it comes to co-writing or even co-directing a feature or tv film. What is it that attracts you to that person?

Well, you always need to choose your collaborators carefully. Both these guys are close friends and they are very passionate about cinema, art and life in general. You can’t afford to be around people who are pompous and take themselves too seriously, it doesn’t make for good collaboration.

You live part of the time in Miami, and your next novel takes place there. I’ve never been to Miami but I imagine Michael Mann's imagery and frenetic phone conversations in a departure lounge. At night I would imagine fast, flickering neon MTV images. There’s a lot of imagery to absorb. Do you listen out for dialogue or are the images just as important?

You try to tune into both. Miami is an extraordinary visual place because of the light, tropical foliage and Art Deco architecture. That’s why so many artists and photographers are based there.

Jennifer Farfort

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