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A Day in the Life

26 Sep, 2012 By: Ashley Ratcliff

Urban thriller ‘Shifty’ loosely based on life of first-time movie director

British writer-director Eran Creevy views his background in working on big-budget commercials and music videos as his film school.

Those experiences would come in handy when directing his first film, Shifty, an urban thriller, which Breaking Glass Pictures sends to DVD ($24.99) Oct. 2. The film cost $100,000 to make and was shot in 18 days in 2008. It hit United Kingdom theaters the following year.

“Even though [the movie] has a naturalistic feel, it was very much rehearsed because we knew we were going to have to move fast, and do one or two takes,” Creevy said.

Still, with that neck-breaking pace, Creevy managed to keep much of his vision for the film intact.

“It was pretty much a story about where I grew up as a teenager,” he said. “It’s slightly semiautobiographical about my life and people I knew in my hometown. … I never really wrote the story to budget. I just wrote the story I wanted to write.”

Shifty chronicles 24 hours in the life of London crack-cocaine dealer Shifty (Riz Ahmed). His best friend, Chris (Daniel Mays), returns after a four-year hiatus to confront the somber reasons he fled and finds himself entangled in Shifty’s dangerous lifestyle. A rival drug dealer (Jason Flemyng) seeks to kill Shifty, as the young man faces a crossroads concerning his future.

Before filming began, Creevy contemplated the legacy he wanted to leave as a filmmaker, and consequently upped the drama for the movie’s ending, making it into the action-packed, murky story viewers will see on disc.

“The original draft was much more arthouse and had a more ambiguous ending,” he said. “In the film, there’s criminals and villains that come down to town to kill Shifty and his best friend, Chris. That never used to be in the story. It used to be a much simpler ending. [The producers and I] said we need to bring some sort of threat into this movie — something to up the stakes for the audience. We twisted it and made it more aspirational and brought the thriller element into it.”

As the film progresses, viewers are introduced to Shifty’s diverse clientele of addicts. The man on whom they depend is a very likeable character, despite his dishonorable career choice.

Creevy, who loosely based Chris on himself, has a penchant for creating multidimensional characters, which not only are present in Shifty, but in his upcoming film Welcome to the Punch and Cry Havoc — an “homage” to Korean revenge tragedies that he’s currently penning, he said.

“Something that interested me is the theme in movies of not judging a book by its cover and that the world is a gray place — it’s not so black and white,” he said. “With Shifty, the crack-cocaine dealer, there’s more to him than meets the eye. … I’m showing two sides of the coin.”

Being that Shifty was Creevy’s foray into directing feature-length films, he used much of what he learned to guide him in his second project, crime-actioner Welcome to the Punch, which is slated for U.K. theaters in 2013.

The Microwave Scheme, which aids budding British directors in producing and distributing their original films on a tight budget, helped prepare Creevy for Shifty, from script to screen.

His mentor for the project, BAFTA-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia, instilled in Creevy a feedback-oriented directorial style and introduced the first-time movie director to methods of getting the most out of his actors.

“That was really amazing advice because … we’d start turning over the camera, and the actors would start feeling their headspace, and they’d do something,” Creevy said. “They might pick up a cup, or they may do a look or they’d improvise a line. Often, at the end of a scene, after there had been an emotional beat, they would do something … and it was those little moments that you’d end up using in the edit, the little emotional nuance that the actor does.”

Bonus material for Shifty includes behind-the-scenes interviews, a featurette and a Creevy-directed music video for the title song performed by U.K. artists Riz MC (who plays Shifty in the film), Sway and Plan B.

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