Joe Cornish Interview
Joe Cornish Interview
First hitting the TV screen alongside his comedy partner Adam Buxton in Channel 4’s Adam and Joe Show in 1996, Joe Cornish became a cult comedian known for remaking contemporary feature films with soft animals held up by coat hangers and Star Wars action figures. Despite having studied film at university and presenting the Radio 4 film programme Back Row for a year, it has taken until his forties to realise his childhood dream of actually directing a feature film, and has also taken on co-writing roles with Edgar Wright for The Astonishing Ant Man and with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg for Tintin.

Talking to View’s Matthew Turner in London recently, he spoke about the inspiration behind his debut film Attack the Block, why he prefers monsters that you can draw easily and how his over enthusiasm for the project nearly ruined the whole thing.
Can we start off by asking where the idea came from?

Joe Cornish

Yes, basically, the idea comes from my love of eighties monster movies like E.T. and Gremlins and Critters and Tremors. All the stuff that I loved when I was growing up in South London and also gang movies that I loved when I was a teenager, like Warriors, and Streets of Fire and the Outsiders and Rumble Fish, and just a general sense that I’ve never seen a film like that happening in the area where I grew up. And that Britain was very good at doing realism, and quite good at doing fantasy but seldom fused the two together in the way that particularly eighties American directors seem to. So that was the inspiration really.
The aliens were very distinctive, what made you decide on their appearance, and that they wouldn’t be CGI?

Joe Cornish

We knew we couldn’t afford 3D CGI Aliens, and also I didn’t really want to do those, as, as a filmgoer, I often feel that it sometimes feels that there’s a sort of iPhone app for digital creatures and they have to look the same in movies. There’s a sort of aesthetic homogenisation happening for some reason, so I was excited to try and do what they used to do in the eighties, which was something a little bit practical and a special effect would either be a puppet, or a painting or a model and you got a sense that someone had made it.

Now for this generation there’s probably a similar thing that’s happening, because they could probably go home and make it in a virtual sense, but I spent my childhood being really excited by films and going home and making them, and however sophisticated the effects were, there was always a DIY sense wasn’t there? That you could have a go yourself.

So it was a combination of those things really, and plus there’s a thing about digital creatures where they seem to be hyper-detailed, but I like to be able to draw creatures as well, I used to be very good at drawing the Stay Puft marshmallow man, and the Ghostbusters logo, so I wanted to take a graphic and stylised approach, and I also wanted there to be something on set with the actors so when they’re attacked, they’re really attacked. When they smash into things no-one is reacting to tennis balls on sticks or to a green screen, so I hope we’ve come up with something that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before and is a little bit stylish and hopefully a little bit cooler than the generic stuff you sometimes get in bigger-budget movies.
Both in a cinematic sense, and in real-life, what do you think is scarier? Gangs of young people, or aliens?

Joe Cornish

The movie addresses that question, that’s basically the premise of the film. The idea with the creatures was that we took all of the adjectives people used to describe those kids, or what some of the media sometimes call those kids, and made those clichés into an actual creature. Pit them against the kids and then you will bring out the fact that the kids are not that one-dimensional, they are human and they are as capable of doing good things as everyone is capable of doing bad things.

And particularly in some films you get this demonisation of individuals who in reality, are a) children, and b) come from situations where they don’t necessarily have the advantages that you or I might. Personally I’m uncomfortable with the way they are presented in some films and media, so I wanted to address that balance by pitting them against the actual cliché made into a monster. That’s not really what your question was. I’ve gone Tony Blair on your arse.
So, you're saying aliens are scarier?

Joe Cornish

Yeah.
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