Cleo Samoles-Little on a film about a knockabout girl gang that’s taken on a surprising new relevance
When director Cleo Samoles-Little first made Knock Down Ginger back in 2016, she was looking to channel something of her teenage years growing up in North London. Halcyon days of cheap cider, pranks and put-downs, when the internet did not occupy the same all-encompassing role in our lives as it does now. But in 2020, under lockdown, the claustrophobic atmosphere and the way the film depicts the interconnectedness of a community, takes on a new relevance.
We caught up with Cleo, who is a director with Unit9, to reminisce about a very personal production that had its fair share of challenges.
Knock Down Ginger from Cleo Samoles-Little on Vimeo.
LBB> What was the inspiration for this project and what message do you hope it sends out?
Cleo> Growing up in North London and getting up to all sorts with my mates; I wanted to channel some of the experiences of my teenage years - the bad and the good, through my filmmaking.
This story studies female companionship and the underlining themes throughout are peer pressure and consequences. I wanted the audience to go on a journey as we looked at specific, but largely unknown world - the life inside a gang of girls
Knock Down Ginger is set in the early 2000s and represents an era untouched by the internet – kids played out in the streets more and had to entertain themselves.
I wanted people to identify with the rite of passage our main character goes through. The learning curves we all endure whilst growing up, making mistakes and learning to cope throughout our teenage years is a universal theme that our audience should connect to.
For me, this film conjures up thoughts around memory and experience and I love to play with that concept, but I wouldn’t call this an autobiographical piece.
LBB> How did the project come about?
Cleo> For a long time, I had a scene in mind of a gang of girls running riot through an estate, playing Knock Down Ginger. It’s a silly memory of mine from my childhood, where we used to play the game running from the top of a tower block and knocking on each door as we raced to the bottom. This was always a ballsy game to play – especially in a big group because the last person down the stairs ran the highest risk of getting caught.
When a friend suggested I apply for funding through the Film London / BFI - London Calling Scheme back in 2016 I saw it as a great opportunity to create a short film which included this Knock Down Ginger scene.
Knock Down Ginger is an urban tale, however, I wanted to make an extra effort to give it a harsh beauty – referencing directors such as Lynne Ramsay and Harmony Korine whose films study the dynamics of adolescent peer pressure.
The funding scheme was pretty challenging as there were a lot of hoops to jump through during script development, but they liked the idea and we developed the project from there.
LBB> How did you cast this film – and how did you work with the cast to get those very real performances?
Cleo> I absolutely love the casting process – it’s definitely one of my favourite parts of directing. Working with actors is wonderful, especially when you find the right fit for the roles you’re looking for.
We spent quite a bit of time finding the right cast for Knock Down Ginger, as the cast were absolutely crucial to the authenticity of the world we were creating. It was quite a tricky process as we had around 15 cast members which is considerably larger than the usual short film format.
We advertised online, found a good few people just by word of mouth – we found that if we liked an actor they would usually have a couple of recommendations for us. We also did some street casting, where one of your cast was found by a member of the team in a bar in Peckham.
Once we had our cast sorted, we paid special attention to the story during workshops and rehearsals with actors before the shoot, improvising to see what works best for the actors. This allowed us to experiment and explore the main characters and ensure maximum efficiency during the shoot.
LBB> Did shooting the film on an estate provide any challenges?
Cleo> Oh wow, it was an actual nightmare. The shoot almost completely fell through because we couldn’t find the right location. It was really tough because we needed one big unit location to film everything – we needed a rooftop, flats within the estate, stair wells and everything as they had to feel the same aesthetically otherwise it just wouldn’t work.
Gaining access to a whole estate to film in was proving much more difficult then we initially thought - shooting on an estate costs a fortune, can be up to £1000 p/ hr or something ridiculous and not only that, residents are sick and tired of film crews filming for the most part as they usually depict council estate life in a negative way. So yes, very challenging.
It was less than three weeks to go until the shoot and we still had no luck – we sent a crisis email to all the film councils in London with a very detailed description of what we were looking for and then right at the last minute, a company called Creative Sparkworks came to the rescue. They are a recognised community film, media and design education and training charity based on an estate in the heart of north Lambeth.
They basically gave us the permission and access to the whole estate and in return we delegated crew jobs to their students. It was really amazing, we loved working with them.
LBB> The film is all about how our lives all interconnect, particularly when living in cities and communities where we’re all kind of stuck together… something that feels eerily relevant now...
Cleo> Yes definitely, the film bounces between the gang of girls and the people they affect in the block, contrasting different lifestyles. It’s interesting, because in our current situation the emphasis on community, both in a digital and physical sense, has become stronger than ever. The film also has a somewhat claustrophobic quality to it, with the neighbours in the block both above and below all feeling the effects of close quarters life, something that most of us can probably relate to now more than ever.