Interview with Dave McLean, writer and director of Schemers, a feature film about the very beginnings of his career whilst growing up in Dundee, Scotland before becoming a music promoter and manager to some of the world’s most famous bands including Nirvana, the Foo Fighters and Placebo.
Available on DVD and digital downloads from 25th January 2021.
Tell us about yourself and your new film
My name is Dave McLean, I’m the ripe old age of 65, based in Bangkok, Thailand.
I did a wee film about my early days in the music business with up and coming bands like the Cure, Ultravox and Simple Minds. It’s about the various escapades we had getting things started back in the day.
I wrote it, directed it and produced it and did the soundtrack. It wasn’t like I was making myself out to be some Svengali genius, I was kind of taking the piss out of myself about how bad it was. It’s like, look at this huge gig I got and what a balls-up of it I made.
I think we did well to get to the stage where we made a film, it got released in 250 cinemas and we’re doing worldwide digital deals all on a shoestring budget for a first time out cast and crew. It’s a good wee story, you know.
The opening scenes are reminiscent of Trainspotting, was that deliberate?
Actually it never even crossed my mind that it was like Trainspotting until people said oh it’s like Lust for Life. The film was done in 2, well 3 shoots because we had to do the Iron Maiden shoot again. The first shoot had quite a lot of problems. We had to change a few of the actors, rewrote 12 to 14 scenes and delete a load of stuff. Because of the continuity, we couldn’t use some of the scenes shot originally, so basically, we had to do a voice over thing at the start just to make the film work.
The guy that did the editing, Khaled Spiewak he was fantastic, he did it very much in the vein of the Guy Richie thing, The Snatch and Lock Stock and all of that sort of stuff. That’s where he got his ideas.
It kind of worked well and it was nice to be compared to them as well to be honest with you. When you read your name in the Edinburgh film festival, I had to really pinch myself when I was reading the reviews and it said Danny Boyle, Guy Richie and Trainspotting. I thought that’s crazy to be mentioned in the same breath. It is like wow; I definitely don’t have any complaints there.
What films influenced you?
None really. I suppose I was going for the gentle comedy aspect of say Gregory’s Girl, which is a very old film now. I just liked the gentle humour, there was nothing abrasive, nothing sharp, not a lot of swearing or anything like that, a gentle comedy. So I was going for that kind of line.
Then on the music front I was just going for the reality of what we were actually doing. I have never actually seen a film about the music business which shows fledgling days, promoter hustling, just taking a chance; so that was all original.
Actually I wanted to make it a bit edgy rock n roll stuff. A kind of toned down RocknRolla, I’ve always liked that movie, it had a good name for a start and it had a kind of dark side to it. We had a dark side, not as dark as that. A bit of a dark side but quite a lot of comedy.
How did the soundtrack come about?
I think there was about 27 tracks on the film and maybe 21 of those tracks we’ve either managed the bands, promoted the bands or had some kind of connection with the bands. Kyle, Kyle Falconer (the View), who I managed for a couple of years, we are great friends. I started to listen to the View and thought this band should have absolutely conquered the world and that track Grace I just thought wow, what a banger to open with. It was just like boom, let’s go. So we did that, we did Shock Horror, then when we finished we did Tacky Tattoo which was awesome. I just thought wow it is Dundee, it’s really raw, its grey, it’s sad. Kyle is a genius.
The cast looked like they were having a goodtime making the film
I thought the actual chemistry of the characters Scot, Dave and Jon (Connor Berry, Sean Connor, and Grant Robert Keelan) were brilliant, absolutely awesome. That came about because they all used to come to my house in Dundee for BBQs and drinks. They actually ended up being mates and you can see that on the screen.
The first time I met Connor I got on great with him, he’s such an easy going guy. I wouldn’t say he was a mirror image of me or anything but he had that right attitude, the right get up and go and he was a great worker and he was very professional about everything. I just felt this is in good hands. He won best new actor in the New York Winter Film Awards and he got best director as well, so he had won a few awards for up and coming actors. So I was really proud to have somebody like him.
Tara I found. I was stuck in a traffic jam in Bangkok and she was in this TV thing I was watching called the Fall with the guy who was in 50 Shades of Grey. We had to recast the girl that was going to play Shona. So I was watching this thing with Tara in it and I thought that’s it, that’s the girl for me. So I looked at her name at the end, got her agent, talked to the agent, talked to Tara. I flew to London 2 days later, Bangkok to London, met her and put her in it. She was awesome, she was really good but I never realised how good she was until I saw her on a huge screen. She’s got a lot of presence, I was really happy with that.
How did you get the 80s look on screen?
I think the people that did the whole set design and costume design, considering we were on a very, very tight budget, they did a bloody brilliant job and it kind of looks no bad you know.
Some of the scenes were set in places that hadn’t really changed much like where a few of the gig scenes were shot it’s got all these old posters in it. There was the old bar which has never changed in 150 years so that was good. Then there was Palais Tea Rooms which has got a 50s, 60s feel to it. Then you’ve got the pier which is just the way it has always been and Caird Hall. The record shop Groucho’s hasn’t changed much as well. So a lot of the things looked the way they are because they’ve not changed much. So it all looked good and authentic. Of course there is always somebody who will say, ‘by the way that lorry that turns up at the end is actually a 1992 blablabla,’ but it doesn’t really matter, it’s the best we could do.
Were you worried people wouldn’t understand the authentic Dundee, Scottish accent?
My co-producer, my long term business partner Alex Weston, she would always say, ‘you can’t say that, nobody will understand that. It’s too Scottish.’ I don’t really care, it’s about Dundee. It’s meant to be Scottish right. So we did subtitles when we played Raindance in London and we translated it into Chinese and Russian and various other languages.
Actually my friend in Dundee, this real Dundee guy, Gary Robertson, he’s won loads of awards for Dundee dialect and keeping it Scottish and all this sort of stuff. He tweeted about the movie and on his Facebook said, ‘great movie, fantastic, go and see it,’ and then one of his friends who commented on it said, ‘I didn’t like it, it wasn’t very Dundonian, the accents were terrible.’ So you can’t please everybody. It’s hard to get the balance but I think we got the balance.
In the film you turned down U2, is that true?
We had to change the original band I turned down to U2. The actual band I did turn down was Blondie! Blondie and the Ramones as a double header. I booked Siouxsie and the Banshees instead but because there was a big reference earlier on, we had to change it to U2. In later years we did do 30 gigs with U2 so there is a tenuous link there with Placebo.
How close to the actual events was the Iron Maiden concert finale?
That’s all true. I never had any crew, I never had any catering, I never read the contract, the support act was a balls-up, we hardly sold any tickets but people turned up on the night. The only thing that is not true that should be in the movie, we actually made money on Iron Maiden and what I did was lost it all. I’d made money and then lost it all on roulette.
Your career takes off after that. What happens next?
It takes off big time. I go to London. I think I’m going to take over the music business because I’ve done big bands but I’m forgetting there is competition in London. So the sequel shows the way I rose up through the ranks. We got all these bands and we got Placebo, who every single record company in the world wanted to manage and that took off enormously. It just took off you know.
How does the music industry compare to the film industry?
The music industry is much harder. The film industry is easy to be honest with you, now that I’ve done one film. The next film we could easily film and edit in 6-weeks because we’ll have the real A-team from the start. We’ll have a good film crew, we’ll have a good editor, we’ll direct it or co-direct, we’ll work together. We know what cast we’re looking at. We’ve already got a killer soundtrack. So the next movie will be a doddle. It will be a 6-week shoot, boom, done.