In this Edinburgh Film Festival interview, Schemers ‘ director-writer-producer Dave McLean and leading actor Conor Berry tell us about their compelling drama.
Part of the Edinburgh Film Festival‘s Best of British Strand, Dave McLean‘s Schemers is one of those stories that needed to be told. Based on McLean’s own life and set in Dundee in the 1980s, the film chronicles the writer-producer’s early years and tells the incredible true story of a determined, ambitious young man who follows his instincts and ultimately makes it in the music business. Energetic, entertaining and surprising in many ways, Schemers features excellent music, hilarious sequences and a truly impressive performance from Conor Berry, who plays young “Davie”.
Ahead of Schemers’ world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival (follow this link for tickets), we met with director-writer-producer Dave McLean and leading actor Conor Berry and asked them about their experience on the set, the story behind the film and more. Here’s what they told us.
The Story behind Schemers
Dave, what made you want to tell this story?
D: Well, the band I manage, Placebo, wasn’t doing much at the time, so I thought… I’ll write a film! People used to say to me that my life was quite interesting, back in the day, so I thought, let’s just base it on the stuff I used to do and the bands we used to promote. I had a good soundtrack, and it wasn’t difficult: it’s just really going back to what I did. I just wrote it down and filmed it.
Hopefully, people will like it! When I used to tell stories, people would laugh, so whether I actually transmitted it on the screen… We’ll need to see! [laughs]
How much of the film is fiction and how much actually happened?
D: All of it’s true. The gigs happened, the people in it are real, the situations are all real… Worst happened in real life that’s not actually there, but it’s all true, really. It’s been good fun. It was a good laugh, you know. And it was very easy to work with Conor.
The Leading Character
Conor, how did you get cast into this film?
C: It’s a funny one: I found the casting on Facebook! I was just sitting in my flat one day, scrolling, and then I saw this casting call and ended up writing away for it. I got an audition and got the part after meeting Dave.
What was your reaction when you got the part?
C: I was surprised, to be honest. After the audition, it felt pretty good. I felt like it suited me, but then… you never know what people think. I was delighted when I got the part.
How did you prepare for it? Considering how much happens in the film in only 90 minutes, it must have been intense!
C: It was and it wasn’t. Dave made it really comfortable for me, he never put me under any pressure. I’d imagine having somebody play you in a film would be quite daunting, but he never made me feel like I had any sort of responsibilities. I always felt relaxed, so, when I was preparing, it was just a case of feeling comfortable with the script. I was in contact with Dave’s brother, ’cause obviously he knows him quite well, as he grew up with him, so he helped too.
What was the atmosphere like on the set?
D: It was great: we just used to go to the pub, have a few drinks and chat, or go for a meal… Conor used to stay at my house, and he picked up little nuances of accents, bits and pieces…
C: It was good! It’s an independent film, so there were a lot of people who had never worked on a film before, and the first shoot was chaotic: it was mad! [laughs]
The film is split up between two different shoots – the first one, which was chaos, and then the second one, which was more “refined”, shall we say… Between the two of them, the film is made. It was a good learning experience.
D: It was totally mental! You could write a film about making that film!
Was it your first time on a film set, Conor?
C: Yes, it was. I had no idea what to expect, and at the start everything seemed so normal. I’d never done it before, so I just expected that this was how it worked… But then, it was only through speaking with David and other people and it was like – oh, maybe this should be happening and that should be happening… It was a learning experience to say the least! [laughs]
D: To me, when everybody else is looking serious and gloomy… I just have a laugh! Compared to the music business, it’s easy! When you do gigs in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Russia… That’s heavy work, but doing a film in Dundee was ok: nothing worried me there.
You can definitely tell from the film that you all got along so well!
D: It was great! They used to come to my house – Grant [Robert Keelan], Sean [Connor] and Conor, and we used to hang out at the house, have a few parties and barbecues… It was a brilliant atmosphere!
C: It was good fun, it really was. We stayed with the camera guys as well, so the camera crew and the actors became really close and also came really close with David. It was like a “cool wee team” we made, and… we ended up making quite a “cool wee film”!
What message would you like people to get from Schemers?
D: It’s simple. If you can’t get a job, if everyone’s against you, the government’s rubbish, it’s raining a lot or whatever it is… Go out, have some ideas and do what you want. If you want to put on a concert, put on a concert. If you want to make a film, make a film. If you want to do many of the things that actually aren’t in the film and that we used to do… Just do it! You only live once. Have a laugh, enjoy it. Every day is a holiday!
C: I don’t think I could have said it any better than that!
As I was watching the film, I kept thinking that so much of what happens to Davie often appears to be a reaction to a series of circumstances that come his way. He has to make so many choices, and some of those choices have consequences, as he ends up having to give up a lot of things. What would have happened if he hadn’t left for London?
D: I probably would have lived in Whitfield Multis ’till I was about sixty, and died of a heart attack, with three grandkids… And I’d be about forty stones, sitting watching daytime TV with Jeremy Kyle… That’s probably what would have happened! [laughs] Thankfully, I got on a train and went to London!
What was the first thing that happened in London?
D: We signed on the dole, it took us three days to get a cheque, then my wife and I went to Greece on a holiday! Then I applied for about a hundred jobs and got knocked back everywhere, until eventually I got a job at Whaltamstow, in London, booking bands for the council. That was hilarious. I got sacked from that and I got a job at King’s College – then I got sacked from that, and I got a job at the Greyhound, which is where I discovered the “grunge stuff”, and that led to big things. I teamed up with Scott [Young] again, and the rest is… Well, it’s not “history”, but it’s all mapped out.
What’s next for Schemers?
D: We’re going to do a spin-off of schemers, and we’re going to use the same team again – the same camera crew and some of the same cast. There are just so many stories, ’cause I must have done about a hundred bands at the time, and every single gig was a disaster!
There was actually one guy who turned up to a concert, and I said to him, “How’s it going?”, and he said [through clenched teeth] “I’m fine, everything’s great”. I said, “Are you ok?”, and he said, [through clenched teeth] “I’ve got a broken jaw!”. I asked, “What’s your job in the band?”, and he said [through clenched teeth] “The singer!”! You had stuff like that happening! That was a gig in Edinburgh, and the guy with a broken jaw was the singer! It was a nightmare!
We got chased out of Edinburgh that night, by a band called Exploited, ’cause they turned up and appeared on the gig, and they weren’t even booked – they said “We’re playing!”, I said “No, you’re not!” and they said “Yes, we are!”. It was just one of these nights – it was a disaster! [laughs] Every gig is a story.
Do you have any other projects?
D: I’ve got five films. Progressively, they get bigger: I’ve done so much, and I’ve had so many partners. The people in the movie moved on to big things. One of them is dead now, Scot [Young]: he moved on to a huge level of business. We’re doing a film about me and Scot, set in London, 1994. I’m doing all the bands like Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, and Scot is… big in his “business”, let’s just say: there was a lot of stuff going on in Miami, Russia, London… So it really takes it to a new level. The film is called “All or Nothing”.
What about you, Conor?
C: I’m free at the moment: I’m waiting for the right opportunity.
D: He’s good good management: me and my business partner are his managers now! We’re looking at James Bond 2029! [laughs]
What kind of role would you like to play in the future?
C: I’d love to play a bad guy! I don’t have any in particular, but even a comic book one or something really over the top is what I’d like to try and play… I think that’d be quite interesting.
Schemers had its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on Saturday, 29th June. The film was released theatrically in the UK on September 25, 2020 and on VOD and DVD in the US & Canada on March 29, 2022.