Leeds writer Jason Lumsden’s Boy Called Bremner will be shown at the Vue cinema, Kirkstall. Neil Hudson spoke to the father-of-three about his project
Jason Lumsden says his film, Boy Called Bremner, has been likened to a cross between Kes, Rita, Sue and Bob Too and Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights but after watching the trailer for the Leeds-born former probation officer’s first foray into the movie industry, I have to say it looks more to me like Lock Stock meets Billy Elliot.
Clearly, it’s all about Leeds - the skies are resolutely overcast, the landscape inescapably morbid and full of faceless concrete tower blocks staring blankly out through the drizzle at a mosaic of red-brick housing estates.
Dogs bark, people shout, tempers fray. There’s plenty of swearing and also violence, not to mention drug dealers and, oh, by the way, one of the characters happens to be called Twocker - a reference to the police acronym TWOC, which relates to car theft and means ‘taking without consent’.
So far, so Shameless. But, this is no light-hearted look at benefits and booze and while its true it stereotypes the ‘grim up north’ sentimentality, there’s an undercurrent which promises to drag you away from the grime-laden post-industrial wasteland to something resembling sandier, sunnier shores.
The action centres around a boxing club and, the eponymous Bremner - nothing to do with the most famous footballing export of the same name, mind (well, not directly anyway).
Our subject is a conflicted youth whose devilishly good in the ring and wants a better life for himself and in particular his young daughter and her mother but he finds himself dragged down at every turn by the whole torpid gamut of what can only be described as ‘northern life’.
Bremner’s dad idolises his more famous namesake, Billy Bremner. The plot is thick with larger-than-life characters including Bremner’s dodgy boxing coach, a fake vicar and an Elvis impersonator.
His life is beset with unemployment, family problems, drug dealers, crime and the hidden demons of depression and suicidal urges which prove to be bigger than any of his opponents in the ring.
The tortured teen is played admirably in the film by Jason’s eldest son, Sonny, 19.
Bremner has his own demons: he is racked by despondency, a product of his situation, his outlook is as grim as the sunless sky.
His father is an insufferable alcoholic and there’s a distinct dearth of opportunity. Unless, of course, he can make it as a boxer.
For writer, director and producer Jason, 43, Boy Called Bremner marks the culmination of a dream he has nurtured for more than a decade.
Steadfastly writing “a page a day”, he laboured with his story while working in various jobs before starting his own business.
As if the story of the film couldn’t get any better, this ‘back of the beer mat’ tale has managed to leap from Jason’s imagination into a film, which is now being shown in big chain cinemas - it premiered last week at The Light, Leeds and will be shown at Vue, Kirkstall tonight, which is nothing if not remarkable.
“It’s the story of a young lad on the streets of Leeds who is trying to fight his way out,” says Jason. “But he has all these distractions, including his father, who is a drunk Leeds United supporter. So, the film switches between comedy and drama, a bit like life really.”
The aforementioned comedy is deadpan and brooding and seems forever laced with the possibility that things could, at any stage, turn ugly.
Take the scene in a Leeds boxing club (filmed at Burmantofts Boxing Club), in which a dog casually urinates against a post and indirectly onto someone’s packed lunch.
There’s also a stand-out performance from the late Graham Walker, who is perhaps better known for being part of The Grumbleweeds - in particular, the ‘naked sandwich’ scene, filmed on a Leeds tower block and, obviously, one of the moments in the film Jason is very proud of.
“Ah, yes, the naked sandwich scene,” recalls Jason. “Graham was ill during the filming and he died from cancer in June.
“But he kept going right to the end. We owe a lot to him because he brought a light to the production which we wouldn’t have had. We changed from a group of lads running about with a camera to something more professional and focussed.
“Graham plays a complicated character, he’s a drunk but we explore more of what he is later in the film.
“Bremner has all these pressures and one day him and his mates go off to Ilkley and its just totally different to the city, because there’s all this wide open space and countryside. For Bremner and his mates, it’s like a fantasy land.
“The boxing coach tells Bremner’s dad to make sure his son doesn’t get drunk. Well, all I can say is the adults end up getting more drunk than the kids and when we later return to Leeds, things gets darker again.”
Boy Called Bremner is as much Jason’s story as anyone else’s and it partially mirrors his own life.
He was a talented amateur boxer, winning the majority of his 40 fights, representing his county at one point and even beating Clinton Woods, who later turned professional and went on to gain six national championship title.
After starting a family, he worked in a number of professions, from the building trade to nigthclub security and later trained to work in the Probation Service before setting up his own business, ACHE - Action For Children Who Need Help in Education.
“I grew up between Farsley and Holbeck, where my Gran had a house and she used to lodge out rooms to Leeds United players, including people like Gary Kelly and Lucas Radebe. My gran is mentioned in Chapter 7 of Radebe’s biography.”
The father of three, who also has a son, Alf, seven, has his daughter, Jade, 22 and several friends at one of his regular haunts, The White Hart pub, to thank for pushing him to turn his ‘hobby’ into a reality.
Sonny became involved almost by chance too, Jason recalls.
“The irony is we were looking all around for someone to play Bremner and I couldn’t find the right actor.
“Sonny was there just turning up and doing some reading roles to help us out and then it just hit me he was Bremner. In fact, almost all of the people in the film aren’t trained in acting.”
Another of the scenes, involving someone smashing down a front door with an axe, was also kept as real as possible.
“It was a real axe and a real front door,” explains Jason, who was obliged to inform the authorities what they were doing beforehand.
“The reality was, while we were destroying the front door of one of my friends, his wife was in the kitchen cooking us all some beef burgers.”
Making the leap from the page to the screen wasn’t as daunting a process as he’d first imagined, either.
After buying some cameras of his own, he quickly got to grips with the filming and also hired in some freelance cameramen to shoot some of the scenes. When it came to editing the film, he was gifted time by a talented Shameless and Emmerdale producer.
Jason is unrepentant about his portrayal of his home city, adding: “It shows a side of the city I’m familiar with, it’s a dark side of the city and there are some desperate characters but there’s also a story of a triumph over adversity and of not wanting to constantly look back to the past.
“It’s about working class people, people with problems but people who get on with life and there’s a certain amount of pride with that.”
The film will be shown tonight at the Vue cinema, Kirkstall and based on audience figures could end up securing a longer run.