Elaine Constantine’s Northern Soul has been praised as an authentic reenactment of the music scene in 1970’s England – Lancashire to be exact. The film also stands as a strong example of a filmmaker accomplishing their goals because they have been able to put so much of their heart and life experience into their project.
Wylie Writes’ Trevor Jeffery liked the film when he caught it at this year’s TIFF – Northern Soul had its North American premiere at the renowned film festival. Recently, Jeffery was able to talk with Elaine Constantine about her film and her love for music. Constantine also explained the atmosphere behind the film’s famous dance scenes.
Trevor Jeffery: What drove you to make a movie documenting the northern soul movement? What does it mean to you?
Elaine Constantine: I’ve been into the music since I was a young teenager, and it’s always been on my mind since I was a photographer to cover it somehow and try to illustrate what an amazing experience it is to be part of that scene and fall in love with the music at a young age. The music is very special and takes me to a special place every time I hear it.
TJ: How much of you and your experience with the movement is in the film?
EC: Nearly every scene, every word of dialogue and every character represents either people I knew or things that happened to me or my friends. It’s literally straight out of the real world I lived in Lancashire in the 1970s, but not necessarily in the same order that it appears in the film.
TJ: The soundtrack is extensive! What was the process of choosing all the songs, and are there any specific tracks that you: a) are really happy to have in the film, and b) wanted to but weren’t able to put into the film?
EC: It was so easy to do this as I wrote the script while listening to all my favourite tracks. I literally would plug myself in with the headphones and write scenes, hitting the keypad to the beat of the music. It was brilliant and never once got writers block when I remembered to do it this way. Also, I got nearly everything I wanted. There were only two tracks that I got turned down on for budget reasons. It wasn’t hard though in the end, as we didn’t have room for any more records when we hit the edit.
TJ: Northern Soul seemed to share equal focus on dancing with a drug use. Why did you choose to focus on both the drug dependance of the dancers, and to the same extent, the dancing dependance on the drug users?
EC: It would be ridiculous to pretend that this wasn’t the case. I never set out to make a film that would have to be compromised in terms of what happened historically just to get a bigger audience. I wanted to tell the typical story of someone who lived for the scene and not dumb anything down. People who literally lived for the weekend on that scene will identify with all the characters, drug dependent or not. Anyone who only dipped there toes into the scene or weren’t really into it that much will try and tell you that it wasn’t like that, but it really was and there were elements to the scene that were dark and scary. It was the first scene that involved teenagers staying up all night en masse – that’s how it worked.
TJ: The dance sequences reflect the styles of that time. Did the actors and extras have to go through extensive training to ensure the choreography was historically accurate? Were the dance segments that focused on the characters highly choreographed?
EC: The young people we trained were part of a dance club that we created and worked with for literally five years. It was hard work enticing people in who knew nothing of this culture and getting them to stay the duration. The ones that did stay fell in love with the music, so that was the most important thing to me – how they looked in the face when they got locked into a track. I think it shows on camera.
The scenes were not choreographed at all, but that goes to show how good those kids became and how passionate they were about the music. If you look at all the rushes, those kids are smashing it at all times. It was almost impossible to edit and almost impossible to get the kids to stop dancing when be shouted “cut”.
TJ: What was your favourite part about writing and filming Northern Soul?
EC: Too many great things to list, only to say that I revisited the most compelling part of my teenage years on a daily basis for over ten years.
TJ: What’s next for you? What other films would you love to shoot?
EC: I’d like to do a film about photography now as that’s my second love! I’m writing away, watch this space…