An Interview with Adam Simcox – By Phil Smolen

Back in May of this year I reviewed a wonderful indie feature from the UK called “Kid Gloves” for Rogue. Written and directed by Adam Simcox, the film tells the story of Fred Dobbs (wink, wink), who is delightfully played by Victor Ptak. Fred is a middle aged man who has been afraid of life since he was a young boy and ran away from a boxing match. Now he works a dead end job at a collection agency call center and is routinely abused by his much younger boss Johnny (Julian Shaw), who also happens to be an amateur boxer. When Johnny announces that he will be taking the entire call center to a local fight club for a team building exercise soon, Fred gets the idea that he’d like to step into the ring again with his much younger supervisor and teach him a lesson. He finds support from a former Cuban Olympic boxer Gus (Edmund Dehn) who agrees to train Fred. As a warm friendship develops between the two, Fred begins the long journey of standing up for himself and reclaiming his life.

Currently making the festival rounds, “Kid Gloves” is a fabulous boxing flick that is gathering quite a lot of attention both in the UK and America. Writer/director Adam Simcox took time out from his busy schedule to let me know how he managed to put his film together.

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RC: Adam, tell me a little bit about your background. How did you get into film and when did you know that movies were what you were meant to do?

AS: I came to filmmaking late really; later than most directors, anyway. Unfortunately, I don’t have a back-story where I shot short films with the family Super 8 camera! The closest I came was when I was young was messing around with the family video recorder. My Dad and I would record programs, and then use the audio dub feature to record our own voices on the characters. It was primitive, but it put me in the mindset of working and manipulating images.

The moment when it became the driving force in my life was when I was living in Vancouver. The film industry was huge there, and you only had to wander down the street to see a film being shot. While there I took an acting class, loved it and that eventually led me to study film in Manchester.

RC: “Kid Gloves” is such a cool flick. Was there a biographical element to the character of Fred Dobbs?

AS: Not particularly with Fred.  I’ve met plenty of Freds, particularly when working in call centers. They would complain incessantly about the job (understandably, because it was awful) and say they were going to quit, but you’d know full well that they’d be there in 12 months time.   Fred’s relationship with his co-worker Jess (Heather Nimmo) was one of the nicely random things I’ve found in the workplace, unlikely friendships between people that would never normally interact with each other. Jess is probably the closest character to me. I was a debt collector over the phone and I was pretty obnoxious!  It’s a job that steadily turns your soul black.

RC: When did the idea for “Kid Gloves” start to develop?

AS: “Kid Gloves” actually dates back to 2003, when I started studying film in Manchester. I directed a short documentary about a boys boxing club in Salford. That planted the seed for the feature, but it took me 10 years to finish a script I was happy with and that I felt brought something different to the boxing genre.

RC: Why was it important for you to make this movie?

AS: I’m a big believer that you don’t choose the film, the film chooses you. And once it does, it’s a powerful thing that consumes your life until the last section has been edited!  That’s why I often have a love/hate relationship with a film when I’m making it. There are many frustrations; it’s stressful as hell, it costs a fortune and you put your hopes and dreams in the thing, but there’s no question that you won’t finish it. It’s simply not an option.

RC: How long did you shop the script around before you could procure your financing?

AS: Like a lot of independent filmmakers, I’m afraid I lost faith in film grants and funding a long time ago, so to shoot the film we had to use a combination of private investment, and funds from our production company. We were fortunate to get roughly a third of the budget from people we knew (and a good few that we didn’t) that liked the script and thought it was an exciting project to support. Because my producing partner, Kirsty Eyre and I run a production company, we had all the equipment, and the various corporate films and music videos we were commissioned for paid for the production. Now this was still a considerable amount; we both came to the conclusion that this was the last time we could make a film this way. So far, the gamble looks like it’s paid off.

RC: How long was your shoot? Post production?

AS: For various reasons, shooting was a bit truncated. The bulk was done over two weeks in May 2012 and then we had a couple of days in Spain the month after. Palma was doubling for Cuba! It was much cheaper to shoot there and then we shut down production till September.  The primary reason for this was that Kirsty and I had a baby!  And let me tell you, those small human beings slow down the production process a bit.  We shot the final scenes in September at an art gallery in Greenwich. Post production took about 9 months. I did all the editing and sound design myself.  Never again!  I’m very glad I did it, but I’m hoping a bigger budget on the next film will mean a bigger production crew.

RC: Tell me about the use of David Nyari and his puppets – this is such wonderful touch. How did the idea come to you?

AS: I worked with David on a music video about 18 months earlier, as a cameraman.  He was an intriguing character, a bit of a one man band musically. He had all these crazy instruments, most of which I’d never seen before!  A few months later I saw the video he’d put together, and he used these fantastic puppets in it. I was looking for a different way of shooting this particular section in the film and I briefly toyed with animation, but it never felt quite right. The puppets seemed a good way of portraying the fable Gus tells.

David is a miracle worker. The guy hadn’t even built a puppet before the ones he’d used in his video, and from nowhere he creates this amazing wolf puppet. What he came up with was beyond my wildest dreams in terms of quality. It’s one of my favorite parts of the filmmaking process. Working with the David is out of this world. He’s someone who can produce things that you never could, even with a gun to your head. He’s an extremely talented guy.

RC: Your actors are incredible (Victor Ptak, Heather Nimmo, Edmund Dehn). What did each of them bring to their roles that surprised you most?

AS: Yeah, we got very, very lucky with our actors and we needed too. It was a really difficult film to cast, with the ages of the main two male leads. Edmund Dehn, who plays Gus, the Cuban boxing trainer, was actually cast three days after principal photography had begun (which is about as seat of your pants as you get, and not something I’d recommend!). I’ve been lucky enough to work with some talented actors over the years, but Edmund delivered a master class on his first day of shooting!  He had a three page monologue to deliver, and only about a day to learn it.  He didn’t drop a beat, word, or comma when the camera started rolling. Edmund really saved our backsides!

Victor was literally the first person we saw at auditions (he was waiting for us outside the gates!) and as soon as I saw him, it was obvious that he was Fred. While writing the script I was never quite sure what Fred should look like. I knew what his personality was but not his face. So my first thought when seeing Victor was ‘That’s Fred!’  The second was ‘I hope he can act!’  Luckily for us, he could, and was fantastic.  Victor came to acting late in life, and I like that. It was a nice contrast to Edmund, who has a lot of experience. And the two of them played off each other so well. They just had that chemistry. You’re lucky when you get that between actors, just like you get it between people. It can’t be manufactured or created, it just is.

Heather surprised me since I didn’t know Jess was Scottish!  But there was something in her accent that gave the bad language and insults that extra sting. I think she walked the line between being sympathetic and being a curmudgeon brilliantly. If the role of Jess was done wrong, she could have come across as unsympathetic. But it’s hard to dislike Jess as blazingly rude and aggressive as she often is. And Heather was every director’s dream; unpretentious, with no airs and graces. She was hard working and just an all round pleasure to work with.

I also have to mention Julian Shaw (who plays Fred’s obnoxious boss) as well.  One of the things that should come out from test screenings, reviews and festival screenings is the hate for his character Johnny!  Obviously, that’s what I wanted. We’ve all had a boss we can’t stand, and one of the things people seem to like about the film is the moment when Fred hits him for the first time in the ring. At the screening at the Action on Film (AOF) festival one person actually cheered when that happened. That’s become the moment when I can tell how the films going down with the audience. I think it was put best by one of our exec-producers who said ‘I just really hate that c***!’  What a wonderful testament to Julian’s terrific performance!

RC: What has pleased you most about the film?

AS: That people like it!  That’s the main thing, definitely.  We were really lucky to get some great reviews, which was vital in helping to build momentum for the film and getting the word out on it.  But really, you can’t beat the feeling of being in a room full of people who are watching and enjoying your film.  It was the main reason for making it in the first place.

RC: What upcoming festivals are you bringing “Kid Gloves” to?

AS: It will be shown at The Shadowbox Film Festival in New York, on December 7th at 4PM. The address is:

The School of Visual Arts
SVA Theater
333 West 23rd Street
New York, NY

I’m really excited about that one. It was a festival that we’d identified when we were putting together the festival strategy, so it was very exciting when we found out it had been selected. When you’re from rainy, windswept England, there’s just something very glamorous and exciting about going to New York to see your film at a festival! The schedule hasn’t been confirmed yet, but you can see details at: http://www.boxingfilmfest.com

I’d love to meet any of your New York based readers after the screening!

RC: Where can people find “Kid Gloves”?

AS: The official website, which has updates on festivals, reviews, and the two trailers, can be found at: www.kidglovesmovie.com and details on our other films and commercial/music video projects can be found at: www.uncannyfilms.com

RC: What’s next for Adam Simcox?

AS: I’ve got a couple of exciting projects lined up for 2014.  The first involves Kirsty and I swapping roles; she’s written and directed a cracking sitcom based on a struggling filmmaker trying to make it in the music video world (I have no idea where she got the inspiration for that) and I’ll be shooting, and producing it.  We’re shooting three 5 minute web episodes for that, which will effectively be our pitch to get it commissioned into a full 6 episode, 30 minute season.

My follow up project to “Kid Gloves” I can’t really talk about yet, since it’s not signed sealed and delivered. What I can say is that it’s a documentary, and I’ll be pitching it when I’m in New York in December. So fingers crossed this time next year I’ll be able to tell you about the successful shoot we’ve just completed for it.

RC: One final question for you – Did you have to make compromises with “Kid Gloves”, or did you make the film you always wanted to make?

AS: When you’re working with a low budget, there are always elements you would like to improve technically, but overall, I’m very lucky to have been able to tell the story I wanted to tell and not have to compromise when it came to locations or actors. We shot in a boxing gym, not a room that had been mocked up to look like one and worked with actors that were born to play the roles. When you combine that with working with talented people like Mig Dfoe, our composer, who deservingly won ‘best score’ at the AOF Film festival last August, then you get a project that I feel lucky to have been a part of.

RC: Thanks a lot for your time Adam and I know we’ll be seeing you in the pages of Rogue Cinema again!

AS: Thanks a lot Phil!