Set in London’s Waterloo in the 1990s – Tax City is the 20-minute story of Johnny Costa, a rock star who is stabbed through the throat in a vicious assault after a gig one night ending his singing career. Costa loses his house, wife and kids and ends up in Cardboard City with the down-and-outs where he comes in contact with Fintan, the brutal leader of the Taxing Squad – a gang that preys on the homeless community.
‘The story’s not true but it’s true about the taxing squad,’ director Tom Begley told Film Ireland. ‘They did exist and they were mostly Paddies – and they did quite well for themselves actually. There’s a particular place where all the down-and-outs used to lived and they had their own kind of community there called ‘Cardboard City’. There’s an IMAX cinema there now. Among that community there were a couple of gangs – predominantly Irish and Scottish and they were known as the Taxing Squad – and these guys would come around and terrorise the residents and take any belongings they could get or any money and piss off with it. That’s really what the film is based on.’
The film was written and produced by Andy Nolan, accordion player with the Celtic rock band The Biblecode Sundays. Tom explains, ‘I knew his band – they’re popular in London among the Irish. I met Andy through another Irish band. He approached me with the script – he had done his research on the taxing squad and we looked at the history and that was it.’
The film was initially envisaged as a short but developed into something longer. ‘The way I look at it is it’s a minute a page – that is a rule of thumb for me. But it started to take on a life of its own and at one stage was looking like a half an hour. We had to get very clinical and cut parts of it to make it flow. There was a lot of post-production done on it to bring it down – you can get quite close to something and even though there was over half an hour of material there we got quite clinical because we felt it lacked the right flow.’
Was there a feature there at all? ‘Well, there’s enough footage there but for me it was about quality not quantity and so we cut it down to what worked best.’
Steve Collins, who plays Fintan, the Taxing Squad leader, got involved through Andy, who had originally pencilled him in for one of the parts. Under Tom’s direction Collins was cast as the gang’s brutal leader. ‘I’d done shorts before with him. He is like he was in the ring – really focused. He’s a real gent to get on with. I love working with him and he’s really come on in leaps and bounds since the time of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; he’s really learnt the craft, doing shorts and he’s learnt so much in terms of acting. He adapts very well. We’ve become good friends now at this stage. We’ve a couple of things lined up for him in the future.’
Another member of the cast is Noel ‘Razor’ Smith who spent half his life in jail – over 30 years – and was once referred to as the most dangerous bank robber in England. ‘Talk to him these days and you’d think butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. He’s an absolute gem. And again we became close – and I’m doing a short with him in the future. He’s not a trained actor but he gives a great performance and puts in a shift. Razor came on board through Andy and Steve – he’s written a couple of books too. One of them he’s looking into turning into a film script.’
There’s obviously a close-knit cast and crew that Tom trusts working with. ‘There is. I wouldn’t have anyone on set who I thought was not going to be part of the group. I’ve been at it too long now – I rely on dynamic.’
And what about Tom’s own journey into film? ‘I trained as an actor when I came over to England 26 years ago; did a couple of commercials – here and in Ireland – and I must have been in every Irish theatre show in London over the years in some aspect! I jumped into directing then when I stepped into direct one of the shows I was in and it developed from there, learning the craft of film directing… I directed a feature in Bulgaria about 5 years ago and I’m back there in July to do another one and hopefully there are another 2 features – low-ish budget – then next year. And there’s always quite a few scripts coming in all the time.’
Tax City was shot over a couple of weekends and Tom admits that ‘We didn’t have a massive budget. Andy pulled in the money as producer. Fundraising – and money he raised through the band. I’ve been in the business a long time so I know a lot of people – crew, production companies, make up, actors, etc. so we pulled in a lot of favours. Some of the actors are policemen based in Swindon and Reading and they got me access to so much. We shot Cardboard City in Swindon – it wasn’t in Waterloo because it would have cost us too much and when you’re filming in London you need licences for everything; but there we are in Swindon – we could go where we wanted and we could do what we wanted more or less. So we did well for the money we had.’
The film had its sold-out premiere at BAFTA in London recently and is now set for its Irish Premiere on Sunday at the IFI. ‘It means a lot to me to be able to go back to Ireland and screen something we’ve shot. You have to be proud – we’re flying the flag. And of course there’s a number of Dublin actors in there so they’re keen to get it over there; so it’s great to have it in the IFI. They came up trumps and we’re thrilled to have the film play in Dublin and then we’re looking into getting the film into festivals and hopefully something will come from that and we’ll see what happens.’
Tax City screens as part of Ireland on Sunday – the IFI’s monthly showcase for new Irish film.
The screening is at 13.00 on Sunday, 12th May 2013 and will be followed by a Q&A with Tom Begley, and with Steve Collins.
Tickets for Tax City, costing €5, are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie