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My Name is Joe

Production Crew

Director:Ken Loach

Producer: Rebecca O'Brien

Screenplay by: Paul Laverty

Music by: George Fenton

Cinematography by: Barry Ackroyd

Editor: Jonathan Morris

Production Design: Martin Johnson


Joe:Peter Mullan

Sarah: Louise Goodall

Liam: David McKay

Sabine: Anne-Marie Kennedy

Shanks: Gary Lewis

Maggie: Lorraine McIntosh

McGowan: David Hayman

Press Kit

Best Actor, Cannes Film Festival 1998



A love story full of humour, passion and danger, "My Name is Joe" was filmed in the heart of one of the poorest and most neglected neighbourhoods of Scotland's biggest city. Two street-wise but vulnerable people struggle to overcome the harsh conditions that press in upon them, leaving few choices in their lives.

The details of their story reflect the reality of today's Glasgow, a divided society where options are so limited that the hair's-breadth frontier between survival and disaster is often just a matter of luck. Can these two people, from different walks of Glasgow life, emotionally hampered as they are, succeed in building a relationship in these circumstances?

The film explores the emotional struggles of Joe and Sarah amidst the drugs, prostitution and violence that condition their lives. No longer young, the couple bring baggage from the past so that tenderness is laced with the wariness of those bearing scars of previous emotional battles.

Like all Loach's films, "My Name is Joe" portrays its setting with unsentimental honesty, and celebrates the power of the human spirit to overcome apparently insuperable obstacles.

The background of the film was meticulously researched with the aid of Glasgow community workers, ex-drug addicts and former prostitutes who made invaluable contributions to both plot and detail. The screenwriter Paul Laverty says: "I spent three months just walking the streets of Glasgow, talking to people, hearing their stories, before I started to write a word. The characters came first, then I spent months working out the story they would tell."

A pair of important secondary characters soon emerged: Joe's young friend Liam, a good hearted lad all but crushed by his personal circumstances who tries to steer clear of the drug culture after serving a jail sentence, and his girlfriend Sabine, fighting a heroin habit fed by prostitution, and trying to keep their little boy from being taken into care.

What struck Laverty about his home city was the grotesque disparity between neighbourhoods, often separated by only a street, or a canal. In a crucial scene in the film, Sarah tells Joe that the life expectancy in the poor area of Ruchill, is ten years less than in a nearby smarter quarter, because of poverty and inequality. With the swift humour that shafts through the film like a spear, Joe responds "That does it then. I'm moving!"

Loach says what he admires about Laverty is "his refusal to accept anything second-hand: he goes to the source." The reality is that in one of Europe's most advanced and dynamic cities, conditions within a short walk of its most fashionable areas could be plucked from a 19th century novel by Dickens or Zola.

Loach's radical political vision remains clear and unrepentant in "My Name Is Joe". "All this would vanish if only there were jobs," he says. "The only jobs that exist are those servicing the evils of poverty: drug rehabilitation, community schemes and counselling." But, as in all his films, the emotional lives of the characters take centre stage, and this is what draws you in.

Even when the script was complete in summer 1997, further discussions with local people produced substantial changes in the scenes portraying Alcoholics Anonymous, prostitution and drug-taking, right up until shooting started in September 1997, to make them truly authentic. John Hamill, who chaired the AA meeting in the film, is a local community worker who has spent his adult life helping people with addictions of all kinds.

AA's principles of anonymity initially made it difficult to approach individual members, so researchers contacted a range of local rehabilitation groups to learn at first hand the problems and experiences of Glasgow's "walking wounded" - those recovering from substance dependence. Several of those who told their tale became members of the football team, a group of apparent no-hopers fighting to regain their confidence and sense of identity.

Stef McBride was a heroin addict for six years who slept rough before entering a methadone rehabilitation project and then freed himself from drugs 8 months ago. Loach contacted him through Glasgow's City Centre Initiative, a community project for the homeless and rough sleepers.

"I advised them on where on her body Sabine would make a hit and what kind of gear she would use, what the track-marks would look like." Stef says. "I advised the props department on what they should prepare, the size of needles, the size of the bags of smack, etc. It was the first time I'd picked up a set of tools in 17 months. My hands were shaking."

Another key link with the world shown in the film was Linda Tiffney, a former prostitute who advised Sabine on what to wear when she goes on to the street. "Forget fishnet tights and pink rubber suits, normal gear is the thing", she suggested. She also gave the crew tips on where to film. "It's got to be on the corner of a dark, narrow street away from a residential area. Obviously you've got to face the ongoing traffic..."

Linda took the actors who played Liam and Sabine to Glasgow's red light district of Anderson, where she had worked for some six years, and then put herself forward to play the prostitute who accompanies Sabine. She described the experience as "exciting but quite strange." She says "I felt quite nervous about filming, it was like returning to my past. I'm not ashamed of it, but I've been lucky. I've moved away from it and proved something to myself."

Her main concern, and that of all the local people who co-operated on the film was to move away from stereotypes and present the conditions of drug-taking, prostitution and drug-related violence as experienced by those with first-hand knowledge.

Linda is typical of those who said they would never have touched the film project but for Loach's reputation as a filmmaker and the straightforward and sympathetic treatment she received from the crew. "It was good that he took time to find out the facts. Filmmakers often forget to talk to real people and not many films about the drug culture bother to get it right." she says. She predicts with a laugh that Glasgow's powerful gangsters and money lenders "will be quite impressed."

Both Linda and Stef, and others working with the film who had undergone or were undergoing rehabilitation, stressed that their recovery depended crucially on the constant support and encouragement from friends and dedicated community workers - emphasising the theme of human kindness and solidarity that is fundamental to the film.

The intimate bond which Loach established between the making of the film and its social context was made clear in a number of incidents that occurred during the six-week shoot. In the first week, several thousand pounds' worth of camera equipment was stolen from a van while the crew were filming in the street. Most of it was recovered within hours by Eddie, a burly security guard from Ruchill hired by the crew, who knew whom to approach to stop the goods being passed on.

One local youngster subsequently confessed to the film's location manager: "You can't blame us. We saw an opportunity and we took it." Eddie, who appears briefly in the film, works as a security guard and is paid less than the dog who accompanies him.

Some of the most hilarious moments in a film spiked with humour are created by the city's worst football team, mostly non-actors who in many cases were known to local police for drug abuse and burglary offences. In one scene, where they steal a batch of football shirts from a sports depot, the acting was so convincing and the crew so unobtrusive that a passing couple took it for real and called the police.

Gordon, one of the lads in the team left behind after this scene was shot, was picked up by the plain clothes drug squad for running "suspiciously" down the street. "I'm in a film," he protested unconvincingly, in the absence of cameras, as the police interrogated him in the back of their van. Only the arrival of an assistant director in search of a missing member of the cast ended an uncomfortable episode.

Loach resists the suggestion that, after his international epics Land And Freedom and Carla's Song, "Joe" marks a retreat to a smaller, more intimate format. "It's smaller in terms of logistics, with one main location and a smaller cast, but that doesn't mean it has less emotional impact or resonance than a bigger more ambitious project."

"It is just another film," he says. What matters is "the lives and emotions of ordinary people coping with an impossible situation, who, when given a voice, show unsuspected talents, spiritual energy and superhuman strength."

Loach was inspired by Glasgow during the making of Carla's Song, whose first half is set in the city, and has long enjoyed working with Scottish actors. "Joe" offers him an opportunity to explore Glasgow's social problems in close-up and to collaborate once again with actors he had come to respect on his previous films.

Full Synopsis

The film is set in the G15 postal district of Glasgow in the summer of 1997. We first meet Joe telling his tale to his local Alcoholics Anonymous. He's been on the wagon for a year and he's beginning to feel optimistic about conquering the drink. He's put together a motley football team of rejects from his housing scheme and they're on their way to thrash (or at least survive against) another team when Sarah drives into their path and nearly causes an accident. Joe and Sarah tussle over Liam - key player in the football team but whose presence is simultaneously required by health visitor Sarah who is doing her pre-school check on his little boy, Scott. Joe wins and Sarah storms off to visit Liam's frail junkie partner, Sabine, alone. Joe and Liam are pretty close - Joe keeps an eye on the struggling lad and his family.

On his way home Joe sees Sarah struggling with some rolls of wallpaper and, to make up for his earlier cheek, offers to do the papering for her. While Joe and his friend Shanks are round at Sarah's doing the job, he's spotted at work through the window by a Social Security inspector. In a fury, Joe chases the inspector and paints his car with the paint brush. Later Joe and Sarah share a laugh and a pizza together - he finds himself opening up to her more than he'd expected - there's something very direct and special about her.

We see Joe down at the Social Security office being interviewed about the decorating incident - Sarah has sent a letter saying he was a friend doing a favour. To thank her, Joe invites Sarah to go bowling where they have a great evening. She's just saying goodnight to Joe at her flat when she finds she's locked out. Joe takes her back and they end up having a real heart to heart. Joe confesses to the disastrous alcoholic ending to his previous relationship. Later they just hug and hug - two lonely souls coming together.

Another football game: Liam is attacked on the pitch by men working for McGowan, a drug dealer. The team come to Liam's rescue and later Liam tells Joe it was nothing, just McGowan playing the macho man.

Sabine is thrown out oof the Health Centre for refusing to put out her cigarette. Her doctor refuses to give her any more prescriptions. Later we see her on the streets in the red light district. Joe waits for Sarah after work and together they go round to see if Sabine is all right. They discover Sabine in the bath trying to find a vein to inject. Liam has been taken by McGowan's men because of a debt. Joe confronts McGowan in a snooker hall. Liam, miserable in a corner, reveals to Joe that he's unable to pay McGowan back. McGowan offers Joe a choice "do a wee job for me up north... wipe out Liam's debt" or Liam will have his legs broken.

Joe and Sarah look out on the city from Ruchill Park - Sarah feels able to let off steam with him. Back at Sarah's they make love.

Joe goes to a small harbour to the north of Glasgow to collect a car with - he assumes - drugs hidden, and puts it out of his mind. He buys Sarah a pair of earrings and rather sheepishly presents them to her. Later we see her confiding to Maggie, her Health Centre friend, that she's pregnant. On her way home Sarah sees Sabine watching Liam and Scott playing on the swings - Sabine tells her that Joe is involved in paying off their debt. Sarah confronts Joe and when she sees Liam coming round to warn him she realises there are lies between them. She leaves in a fury, weeping.

Joe runs round to Liam to tell him to go - he, Joe, will not do the second run. He finds McGowan and begs him to let him off the second run. Desperate, he sets about McGowan, his hangers-on and finally his car. He goes home to get drunk. That is where Liam finds him. Together they wait for retribution. As Joe slumps, drunk once more, Sabine phones to Liam not to return home - the gang have been there to find him. It is the final blow. Before McGowan's men can get him, Liam hangs himself from Joe's third floor window.

Joe and the rest of the team stand round Liam's graveside. A little way away, Sarah waits for Joe.

Production Crew Notes

Director » Ken Loach

Loach resists talking about the filming methods that he pioneered more than 30 years ago. "Its' just boring and self-indulgent when directors go on about how they work, and their cinematic style. What's important is the content, to feel respect for the people you see on the screen," he says. "You've just got to trust your instincts, and the more you talk about it, the more you lose that sense of going on a hunch."

But crew members who worked on Joe, many of them veteran Loach collaborators, reveal the minimalist, stripped-down principles that characterise his film-making.

Cinematographor - Barry Ackroyd

Joe presented the lighting cameraman Barry Ackroyd, who has shot every Loach feature since Riff-Raff, with by now familiar difficulties: "There's a lot of dialogue in small rooms that are lit with one small bulb, because the characters are poor and wouldn't be able to afford fancy lights," he says. "The problem was how to light it without making it look hideous."

Some of these intense, emotionally charged, scenes are shot and re-shot at length, with small changes and tweaks each take, producing a shooting ratio that for many directors would be unacceptably high. "Ken just lets the dialogue run on, as the actors improvise around the basic script. With Ken you're never quite sure which bit he's looking for. It could be just a tiny new moment, at the beginning or at the end."

The eye is lifted by aesthetic images, Barry says. Most of the action takes place in cramped interiors or bleak sets, but some shots "celebrate the beauty of the surroundings and lift the eye." But Loach's rule of thumb still holds: camera at eye level, with lenses rarely wider than the range of the eye, and with minimum interference with the action. "What happens in front of the camera is always more important than what the camera is doing."

Sound Recordist - Ray Beckett

The vast emotional range of My Name is Joe is caught, not only by Loach's unobtrusive but insistent camera, but also on the sound track, presenting the sound recordist Ray Beckett with huge challenges. "The voices range from a barely audible whisper to a scream within a single take, which I may be hearing for the first time and in a tiny room which I'm not even in!"

Ray describes how he adjusts and mixes the volume as if handling a radio play, and adds that technological advances with DAT recording equipment help enormously in his ability to capture the full range of sounds he has grown used to in years of working on Loach's movies.

Art Director - Fergus Clegg

Fergus Clegg, the art director, another veteran of recent Loach movies, is also accustomed to his strict requirements. "It was sometimes difficult finding locations that had the right light in all the areas where action would take place. Ken doesn't want direct sunlight."

All locations were in roughly the same part of town, to lend greater authenticity to the unity of the action. "Our aim is always to make the place look functioning and realistic, with nothing out of place to distract your eye. Then we know we've got it right, and you can concentrate on the story and the action."

So realistic, for example, was the transformation of a furniture co-op into a sports depot (which included the toning-down of some red shutters) that the building's owner, watching the set-up, remarked. "People will be coming up to me for weeks asking about that new sports shop."

"Designing Joe was much simpler than Loach's last two internationally based movies because it is in the present day, local, and in a contained geographical area," says Clegg. "But some parts are so dangerous that they are dubbed by locals 'Bosnia' or 'the war zone'. In such a poor area it was vital to be extra-aware of local sensitivities."

"We had to be discreet and work without drawing attention to ourselves so that our presence wasn't overbearing and didn't provoke hostile reactions among local people."

The location used as the health centre in the film was an operational community education centre that functioned on a day-to-day basis. "So we had to time the use of the facility when we installed our own stuff. We recreated a health centre by using designs based on a real one nearby. So we put in offices, a reception area and a baby clinic. They were very generous in letting us take over the place for about a month, so we just left everything in situ for the whole time we came and went for shooting."

This was dictated by the needs of filming in sequence. "We would shoot for a day, then return a week later. Everything had to be kept in place, so obviously we needed maximum local co-operation. They were very kind."

Location Manager - Brian Kaczinsky

Brian Kaczinsky, the location manager, dealt with Loach's insistence that normal activity should be allowed to carry on around the filming, rather than block off traffic, invade an area with huge vehicles, and clear parking spaces. Vans and lorries were kept to a minimum and tucked out of sight.

Keeping a low profile, Brian says, was crucial in getting access to the areas where Loach wanted to film. "In the sort of areas we've been filming in, if it had been a conventional film crew I'd have advised them not to bother, just too risky. You'd have to be very careful not to antagonise people and get into trouble. As it was, it was essential to hire security guards who actually came from the area and knew the local people. I found them by asking local builders and housing associations," he says.

Co-operation with the police was crucial. "I had to phone them practically every day to let them know of last minute changes, because of the flexibility of the schedule, but they were great. They looked askance at some members of the cast, though - they knew most of them!"

Brian found the three flats belonging to Joe, Liam and Sarah through the local housing association. "They had to be vacant. We couldn't have subjected anyone living in them to the disruption of coming and going over a period of nearly eight weeks."

Costume Designer - Rhona Russell

Rhona Russell, Costume Designer, worked on Carla's Songand was Assistant Costume Designer for Mike Leigh's Career Girls.

"Loach's films are very research-based," she says, "you search out the reality for each character and situation, finding out how much money they have. For instance, Sarah dresses down for work to fit in when she goes visiting. But, Rhona adds, "When the reality is a cliche, like glitzy gold jewellery, the latest sports gear, we don't use it."

The aim was to produce a studied, casual poverty, based on muted tones, without distracting bright colours. "Because the actors don't know the plot, we have to get a general collection of costumes without giving them clues about what's going to happen. So for Sarah we bought underwear, nightwear, a heavy coat and smart suit. Some things we use, some we don't."

Shooting in sequence can also bring flexibility: "If it gets cold, people can add warm clothing." Maximum flexibility is also needed because "Ken often changes his mind, but he's almost always right!"

When kitting out the boys in the football team, "Ken wanted to keep them looking as they do in life. They brought their own things and we had a collection and they chose their own, to keep their own characters, so we didn't interfere, just weeded out the bright reds and yellows." She adds: "The costume is character-led. It's much better that way. There's no distraction from the actors, the scene or the story. This is what matters, not an attempt to impose a look."

For Joe's character, the basic guideline was that he was unemployed. "But in the AA everyone was very careful about their appearance. Even though it was cheap it was well cared-for, and he had to wear pale colours that would fit in with all sets and at night."

An added difficulty with a Loach film, Rhona says, is that "Once the actors are in the scene you don't get to check them, brush them down if necessary. You feel at first that you're not doing your job, but then you just let them get on with it. It's much more rewarding to work on something you're going to want to watch."

Producer » Rebecca O'Brien

Getting My Name is Joe under way was quite a short process, Rebecca says. Paul Laverty was keen to write a love story that dealt with deprivation and poverty in Glasgow, "so with those ideas in mind, we went to Channel Four's head of drama David Aukin and he commissioned a script, in spring 1996. C4 paid for development but made no other investment in the film apart from paying for the UK Television rights."

The next move was to approach Ulrich Felsberg of Road Movies in Germany as co-producer to help raise the money from more than one source. Road Movies had collaborated on Land And Freedom and Carla's Song. "We wanted to avoid having too much single investment in the film so that we could keep control over it," Rebecca says. Fund raising started in April and May 1997 during a number of meetings at the Cannes Film Festival.

"We decided to raise the money by pre-selling the film in our favourite territories - France, Spain and Italy - to partners we've had long association with, and to Belgium and Switzerland." Taking advantage of the film's strong Scottish content, the producers also applied to the Scottish Lottery which granted