Directing duo MILTON are usually the ones asking the questions. With a shared passion for documenting people on the fringes of society, filmmakers Ben Archer and Sal Redpath are on a mission to replace ‘behind the curtain’ documentaries with gonzo style films that leave no distance between viewer and subject. This mission is one that has taken them around the world, most recently to New York where they shot fly on the wall documentary ‘Always Fast Hardly Accurate’ which gives a glimpse into the underground punk scene through the eyes of punk band ‘Flasyd’. Released by Alamo Pictures, the film received such good feedback that the pair have extended the project to include films in Mexico and Japan. We managed to catch the duo before they jet off on their next adventure and quizzed them on finding their creative flair, living with punk bands and the seagull that inspired the name ‘MILTON’...
Rachel Edwards: Hi! How did you guys first meet and become the dynamic duo you are today?
Sal Redpath: Actually we met through a mutual friend and realised we both did film... Ben Archer: I was a script-writer. S.R: And I did cinematography as my main thing. But I guess ‘MILTON’ didn’t start until we were at the ‘Army and Navy’ pub in London. Ben and I were there and we were the youngest people by double our age. And then our friends Hardwicke Circus just announced their tour and we’d wanted to do a project together for ages so we said ‘should we just go on tour with them and make a little film?’. It was meant to be a mini doc but it snowballed and now it’s going to be a feature doc hopefully. B.A: It’s been over a year now that we’ve been doing it. S.R: So that was the first thing and then it just snowballed from there. Hardwicke Circus were booked to go to ‘South by Southwest’ [festival] so that’s why we were out in America and then we thought while we’re on this side of the world anyway let’s go to New York... Ben already knew Syd [from the band]. B.A: Yeah I got in contact with Syd... S.R: So the night before we were meant to meet Syd we ended up bumping into Naz [the bass player] completely by chance and we were like ‘we’re going to be filming you tomorrow’ and he was like [laughs] ‘who the fuck are you guys?’.
R.E: [Laughs] So Syd hadn’t said anything to the band? I mean they do seem pretty laid back...
B.A: That was the hardest part, getting them in the same place!
R.E: How fast was it from when you had the initial idea to actually shooting it?
S.R: We went out there with the idea to shoot something with ‘Flasyd’... it was meant to just be a five minute thing with the band but then after we met up with Syd in the bar we spent three days with her and Naz just taking us around their day to day lives and gaining our trust.
R.E: You sort of need that though don’t you? S.R: Yeah that’s our whole thing of gonzo documentary film style. A lot of documentaries we believe feel very ‘behind the curtain’ - they’re filming from a distance. And you can tell that from a film when they’ve just met the person and now they’ve got to make the statement or whatever. So it’s the whole thing of living with them for a bit. B.A: So there’s no distance between us and them.
R.E: Did you have any objective before you met them? Did you have anything you really wanted to get out of the film? B.A: Umm we were definitely interested in the female punk band angle and just the punk scene in general because I don’t think there’s much of a punk scene here [in the UK] at all. S.R: What really shocked us is that there’s a real community of them there... Jonathan Toubin opened up this venue ‘TV Eye’ and gave them a platform to hang out and collaborate but they’re all in each other's bands as well. They all live together and work together. B.A: And they just never sleep.
R.E: Was there anything about them that surprised you when you met them?
B.A: Probably their stamina. They work pretty hard as well! S.R: The whole reason we ended up making the film longer is because we were swooshed into this world and we were like ‘holy shit this is crazy, we have to do as much with this as we can’. Every night all of the bands are always together talking about music and it’s very intimate. I don’t think you get that in London - where all the people on the scene are always together.
R.E: It seems like they support each other rather than seeing one other as competition. S.R: Yeah that’s the thing. And as they say in the documentary the song that Flasyd wrote at the bar about getting drunk and then being hungover the next morning and then doing the same thing again and again is very much what they do. They’re not lying! We were expecting young guns but they’ve been doing it a long time - I think in the UK punk bands are like ‘please buy records from us, we’re number one in the charts’ and it’s just not about that out there. They’re doing it because they want to do it. B.A: They want to have fun. They aren’t thinking about making a lot of money.
R.E: Was it quite hard to cut down the footage? Did you have a lot by the end?
B.A: No, everything you see is all the footage we had! S.R: We had so little time to shoot. We had two and a half days to film! More time was spent getting to know them.
R.E: Why did you decide to opt for black and white? S.R: We shot in colour and then because it was so spontaneous we were using whatever cameras we had with us at the time and when we were editing it I flipped on black and white and realised it looked pretty good. Colour grading to make all of it match would have been a nightmare. We also had no budget so it was A) a cheap way and B) as Ben says it matches their style of music quite well. We wanted to make it harmonious with the visuals and the music. B.A: And a lot of the stuff we shot was at night as well. S.R: We have a couple of links so people can see the gigs in full colour if they rent the film.
R.E: Did you do the sketches for it as well?
B.A: That was Sal’s mum. S.R: Yeah she’s a painter, an artist.
R.E: I can’t believe it! Her style of drawing couldn’t have been a better fit. B.A: There’s also a dog walker that comes running through mid interview. S.R: Oh yeah, we had to cover up the massive dog charging through. B.A: That’s what Julien Temple does in a lot of his documentaries - the drawing thing.
S.R: I was like ‘mum please can you draw this for us and don’t worry - a couple of documentaries down the line when we’ve made it big I’ll get you front row at the premiere’. I think I’ll have to repay her for sitting for her while she’s painting now.
R.E: [Laughs] That’s it, you’re forever indebted to her! And you guys are going to do more right? Tokyo? B.A: And Mexico. Tokyo’s the one we have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do for it. We’re going to focus on one person, so more character based. He’s this amazing guy that we found from researching on the internet but it’s going to be more political. There’s a class in Japan which is still a kind of slave class - you don’t really hear about it. They have no rights at all so he can’t get a gravestone or a government job. Since this guy was 13 he’s had to be a musician. You can be an artist too - something where you’re self sufficient basically... so he’s been a punk musician since he was 13.
R.E: Wow how old is he now?
B.A: He’s 51 now. S.R: But there’s an interesting spin in that he was forced into it. In the West we sort of see Japan as this utopia that’s got everything figured out but in reality classism is still largely prevalent and if you’re disabled you’re pretty much deemed as dead, there’s no disability benefits or anything. So Nori - the guy who we found - has led an incredible life. He was a fugitive for 7 years and he hid in the disabled community for the entire time. Some of his best friends are disabled so he forms bands with them.
R.E: This is so interesting. How did you find him? B.A: A lot of research. We knew we wanted to film something in Tokyo because the punk scene there is kind of interesting. They’ve created their own kind of sound there. But we wanted to find a more political story so we spent a long time looking for this. We knew what we wanted though and then we found him so it was kind of like fate. S.R: Even once we found him though it was so difficult to find out more about him.
R.E: It actually sounds like you have another feature length!
S.R: That’s what we’re aiming for - a feature.
R.E: So that’s the next one and then Mexico is after that? S.R: So before Mexico and Japan we’ll hopefully release the Hardwicke Circus doc which is called ‘From Here Now’ and that’ll be our first feature - that’ll come out some time in Summer probably. It’s more about a young band trying to make it and the trials and tribulations and what the music industry is nowadays. They’re from Cumbria and Carlisle, places of '70s rock n roll and they’ve tried to emulate what was successful then but obviously now it’s all changed so it’s so difficult. B.A: It’s kind of a comedy. A lot of things go wrong.
S.R: It’s a comedy first of all.
R.E: [Laughs] Would they describe it as a comedy as well?
S.R: Yeah they can laugh at themselves!
B.A: They’re kind of eccentric. S.R: They’ve played like 260 gigs in random pubs around the UK.
R.E: They must have a lot of stories! Why did you decide to call yourselves MILTON?
B.A: You can tell the seagull story... S.R: [Laughs] Coming up with a name for a documentary duo or anything actually is the most difficult thing in the world. Fucking impossible, mainly because all the good ones are taken. So basically when we were on tour with Hardwicke Circus we stayed in this place called Camber Sands for a bit of it which is in Kent. It definitely wasn't a highlight staying there... B.A: It was horrible! S.R: There were 12 of us in a 4 man caravan for a week and Ben slept on the floor next to the cooker. But the highlight of staying there was... Milton. Who is Milton you ask? The humble seagull! So first of all we hated Milton because it was pecking on the door waking us up and then it would join us for our meals in the morning so we befriended him and became quite close... We were sad to leave him. And then when we were coming up with names we went through a plethora of names and we were just like it has to be ‘MILTON’ doesn’t it? Then we just ran with it.
R.E: Is your logo a seagull? That would be too much wouldn’t it... S.R: [Laughs] No our logo looks quite halloweeny. It works for the documentaries we want to do. Our whole thing is documenting people on the fringes of society and that sort of style. Today near Ben’s house there’s a squat. We went banging on the door today and the people there answered on our second knock.
R.E: You don’t look like undercover police.
B.A: [Laughs] Not with this hair! S.R: Hopefully we’ll do a little thing with them in the short term because they’re being evicted next week!
R.E: I love how fast the process is for you because for a lot of filmmakers they plan meticulously and make rigorous shot lists. For what you want to do it makes sense though because that wouldn’t work! You want to catch the moment. You don’t stage any shots do you? S.R: No that’s the thing. I mean with the Japan shoot we are planning as much as we can because we’ve been given our initial funding for it so we think it’ll be something amazing but it is quite frustrating because a lot of things do take a long time. The editing process after New York took months and a lot of our friends who are directors have quite a quick turnaround. So when Ben saw the squat we wanted to jump on it straight away.
R.E: If there was anyone dead or alive that you could make a documentary about (and you’d be interviewing them alive) who would you choose? B.A: That’s a good one... Maybe Jesus and Mary Magdalene together. [Laughs] I mean probably the classic New York CBGB punk scene. It’s really cool and I don’t think there’s enough film about that at the time. It was really exciting, especially how it all started out. S.R: I’d be interested to see post World War 2 '50s/'60s when music totally took a change. Obviously The Beatles were pop but I would have loved to be at the point where rock 'n' roll was starting - nowadays music has developed so much in so many different sub categories. There’s music for everything, people making music from potatoes you know! It’s quite difficult to be like ‘oh I’ve never heard this before’ because you sort of have but I would have loved to have been around when everyone was like ‘what’s this crazy new sound?’ and to see people’s reactions to crazy electric guitars.
R.E: And would you ever go into fiction?
B.A: Yeah we want to do that.
R.E: Yeah since you were screenwriting before. Ben why do I imagine you doing some kind of David Lynch Twin Peaks thing? B.A: [Laughs] Yeah you’re right. I really like a lot of pretty dark comedies. This month I’ve been doing this thing where I write a play every day. I signed up to this thing called ‘28 plays later’. It’s been so hard but it’s been really good for coming up with ideas. Even if it’s just a few pages, it’s been pretty fun! It’s made me want to get back into fictional writing. S.R: Where I lived in Scotland is in the middle of nowhere and my friend up the road bought this car for £75. It didn’t even have two doors and they just put in racing seats so they used to race it around this field - they flipped it like ten times. And I wanted to write something to commemorate that time while it’s fresh in my mind. But I got so distracted and never finished that. Maybe after the trilogy of punk films we’ll do it.
R.E: What were the first films that inspired you to get into filmmaking? B.A: For me it’s Jim Jarmusch, one of my favourite people. My parents got me watching a lot of films. Quite a lot of Japanese films and I love Westerns as well.
S.R: For me coming from the shooting side I was obsessed with good old Roger Deakins, all cinematography... ‘No Country for Old Men’. Documentary wise for us inspirations were ‘the Decline of Western civilisation’ and ‘Dig’. ‘Dig’s shot over 7 years which is crazy. Having these really long projects is something we’d like to do maybe by accident if we just build up this footage pile and then maybe make a whole big edit over the years.
B.A: It’s hard to dedicate 7 years to one thing. You’ve got so much content coming out now.
S.R: But it’s early days for us. We’ve only been in MILTON for a year.
R.E: So far so good though - have you ever had a clash at all? S.R: Umm...
R.E: I want a dramatic story here! A fight in a New York burger joint.
S.R: [Laughs] Not really to be honest.
B.A: I think it’s good because we’ve come from different film backgrounds so we’re not stepping on each other’s toes at all. That’s the reason it worked so well. If we both came from a directing or DoP background there might be some issues.
S:.R We definitely work with each other’s skills of dealing with things but at the end of the day we both want to do the same thing.
B:.A Yeah we have the same vision.
S:.R And having worked solo it’s so much nicer working in a duo because you have that soundboard and the collaboration aspect is so much nicer and it’s definitely a lot more enjoyable. We only argue about what to eat maybe...
B:.A: You normally do the cooking.
S:.R Ben’s on washing up.
R.E: You guys are like a married couple. B.A: [Laughs] Everyone thinks we’re related actually.
R.E: If you weren’t filmmakers what would you each be?
S.R: I would be a carpenter or a musician.
S.R: Well I made a pizza oven in lockdown...
R.E: We should have done the interview at yours, we could be eating pizza right now. S.R: [Laughs] It’s a proper stone cementing build. But really I have always known from a young age I wanted to work in film, I just wasn’t sure what role. There are so many roles. I did shooting and then producing but now I feel creatively satisfied.
B.A: I originally wanted to go into fine art. That’s the first thing I did after leaving school actually I was going to do a fine art foundation but then I thought about it and my parents didn’t want me to do it because you can’t get a job from it so then I decided to do it on the side and go into film.
R.E: What feedback have you had on the film? S.R: The best thing that happened was - shout-out to Spencer and Emmett - everything was so slapdash that the audio came out terribly and that was the main thing we learned, the audio needs to be perfect. But we found this sound engineer Emmett. He watched the film and loved it so he came back and told us that he worked for a production company and asked that he’d do the whole sound mix for free if he could come on as co-producer and put it on their website. And we were like ‘bloody hell’! That was the first person we sent it to in the industry so that gave us a lot of joy. From there when we were looking for a premiere and stuff he said ‘oh actually we have a publicist Spencer who can do your PR’. And that’s what got us the good premiere with ‘Wonderland’ and stuff...
B.A: We were really happy that all the bands liked it. We had no idea what they’d think about it.
S.R That was scary but they did - they were going to do a screening of it in New York which was really nice.
R.E: Have you submitted it to festivals?
S.R: We have but it’s quite niche so we’re quite selective with what festivals we send it to.
R.E: Are you talented musically? S.R: We dabble. B.A: We wish we were - we want to start MILTON the band at some point. So MILTON World -
R.E: Hold on this sounds like a punk themed Disney Land... S.R: [Laughs] We have big plans for MILTON and one of those hopefully would be MILTON Sonic...
B.A: I play a bit of guitar - you play bass. We need a drum.
R.E: Can you sing? S: Well enough for punk music... But really we leave that stuff to the real musicians to be honest.
R.E: On that note, keep making films! We’re excited to see what the rest of the year brings for you!