Woodley film-maker talks behind the scenes of Blue Story

True Story: How a local man ended up working on one of the most controversial films of 2019

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Behind the scenes during the filming of Blue Story. Picture: courtesy of Simon Stolland

CINEMATOGRAPHER Simon Stolland has always enjoyed working the camera. Having been heavily involved in the creative arts throughout his career, last year he worked with director and actor, Rapman to create Blue Story.

The film — which was released late last year — sparked immediate controversy with reported violence at cinemas across the country leading to a ban in some venues.

Although the film picked up negative media attention, it went on to take £1.3m on the opening weekend — and £4.4m throughout its time at the Box Office. 

Simon Stolland at the premiere of Blue Story, which went on to take £1.3 million on the opening weekend. Picture: courtesy of Simon Stolland

The story explores Rapman’s personal experiences growing up with gang violence in Peckham and Deptford, London.

The 28-year-old — who grew up in Winnersh and later Woodley — spoke to The Wokingham Paper about filming on the project.

“We shot the film in 24 days, which is a very short period of time to make a full feature-length film,” he said. “It’s completely immersive, but sometimes hard to keep up with the storyline as you don’t shoot it in the order of play.

“It must be even harder for the actors, who sometimes had to shoot scenes from the start and end of the film on the same day. That’s especially hard when your character has so much progression throughout the film, it’s almost like playing two different people.” 

They were also being challenged by daylight hours, as the film was shot in March, and shadows moved quickly throughout the day. 

“We obviously wanted to use the actual locations, but once we applied for permits to film in Peckham and Lewisham, Sadiq Khan — London Mayor — basically said no.

“In the end, we filmed the more violent scenes in Enfield — where they shot a lot of Top Boy, and then anything not violent was filmed in Peckham and Lewisham,” explained Mr Stolland.

Simon Stolland has been working in the world of film for over seven years. Picture: courtesy of Simon Stolland

The director and cinematographer duo have worked together on a number of projects, including three-part film, Shiro’s Story and the music video for Ban Drill, by Krept & Konan.

But this was Mr Stolland’s first feature-length film — and he wasn’t working alone. The film was produced in collaboration with Paramount Pictures and BBC Films, and had a budget of £1.3m. 

“The BBC really helped us elevate the script and tell the story,” explained Mr Stolland. “They helped to make it a bit more relatable to a wider audience.

“And Paramount were really supportive of Rapman’s vision. They loved the rawness that he brought to the screen.

“Another big part of that was the language in the film. There’s so much subtext behind the lines. We didn’t want to make a playful film, we wanted to show the grit and truth behind the story.

“The whole experience has been a learning curve. There were shots that I had pictured that we just didn’t have time to do.”

Outside of Blue Story, Mr Stolland has been involved in directing, shooting and editing for the past seven years.

“I think because I’m familiar with the whole process, Rapman put a lot of trust in me. We’ve got a really good working relationship.

“We first worked together on a project called Hope, which was about a young footballer who discovered he had leukemia. It was really about raising awareness, and encouraging more black donors to come forward as there’s a lot less than caucasioan donors. 

“It was really intense, but that’s Rapman for you.” 

Mr Stolland still lives and works in the borough. He previously worked for Reading-based drama company, Berzerk Productions, and is still in-touch with the team and students there — getting them involved in projects as and when he can.

“I think it’s important to stay local,” he added. “I think you should always do anything you can to help others. It’s only right really, because they helped shape me years ago and I learnt so much from their classes.

“So maybe if I didn’t go to their classes, I wouldn’t have ended up being interested in the things that I am now.” 

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