Sometimes placing a little faith in someone can make a huge difference. When director Guy Ritchie met Mickey De Hara, he asked him why he didn’t write for a living. De Hara’s answer was, like the director, that he was dyslexic.
“He gave me a laptop and he showed me how to write a script, how to interweave three plots, and how to end everything,” recalls De Hara, his Cockney accent bursting with enthusiasm. “And I’ve never stopped writing since. My characters just flow and when I find them, I feel like I’m in another dimension.”
With Ritchie acting as a mentor, De Hara contributed to the scripts for the director’s underworld crime movies Snatch and RocknRolla. Where would he be without Ritchie’s guidance? “I don’t know where I’d be,” he shrugs. “Maybe I’d be in prison. Guy showed me that I was worth more than I believed I was.”
It’s evident that Ritchie’s influence is the main inspiration behind De Hara’s charity Films4Life, an organisation which seeks to make positive changes to young people’s lives through the medium of film. Films4Life helps young people by allowing them access to the notoriously nepotistic industry and to allow them to develop skills which can be applied specifically to film - perhaps editing, production or budgeting - as well as transferable skills that be can used elsewhere.
Films4Life is supported by the likes of screenwriter Tony Jordan and Boardwalk Empire actor Stephen Graham. Another prominent supporter is Jason Flemyng, the actor once dubbed the “Kevin Bacon of British film” due to his huge list of film credits and enviable connections.
“A lot of my mates that I grew up with are either dead or in prison,” he says. “I was lucky because I always knew what I wanted to do, and it meant that I was never knocking around on the streets because I was at the National Youth Theatre or I was at the cinema.” After his initial breakthrough, Flemyng felt guilty about his success and has since been involved with initiatives as varied as Barnardo’s and taking films to category A prisoners across the country - a strangulation scene was brusquely reviewed by one inmate: “It takes a lot longer than that.”
When, for example, Films4Life place a young person on a film set, it’s a huge learning curve, as many of the people they work with simply haven’t had the opportunity to observe how to behave in a working environment. As Flemyng asserts: “If you can get through two months on a film set without telling someone to fuck off, that teaches you everything you need in life. Respect, discipline, self-control - all these things are life skills which are useful whatever you decide to do.”
Part of the scheme’s importance is in providing unique stories written from the point of view of disenfranchised working class youth. Just like with De Hara, real life experiences provide fresh inspiration for film that simply can’t be taught through textbooks. It also offers a second chance, as Flemyng demonstrates with a story about his nephew:
“Uncle J, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.”
“What’s the bad news?”
“I’ve been arrested for selling drugs.”
“And what’s the good news?”
“Now I can do the Jamie Oliver course!”
“And he did,” beams Flemyng. “He’s now working in Umu, a Michelin star restaurant in Mayfair. That’s the dream.”
The long-term plan for Films4Life is to develop a social network of young filmmakers who can collaborate together and - De Hara hopes - a feature film created by entirely by young people who have been mentored by the likes of Flemyng.
“If you want to fix society, we’ve got to start with the teenagers - to help and to show that we care,” concludes De Hara as Flemyng nods in agreement. “We have to put the man hours in and stand up and be counted.”
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For more information, see: www.films4life.org
Words: Ben Hopkins
Photography: Marc Sethi