'VS.' Film Recap: Director Ed Lilly Tells All In An Exclusive
“Powerful. Gripping. The true expression of what a great film should be.”
Steven Cuoco, EMAGE Magazine International
Go behind-the-scenes in an exclusive one-on-one interview with VS. film writer and director Ed Lilly. Lilly tells all about what inspired him to write and direct the film, how influential rap-battle is in the UK, and why life in the UK is harder than it’s ever been.
SC: What inspired you to write and direct VS.?
ED: Primarily because I wanted to make my first feature film. But I’ve also been a rap-battle fan for many years and hugely admire the skill and drama involved as a sport. We also wanted to show young people as creative, intelligent, funny, witty and with drive and ambition - and rap-battle provided us the perfect platform to do that.
SC: It’s been said that VS. is based on a true story. Is this true?
EL: It’s not a true story - but Dan and I both drew from our own personal experiences to create Adam’s story. There are thousands of young people going through similar things, whether it’s specific to being in foster-care or not, so we wanted to represent them too. We also tried to authentically represent the rap-battle community and some of the issues that exist there.
SC: For those who may not know, what is life like for young people living in the UK who are struggling, in foster care, and even homeless?
EL: I think life in the UK for young people is harder than it’s ever been. For a late-teenager or early twenty-something, they’re being forced into an inhospitable world where austerity cuts, sky-high rent, unaffordable tuition fees and lack of well-paid jobs is making it increasingly difficult for them to transition into independent adults. Their hope has been taken. And the devastating result is social isolation, homelessness, mental health issues and rising suicide rates, particularly in young men.
SC: What inspired you to cast Connor Swindells to play Adam?
EL: We did a wide open-casting process and Connor caught our attention as soon as he started his improvisation. He had so much charm, wit and a commanding presence. But also a vulnerability and a self-destructive attitude. It looked like he didn’t want to be there at all! And that’s exactly what we were looking for.
SC: How influential is rap-battle in the UK, today?
EL: The strength and engagement of the UK rap-battle community is huge. The people in it are so committed to the culture... fans, battlers, promoters travel up and down the country to various events, they engage daily online and in forums, and even support one another’s personal struggles. It’s much more than just rap-battle. From the outside I see it as one big family. So I think the influence on the life’s of those in that community can’t be measured. It means everything.
SC: Was there any research that was added into the film?
EL: We wrote about what we knew so I felt like I’d been researching the film my whole life. But we did lots of research into the rap-battle community and worked with established battle-rappers including Rowan Faife, Shuffle T, Tony D, Gemin1 and Shotty Horroh to make sure we got those aspects right. My co-writer Dan also has a background in working with Foster Carers and Support Workers so he brought a lot of expertise and knowledge on that side of things. I also took the cast to some live battles.
SC: Makayla (played by Fola Evans-Akingbola) was secretive about being LGBT. In the movie Adam outed Makayla for being gay. How accepting is the LGBT community in the UK?
EL: A lot of progress has been made - but I still think there’s a lot to do. Particularly in the hip-hop (and rap-battle) culture. It’s why we wanted to deal with some of these issues to raise more awareness and push the idea that everyone should be allowed to be - and love - whoever the fuck they want. Without fear, ridicule or shame.
SC: Towards the end of the film, Slaughter (played by Shotty Horroh) appeared to have a kind heart underneath his toughness. Explain the dynamics of this role.
EL: Yeah we wanted to flip the dynamics of the typical antagonist and not make him such a one-dimensional character. It also added extra pressure on Adam and the poor decisions he was making. It also nicely represented the difference between rap-battle stage personas and the real-life people. Across the film, we wanted to throw in some surprises like this - including not following through with the love story we set up between Adam and Makayla.
SC: Any up-coming projects to look forward to by you?
EL: I’m back to writing so we’ll see which one of those lands first. I’m also due to direct TV for the first time later this year.
SC: What are you most passionate about?
EL: The idea that anything is possible.
SC: When you are not writing and directing, what would we find you doing behind-the-scenes in your daily life?
EL: I’ll either be having late breakfast somewhere, sending my mates grief on WhatsApp, seeing friends and family, or in the pub watching football.
SC: Closing thoughts?
EL: Thanks for all the support on VS.
Director Ed Lilly