‘Write what you know’ goes the cliché. Giles Borg appears to have taken the advice, using his experiences as a musician to write and direct his London-set feature debut, 1234. Ian Bonar plays Stevie, a sensitive dreamer who wears black-rimmed specs, cardigans, and his heart on his sleeve. He has songs but no one to play them, so with drummer friend Neil (Mathew Baynton) he recruits moody scene veteran Billy (Kieran Bew) and conceptual artist Emily (Lyndsey Marshal). One practice session in the local community centre later and the 1234s are on their way to fame and fortune - sort of. Borg’s first-hand familiarity with the trials and triumphs of a young band chasing an elusive record deal ensures an authenticity all too often lacking in such stories. “It always annoys me when I watch films with bands playing the smaller gig circuit and the place is mobbed, because I don’t believe that’s the experience of 99% of bands or people who regularly go to gigs”, says Borg. “From the word go, we were determined to show things how they really were.” The result is a charming, funny and romantic take on the music industry that doesn’t sugar-coat the disappointments.
A passion for music drives both 1234 the film and its eponymous protagonists. The quartet’s sound is pitched as having “that kind of Scottish thing going on”, so Glasgow seems the perfect place to premiere the jock-rock love affair. “I've always loved the Scottish music scene”, agrees Borg. “It's produced so many of my favourite bands and continues to do so. Making it Stevie’s main influence was a great way to choose bands who were both influential and yet proper indie.”
In the film, said scene is identified as “a bit Postcard, a bit Jeepster, a bit Chemikal Underground, if you know what I mean”, and if you don’t happen to know your Yummy Fur from your Pastels, the avalanche of name-checks might seem off-putting. But beneath the scenester-sheen a conventional boy-meets-girl heart beats, making the film accessible to those who couldn’t give two hoots about a band like Comet Gain (who appear in the film performing onstage). “While I hope that the initial audience will be people who love the music, laugh at the references, and recognise something of themselves in the characters, I also hope there’s an audience that responds to the underlying story”, considers Borg. “For me it’s a film about choices - work/passion, love/money, things that everyone has to face every day, and I hope that strikes a chord with a wider audience. I don’t think it matters what music you like; the film is supposed to be an honest account of what it’s like trying to make some of those decisions.”
If you do happen to be a badge-wearing aficionado, however, the film is an indie-pop treasure-trove - from a soundtrack stuffed with Belle and Sebastian and Bikini Kill to the music of the 1234s themselves, written by Borg especially for the film. “We put a small band together and spent a few sessions in the rehearsal room trying to write something that had all the same influences that the band talk about in the film. I thought it’d be easy - I was very wrong. But after a while we came up with a few bits and pieces we liked and mixed them all together. By the time we’d finished we’d ended up with three tracks, one of which we really liked, but it never really came to life until Ian Bonar added his lyrics.”
Bonar wasn’t the only cast member to become musically involved. “Originally the idea was to have the band mime all the songs, for ease of shooting if for nothing else. Everyone bar Lyndsey already played an instrument, so we gave her a few lessons and some videos of Kim Gordon to watch and soon she looked the part. Then, on the day of shooting, Kieran came up to me and said that they’d learnt the songs and would really like to try playing them live. Looking back I can’t imagine doing it any other way now. It just wouldn’t have felt the same if they were miming.”
Working with a limited budget raised through private channels (accompanied by all the frustrations that inevitably beset the filmmaker of modest means), it’s easy to draw underdog parallels between the film’s genesis and that of the band whose progress it narrates. It’s a similarity not lost on Borg. “I think that filmmaking and song writing are very analogous.” he observes. “I’ve always thought film and music are closer than any of the other art forms.” And, of course, “they’re both full of struggling artists trying to make their dream.” You can enjoy the fruits of one of those dreams on the 24th.