New Kids on the Block

By Alexis Karlin


I met Teddy Leifer, producer, Ben Schiffer, writer, and Frankie Frears, assistant director, at the Wells Pub in Hampstead, a popular place for the people that their film, Fresh Defeats, portrays – rich, North London teenagers.

It was Ben, a student at University College School in Hampstead, who originally came up with the idea and then the script. Ben says that his thought process was not, “I want to make a film. What can I write about?” It was, “I want to write a film about my disillusionment with the parties I used to go to, and the people I used to see every weekend”. Frankie adds that the kinds of parties they portray are humourless, pretentious and lacking in any basic morality. Ben knew that writing a gritty film on growing up on a London estate would be impossible, as he knew nothing about it. Teddy jokes that Ben first asked him to work on the film on a ski lift in Switzerland, “which shows just how middle class we all are!” This is something that is refreshing about the film: they are middle class North London boys portraying a middle class boy’s life. Frankie asks, how many East End gangsters can Guy Ritchie have met, and claims that he is just glorifying and romanticizing an area of life that he knows nothing about. This is something that you cannot accuse the Fresh Defeats boys of doing. Their inside knowledge of the Hampstead scene is instantly recognisable by someone like myself, who has also been to many of these parties in the film. It makes for some humorous moments, such as the scene where an MC plays a garage tune and chats about his masculinity and his success with women. Then his friend asks him when he’s going home and he replies, “I’ve got to leave early for Scouts tomorrow”. Unrealistic perhaps but it shows the falsity that the filmmakers are trying to expose – teenage boys thinking they are London Yardies when in reality they are middle class boys at private schools.

The filmmakers’ cynicism is shown at the end of the film, with the hero looking into the camera and crying. This blows away the Ladies’ Man image that the main character tries to build up throughout the film. This end shot drives home their main point, and leaves the viewer with something to think about. The Fresh Defeats boys say that hopefully for some people it will be a moment of epiphany.

Another reason for making the film was that they were sick of seeing American sitcoms such as Dawson’s Creek with improbably good-looking twenty-year-olds playing teenagers. All three of them said that getting young local people involved, was just as important as getting the film made. Nearly a hundred people from ten schools were auditioned for the main parts. Teddy says that he did not want to turn anyone away, and all three of them were conscious that if someone wanted to be involved then they could be included, whether being a main part, an extra or a runner. Ben reflects that this did cause some problems, as there were too many people to direct and keep busy. But no-one complained or argued, and everyone was really great to work with. By the end of the shoot there was a really great spirit amongst all the crew and actors.


The filmmakers state their influence as anything from Saturday Night Fever (Fresh Defeats is about a Saturday night party) to the films of Jean Luc Godard. This reflects the characters of the three. Frankie Frears is fascinated with 1930s French cinema, whereas Teddy Leifer and Ben Schiffer are more interested in modern cinema and its techniques. They also say that Ivo Gormely’s photography A-level was very helpful, as they had a cameraman who knew how to frame and compose a shot. This shows particularly in the opening sequence, which depicts a boy getting ready for the party that is featured in the film. It is tightly framed and fast cut, which makes for a very crisp and watchable film. The sound track is also striking, written by an eighteen year old, Anna Crantz. Her drum’n’bass tunes, with beautiful vocals on the top, add to the young feel of the film.

Ben never imagined that the film would end up having a premiere at the Lux less than a year after the script was written. “I’ve always had silly ideas ever since I was young such as wanting to make the world’s biggest sandwich, and I thought getting the film made was just as realistic”. One of the things that made it possible was the availability of digital cameras. It allowed them to make the film on a very low budget, a thousand pounds, and allowed the group to edit the film on a home computer. They managed to get sponsorship off local businesses, since there were no funds for them to apply for, such as the national lottery funds. They do admit that there are not enough people of their age making films to merit setting up such funds but they see this as a vicious circle: there is no funding for teenage filmmakers, so the films do not get made. “There is so much untapped talent out there that is not getting exploited. There is plenty of funding for graduates and under graduates, but not for people our age”. The Lux were very supportive and responsive, when they heard of the idea. In fact they wished that they had done everything through the Lux, hired their equipment and editing facilities. They cite the Lux as a step in the right direction to encourage young filmmakers.

Apart from being an assured film about a certain part of London life, one can see the project as a success for other reasons: teenagers stopped being uncreative and lazy and put a lot of time and effort into something creative. There has been some criticism of the film from young people saying it’s been done already, and it’s a bad film. All three of them are ready to take these criticisms but only if these people are doing something for themselves. Frankie says, “It is too easy to put things down when you’re not putting your neck on the line and offering something creative and to some degree personal”.

The fact that they managed to make the film, without the help of professionals, has encouraged all three of them to start thinking about the next project that could start shooting in the summer. They are advertising for people to come up with scripts, so that the one they find most interesting can be made into a film. Even if this first film had been mediocre, it would have had one success: getting more young people involved in film, and showing you do not have to have a budget of hundreds of thousands of pounds. A thousand is enough.

Alexis Karlin is just completing his ‘A’ Levels and ready for greater things!