If you ask people about the places where they most enjoy spending time, many will mention their local pub. Like the cinema, it's a place for escapism, for shared experience and, sometimes, for surprises. Laurie Cansfield decided to try and capture the atmosphere of his local pub on film, resulting in short documentary The Vaults. Now he's laying out plans for a follow-up, Proper Pubs, that will visit locations all around the North East of England. He took time out of his schedule to talk to us about what inspired him.
Going down the pub.
Laurie's filmmaking career began with a screenwriting course at Newcastle's Tyneside Cinema. "I had been living in Barcelona for three years and started writing short stories as a hobby, and the course sounded like fun and an opportunity to try a different type of creative writing. I met some smashing people on the course (including Peter Dillon who ran the course and produces his own short films) but actually I met the crew [who worked on The Vaults] through working at SAFC as a bar manager - also something to keep me occupied after moving back home, while looking for full time work. The sound guy, Matt Lakey, was my colleague there, and he got his friend Ivan Davison involved as an additional cinematographer."
Whilst taking the course, Laurie also worked at local pub The Museum Vaults. "With it being a 'proper pub' where the drinkers get to know each other as well as the bar staff I ended up meeting a lot of interesting characters and hearing a lot of their stories. After the screenwriting course I started making short comedy films for fun, and I always thought that if I could capture the comedy that happened in the pub on a Friday/Saturday night it would make a great 'reality' show if it was captured in the right way (i.e. genuine - not scripted or sensationalised)."
The pub has a varied clientele but is a place, Laurie assures us, where everyone talks to everyone else, "the regulars and the newcomers." He notes that there are various different subcultures present - "punk, mod, casual, ale spotter, various forms/factions of student" - but that everyone is respectful of difference, with just a hint of friendly rivalry. "Of course, there are people who go in for a quiet pint and keep themselves to themselves, which is respected too, but most people there are very sociable." There are also canine customers. " I'm more of a cat person, but I do tend to feel warmer towards a pub that lets people bring their dogs in. That's the point of having a dog for some blokes isn't it, to have a swifty during walkies!"
Was the culture different from what he had become used to in Barcelona?
Popping in for a pint.
"From what I managed to grasp of the language and local humour, the way people interact in proper pubs in Spain (those too-bright, slightly run down, canteen-looking places in the narrow side streets) is pretty much how we act in proper pubs over here. People know each other, care about each other, and take the piss out of each other. The things that are different are the decor and architecture, the way the people approach drinking, and the amount of hours they spend doing it."
The Vaults has been entered into a number of festivals but Laurie is still waiting to find out if it's been successful. "I would love the opportunity to get it shown across the country, and there have been similar opinions from the local creative press and CAMRA organisations, so as well as entering the festivals I'm planning on continuing to screen it in pubs around the north east, and moving on to other regions throughout the year. The film is obviously about one particular pub, but it represents a type of pub that is still alive and kicking across the UK, despite the horror stories about how many are closing per week. These places aren't empty shells contemplating their own demise, they're places of subtle passion and dry humour and unexpected energy."
The warm response to the Vaults is doubtless part of the reason he's now planning a follow-up. Proper Pubs would visit more locations, "looking at the significance of these community pubs to north east musicians, writers, actors and other creative people." He's confident that the skills he learned on his short film would enable him to produce a more technically impressive result this time without sacrificing the style or charm of the original.
"The first film was self funded, and really - after buying a new camera and mic - all there was money left for was to buy the crew a pint every now and again," he explains. Proper Pubs will aim to raise funds via IndieGoGo to expand the scale of production and pay for things like better quality equipment. "The funding campaign will probably be called 'Buy the Crew a Pint' and if, say, 1000 people each donate the price of a pint, we'll have a pot of money to use wisely in upping the production values and getting it around the country. Although on second thoughts that name may not be the best choice, as it may sound like we're planning to spend all the funds on beer..."
So, finally, why does he think it's important to preserve traditional pub culture?
"I'm tempted to say something along the lines of 'because it's part of our national identity' but that might not be true any more," he muses. "So I'm going to say it's because preserving these pubs - where you can walk in there for the first time and come out feeling confident enough to go in and say hello to the people you've met there next time you're passing - gives us all the opportunity to stop keeping ourselves to ourselves and to go out and bloody get to know some other human beings. With the stories I've heard in the Vaults over the last couple of years, you never know who you're going to meet in a proper pub."