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Waterfront Festival

An Interview with Dave Bartram and Matthew & Mark Daunt

4 March 14 words: Christina Newland
With the premiere of The Cockle Man film set for the 6 March, we caught up with the filmmakers and the man himself

Do you know The Cockle Man? If you have drank in any of Nottingham's pubs over the past fifty years or so, Dave Bartram has likely been nearby, selling his seafood to pub-goers come rain, sleet, snow or shine seven nights a week. A diminutive, kindly man with a white coat and a basket full of prawns, Dave is still peddling his wares at sixty-seven years of age, and has become something of a local legend. A charmingly quaint symbol of old British customs, he has been the centre of a recent campaign to be given the Freedom of the City, itself an ancient British honour once bestowed upon pillars of the community.

When Nottingham-based filmmaker Matthew Daunt and his father/producer Mark bumped into Dave in their local pub and began to record his stories on an iPhone, they decided to make The Cockle Man, a fifteen minute documentary short about the man's life. The first in a planned series about Nottingham Legends, the film provides a warm, insightful look into Dave's life and motivations. With a knack for capturing the foibles and eccentricities of Nottingham folk, Dave recites his old yarns for the camera, particularly the more harrowing encounters. Daunt's camera is intrepidly mobile and carefully framed, providing clean, high-quality production values that belie the film's small budget.

Can you tell me a little bit about why you decided to make this film?
Matt: This is the first in a long line of short films about the people of Nottingham that we thought we'd kickstart our career with. I worked in a pub just across the road, and Dave walked in and started telling his stories. We'd already seen him around, hence why we knew he was a Nottingham legend. We just thought, yeah, this is our first guy.

Mark: We used him as our guinea pig.

How long has Lace Market Media Group been going?
Mark: Since last August (2013), after Matt graduated from university. I always had an interest in photographic stuff and had made a few corporate videos – really boring stuff – but when Matt came back and we talked about it, we decided to take out three years and see if we could do something. It's hard to get the opportunity to make a name for yourself.

Matt: If I had been in London, I would have been recording sound and freelancing. Originally I wanted to make music videos, and then started directing dramas. I never got the full opportunity to make a film that was my 'baby', then I left uni. But the reason I went to university was to be behind the camera, directing – all the sexy glamorous stuff. Nobody thinks about the sound recording.

What about Dave's Freedom of the City campaign?
Mark: That wasn't actually our idea, it was Luke Monaghan at Just the Tonic. He knew Dave, and they sort of came up with that idea. We latched on to that one. Hopefully this film will promote him somewhat. I mean, he's been doing this for fifty years, and he goes out seven nights a week. He deserves a little bit of recognition. Hopefully, it will give people an idea of his story, what he's gone through in his life. It's only fifteen minutes long, but it's a little bit of an insight into him as a person, instead of this man who comes into the pub selling his prawns.

Matt: He's one of a dying breed - he's arguably the last one.

Mark: We did a bit of research to see if there were any other cockle men around, but we didn't find anything. Most of the ones we found had died. Maybe there are other cockle men out there, but we couldn't find any.

Dave: I'm the oldest one - they can't stand the pace.

Mark: He's incredibly fit. We've been out with him loads of times and he's marching on ahead while we're trailing behind him...

Can you tell me anything about the history of the profession and how it's changed?
Mark: Wouldn't like to say too much, because I don't know exactly when it started. But it's been around a long time. It's changed a lot, because now most pubs do food. The marketplace has changed considerably. Even bagged crisps are a modern innovation. Now it's getting pretty tough for him because there's a lot of competition for the pub's food, and a lot of pubs don't want him in, because he competes with them. But the good pubs – the traditional ones – it's actually a feature for them. The landlords welcome him in with open arms. It's nice to see. He's known a lot of them a very long time.

Dave: When my wife was alive, eighteen years ago, I had seven staff, covering 250 pubs. But what do you do? You gotta carry on with something. It gets me out. It's the best part of the day, really. I'm not frightened either.

Mark: Yeah, he gets some abuse too – the old "give us your hat"...

Matt: It was two months ago maybe, somebody stole his hat. A police van turned up out of nowhere and a load of policemen just chased this man up the road and pinned him to the ground. I've never seen so much police action over one man's hat.

Mark: Nottingham city centre on a Saturday night is an interesting place, so he's pretty brave going around like he does.

Did the film start out with a budget to speak of, or was it on the fly?
Matt: It was more the budget to start the company. The film itself cost like £100. This is our debut film – it was more of a test to see what we needed. We always had the belief that if you're going to do something, do it properly, do it right, and don't skimp on anything. So we've bought the best equipment for low-budget filmmakers. We haven't been stupid and bought a Red Epic, but we've got the best that is affordable. We built up our kit for what we needed. The first week of shooting we didn't have any lighting. Then we realised what we needed, and went out and bought it.

Mark: This is all an investment for the future – we want to present something that looks professional.

Matt: Though, when I was editing, it almost became a problem, because the difference between the footage at the beginning and ending of shooting was huge. The productivity went up so high, so I was struggling to match what we had in the first week. I had to throw away so much footage. I wouldn't usually allow myself more than three months on a fifteen minute film, but we have baby walked through this film. We've got days of footage - we could make a 24 hour reality TV show of Dave.

Are you primarily interested in making documentaries?
Matt: Funnily enough, I hate documentaries. I don't enjoy making them at all. But I'm back in Nottingham, a city I adore, and it's about the people who were around me growing up, so that has really been nice to do. It feels like a service, as well. But I generally don't like making them – they're too hectic and uncontrolled, and I'm a control freak and want everything planned. And when you're following him (Dave) around, he's the hardest person to direct, cause you ask him to "walk in this way" and he says "yeah yeah", and does it his own way.

Mark: But at the same time, he's been incredibly patient.

Dave: You wanted me, you spent the time with me. I mean, funnily enough, on my birthday, it was the first time I'd ever been in the papers.

Dave, what was your initial reaction to having a movie made about you?
Dave: I just thought – decent pub, decent people…

Matt: He said, “It’s about bloody time.”

Is the Lace Market Media Group looking for more Nottingham-based creatives/filmmakers to join them?
Matt: Because we're so small, we can't offer any pay, but we're always looking for other filmmakers to work with. We're just here to make the best possible films we can. We watched this programme about the film industry in the sixties and seventies, about how it was like a pyramid, with all the talent at the bottom and a huge amount of money at the top. We never want to do this, we want to do this for our love and appreciation for films. Since I was a child, we've always sat together and watched the best films. This is purely out of our love for film. We want to make something that people can love as much as we do – that must be the best feeling.

Mark: We actually despair at the amount of trash television around. It sells, but it's not good for the long-term. If we have to start trashing people, we're not doing it. We don't want to be exploitative.

Matt: We want to make something aspirational – these people in Nottingham are role models. We don't want to make something negative. We're here to say, "look at the good this person has done."

The Cockle Man will be shown at Screen22 on Thursday 6 March 2014. For further details and to purchase tickets, follow the below link. All proceeds go to charity. 

Buy tickets
Lace Market Media Group website


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