In my tradition of hunting down authors with a passion for all things Greek and, more recently, spending 24hours on a Greek island with a film crew, I have been incredibly fortunate to interview Marcus Markou, Writer and Director of the acclaimed indie Papadopoulos & Sons. A self-funded production, Marcus successfully distributed the film in the UK through the Cineworld franchise and it’s soon to be distributed across the United States (2013).
For those unfamiliar with Papadopoulos & Sons, here is a brief synopsis:
“Only when you lose everything, do you find it all”
Following his ruin in the latest banking crisis, a self-made millionaire reluctantly re-unites with his estranged freewheeling brother to re-open the abandoned fish and chip shop they shared in their youth.” Source. Do check out their site for further information about the film, where it will be showing in the U.S. and where to purchase the DVD.
I watched the DVD with my dad, and we laughed aloud at how accurately the characters portrayed the current economic crisis but, more importantly, the resilience and sense of community of the Greek / Cypriot people, and about how family strength shines through. I feel honoured he’s agreed to this interview – and we had a great brunch in a cafe round the corner from his office.
Marcus, thanks so much for your time. Aside from the running theme of ‘riches to rags’ and developing familial relationships, with a little ‘Romeo & Juliet’ thrown into the mix…as a Grecophile, to me, “Papadopolous & Sons” really portrayed the true Greek spirit—how family means so much. I laughed aloud at the accurate portrayals, for example: the blessing by an Orthodox priest of the shop before it opened (I’ve been to one in Greece, but not a chip shop opening!), the ‘worry tomorrow, not today’ nature of the Greek people (Spiros) and the pulling together of a community to prepare the shop for opening.
I’ve wanted to connect to my Hellenic roots
What prompted you to develop the concept of “Papadopoulos & Sons?”
For many years, since I was a teen, I wanted to reconnect to my Hellenic roots. I was born in the UK, within a tight Greek community in Birmingham. My father was the first Greek accountant there and so we were connected to many families growing up. However, I became ‘quite English’ over the years – public school, cricket, rugby, Shakespeare – and I was a little embarrassed by my earthy, Cypriot roots. The 1980s became about chasing the future and leaving the past. But then something happens in your late teens and early 20s. It was a desire to reconnect to my ancestors – and principally the spirit of my Hellenic roots. Suddenly, the past was not so embarrassing. It was authentic and it was special. Community is special. You don’t realise that until you’ve lost it. So these were the drivers behind the story. These were the impulses. A desire to connect again. And so Harry’s journey in the story is based on my need to connect.
The timing of the film is ironic, given that the Cypriot banking system went into meltdown mere weeks after the film’s release.
Actually, I wrote the script a year or so before the crisis in Greece and the film was released almost at the same time as the Cypriot banking crisis. I think at some level the spirit of the story has been in tune with events. The film seems to follow the crisis. We open the film in the US in October by the way!
How close to your own experience is “Papadopoulos…?”
Like a lot of Greek Cypriot immigrants to the UK, our story is one of highs and lows, gain and loss and gain again. It’s the immigrant story. I think this is why the film has been so popular at US film festivals. My family had its share of ups and downs over the years – and still does. One of the questions I ask now, at 42, looking back is what is the price that you pay in the pursuit of material success? What do you lose? Thankfully, we are starting to realise that sustainability and community and balance are more desirable than material wealth within a material wealth competition.
It’s an immigrant story
You live in the UK. How often do you visit Cyprus? Do you have any family there and any experiences that have helped shape the scripting and character development of “Papadopoulos…?”
My wife is British and I have two young sons but we go to Cyprus a lot. My wife and children will go two or three times a year and stay with my mother in Paphos – during half terms. We all go out together for a big holiday every Summer – and it is the one place I can relax in. There is something special about the Cypriot land for me. I will stay for two or three weeks and my wife and children will stay out for longer. We love it there. The children love it there. My bappou is still alive. He’s going to be 95 this November. My eldest son insists we visit him (we call him Great Bappou) and he loves to pick the figs from a tree in his garden.
They are the figs that my father would have picked as a youth and the figs I would have picked when I was a boy – when I used to stay with my grandparents in the 70s and 80s. It’s a symbolic but essential ritual. The point is this: you don’t need to do much to connect yourself to the past – and to honour the past. You just need to honour simple things with intention. My son has a photo of himself standing next to his great Bappou with the figs from a tree that his father and grandfather have eaten from. That is a really important photo. I love the idea that one day his grandchildren may see that photo and see their great, great, great grandfather – and you never know… they may be reading this interview too and connecting the dots. Yes, that is what is so important to me. That is what fires me up. That idea of connection. We don’t have to be dogmatic about it. Some people criticised the film because Stephen Dillane’s dance was not the correct Syrtaki. What nonsense! They have no idea that to truly connect to the spirit and essence of something you do it with the intention to do so. Harry’s inability to do the right steps makes his desire to connect to his Hellenic roots even more special because his intention is raw and truthful and honest. He is trying to do it, even though he cannot and it is that extra effort he takes that draws us in because that is where we all at.
The dialogue came easy for me because I talk a lot!
In the “Making of…” on the DVD version, you mention that the idea for this started as a book. How long did the project take to come to fruition, and was it a full time process, or in between ‘the day job?’
Once I decided to write a film script, I spent about six months just rattling the idea in my head, making notes, trying to locate the main character and the journey and how to build conflict within the story and what needed to be learned etc. Then I created a scene by scene, which took a month, a paragraph describing what happens in each scene – no dialogue. Then I wrote the dialogue, which took about a month. I did all this between running a business (an internet business I run with my brother) and family life. I am currently in the first stage of a new story… trying to figure out who the main character is and what the journey is and what the events are and who the other characters are and what the conflict is and what needs to be achieved etc. It’s not easy. You are whittling down 1000 choices each time to just one choice. I know the themes, I know the big picture of what needs to be said – or what I feel I need to say. I have the impulses but the work needed to turn those feelings into plot, character, event is hard work because you are constantly weighing up choices and each choice has an implication, a consequence, its own back story. I think for a film script you do all the work you need to do for a novel. However, the dialogue comes easy to me because I talk a lot!
I ask this because I am in the process of writing my own book, and it’s taking me a long time due to my day job, and my tendency to be ultra hard on myself with the edits! So any encouragement is welcomed.
If I had to advise someone writing a novel but not having the time… You probably only need an hour or so a day – but a good concentrated hour. I really cannot do more than an hour or two a day of creative thinking, note taking, writing. But you can make huge leaps in a good concentrated hour. If you were writing a novel, for example, you could easily write 500 words in an hour. If your novel is 100,000 words then in 200 days a novel can be written. Some people tweet that and Facebook those amount of words in a day.
Did you expect “Papadopoulos…” to be so popular?
(Cineworld initially intended to run the film for only one week in a limited number of cinemas in its April 2013 UK release, but had to extend this due to popular demand, and on the first weekend of opening at the end of June13 in Germany, amassed an audience of 23,850)
I deliberately constructed a story that would have universal appeal. It’s a story about a family coming together. It’s a story that most people can relate to because we’ve all been or are in a family. It’s a film people can relate to and therefore I was hoping it would be popular. I still think it should be more popular. It’s accessible to a broad range of people.
This is your first feature film. Do you have any ideas for future projects?
As I said, I am working on a new story that is still in the primordial soup stage. It’s always a struggle here. You really are wrestling with an unknown animal. Can you tame it? Will you get a story out? Or has the last year or so of trying to get the characters and story to emerge been a waste of time? Will this wild thing escape and will I have to go hunting for another story. It’s really the hardest stage of all – by far. You’re alone digging up that story, weighing choices… saying ‘What if?’ It’s not easy.
Keep an eye out for Papadopoulos & Sons” at your cinema, especially in the States from October 2013, and purchase from Amazon.