By Greta Chiocchetti
When Scottish filmmaker Ninian Doff began writing his first feature film, “Get Duked!,” he set out to create a satire responding to the generational politics he observed taking root in the UK as well as around the world. The resulting comedy-horror flick, set in the ethereal backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, follows three “troubled” teens—Dean (Rian Gordon), Duncan (Lewis Gribben), and William, who prefers to go by DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneja)—who are forced to complete an outdoor adventure challenge (based on the real Duke of Edinburgh program, established in 1956) as punishment for their delinquent antics at school—like blowing up a toilet. Overachieving loner Ian (Samuel Bottomley) tags along on the trip, and left to fend for themselves in the wilderness, the boys quickly realize that there is a dark presence following their every move.
The film, which takes cues from comedy classics like “Superbad,” manages to incorporate some big-picture themes in its message while still including punchlines about psychedelic rabbit sh—.
“It often feels like films are either supposed to be gritty and miserable and set on council estates, or just funny and jokey—and not allowed to be anything other than that. I’ve always hated this distinction,” said Doff. “I feel strongly that if we’re going to engage the next generation, we need to make protest movies that don’t feel preachy. Before I even wrote the script, I knew I wanted to make a movie you could watch on a Friday night with your friends, something as quotable as any good comedy, but also feels like a political awakening.”
Ahead of the film’s global release on Amazon Prime Video this Friday, Art U News chatted with Doff, Gordon, Gribben, Juneja, and Bottomley about the film’s “stick it to the man” attitude, the cast’s naturally irreverent chemistry, and the influence of American hip-hop.
One of the most interesting parts of the film is the stark contrast between the majestic backdrop of the Highlands and the sound of American hip-hop. Can you talk about your process of selecting the film’s soundtrack and working with composer Alex Menzies on its original score?
I’m from Scotland, and I grew up in Edinburgh. So, this beautiful medieval city basically in the Scottish Highlands is a beautiful example. When I think about the relationship of music to location, it’s normally very literal in cinema. You put bagpipes with the Scottish Highlands or you put banjos with the south in America. But growing up and today, when I’m in these locations, I’m listening to American hip hop in beautiful ancient European countries. So, I always wanted to put a big hip-hop influence into the Scottish Highlands, which is such a crazy clash that strangely worked so well.
So, there’s the actual music from Vince Staples, and Run the Jewels and Danny Brown. And then there’s also a score, which is a mix of culture clash. And same as the film, really, we’ve got S Type, who’s a Glaswegian hip-hop producer, putting in more beats like that. And then a guy called Alex Menzies, bringing in what was more influenced by like a traditional cinematic score, and they actually meet each other at some point in the middle and reference each other, but in a very subtle way that only a nerd like me would really appreciate. But, you’re kind of playing the generational mixing, even at the score level, where we’ve got the old Hollywood score and hip-hop score actually bouncing off each other.
You come from a music video background. In what ways has that influenced the way you direct a feature film?
I come from music videos and I love music videos. Maybe about eight or nine years ago now, with music videos suddenly starting to have a sort of Renaissance, loads of really creative ideas started appearing and became a really great place to experiment in storytelling. I made music videos, not in the traditional sense in the least. But I was able to play with three-act structures and different genres, make a sci-fi and make a musical … And really build a style that way through music videos. So, that actually led to people taking the leap of faith to make a feature, they could see it in the music videos.
And then when it came to making the film from that, instead of being ashamed of the music videos saying, now I’m a serious filmmaker, instead, I kind of wanted to write a little love letter to music videos.
How important is it to you that your first feature film is set in your native Scotland?
I’m from Scotland, from Edinburgh, but I’d been living down in London in England for probably about a decade already at that point, but as I came to writing what was going to be my first film, I felt a really strong urge to go back home and hear the accents of like my childhood and reference that, and I think that’s an interesting thing. Maybe that’s a natural voice that you can more easily write in and that you know by heart and maybe that’s a sort of helpful thing for people to think about. It definitely was for me—a really inspiring assignment to revisit that and get to move back up to Scotland and shoot the movie.
Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Rian Gordon, and Lewis Gribben
How did you apply your past experience to this film?
Samuel Bottomley: I think, for me, really, you just take everything from every job you’ve done onto the next one.
Rian Gordon: For me, I’ve been [acting] for like five years, and I really consider this my first real thing, so that really puts into perspective how long it takes to get to do something. I think it’s a lot of hard work, and if it pays off, it pays off, but I think you should always have your aspirations open to every aspect of our business and maybe not just straight on the money.
Viraj Juneja: For me, my past experiences were just a lot of theater work. But that’s where the dream started, that’s where I kind of fell in love with everything that we do and doing comedy and stuff I feel like is what I was most suited to. I mean, what have you got to say? We just had this dream job. It really was. Working with these three boys was just like going out with a mate, just having fun.
Lewis Gribben: I would say very similar. I did a lot of theater and a lot of amateur dramatics and stuff like that. So, I never really even was in a film or television. So, this was like the first thing I ever proper went for and got very lucky. And I always felt the role really suited me, like the person anyway, I really [lent] myself to the film. But I want to do more dramatic stuff as well. What I’d love to do is more comedy, but I want to show that I can do more than [being] boxed into just comedy.
In what ways could you relate to your character?
LB: Duncan is sort of me, the person. It’s very hard to see the difference. I mean, I like to think I’m not as gullible in real life.
SB: We’ve been saying throughout filming like how similar our characters are to each other. Like Duncan—Lewis is a wacky, mad, solid character, you know what I mean? Viraj is like a very outgoing, confident guy. Rian’s like a proper laddy-lad like Dean is.
RG: Thank you, I’ll take that.
VJ: Looking at DJ Beatroot, from the outside, I guess you could just pass the judgment and say he’s a wannabe hip-hop star. When in fact, he’s not motivated by the money or showing off, he’s motivated by performing and he loves hip-hop, and he loves the thrill of it. And I feel like me, as a person as well, I love performing. I do like being the center of attention. I’ll say that, and I think he does as well. So there’s definitely similarities.
How do you think audiences will react to the film’s “fight the powers that be” message, especially as it releases globally during this especially fraught time in history?
SB: I think it depends on who you are. If you’re the older generation watching it, you may have a completely different outlook to a 24-year-old. The satire is directionally towards making fun of the older generation.
VJ: We want to empower people, we’re saying it doesn’t matter where you come from, your background, and the circumstances that you may be having—be who you want to be.
RG: Yeah, I think humor-wise, there are just many different styles of humor in the film, so I think there will be a joke that will land with different types of people. And they might not like other ones.
SB: You made me laugh more than anyone else in the film, Lewis.
“Get Duked!” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
These Q+As have been edited for length and clarity.