Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy began life as a show for prisoners and evolved into the production of six participatory film projects.
The original production grew out of some creative research workshop we ran at HMP Dovegate looking at the portrayal of gangs and gangsters in movies. As part of this research we asked participants to vote on their favourite gangster film. With over 50% more votes than any other film, Brian de Palma’s 1983 remake of Scarface starring Al Pacino was the winner. We followed up this research by running some improvised storytelling workshop sessions at HMPYOI Swinfen Hall in which participants created a storyline exploring gang loyalty and ‘criminal code’. The two elements were then brought together in a play, with songs, written by Chris Johnston,. Named after one of Scarface’s many famous lines, ‘Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy’, the plot of the show focused on the events leading up to a shooting. Told over the course of 3 acts, each act presented the story from one of three different character’s perspectives. Each time the story was told, the audience learned more about the motivations and experiences of each of these core characters.
The show, which had a mixed cast of eight actors and musicians, and was funded by Arts Council England, toured to prisons and community venues across the West Midlands in early 2008. This tour was followed by an extended programme of workshop activity that resulted in the production of five short films made by prisoners. These films used some of the circumstances of characters in the original play such as a character who is coming out of prison and a family member who needs some kind of help, but allowed prisoners to develop their own storylines stemming from these circumstances. We also introduced prisoners to working with chromakey techniques so whilst everything was shot in a room in the prison, we were able to add backgrounds in the editing stage, which gave the illusion that scenes had been shot in a variety of settings. Films were made at HMP Onley, HMYOI Werrington, HMP Dovegate, HMYOI Brinsford, and HMP Birmingham.
In the two video workshops a group of prisoners with little or no experience of acting or film were expertly guided through improvisation techniques, character and plot development and camera and lighting skills. Through warm up games, an atmosphere of mutual respect and a strong sense of group belonging, the participants generated engaging storylines and sometimes compelling performances. While Rideout directors Saul and Chris facilitated and channelled the participants’ input, the end result was very much the group’s own work. This autonomy created a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement from the project as a whole.
At the inaugural screening the unanimous response was to immediately play the whole DVD again. A prison governor thought one of the lead roles was played by a professional actor until he recognised him as a prisoner on the wing. Rideout certainly do not take the easy option, but manage to deliver consistently high quality results on all the projects they undertake.
Jonnet Middleton, Creative Skills Curriculum Leader, HMP Birmingham