How We Made Human Traffic: “The first question I asked in the tests was: Have you used drugs before?” | Movies

Justin Kerrigan, Director

I wanted to make a movie about what my friends and I used to do on the weekends. The ’90s club scene was amazing. Jill Rave was all about love, ecstasy was running and music was underground—unspoiled by advertising. Apart from the weird bad boy, people were cute and eccentric characters dancing like monsters all night long.

But there was nothing to represent us in the cinema. I thought of all the films that represented their subcultures for the first time—Quadrophenia, Saturday Night Fever, Sid and Nancy, Boyz N the Hood—and I hoped my movie, in its own little way, could accurately represent us. I was 23 and had just graduated from Newport Film School when I wrote the script. I would write Monday through Friday until my mind shuts off, then on weekends I would go out to celebrate, and on weekends I would record everything that happened. The first draft was 400 pages. I had no idea about the structure of screenwriting and semiotics. What’s funny is that the movie is full of scenes that won’t go through the development process: most of them don’t move the narrative forward at all.

“There was nothing to represent us in the movies”… Justin Kerrigan. Photography: Hector Bermejo / Metrodome / Irish Screen / Copal / Shutterstock

Regarding Jeb, John Sim’s character, being impotent – it happened to me as a student, paranoid, and of my hyperactive mind. I thought back to those soul-destroying moments and decided to expel the devil once and for all by writing about them.

The film will not be supported by any public or private funders in Britain, so the producers raised a budget of 2.2 million pounds From private investors abroad. I had no interest in that side of things – I was interested in making my own movie. The first question I asked in the tests was: “Have you ever taken drugs?” The actors had to be part of the rave scene. They were also all the people I wanted to hang out with – we made the movie as friends.

We filmed on location in Cardiff, with nightclub scenes at the Emporium, which is now closed. As for the extras, it was a big party – but I can’t say much about the cast. Let’s just say we wanted it to be original. There was one day 25 scenes were cut because we were behind schedule, so everyone was hit at the hotel bar. John and I left at dawn – then he told me he didn’t have to work that day. I had to go and steer without sleep. That was difficult.

I was quietly stunned that the movie didn’t attract any tabloid controversy, in the “Killer E” era. I intentionally left out any scenes of pills falling off, and the movie clearly discusses paranoia and the physiological effects of drugs. But, regardless of the popular excitement at the time, I didn’t include any deaths because this was not my experience nor anyone I know.

I know there’s an audience hungry for the sequel, but it took five years to get the rights, and now I’m trying to put together a budget. I still relate to the characters’ soul-searching in the original movie, but these days it’s just new levels of middle-aged shit rather than the agony of youth. The way things are going now, the clubs of the future will be the people with the most ‘likes’ wearing their Amazon Prime headphones listening to DJ on Zoom. Or dance your breasts at Metaverse with Mark Zuckerberg.

Human Traffic . Original Trailer

John Sim, actor

When we read the script, we all thought: “Wow, this is our life.” I was in my mid-20s and clubbing a lot in London, at places like Turnmills and Bagley’s. Five years after the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994, which outlawed “repeated strikes,” it was refreshing to read a text that says it as it is: People go out, have fun, and don’t die.

It was very low budget, but it was fun to do. It was as if there were no adults on the set. I knew Sean Parks, who played record store owner Cobb, already – we played in teams together. Danny Dyer and I have become really good friends. We were all staying at the same hotel, and on our days off, we’d go out together. Howard Marks, who filmed a sitcom called Spliff Politics, used to hang out at the hotel bar with Super Furry Animals. He was carrying rizla papers with his face on it.

Justin wanted to make it real, so he let us enjoy things and let loose. For a director for the first time, it was great. Too many of the film were improvised, including the popular “Nice one, bruva!” Scene. In the scene where we’re making Coke, Sean and I were doing what we did at parties: talking crap. Contrary to opinion, I don’t think we were doing drugs on camera. I had to wear contact lenses with dilated pupils. We shot this scene three or four times, and it was different each time.

Sean Parks and John Sim in Human Traffic.
It was fun to do. It was as if there were no adults on the set”…Sean Parks and John Sim in human traffic. Photo: Miramax/Allstar

The ironic thing about Human Traffic is that it’s pushed into our battered lives. Danny and I went to Cream Fields afterwards. We were seen dancing in a tent, and because every team had seen the movie, we brought hundreds of brave people hugging us. We can not relax.

To me, it’s like a time capsule: it perfectly captures the end of the ’90s. This is what it has been like for millions of people every weekend. It was a beautiful little snippet of time.

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