Brilliant British writer and director Leif Johnson is set to soon release his debut feature film “Mr Doom” – a dark comedy at its finest with compelling characters, incredible actors, and great directing. Starring the talented Danny Sutcliffe and Danny Parsons, produced by Djonny Chen, with cinematography by Craig Murdoch, Mr Doom “explores life’s rejects living on the fringes of society”. The cast also includes two Manchester legends Clint Boon and Smug Roberts, Astrid Flint, Che Burnley among others. In the following interview with NY Elite Magazine, Director Leif Johnson talks about what inspired Mr Doom, the film industry, and the future of film.
The Making of Mr. Doom: NY Elite Exclusive Interview with Writer, Director Leif Johnson
NY Elite: We hear that you have a new film called Mr Doom which is close to being finished. What’s it about?
Leif Johnson: Mr Doom is my first venture into feature films. The script was born out of finding best use time during lockdown back in 2020. I set myself a challenge, to write a feature film that could be shot with a smaller budget over a short space of time that is all character focused. This was to be a way to sell in a compelling story to film financiers.
I’m a huge fan of bittersweet narratives and big loveable characters. Much like you would see in a Shane Meadows film. I like the characters I write to have rough edges and a darker side to them, but you ultimately fall in love with him despite the flaws – I feel this is very close to life. Life isn’t clean cut and people have light and shade to their personalities, which is what makes them interesting, it’s what make the characters I write interesting… at least I think anyway. I have to fall in love with them.
Hopefully audiences fall in love with the characters in Mr Doom too. That said I’m confident they will, the actors I cast for Mr Doom are mainly stand-up comics who are all beautiful human beings. I was really taken aback by the show of humanity in many of the performances in a lot of the scenes we shot. I think the thing about comedians is they understand the light and dark of the human soul, I guess it’s what makes them comedians.
NY Elite: What is the premise of this project and who did you work with?
Leif Johnson: Mr Doom, is it dark comedy that follow the exploits of two men – One a professional hustler and the other a professional f**k-up. Both living on the fringes of society, day to day, bar to bar and hustle to hustle. God-like with a pool cue in their hands but a total disaster in every other area of their lives. We follow this unlikely pair on a dangerous path of self-destruction, in a world of their own design, with the hope of making easy money. Both struggling to maintain a career that revolves around a green felt table with six pockets and sixteen balls.
Mr Doom covers all the issues that come with small town lives, Racism, unemployment, addiction, poverty, prostitution, violence, broken families, and poor mental health. Growing up, these harsh realities were too close to home at times. I can now look back knowing how best present this seedy world in an entertaining film format.
I’ve got a great cast in this film. Danny Sutcliffe plays Jack and has never acted in a feature film before, but you would never know. He is an exceptional talent! I actually wrote the role for him, knowing he would just absolutely kill it. I was also very lucky to cast his co-star Danny Parsons, a beautiful man in so many ways. They work so well together. I was incredibly lucky to have such a perfect pairing. I managed to get two Manchester legends in this film; Clint Boon from The Inspiral Carpets and Smug Roberts.
Casting Doom was a joy. Picking stand-up comedians mainly from the Northwest of England made sense as they totally got the type of people the script focused on. They also understood the bittersweet tone of the film and northern sensibly of using humour in times of hardship and sometimes total despair. Only a northerner could see the funny between the lines and know where comedy and tragedy meet while giving nuanced dramatic performances that bring a tear to the eye.
NY Elite: How long did it take to research and make the film?
Leif Johnson: It’s funny, I feel like I’ve been researching this film all my life. Not necessarily the game of pool itself, but the characters I’ve met growing up. I come from a working-class family, in a grim town in the north of England, and when writing Mr Doom I was thinking of all the real life characters that have stuck with me since childhood. The larger-than-life local legends usually found in their local pub. No job or career to speak of but somehow had a healthy wad of folding money in their pocket. They always had a hustle going on and some kind of money-making scheme or scam. Usually on how to cheat the fruit machine or a loophole that wasn’t necessarily above board. I was fascinated by these pub orators as they always had a story to tell, usually unsuitable for young ears… I loved it.
Ultimately, I knew they were losers and small-time crooks. I knew they would be going home alone to a rundown studio flat or caravan with no one waiting for them or love them, no one they hadn’t paid that is. But to a young teenage boy these sad lonely men were scruffy little Fonzie’s who would wipe the floor with anyone who challenged them at pool and had an answer to anything thrown their way. I listened intently at their dirty jokes and crewed stories, not caring if they were fact or fiction, just digging the fantasy.
Mr Doom takes you into the lives of these small-town heroes. It sucks you into their little world. A world where a game of pool becomes life or death, and each day is an adventure that goes no further than the Red Lion Inn over in the next town. Small stakes are relative when you have very little to start with.
NY Elite: Your last short film ‘Satisfaction’ generated a lot of buzz in the media and festivals. How was the film received?
Leif Johnson: Satisfaction was a great little shot I shot back in 2019. It did well enough and was enjoyed across a good selection of festivals. Sadly, a lot of these were seen online due to the 2020 lockdown. Shooting Satisfaction was a good rehearsal for the way we shot Mr Doom. I got a good understanding of what could be shot in a short space of time and making sure we picked locations that worked for us. It also established my love for working with comedic actors, one of which is Francesca Reid who is also in Mr Doom, she’s amazing!
NY Elite: What so far, in your personal opinion, is your best film to date and why?
Leif Johnson: I’m in love with this film. Mr Doom has been quite a roller coaster ride. From getting the funds to shoot the film. Bringing on a great team who have stuck with me from the start and supported me through the whole process. I’m not going to lie; it has been stressful at times, and I took on a lot of responsibility. But I feel this is the first of many films and it’s only going to grow from here. So, Mr Doom feels like a seed that’ll spawn many more films to come. Djonny Chen of Silent D Pictures is executive producer for Mr Doom. He has been a rock throughout the whole process and gave us so much space to be creative. I’m looking forward to working on the next feature with him very soon.
NY Elite: Are there any different genres or subject matters you’d like to tackle in the future?
Leif Johnson: The next film is a horror (Freitag), which I’m very excited about. I love genre movies because they give you licence to be outrages and creative as you like. I feel a good horror, thriller, action film etc is elevated by a great visual signature, wonderful characters, and interesting stories. Freitag will be a uniquely dark but also funny story. I guess to answer your question; I love dark comedy, which fits into most genres really. As for subject matter, I feel this come naturally when witting the characters. I would never sit down and say to myself, “I’m going to write about ….” and pick a particular social issue etc. These tend to reveal themselves as I get to know the characters. That said, you do write what you know and that comes out in the writing, Mr Doom is a good example of that.
NY Elite: What is the future of film? How do you see the film industry expanding or changing?
Leif: I really couldn’t say. I think after lockdown, there has been a boost in the indie market and compelling stories are more important to people it seems. Maybe it’s from superhero film fatigue. But still we live in a world dominated by Marvel and DC films. I’m really not interested in them to be honest. Although, I watched the Doctor Strange film directed by Sam Raimi, because he is a genius. I did see the other day that both Marvel and DC have shared their 10-year plan, which I feel is very presumptuous. Will people be bothered about superhero films in 10 years from now? I’m already sick of them.
NY Elite: Is digital technology and opportunity or a threat?
Leif Johnson: Digital technology is a broad brush. But I’d say it’s very much an opportunity. You can’t stop its development. Rather than reject it, embrace it. Be part of it and make it work for you. Or be better without having to use it and stand out. Mark Jenkin is a wonderful director who shoots amazing films on an 16mm Bolex and develops the film in his garage. He’s won a BAFTA off the back of his first feature ‘Bait’. That is purely down to the quality of his storytelling and beautiful visual style. He has embraced his way of making films and he’s making it work for him. Outside of my film work, I’m using AI to generate images and make them into music videos. I’m also shooting in LED studios more and using Unreal Engine. It’s a very exciting time.
NY Elite: What message do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Leif Johnson: Keep dreaming. Keep writing and surround yourself with people who are as passionate as you are. Stay clear of people who like to say no. If they are not a good fit in the development of your vision and only have their self-interest, cut them loose.
NY Elite: Where can people find out more about your work?
Leif Johnson: You can see my past work on nordicneonuk.com or follow Mr Doom on Instagram @mr_doom_film.