Just over a month ago, Jack To A King was released in the United Kingdom – fast-forward to today and the Swansea City documentary is a record-breaking piece of work and has left many critics gushing.
Written, directed and produced by a team of people in love with Swansea City Football Club, Jack To A King documents the rollercoaster ride the community was taken on as the now-top-flight club flirted with relegation from the Football League before, 10 years later, finding themselves winning promotion to the Barclays Premier League.
Executive Producer and Writer, Mal Pope, travelled up to North Wales on Thursday night to lead a screening of the film hosted and organised by Documentary Wales at Bangor University before having a Q&A with Sports Historian Meilyr Emrys.
Meeting Mr Pope beforehand though in the Teras Lounge, overlooking Bangor, he told me that being so heavily involved in the film had been “a great honour to do, and the reception from everyone has been amazing”.
Speaking on the subject of what sparked his interest in the project, Mr Pope detailed his close ties to the Premier League outfit: “The thing is that Swansea City is my club – I live in the City, I know all of the directors personally, I sit next to Ed Thomas (Co-Executive Producer) in all of the home games”.
Despite being so heavily involved with the club playing into Mr Pope’s hands in some regards, in other ways he spoke of how it at times led to him feeling a bit more pressure.
“It has been an incredible pressure and a burden to just get it right, because they know where we live! I always thought, all we could do is screw it up, to be honest” He said.
Mr Pope added “However, as I say, the reaction to the film has been fantastic and means that, at the very least, we can walk around the town with our heads held high now”.
Joanna Wright, Co-Founder of Documentary Wales added to the plaudits the film has received saying “I think this is what good documentaries do – focus on something specific and tell a universal story”.
“The idea of people coming together and saving something that is important for them is something that we can all connect to – a sort of David and Goliath story!” She added.
After working with Co-Executive Producer Ed Thomas on bringing production of STARZ’s Da Vinci’s Demons to Swansea, Mr Pope noted that the pair decided to embark on this project when watching the Swans almost two years ago.
Mr Pope said “We were sat watching the games and decided that Swansea’s story was like Hollywood and that this was the story we wanted to do! We got the club involved – they were very supportive, completely opened the door to us”.
The Welshman was keen to convey his belief that Jack To A King had far more value to it than simply being considered as a great sporting documentary.
He said “We have to get over the fact that it is a football film because it isn’t a football film – it is more about the community, it is about this odd bunch of people who buy their club and I hope the film can make people love them”.
Mr Pope declared “absolutely” that the biggest challenge of making this film was condensing 10 years of activity down into a 100 minute account without losing any of the most important details.
“Deciding that we only wanted to do the 10 years was difficult enough – however the 10 years is actually easily marked out. It begins with, in world terms, The Twin Towers in 2001, and ends in 2011 in front of where the twin towers would have been at the old Wembley”.
In the month since the documentary’s release, Mr Pope seemed taken aback by the amount of interest shown towards the project by broadcasters in the UK and across the world.
“We’re in for a number of film festivals around the world but that isn’t confirmed yet and we could be up for a BAFTA so it is incredible. Sky Sports have already spoke to us about taking the film as well as others”.
Having smashed Manchester United’s Class of 92’ in the box office, Mr Pope was realistic about the prospect of matching what he described as “the benchmark for” Jack To A King in terms of overall revenue.
“To be honest it was a bit of a benchmark because in essence we were distributing this film ourselves. They’re five million DVD sales ahead of us so we still have a long way to go”.
Sporting documentaries have been seen to be making somewhat of a cinema comeback in recent months however Mr Pope argued that it was in fact the Senna documentary that rekindled producers’ interest in producing films of this genre.
“I think the Senna documentary has really opened people’s eyes that there is a market for this kind of thing and that documentaries of this nature are for everyone and not just the men” He said.
Mr Pope went on to explain further that “Senna was actually viewed on average at cinema more by women than by men” and that he believed this was a catalyst for the resurgence of sporting documentaries’ release in cinema.
The interview closed in a very honest manner, as it had been throughout with Mr Pope saying “We’ve learned an awful lot of lessons doing this – I know how to make a film now, and sort of know how to sell it, but I’m knackered”.
Before closing the interview on a note he had been pushing throughout “This project has a long way to run yet. We want to do everything we can to make sure it has its best chance to fulfil its potential; whether that is in the sport documentary field or something more only time will tell”.
For more information regarding Documentary Wales’ upcoming events, head over to http://www.dogfen.net/. For screening information regarding Jack To A King, check out www.jacktoaking.com. You can find the film’s official Twitter page at @jacktoakingfilm and get involved with the conversation on social media using the hashtag #jacktoaking. The DVD is pencilled for release on Boxing Day 2014. My review of the film is available via Fortitude Magazine and can be found here: http://www.fortitudemagazine.co.uk/entertainment/film-tv/review-jack-king-swansea-story/21660/