Mark Ashmore is a film director, producer and has recently completed a one-year residency at The Black Lion in Salford with his company, Future Artists.
Today I meet him at The Black Lion, a pub on the dividing line between Manchester city centre and Salford. When Mark’s collective, Future Artists, took on the lease for a pub that was on the brink. Now, it is named as ‘one of the best pubs in the north’ by GQ Magazine. This is with good reason. This four floor behemoth of a pub represents a cultural hub where poetry nights, open mic nights, theatre, independent film screenings, acting schools and art studios represent just a fraction of what Mark has been trying to achieve here. He is currently shooting his debut feature film, The Lost Generation.
The theme in much of his work is one of counter-culture and standing up to the establishment. How did he find this niche in the arts?
“How I got started… People gave me opportunities when they saw I was passionate and jumping around, going, “I wanna do this!” I didn’t have all the skills to do it but they gave me the opportunity. They took the time to sit me down and go, look – this is how it is, this is the hard work that goes into it and this is what it actually is. It isn’t what you see on television. From a production point of view, to get to being a production runner on a film production, which took me to being an Assistant Director, then a director and producer, I was an extra for ages. Then my agency got a call asking if they had anyone on the books that could be a runner. They wanted anyone with any production experience as they were doing a big crowd day on a project called, A Thing Called Love that had Paul Nicholls from the BBC in it about seven or eight years ago. It was on BBC1. My agency asked me if I would like to be a runner for a day or two because they needed some help. I went on the set, took a pay cut (My planned £80 extra work had been declined in favour of the runner job at £50) and I worked my socks off. It turned out I blew the Assistant Director’s team away and they told me they had been really impressed. You start to jump from one thing to another after that, in my case, Emmerdale and Life On Mars. Feature films also happened – The Other Boleyn Girl and others. You have to show people your worth.”
It’s plain to see that Mark has come a long way since his runner days. On set, he is in the zone, the headspace you need to inhabit to conquer any challenge to the fullest. How does his widely varied work function as a form of artistic expression? He says,
“The most recent example of using my work to say something would be the ‘Not Part Of The Bullingdon Club’ festival here at the lion. It was the one-year celebration of The Black Lion. We could have just gone, ‘here is the one year celebration,’ but I wanted to express something. The name itself caused a little controversy. (The Bullingdon Club is a secret society dining club for privileged students of Oxford University that has featured many high profile names over the years including British Prime Minister David Cameron) From just the title of a festival, we had said something and people were figuring it out. We made them think. It referenced the elitism in the arts. The arts should be for all, but in the UK, arts aren’t for everybody because the money is top down and it goes to the people that know people. I wanted to say that The Black Lion had never been funded. 80% of the people who come and work here, they just come here and do it. We can all just fucking bloom.”
There’s an important quote that stayed with me on many levels. I was in Cambodia at Pol Pot’s torture chamber, which is a horrible place I visited whilst back-packing. Dead kids everywhere. There was a quote written under a staircase and it said, ‘There’s no place in art for sunsets and flower vases whilst this goes on. Art will scream for those that cannot.’ If I died tomorrow, I’d have that inscribed on my gravestone.”
Mark started a creative co-operative recently where people work together to create many shared benefits. He tells me,
“With the co-op, there’s a core of about twenty people. We have about fifty members but twenty regularly get together. I never knew these people before that and I thought, ‘they’re cool.’ I wanted to get to know them more. You get to meet these cool cats that have the same vibe as what you’re about. Suddenly you’re finding out what films someone is into or what bars they hang out at, what music they like. As you get later into life, longer out of school, it gets harder to meet people. I think these hubs within the arts, be it a co-operative or The Black Lion, you’re meeting people all the time. When you’re feeling down, there are people who can lift you up. You never stop growing until the day you die so it’s important to have a place where you can meet these people along the way.
When it gets political, it all sounds very heavy at times but then we catch eyes and start laughing. Mark shakes his head and says,
“I feel like the angry young man. I’m thirty-two and I can’t do this forever because it wears you down if you get too heavy. Expression can be for fun, playful. This is my story, but any one person’s own journey in the arts can be altogether different. I need to get back to making art for art’s sake, but first I have to finish what I started. I owe it to the people I’ve worked with. I do feel all this, but I will change at some point. It’s like my equivalent of the third album switchover! I’m going to have a big year of comedy at some point, just loads of smiley faces in the windows and make everyone really happy. Here you go! It’s January, be fucking happy!”
Photography by Danny Allison at Burn Photography, Poster Design by Andy Thomson, Sector 4