An Interview with Antony Spina, Director of The Programme

Please tell us about your background. What or who made you fall in love with cinema? How did you become interested in filmmaking and what did you work on before making The Programme?

I’m born and raised in London, England to English/Italian parents and grew up never having the foggiest about the film business. I never knew anyone in the film world or anything like that and had to make my way as most do, from the bottom up. I didn’t even really know how films were made I until my late teens I think. But even as a child I had a massive love for stories and one hell of an imagination. Always off day dreaming about something or some character I’d come up with in my head. Some hero off on some adventure that I’d thought up for them. This later turned into a bit of an obsession for story telling; not that I knew it at the time. I think first came a love for comics (Marvel boy through and through) which then lead to books. I was always reading something and suspect I always will. And somewhere in the middle a love for films developed. When I try and look back, I think the earliest films that seemed to capture my imagination as a small boy were films like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Anything with such a scale of adventure had me hooked, heart and soul. But for me, whichever film, book or comic I had just delved into, it wouldn’t stop there. That character and his or her adventures would progress beyond the end of that film or that book. Because I’d then start to imagine further exploits for those heroes and villains. I’m not sure exactly when but this lead me to the idea that I could come with my own stories and that’s when I started to write some of them down. That was my introduction into writing, only In a small way at first but that progressively became more and more. Although it was a long, long time before I would show any of it to anyone. Plus I had a bad habit of starting but not finishing. Not having enough self control to stick with one story / script before getting too excited about the next idea and moving on. But where the film making began for me though, was on a short film called “Sad Little Boy”. If someone had asked me at any stage before my film career had started, I never would have said that I’d be making a drama, and especially for my first film (Not that I’ve got anything against dramas of course, just not my usual writing style). But It basically came about from an actress I knew, who I’d told some of my story ideas too. She then decided we should work together on something, and asked me to write a script for a film. Though she had one condition; she wanted the subject matter of the story to be about something sad. ‘Not my usual cup of tea’ I told her, ‘but ok, I’ll do it!’ I said. So off I went and wrote the script, and very happy I was with it too. The film was made some time later, and received some fantastic feedback and reviews. And overall and extremely proud of it.

Where did the idea for the film come from? Why did you decide to make a film about the “Advanced Inmate Correctional Programme”?

I’m not sure exactly how I come up with some of the ideas that I come with to be honest. But in this case, the core idea for the film came from a documentary I’d seen. As much as I love fictional films and box set series, I’m a big lover of documentaries too. And had watched a few about prisons and prisoners over the course of a year or so, the last of which I’d seen just before going on holiday. Now all these documentaries tugged at my heart strings as it would do anyone who watched them. Making you feel pity for some characters and anger for others. All of whom found themselves in these strange and exciting predicament they were in. I also noticed as well the terrible state some of these prisons seemed to be in, for a multitude of reasons. And in some cases how there seemed to be no overall structure in place that could make a toddler toe the line, let alone a hardened criminal. This must have been something that played on my mind, as for some reason during the next few weeks while away on holiday I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There I was, lying on a beach in beautiful Italy and working on a tan I so desperately needed when my vivid imagination started doing what it does. I thought back and remembered those documentaries and started thinking on what might those characters have been like if they had that structure there. If they were made to do this or to do that. If they would ever truly repent for their crimes or if their time in prison would somehow make them into decent members of society once they ever got out. Before I knew it I realised I had imagined up a whole knew story. Thinking passed the characters I had seen beforehand to a completely new fictional world, thought up in my crazy brain. One where the “Advanced Inmate Correctional Programme” existed. Next thing I knew, instead of being on that beach making myself all tan-tastic, I was back in the apartment writing a script.

How did you get into making The Programme which plays out like a documentary even though it can't be categorized as one? What documentaries influenced you and inspired you to take this approach?

I never really considered myself a documentary film maker because this film is fictional. The reason my film “The Programme” plays out in the style that it does, is because the story is based off an element of truth and essentially the idea came from watching a documentary. And I felt like the only way to do itself justice was to keep that same style. I don’t think making a fictional film in the documentary format would work every time with every film. But I do think it works for mine, for the most part because the subject matter is so very close to reality that people can really be gripped by it. Saying that, all interesting documentaries inspire me I’d say. As me having the sort of imagination that I have, an interesting documentary will always set my mind racing off to some imagined scenario or story. Netflix’s The Keepers for example did just that. I do absolutely love a good, thrilling documentary and always will. And maybe one day I’ll be making a proper documentary but in terms of making films for time being, I think I’ll be sticking to fictional kind.

Do you think documentaries can help to solve problems? Problems such as the one with the prison systems in the world.

Yes I do think they can help. Sometimes it’s a case that people are aware of a problem but aren’t quite aware of the scale of it, and don’t know just how big the problem might actually be. A good and fair documentary can not only help to shine a light on an issue. But give a complete understanding of how th