Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Face behind Svengali: Parka Avenue talks to Jonny Owen

The first time I came across a Svengali short on YouTube, I was hooked. Nobody had told me about it and I happened to find it by chance. I immediately spread the good news to all my Mod friends and I couldn't wait for the next episode to come out. I found the main character Dixie, played by his creator Jonny Owen, endearing, charming and above all funny. The story follows the trials and tribulations of Dixie, an aspiring band manager and promoter, in his quest to make his protégés, The Premature   Congratulations, the next big thing to hit the scene. 

Lucky for us, what started as a series of shorts on the web ended up as a full length feature film that will  hit the theatres and be available for download or on DVD on the 21st of March 2014. I am truly honoured to have Jonny answer a few questions for our Parka Avenue readers.

Where did the inspiration for the movie come from?
It came really from a conversation with Dean Cavanagh. We wanted to do something about Rock and Roll you know? I wanted to loosely base it on the manager of my old band 'the pocket devils' Dixie. It kind of went from there. We wanted to see what the audience reaction would be, and it's been great. Alan McGee gave us a great line: 'rock and roll is the only industry in the world where bad behaviour is actively encouraged'. I thought there's a lot of potential for comedy there. 
Svengali started has a web series. A few big names like Martin Freeman made regular appearances. How did you manage that?
They asked me. Once the series was up and running people tended to get in touch with me and ask to be in it. Very flattering really. I think it was the freedom. I allowed them to do whatever they wanted. Trusted them. Actors love that because often you can be quite straight jacketed in stuff you do. 
How did you adjust the story from a web based series to a full length film?
I just broadened it out. I was able to bring the band The Prems in, that was the big thing. I had the freedom to be able to do that, make the scenes longer and bring more actors in. Another was that we had more money to do more filmic shots. A lot of the film was about London. The City was the set really. I always dreamt of doing that and I was able to do it. 
Any of the characters based on people you know? 
As I said above Dixie was based on the real Dixie 'Paul Dixon'. I used people I remembered from when I was in a band, like a&r men, as the basis for characters. We spoke about people we remembered from the 90's. The band is kind of based on my band, Pains In The Arses! Ha. Bands tend to be like children. The landlady is based on one I had in London too. So there's a bit in there. Also Dixie's family are based on my own in Wales. 
Without being a Mod movie per say, Mod culture seems to be a central theme. How important was that to you? 
Well Mod culture is something that I've loved from a young age. I liked the way they looked, the music they listened too. I used to spend my teenage years in school drawing little targets and I tenement the frisson of excitement I'd have when I'd see someone on a scooter when I was a kid. It was amazing really. It's something that's stayed with me all my life. A certain way of dressing and looking after yourself. I think it's a great template, well for me it has been anyway.
Mods are a critical and opinionated bunch, are you concerned at how some might react to the film?
Not in the slightest. They've been brilliant from the very start. I think Mods have a great sense of humour and we all know deep down no one is born cool...ever. The amount of emails and people who have said to me that they've all got a bit of Dixie in them is unbelievable.
Were you directly involved in choosing the soundtrack?
I was yes and I'm rather pleased with it. John Hardwick, the Director, also was influential. It takes a long time to get the right music for the right pictures but we got there in the end. 
You're also a DJ, how would you describe your style? 
I just play what I like and hope people like it too. 60's beat, bit of Soul and Indie. I've had no complaints yet.

I want to personally thank Jonny for his time and this exclusive photo of him taken behind the scenes during the shooting. That's a very smashing Vespa GS mark I if I'm not mistaken. For all the latest updates about the film, join the growing army of fans on the Svengali Facebook page or on the Svengali website.