Andrew Haigh has clearly arrived as a film-maker with something to say about life in general, relationships in particular and, in the recently released "Weekend," the blossoming of love between gay men beyond the realm of the one-nighter. The film has opened to huge critical acclaim and picked up many awards on the indie festival circuit, including the Grand Jury Prize and Best Actor Award at the Nashville Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at Outfest. Reviewed here last month and described by fellow director, Travis Matthews as "raising the bar for other filmmakers about what can be done simply and honestly", we wanted to know more about the making of the movie. Andrew kindly agreed to share.
AH : Andrew Haigh / Lb : Lustralboy
Lb: Having worked in mainstream movies with the likes of Ridley Scott, what inspired you to embark on your own very non-mainstream style of film-making?
AH: I think my tastes have always been non-mainstream and I always wanted to make those kind of films but I somehow ended up working on these big Hollywood monsters. Basically I needed to get a job to pay the bills! That is not to say there weren't fun or that I didn't learn enormously from them, it is just I always knew what kind of filmmaking I was personally drawn to.
(Photos from "Greek Pete")
Lb: Your first feature, "Greek Pete", followed in some famous footsteps, thematically, at least. “Flesh”, “My Private Idaho” and, more recently, “Mysterious Skin” spring to mind. What took you to the same territory? And what made you approach your subject so differently?
AH: Greek Pete was an interesting one to me. I had made a very formal short film prior to Greek Pete and wanted to do something that was a lot looser, that felt like real life rather than a construction. I always thought the world of escorts was a fascinating one and knowing nothing about it myself, I knew the only way to tell some sort of truth about that world was to make the film with actual escorts. The whole existence for these guys, for escorts, is such a mixture of fact and fiction and reality and fantasy I wanted to incorporate this into the very structure of the film by blending fiction and documentary. I also liked the idea of forcing the audience to loose their bearings a little, throw them off balance.
Lb: How do you go about casting for a docu-drama based in the world of the male escort? Not at RADA, we guess?
AH: Er no! I used Gaydar and asked for real escorts who were interested in making a film with me about their world. Only two people got back to me and Pete was one of them.
(Photos from "Greek Pete")
Lb: There's a raw, undiluted honesty about the movie that doesn't make a lot of concessions to audience sensitivities. What made you so brave?
AH: I think I just threw myself into making it with very little thought of the audience. I wanted to just see what would develop over the year filming with these guys. My main ambition was just to be honest and not dress up their world as something it was not. I also wanted to try and make a film that was free of judgement, neither glamourised or condemned. I knew some people would hate it and many did. I think people expected some kind of sexy version of the world which of course this film was not. It would make me laugh when people would say things like 'I hated it. It's not sexy or funny and just so depressing'. What the hell were people expecting and why where they expecting that?
(Photos from "Weekend")
Lb: Honesty, realism, uninhibited intimacy, it's also all there in your recently released full-length feature, "Weekend". How do you get your actors to get it on so convincingly while you’re hold a camera just a few feet away?
AH: For me filmmaking is so strange. You are trying to capture these incredibly honest moments between people and yet most of the time you are surrounded by the mechanics of filmmaking. It drives me a little crazy and I try to do all I can to strip away the artifice. We had a very small crew for starters and that helped a lot and when we could we would always use natural light, real locations, real people rather than extras. We shot the film in order and I covered each scene from only one angle. I also spent a huge portion of my time trying to create an environment that was safe and comfortable, where we can all make massive mistakes and suggest stupid things. Actors, directors, the whole crew really need to feel they can try everything without judgement even if it doesn't work.
Lb: Langourous takes of drifting conversations characterise much of the movie. Does the inspiration for that style come from any particular directors? And how much of it was actually scripted?
AH: Most of the film is scripted but improvisation certainly plays it part. The actors were always free to add things and some of the more general scenes such as Glen in the bar or when Russell is with his friends at the start are more heavily improvised but most of the major dialogue is scripted. It was important to me however that the actors were always free to try different things, say different things. I love conversation in films. I love the films of Eric Rohmer, Woody Allen, some of the 'mumblecore' films of people like Joe Swanberg and Aaron Katz. Filmmakers shouldn't be scared of conversation because that is how real life is, we all talk a lot, we talk all the time, even if we never really say what we really mean.
(Photos from "Weekend")
Lb: The unflinching scenes of drug use have stirred some controversy. Did you have any doubts about that territory since the drugs don't particularly fuel the emotional narrative?
AH: In a strange way, to me the drugs do fuel the emotional narrative. Maybe it is a very British thing. Americans are more open to discussing their feelings. I am often amazed how quickly some Americans will start to talking about their emotions. This is not the same for British people. We are not a nation of people that go to therapy. I really don't think these characters would have been so honest with each other without the drugs. Also, I think perhaps in the UK we are a little more open about the fact that some people do take drugs, and it doesn't have to mean they have a problem. I have had a lot of nights out when I have taken drugs and it has not left me unable to have a relationship or go to work or be a normal person. I know a lot of people worry that I am saying all gay people take drugs but that argument is misguided. I understand the protective fear but this is a film about two people not the whole gay community. If you watch a straight couple in a film take drugs you don't think the filmmaker is saying all straight people take drugs. I also think that if we are to be truly accepted by society we have to be accepted across the board. We should not have to fit into a narrow framework of what is accepted. It is important to stand up and say that whether you like it or not, some gay people do take drugs and some don't, some have sex with a lot of people and some are monogamous, some are desperate to get married and some think it is a terrible idea. Gay people have all kinds of lives and beliefs and should be excepted equally. We should not have to promote ourselves in the best light just to get accepted by the mainstream.
Lb: You gave a warm and generous critique of Travis Matthews' "I want your love." It shares with "Weekend" a rare immersion in the lives of just two characters as they talk about their most private moments, fantasies, fears and insecurities. Are you guys creating a whole new genre here?
AH: I think both me and Travis, and a lot of other queer filmmakers and artists, are certainly bored with inauthentic depictions of gay life. Both of us want to see well rounded, flawed characters on screen, living real lives.
Lb: Without revealing it, there is a real lump-in-the-throat moment that had the audience clearly moved. Were you at any point tempted to go for the classic slam-dunk happy ending?
AH: No. Not at all. I see it as a realistic ending. For me it was the only way the film could end. I could have gone the whole 'Garden State' route but I would have hated myself. I'm not a pessimist but I am a realist. I think we need to see how life really is on screen and not how we would like to be. It leads to a lot less disappointment in life.
Lb: So, with so many great accolades for "Weekend" well in the bag already, where next?
AH: I'm writing a few things at the moment, both very different from Weekend, in story at least. One is an adaptation of a book set in Oregon and the other is a drama based in the UK about a retired couple and a dead girl in the ice.
Lb: Thanks, Andrew. We wish you all the best and look forward to seeing your new films!
TRAILERS : GREEK PETE & WEEKEND
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