By Junsui Films | November 2012
The Actor talks exclusively to Junsui Films about his transition from writer to leading man, the advantages of improvisation, and tells us all about his latest film, SIGHTSEERS…
Junsui Films: How did the idea for Sightseers first come about and what compelled you and [co-writer] Alice Lowe to adapt it into a feature film?
Steve Oram: Sightseers came from an idea Alice and I came up with for a comedy sketch. We performed it live and it went well, so we wrote a short ‘taster’ film with a view to getting TV interest. TV companies found the idea too dark, so we just put the taster up on Youtube. Edgar Wright saw it and thought there was a movie in it. We always knew the characters had potential and that the idea was strong, and as soon as we thought about it in film terms we realised it had potential as a twisted road movie comedy. It seemed a much better fit as a film than on TV.
JF: Having tested the characters of Chris and Tina in various guises how did you and Alice approach the task of writing the screenplay?
We tended to use improvisation as a writing tool. We went on a research trip in a caravan, just the two of us and a cameraman and stayed in character for a week. That was probably the most important part of the writing process as it enabled us to ‘perform’ the characters in the environment. It gave us a great sense of landscape and of where certain scenes could happen. Then, once we had this raw material it was just sitting round the computer shaping the thing.
JF: The ‘road movie’ is a genre typically associated with American cinema. How challenging was it crafting a distinctly British narrative whilst subverting typical genre expectations?
Well, our roads tend to run out quite quickly! But when you actually spend time in places like the Lake District you realise just how epic and dramatic the landscape is, definitely on a par with what the Americans have got. Our challenge was to get the tone right and that mainly comes from the characters I think. We knew it couldn’t be too jokey or throwaway, like an extended sketch, or a ‘road movie’ parody, so we worked hard on making the characters believable and authentic and of the present time. Chris and Tina are hopefully recognisable British types. Both misfits and downtrodden with a lot of pent up anger. The other characters they encounter are also recognisable irritating British types I think.
JF: With such an ambitious blend of romance, comedy and violence, how crucial was it for you and Alice to keep the central characters grounded and relatable in order to sustain a sense of empathy?
Yeah, absolutely key to the film working. It is their love story that drives the narrative, so they had to be believable and the audience had to want to spend time with them. Chris is the knight in shining armour who rescues Tina from her miserable home life and the bond they have is very real. They are underdogs kicking out and expressing themselves, so perhaps that is part of it too. But at the end of the day, despite the horrific things they do, they have a fairly typical relationship with plenty of bickering and power struggles, which I guess most couples can relate to.
JF: At what stage did the project get the green light and how involved were you in the pitching process when trying to secure funding?
It was green lit in Summer 2011 and we shot in October of that year. My and Alice’s only involvement was doing a read through – the hard bargaining was done by our producers.
JF: How did [director] Ben Wheatley come to join the project?
We knew Ben from having worked with him on a TV show called The Wrong Door and knew him socially. He’d just finished Down Terrace which we loved and we were looking for a director, so Nira Park at Big Talk asked him in for a meeting. Ben was such an excellent fit. We share a lot of the same sensibilities. Dark twisted shit, man!
JF: It was Ben’s first time working from a feature script that wasn’t his own. Did this create any obstacles when discussing the visual styling and execution of the narrative?
Ben was very respectful of our vision for the characters and didn’t try to change what we were doing with them. He and Amy Jump tweaked the script and Ben really went to town on the murders, which we had originally thought would be fairly throwaway. I think that has been brilliant, not letting the audience off the hook and showing everything!
JF: How did you find the transition into leading man and what was your experience being directed from a script you wrote?
Nerve-wracking to start with when you turn up on set on day one and there are loads of people running around! But me and Alice had been developing the characters for six years or so, so that’s six years of rehearsal really. We both felt very comfortable with what we were doing. Ben trusted our performances too, so I found the whole thing very relaxed. It was great working in a semi-improvised way and we also had a few of our mates in the film such as Richard Glover, Tony Way, Tom Meeten which helped make the whole thing feel like a family affair.
JF: Were there any stand-out locations that proved particularly inspiring, and how helpful was it shooting the film in chronological order?
Chronological order was fantastic. And with a fast shooting style it was almost like being in a strange play that moved location every ten minutes. All the locations were excellent and evocative in their own way. The Crich Tramway Museum was a particular favourite, as well as the stunning Ribblehead Viaduct. The longest in Europe!
JF: From script to screen how pleased are you with the final cut of the film, and what was it like watching the film with an audience for the first time?
I’m delighted with it. Ben has kept it so pacey and has been ruthless with things that didn’t quite work. If it’s sagging it’s got to go! The music and sound design is also excellent as well as Laurie Rose’s photography. Of course it is slightly different to our script, but that’s the alchemic, collaborative nature of filmmaking. I’m proud that our characters have stayed true to what we envisioned and that we have got the tone right. First time in front of an audience was Cannes in May. No pressure there then!
Sightseers is out now.