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South By Southwest 2011 Interview - "Weekend" director Andrew Haigh

Weekend - At SxSW Film
by Jason Whyte

""Weekend" is an unconventional love story; drunken, tender and real, a film about trying to find your place in a very complicated world." Director Andrew Haigh on "Weekend" which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?

This is my first SXSW but not my first festival experience. I've had films at festivals before including Berlin, Edinburgh, London and Frameline San Francisco but SXSW is somewhere I’ve always wanted to play. I find festivals an amazing experience, if at times a little daunting; waiting for people to arrive at the cinema, for the lights to go down, the film to begin, and hoping that the reaction will be good. I'm planning on attending all four of the screenings.

Could you give me a little look into your background, and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

My background is far removed from the film industry and I never really considered it as a career when I was a kid. My dad thought I should get a sensible job in a big company with a lifetime of security. I think it was actually that very idea that led me looking for something else to do with my life. After I left university where I studied history, I slowly worked my way through the industry working mainly as an assistant editor on all kinds of films from Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" to Harmony Korine's "Mister Lonely", until finally I got bored of waiting and started making my own films.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a..."

...rollercoaster designer.

How did this whole project come together?

I had wanted to tell a different type of gay themed story that was not about coming out or dealing with violent prejudice, one that actually spoke of the day-to-day issues of being gay. However rather than this become an issue led film I wanted to weave these ideas into a simple and universal story of people falling for each other. This universality was very important to me and I hope a straight person gets as much from the film as a gay person. After all, for me this film is about the struggle to live an authentic life in whatever form that takes, regardless of sexuality. I spent a long time writing the script, trying to make it feel as real and natural as possible but actually once we got going the project came together quite quickly. My producer, Tristan Goligher, pulled a lot of rabbits out of the hat and managed to make everything run amazingly smoothly.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

The biggest challenge was finding the money unsurprisingly. We decided very early on that we would be financially responsible and make the film for an amount that we knew we could recoup but even then it was hard to get the money. I don't think it was homophobia from investors as such but more a lack of bravery; gay themed work still for some reason has the power to make many people very uncomfortable, they seem unsure of what to do with it or who the audience will be. Luckily we received help from a regional funding body, EM Media, who never had such qualms over the film and where amazingly supportive throughout.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

We decided to shoot on the Canon 5D stills camera, kitting it out with cinema lenses. We shot handheld but with a rig to keep the camera steady. The reasons for choosing the camera was partly financial but it certainly has a beautiful look if it is used properly. With my cinematographer, Ula Pontikos, we devised a very firm set of ideas of how to make the film. We wanted minimal coverage and to utilize long takes with no editing within a scene and when we could, we always used natural light. In fact we approached the film almost as if we were making a documentary, always wanting everything to feel as authentic as possible for the audience but also for the actors. However we never wanted this to become a gritty or depressing slice of life but wanted something gentler, more poetic and tender.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

My inspirations are very wide but in terms of modern filmmakers I would say the likes of Kelly Reichardt, Ramin Bahrani, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Gus Vant Sant. I love films with a simple and yet poetic aesthetic, unafraid to let stories slowly unfold, quietly and without resorting to over-blown technique.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

I personally I'm very happy working within the independent sector and can't imagine that the stories I want to tell would fit too well within the studio system. I’m also not sure I would work well under the pressure of that system with all the constraints that get put upon you. I like working with a crew of about 15, not a crew of 215.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?

I’d work in a bingo hall calling out the numbers.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

I think for a small film it is crucial. In the UK if you make a low budget independent film the reviews you receive from a few certain publications have an enormous effect on the success of the film, in the cinema at least. This is especially the case when you have no money for advertising. If they don't like your film it becomes very difficult. What I'd like to see is an end to the star-rating system in reviews. People have so little time to read things nowadays and will easily skip past a review if it only has two or three stars and in doing so may miss out on something that might really appeal to them.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

The Castro Cinema in San Francisco. It is such a beautiful building with an incredible atmosphere and a massive organ.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

How many times do you really need to see a film in which someone gets their head blown off or a car turns into a robot? Come and see my film because if you don't give new experiences a chance, your life is going to get incredibly boring, very quickly. Either that or I’d give them a free ticket.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie?

When I'm in the cinema watching something I go crazy when people talk or eat or breathe too loudly and have been known to kick their chairs or hide their coats. Saying that when you make a film and it is finished there is nothing you can do, it is out there in the world and however hard you try to control the reaction you can't.

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

I'm not sure I like anything about the 'business' of making films but I certainly love the feeling when things are going well on a shoot, or an edit suddenly works, or you realize that you managed to create a moment that says something you are trying to express. That is what I love. I know my films are not perfect but I know I want to keep making them and keep making them better.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

The best advice I can give is to ignore everyone and do what feels right for you. Everyone's situation is different and you know when it's time to make that leap. For me I just didn't want to wait anymore. We gave ourselves a limited period to find a budget and then we just went ahead and got the film made. Also try and make a film that you care about and that you feel is important rather than try and make something just to impress your peers.

And finally…what is your all time favorite motion picture, and why?

That is almost an impossible question. I have a variety of films in different genres from "Don't Look Now" to "Some Like it Hot", from "Old Joy" to "Movern Callar". If I had to make a choice today I would choose the film "Last Night" by Don McKellar. I saw it in the cinema twice in one week when it came out. What I love is how he takes the genre of a disaster movie and without pretension turns it into a low-key gem about how we deal with the horrible reality of our limited time on earth. A brilliant film.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2011 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 11-19. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/10/11 16:10:42
last updated: 03/10/11 16:11:13
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