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Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | “Weekend” Director Andrew Haigh

Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | "Weekend" Director Andrew Haigh

On a Friday night after hanging out with his straight mates, Russell heads out to a gay club, alone and on the pull. Just before closing time he picks up Glen and that weekend, in bars and in bedrooms, getting drunk and taking drugs, telling stories and having sex, the two men get to know each other. It is an encounter that will resonate throughout their lives. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the SXSW Narrative, Documentary and Emerging Visions sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 SXSW Film Conference and Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

Emerging Visions
Director: Andrew Haigh
Producer: Tristan Goligher
Cast: Tom Cullen, Chris New
Screenwriter: Andrew Haigh
Cinematographer: Urzula Pontikos
Editor: Andrew Haigh
Sound: Tim Barker

Responses courtesy of “Weekend” director Andrew Haigh.

On how filmmaking became a part of his life…

I’m not sure to be honest apart from I was obsessed by films when I was younger and I remember vividly how I felt when watching them, the emotional impact they had on me. I spent a lot of time when I was a kid hidden away in my bedroom drawing all these incredibly detailed film posters making up all kinds of stories in all types of genre. Like most directors, I think I was either a control freak or a fragile ego-maniac in the making convinced I had something worth saying because I always made myself the lead actor as well as most of the crew. I wouldn’t dream of being in my own films now but I’m sure you have to be some kind of control freak to want to make films, however amazing a job it is. 

“A different kind of gay themed film”…

I really wanted to make a different kind of gay themed film. I didn’t want to tell just another story of coming out or the effects of violent prejudice. While these stories have their place I feel there is more to say about the modern gay experience than that. So I suppose my starting point was to tell a simple and authentic love story that also explored the more subtle issues that can affect gay people in society. I was interested in the emotional weight of feeling and being different and the struggle that comes from trying to find a place within the wider world. Essentially I wanted to ask how hard it is to live an authentic life especially when faced with the pressure to conform from all around. Of course this has a more universal resonance than just about being gay and that was very intentional. I just hope that people who wouldn’t normally see a film about gay people will give this one a shot. In terms of the evolution of the idea it took a lot of re-writes and revisions, all the time trying to keep the themes of the piece bubbling under the surface and not taking away from the central relationship and the simplicity of that idea. After all, it is this that drives the story forward, the believability of the love story. 

Striving for authenticity…

The key for us was always authenticity and the approach all came from this idea. We adopted a near documentary simplicity. We shot no coverage with most scenes being just one shot and with no editing within a scene. We obviously used no sets but went further than that by simply throwing our actors into real locations, into clubs and bars, into a late night fairground, all with regular people rather than extras surrounding them. There was always a script and we stayed pretty close to that throughout but the cast were always given the freedom to improvise around what was written, to try different things. We also made sure the crew stayed small and simple, no more than 12 people. I really think all of this helped create a natural tone to the film that would have been hard to achieve with more traditional methods.

Getting past the biggest hurdle: funding…

The budget was very small and even though we were being very financially responsible in relation to the expected audience it was still very hard. People did not seem prepared to invest even a small amount in a film with a gay subject matter of this type. Perhaps they found the concept of two men falling for each other not commercial or important enough but it was certainly frustrating especially as these companies actively promote the importance of diverse voices in film-making. Luckily we found some fantastic support from a regional screen agency called EM Media in the UK and they were amazing throughout. 

“Saturday Night, Sunday Morning,”…

We shot on a lot of the same locations as Karel Reisz classic ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’ from 1960. This included the tower-block that served as the key location for our film. It turns out it was built on the exact same spot where the Albert Finney character lived before it was knocked down to make way for new social housing. This was a nice coincidence for us because that film was always an influence. Although obviously the films are very different, both contain a central love story in which the characters are trying to make sense of current social mores, either accepting or rejecting them, conforming or rebelling. Hopefully some of that comes across in our film.

Remaking a French classic?…

I have a few things I’m working on. A film about the disintegration of a marriage following the discovery of a long lost love found perfectly preserved in the ice plus a very loose remake of a French New Wave film that I fear everyone will hate me for. 

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