Camper van holidays in the north of England and murder do not, traditionally, go hand in hand. But trust Ben Wheatley, the mind behind pitch-black breakthrough films "Down Terrace" and "Kill List," to bring them together for his third feature film, "Sightseers." From a script by British comedians Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (who workshopped the characters on the U.K. circuit for years), and executive produced by Edgar Wright, the film is a darkly funny, curiously moving film that drew rave reviews when it premiered at Cannes (including our own).
"Sightseers" is now making its way through festivals in the rest of the world, stopping at the Toronto International Film Festival last week for the film's North American premiere, and we took the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Wheatley. You can find out what he said about upcoming projects like "A Field In England," "Freak Shift" and "I, Macrobane" here, and below, you'll find discussion of the genesis of "Sightseers," his partly-improvised process, and the director's prolific work rate. Read on for more.
So how did the script for "Sightseers" find its way into your hands?
Through Nira Park, and Big Talk, who produced "Shaun of the Dead" and "Spaced." They'd seen "Down Terrace," and got a meeting there, and they said "Do you want to do this" and I was like, "Oh, i know that, cos I've seen the short film, and I knew Alice and Steve." So I said "Yes, sounds good." I'd written a comedy that we were teeing up to do next anyway, we were going to do them back to back, but that didn't happen. But I wanted to do a comedy, basically.
No, it was different. They did a lot of drafts, in development, and when I came on board, I looked at them all. Also, the structure of it wasn't too dissimilar from "Kill List," in many ways, a couple driving around, meeting characters and knocking them off (laughs), so we've learnt quite a lot from that about how not to do it. So Amy Jump, who'd co-written "Kill List" with me, restructured the script, and added a few characters in, changed some bits around. But on top of that, we did some improvisation, so when we got back in the edit suite, we had tons and tons of material, which Amy and I edited it down. So that was really the final version of the rewrite.
Was a lot of material cut out, then?
There was tons and tons of scenes that were in the script. But we were conscious that in "Down Terrace" we never got out of the house, on "Kill List" we spent half an hour in the house, so we wanted to get out the fucking house. There was great stuff, like a great dinner party scene like in the other two movies. But we felt like we'd done it before, it was adding extra shades to the characters, but we really needed to get on with the story.
Will we see any of that on the DVD?
I think so, but not necessarily the long, uncut improv. But there's whole other sequences that got dropped, just because of pacing stuff. There were whole characters that went, they were really funny, but we just couldn't find the time.
What sort of films did you watch for inspiration, in the run up to shooting?
Actually, the films I watched for "Kill List" were the same I watched for "Sightseers." "Grey Gardens," the Maysles Brothers documentaries, and D.A. Pennebaker stuff, that kind of looseness of observation documentary, before [the form] became all shaky and camcorder-y.