Reuniting the writer and director of Calendar Girls The Wedding Video is a mockumentary take on the traditional wedding rom-com genre, with a lot of the film being shot by Rufus Hound, making his feature acting debut for Nigel Cole’s latest film.
He appears as the wayward Raif, brother to Robert Webb’s Tim whose nuptials he plans to film and give to the new bride and groom as a present. Things, as you would expect, do not go to plan.
Last September I visited Basildon Park in West Berkshire as it played host to a series of small but significant social disasters caught on camera by Raif and others and there was the hectic air familiar to both movie sets and wedding ceremonies.
I sat down with the writer Tim Firth in a small room housing several back staircases one could imagine playing host to an unending procession of staff and caterers. I knew he was on set a great deal, certainly for a writer. ‘ ‘I get in the way and get told to move on, so I’ve done all of that but then I come into a room and start working on ideas for upcoming scenes. I’m working right now on the last two weeks. They’re not rewrites – you can think “Ok, we’ve got this actor and this is working really well…” I’ve been able to write with their voice in my ear.
‘I always lean to the ensemble naturally, probably because of the work I’ve done for theatre – it’s always fast, and verbal comedy. It has a crosshairs structure, you have the matriarchs of a family, the daughter, mother and grandmother and then running across that you’ve got the matrix of another family which is two brothers and his best mate – it’s like two arrows hitting in mid air.
A familiar scene was beig set, however the filming style was key to getting the film made.
‘This one has been set up a completely different way – I tried to write this as a more conventional way, I couldn’t get a handle on it. When Nigel and James [Gay-Rees, producer] were working on it together and Nigel said “I wish someone would buy me a camera and let me shoot this bloody thing myself” and the skies cleared – that’s what it should be – it should all be a wedding video. Instantly everything starting working better – that was the big player. It meant that we had a script we were happy with but knowing that we might find things en route and might ask the actors to find things in the room and the structure of the filming would alow us to do that.
It was written differently – you were constantly asking yourself why are you filming this. We watched Blair Witch, Spinal Tap and Drop Dead Gorgeous and all those fake documentaries but we still asking ourselves what is the presence of the camera in this story?Gradully you realise that the camera is truth, the camera is power, it never lies… so whoever has the camera has the power. Emotionally that’s a fantastic thing to have.’
This was a sentiment echoed by the director Nigel Cole and setting ourselves down in a another back room (which may, or may not, have been a location for Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice – the windows were full West) I found that the film’s conception, and the subsequent break from convention, offered up its own set of challenges.
‘Tim and I were working on this wedding comedy and it wasn’t working – we knew we had some great jokes and moments but it didn’t gel. I was keen to do an ultra low budget film, using all the latest digital technology and the two ideas met with The Wedding Video. It’s scary though… It’s scary because I can’t use any of my normal tricks. Lighting, moving the cameras, crane shots, lots of coverage… it’s all out of the window.
Comedy is all about timing of course and normally when you shoot a scene you think you’ll be able to play about with the timing in the edit. Now all I can do is cut the clapperboard off the front of it and that’s about it.
There are other crews, other wedding videographers and at times there are guests who have their own cameras. Then, at the end, everyone has a camera. So I’m going for a 100 camera shoot and I’ll edit it all together. It’ll be fun. I’ll finally be Ridley Scott! When I was doing Made in Dagenham we didn’t have much money and I wanted a second camera some days, and I was talking to an extra who had just come off Robin Hood, the Ridley Scott film, and I asked her what she was doing and she said she was just an extra feeding chickens, but he had her doing that all day with five cameras on her. But I don’t think anyone’s done a 100 camera shoot. Editors like that sort of thing, digging for gold.
‘One of the reasons I did this film was because I wanted to have fun. Made in Dagenham was a joy to do, but it was a stressful shoot. It’s scary but liberating and it plays to the cast’s strength. They are all great improvisers, and we’re not improvising this film but you need to be on your toes. I picked the best actors for the job, I picked Rufus Hound because he’s the best actor for the part and I was amazed because he’s known as a television personality and a comedian. But it was his audition where he made me cry. That won him the role. It was a scene where he was explaining how he had screwed up his brother’s wedding and how it had affected him. He started to cry and I started to cry and I said ‘Cut’ and then told him he had the part.’
Scoring a lead role in a British rom-com for his feature debut is no easy task and when I caught Rufus Hound during takes he was pinging from trailer to trailer, set to set, cast member to crew, barely able to quell the boundless excitement. I mentioned to him that I heard he had moved Nigel Cole to tears,
‘Well, I hit him pretty hard.’ It should be said that a trail of laughter followed him around the set, it was clear that he was loving every minute. ‘I’m not a film star, this isn’t another day at work for me. This was a man whose films are artfully made asking me if I wanted to come and play.
‘It seems to me that the people I respect the most are compromised by their own desire because musicians want to be comedians, and comedians want to be rock stars, straight actors want to be funny, funny actors want to do drama. All the time thinking will people take me seriously? And I’ve successfully avoiding being good enough at anything to get pigeonholed… Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of The Flaming Lips once said that Rock and roll can be defined merely as the quest for new experience and it hit me like a lightning bolt when I heard it. Do I want to be a great stand-up? Of course. Do I want to be a great actor? I want to be a GREAT actor, do I want to become a great painter? Sure. Never picked up a brush in my life – but you want to try all of those things.
Finding the ground beneath the feet of his character and that of his brother, played by Robert Webb, was another example of the success of the improvisational work.
‘We did a week of rehearsal with Nigel and not once in that week did we pick up a script. One of the days was Nigel wanting to rehearse a scene that wasn’t in the script. Robert [Webb] and I are brothers and we haven’t seen each other for a while, and the scene in the film is us in his flat after all this time. But in order to get to the flat we had to get in a lift, and that’s the scene we rehearsed. The third time we did that scene it felt right. There was a distance between us as brothers, and yet even though we hadn’t dealt with the issues we’d still call each other a twat. That’s how brothers are.’
Webb concurred, and was quick to explain the distinct choice of perspective the film takes,
‘I’m at pains to say it’s not quite Point of View, we’re not looking into the lens, I’m concerned it’s going to look like Peep Show, so I look slightly to the side of the camera… So people won’t go “Why’s Jeremy in a suit…?” I mean he’s not Jeremy but he does look and sound like him.
There was an air of cautious excitement here, less exuberant than his on-screen brother. It’s clear that the film, in Webb’s words the story of ‘the course of not-quite true love, running not smoothly’, had cast its leading men very well indeed and the tone struck on set, while not to everyone’s natural style, was a lot of fun to work with.
‘There is a lot of improvisation, which is unusual for me. In a lot of the TV stuff I do there’s no room for improvisation and you usually start out of sequence. So I’m used to that and here I’m like writer’s pet saying ‘Can we do it to script?’ or ‘I’m waiting for my cue!’, being very polite and so I’m quite well cast as Tim because he’s by no means a rule breaker, I think he’s getting married because it’s the course of least resistence.’
In adopting the mockumentary format, jettisoning the conventional and brining in a semi-improvisational style as well as having the writer on set, tinkering as the cameras roll it seems that the path of least resistance is being well traversed on the way down this particular aisle.
The Wedding Video is out in the UK tomorrow. Our review will be posted this afternoon.