The Maze Runner – Director Wes Ball Interview

The Maze Runner – Director Wes Ball

“My job coming in to this was to give the studio a franchise. My goal as a filmmaker was to make a good movie, so the puzzle for me was how to make both of those things happen” – Wes Ball

Wes Ball knows the score when it comes to the franchise machine. His debut feature film is The Maze Runner and shooting has already begun on the sequel, leaving the third as a practically done deal. Around a crowded round table with the remnants of lunch being picked at by assembled journalists, sits Wes Ball.

How long were you shooting for?

We shot for 8 weeks, which was a very short time to do our film. It was intense, but it was fun too. Some of those limitations help you, working in those parameters can help force out some creative ideas, but sometimes you can be frustrated at the compromises. That’s what we had, and what we tried to do the best with.

This is your first feature film and it’s shot very emotionally, especially since we’re given no information about the world outside the Glade. How did you go about putting that emotion on-screen?

I interpreted it as an experience. You’re on the ride with the main character (Thomas) and we see everything through his eyes. There’s only one scene in the movie where we cut away from what Thomas sees, it’s through his point of view. I like that idea of not spoon-feeding the audience, and I liked being on the journey with them and doing the best we could to make something entertaining, intense, fun and with moments that make you grab onto your seat. I wanted people to fall in love with these characters in some small way so that we can continue telling the story for the rest of the movies. My job coming into this was to give the studio a franchise. They’ve got a series of books and they want a franchise, and that was my job. My goal as a filmmaker was to make a good movie, so the puzzle was how to do both of these things happen. We did the best with the resources we had, and our great cast, and hopefully, we’ll get to tackle the ideas the ideas that we don’t fully explore in the first one. The next one picks up right where this one leaves off, and you basically get this four-hour movie and this crazy journey the characters go through.

What can you tell us about the future of the franchise, and your involvement? There’s definitely enough groundswell for a big future. Are you waiting for the phone to ring?

Well, I have options of what to do next. Fortunately enough people inside the industry have seen the film to know that I can, you know, use a camera? Right now, we’re prepping the sequel. The fan screenings have shown that people definitely want to see the movie made, and that’s partly by design. At first, I wasn’t going to do the sequel, but I couldn’t pass up on the chance to work with these actors again. We’re [3] weeks away from shooting right now. We’re in New Mexico and we’ve got stages, crew, script on its third draft already, it’s freakin’ massive. We’re changing a little bit from the book and I’ve spoken to James Dashner, the author. We’re rearranging things slightly to make sure this really has a nice trajectory because books more meandering that a movie can be. So, we’ve got kick-ass movie monsters and it picks up right where the last one left off, there’s a sense of growing up in the movie, it’s more mature, deeper, more sophisticated. The scale is way bigger than the last one, in terms of resources and time too. The first movie’s very contained, there’s no horizon in the movie.

Metaphorically, and literally, contained. (How’s that for symbolism?)

There’s basically three locations in the maze, which was a challenge on its own – keeping things moving when you only have three places to shoot. The next movie is a journey movie. It’s about kids on the run, they’re fugitives in a dangerous environment trying to figure out what the hell’s going on. The Maze Runner’s high school: [Thomas] is thrust into a new world, with no identity, but he latches onto one, navigating dangers, then you find yourself in another new world and you’re out of the frying pan and into the fire again. The next movie is more college, experimentation, about growing up and discovering who you are as a person and how you fit into the world. There’s the mythology that we hint at too that gets delved into more. If people can be patient with us and take the ride, it’ll be a lot of fun.

The Maze Runner 1

Your earlier short film, Ruin (which has since been picked up by 20th Century Fox to be transformed into a full-length feature) also has a fascination with dystopias. What attracts you to the post-apocalypse settings for films?

I think there’s something romantic about the idea of the reset and the idea of a world where you’re self-reliant, a world of treasure. It’s the same thing as the Arthur C. Clarke quote “Anything you don’t understand is indistinguishable from magic”. With the Maze Runner, you don’t know it’s post-apocalyptic. It’s a little bit Lord Of The Flies maybe.

How closely were you working with the writer of the novels, James Dashner?

After the studio saw Ruin, they gave me Maze Runner. I wanted to do something different with it but obviously I wanted to stay as close as I could to the book, respect the fans and give them what they want to see. After I wrote the second or third draft, I brought James in and told him what I wanted to do. He understood that we wanted to make a movie and that a movie isn’t a book – they don’t have to replace each other, they can operate side by side. I would go to him and ask “Do you think fans would miss this if I took it out?” and “What about this tweak, and that thing, and that cut?”. He was really excited when we brought him out to The Glade, he could see his entire world. I also brought him out to the scoring sessions with the composer John Paesano. He trained under John Williams, worked with Hans Zimmer and he’s got this unique mix of old-school charm with modern edginess, and James got to see some of the scenes with a full orchestra in the background, which was…phenomenal. There’s something special about a live orchestra that you don’t get in cinemas.

The soundtrack plays a big part in the film, it directs the mood like a soundtrack should. Could you tell us a bit about the soundtrack of the film and how you used it?

I day-dream really well with soundtracks. I typically design scenes to soundtracks, so when I was looking for someone to compose this movie I wanted someone different from the “Hans Zimmer sound”. That’s no knock against what people are doing these days, but a lot of people have followed him with the driving engine, adrenaline, pulse type soundtracks. I wanted themes, character emotion and that kind of thing, and John Williams used to do that. The Jurassic Park soundtrack was the first soundtrack I ever bought. I spoke to John a lot about that, and coming from that school, he understood. If you listen to the score in its entirety, there’s a true character and whole story playing out on its own. I hope it’s not too over-the-top, but there’s all these different genres that emerge through the textures of the sound. Again, we’re basically setting it up for the next score.

The Maze Runner 2

Were there any other challenges in production?

Being tied to source material meant that I couldn’t do what I necessarily wanted to do. This is a franchise, and there’s a certain structure that needs to be in place. That was tough to navigate personally. Secondly, there was the problem of resources. I think all directors have this, you can never do all the things you want to do, you have to compromise, but sometimes, I really felt it. We’re actually a fairly small budget film for what we’re trying to achieve, so that was difficult too. My imagination tends to be very expensive. Sometimes good things come out of that restriction though.

Well, even with the restrictions you still physically constructed the Glade, which looked remarkable. How difficult was it?

We went out and scouted for somewhere that had real character. Eventually we found this place: we were travelling through this guy’s cow patch and up to a line of trees. I thought “Guys, is this it? This is what you want to show me?” But then it dropped down into this swamp, so when you emerge into that and walk out of the hill, you come into The Glade. There was this little fence of trees on the edges, and it felt like the walls. The hedge was about a hundred foot tall and it wasn’t solid or anything, but you felt closed in and it felt right.

It was fantastic. The thing I said to myself when I was making this film was “I’m not making Twilight”. I wasn’t this teeny-bopper, polished, bubblegum thing with bright colours. I wanted to make something that was dark and moody and sweaty and gritty. It was important that the sweat in the film was real sweat. I think there’s a cool beauty in that.

And finally, what was the favourite scene that you directed?

That’s like choosing your babies, I don’t know. There was one particular scene from the book that got me wanting to make the movie. The scene in question has this cool idea of having kids needing to make adult decisions for the group. That was a scene that was so intense, brutal and merciless, you know? If they were going to let me do that, put that kind of scene into a kids movie essentially, I just wanted to do it. It helped me to not see it as a kids movie, but rather a movie with kids in it. There’s little character scenes too, just two kids on a log talking and seeing that type of life happening. It was a learning experience for me as a filmmaker, but we shot it so fast that it’s all crammed together and I’m dying to see the making-of’s of the days on set and think “Oh yeah, that scene, I remember how that one went”. Right now, it’s all kind of a blur.

The Maze Runner is in UK cinemas now.

For more from Peter visit his website at roomtoreview.co.uk

The Maze Runner – Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster Interview

The Maze Runner - Dylan O'Brien, Will Poulter, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster

The Maze Runner is the latest in YA dystopian adaptations and follows Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), who finds himself with amnesia in a community of teenage boys in The Glade. Their field is enclosed by four giant walls which open into the maze that surrounds them and is patrolled at night by the bio-mechanical monsters, the “Grievers”. With the addition of Thomas, the Gladers are forced to head into the maze and investigate who put them there, and what their motives are.

Peter sat down with cast members Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster to talk about the film.

Dylan, how do you approach a character who has no memories of who he was?

Dylan O’Brien: My favourite thing about it is the discovery. The audience is able to watch a character and discover the things that he never ever knew about himself before in his previous life as he cannot remember. He’s the “Greenie”, the new guy and the audience kind of experiences that too. Through his perspective obviously and learns as he goes, and then to watch him discover these leadership qualities, the real qualities that he has is a really cool thing. The way you approach it I guess it just honestly, as honest as you can. That is all you have to work with in that sort of situation.

How do you feel about your growth as an actor and taking on such a big project?

Dylan: I feel comfortable. From day one, I loved the script and the story, I thought it could be something cool and interesting. The first thing I saw was that you two [Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter] were attached to it, and Kaya as well. Then I met Wes, and saw his vision for the film, it was easy to feel comfortable, everyone was so good at what they were doing and bringing to the table that I was confident. I wanted to live up Wes’ vision and keep up with everyone else.

Thomas, looking back through your career, you’ve already played an extraordinary variety of characters. Were there any new challenges in Newt’s portrayal?

Thomas Brodie-Sangster: The same with any character that comes along. The fun thing about what we get to do is messing around playing all sort of people. People that existed, people that exist in a book and fans already have a specific idea of who they are – so you have to work with that. It takes a bit of juggling, but it’s all part of the fun. All I was told was that Newt was the nice guy, he still had the English accent, and he had a bit of a limp. So I just played around with that really.

Will, in terms of contrast, how did you feel going from your hilarious role in We’re The Millers, to this much more serious, straight role?

Will Poulter: I felt lucky to have something quite different. I love the actor’s actors, those people who can do a mixture of stuff, all of that versatility, which I don’t feel I have, but I wish to aspire to and keep people guessing by choosing a role that is different from the one before and hope that all goes well.

Had you read any of the books before being auditioned or cast?
Will: Like Dylan, I slightly freaked out when I got halfway through reading it because there wasn’t total synergy between my character, the script and the book, but I think the script is adapted well and the best-loved features have been translated perfectly. From an acting perspective it was tricky, on and off set we would talk about how our characters didn’t have that “thing” anymore. We’d go back and forth over what was just in the book, and what we were confusing with what. So I actually stopped reading it, but finished it afterwards, and then also The Scorch Trials [next book in the series] – which is pretty insane!

Gally cares a lot about Glader traditions, he’s attached to the environment and protecting the Glader community, so do you think he had a hand in creating these traditions? What sort of person do you see him as?

Will: He was one of the first boys up, so I feel it was naturally part of building that hierarchy because physically too, he is a builder. There’s a few things that I identify with, but I hope there aren’t too many similarities. There is a strong by-the-book quality about him, he’s pedantic, likes order and finds comfort in the hierarchy. He’s an enforcer of that but he has power struggle issues too. He struggles with his superiors, Alby particularly, and he sees an opportunity to set up his own kind of revolt. I think a lot of that also comes from fear, he is ultimately a coward and he likes that protective bubble, he’s scared that one day they will need to leave the oasis and leave the maze.

What was it like shooting those scenes between your two characters, Newt and Gally? There is so much tension there and it could have went to quite a dark place, did you keep it wrapped up or try to use it?

Thomas: There was, but there is also a big mutual respect between the two characters. Newt respects Gally’s opinion because he likes to hear what everyone has to say, he is an open person and sees everyone for who they are and how they can be best fitted into this establishment. He sees people as how they can help, and how he can help. He could completely shun Gally away, but Newt has a different way of dealing with things.

Will: By the way, I am awful with politics, but if you’re going to put it in political terms, Thomas and Newy come across as more democratic, and consider everybody views and strive for a bit more collaborative running of the Glade. Once there’s a threat to the idea of staying in the Glade forever then Gally becomes a dictator in a way and tells people what they’re doing, and leads the revolt. Wes always said Gally and Thomas are two sides to the same coin, and it really nearly kicks off because there is some serious tension, so that was really fun too.

How did you find the green screen CGI-heavy scenes?

Dylan: Wes was so animated. He describes what’s out there, in such a way that you want to crack up. He is so detailed, we’d hear him shouting “IT’S COMING AT YOU, [BANG BANG CRASH] AHH!”. You could understand what is happening exactly, and we also had a great balance of having real worlds that we were shooting in. The Glade was built, and geographically specifically too. The entire thing that you see in the film is exactly like that. Nothing is cheated, we actually had the door there to go into the maze, the box in the ground, a tree house, they even grew a cornfield! The visual effects are just the icing on the cake. Having this real environment to feel a part of was really important to Wes. He would paint a picture for you when you were shooting, he’d draw sketches that looked incredible.

Will: I don’t use the words visionary and genius lightly, but they do genuinely apply to Wes Ball. We all feel really lucky to get to work with him at this stage of his career, so that we can say we worked with Wes Ball on his first feature film.

Is Wes signed on to direct any of the future films?

Dylan: Hopefully! He’s so passionate about it, he’s adopted this project as his baby.

Last one. Any humorous stories from the set that you can share with us?

Dylan: It was like being at summer camp with ten of your best friends! In one of the hotels, we had BB guns, but I decided to go out and get an M16…

Will: It was the size of a sofa! We were all running around with pistols and stuff, but Dylan comes out in the hallway, looking like a drug-free Scarface, and sprays the hallway! Getting lots of M16 BB bullets in my back was a good prank. Somehow, he kept it a secret too. Did you keep it under your bed?

Dylan: It was so hard for me to keep from telling everybody. Thomas came into my room and I whispered “I got to show you something” … and I said “you cannot tell anyone, but I am going to whip it out when we play tonight”. At one point, a security guard came up, it’s two in the morning and we’re running around this hotel shooting with our air-soft-guns. (We were the only ones in the hotel though). We were immediately like “Oh no, we really sorry”, as if we were in trouble, but he just said “Y’all rehearsing. That’s okay. Do you think you could keep it down? How long are y’all supposed to be doing this for?”. We were so shocked. “An hour or so?”

Will: He was so kind! He said “I can organise a place that y’all can play, like a conference room?” but I said “No, this is better for the film and stuff”, so he walks away and we’re left pretending we’re rehearsing! “Okay, let’s take it from the top.”

The Maze Runner is in UK cinemas now.

For more from Peter visit his website at roomtoreview.co.uk

Matt Thorne – Interview

8 Minutes Idle

Last night I sat down with novelist and screenwriter Matt Thorne to talk about the upcoming film 8 Minutes Idle for which Matt not only wrote the original novel but co-wrote the screenplay as well. 8 Minutes Idle is a dark British comedy about a man called Dan who is forced to start sleeping in the call centre where he works after being kicked out of his home by a knife-wielding mother.

Squeezing in twenty minutes on his way to the film’s premiere (it hits selected cinemas this Friday) Matt answered my questions on writing, film-making, and of course his favourite carbs…

On basing 8 Minutes Idle on a personal experience:

It’s sort of two experiences that came together at once. When I finished university I went to an employment agency and asked what job I could get. They sent me to a call centre and I started working there. I had sold a novel but it was going to be a year and a half before it came out so I just needed to make some money. I wanted to carry on writing so I swapped from the day shift to the night shift and for a while I was doing the day shift and the night shift and I thought “well this is only one step away from actually sleeping in the office”. I didn’t actually do the sleeping in the office but I fictionalised it and imagined a character who did. At the same time my dad had a car accident and I just imagined a story spilling out from there.

On getting a film made of the novel:

It was optioned when it originally came out and I wrote a very different screenplay then. It was optioned by a few people over the years with various ideas; some people wanted to turn it into a TV series, some people wanted to do it as a film. Nicholas Blincoe, my co-writer on the screenplay, was on an mp3 swapping site with the producer Sarah Cox and she told him that there was an iFeatures coming up for a film set in Bristol. So that was the starting point of it happening again. Nicholas and I met with the producer and director and then with iFeatures the four of you are kept together throughout the whole process so we were talking and thinking about it from then on. I optioned it to Sarah’s production company and we started again.

On adapting the novel into a screenplay:

It was a long process. It went through a lot of different drafts along the way. iFeatures had a series of training programs and part of the program was getting a sense that you’ve got to be very clear with genre in film. You’ve got the changes that are immediately a part of that, and the novel is 500 pages and the film’s a ninety minute film. It is hard to get everything into those ninety minutes so what we did was we split the narrative into two. The narrative [from the novel] about Dan when his dad gives him names of seven women that he has to go and track down – that whole plot is gone from the film.

8 Minutes Idle Knife

On whether he enjoyed the writing process:

I really liked it because … with a novel you never know whether it has worked until it comes out and the only people you have to listen to are your editor and your agent. With a film the point at which you find out whether it works or not is when you’re showing it to an audience, particularly if it’s a comedy. Are people laughing, are people not laughing? You can fight in the room and say “somebody will get this joke somewhere” but when you see it and everyone sits there baffled you think “well OK”. I enjoyed that process because it’s something I’d never done before. Previously I didn’t really mind whether people liked my novels or not I was just delighted to be writing them. With a film there’s more people on whose approval the project depends.

On how he feels about the finished film:

I don’t want to say I was surprised to be happy because it’s not that. It’s more a sense that I am really pleased with the way it turned out. There are so many stages along the way where you don’t know whether it is going to turn out OK. There are so many intangibles on a film. I think Mark has done a brilliant job of direction but it was his first film so I didn’t know what to expect until we saw it. I have a few friends who’ve had films that haven’t turned out the way they wanted so I was really pleased with how it turned out.

On whether he was on set for the filming:

A little bit, they kicked me off near the beginning because they wanted to give Mark time to establish himself as a director. I think, without taking any credit for anything other than the writing, I was more involved than most writers would be in terms of what they allowed me to do. They were very good about that because writers are annoying on certain projects. The first time I went down to the set they had the script and they were crossing out what they couldn’t do that day and I could see why they didn’t want me to see that because they thought I was going to go mad.

8 Minutes Idle Fishtank

On getting involved with more films:

I’d love to. There’s only one of my other novels that really lends itself to film adaptation which is a book of mine called Cherry and I’d love that to be made into a film. Equally I’d like to do something new. Since finishing the film I’ve written a TV script and some TV treatments for new projects and if any of those got greenlit then I’d be delighted to do that for a while.

On allowing someone else to adapt one of his novels:

I would for any novel apart from Cherry because Cherry is the one that I’d really like to do. Any other I’d be happy to let somebody else do it, so long as I got some money for it. You don’t want the money for money’s sake but you want the money so that the person’s serious. Some of my other books there have been screenplays, there was a really good screenplay written by a guy called Steve Barron for a book of mine called Dreaming of Strangers. He wrote this screenplay for that and I loved it, I really loved it.

On writing original screenplays versus novels:

The media is changing all the time. When I started writing novels it was partly because it was the easiest way to reach an audience quickly. Now it’s quite hard. If you write a novel now a lot of the time you need to promote it so much more. It’s still a struggle to get people to see your film, we’ve experienced that the hard way, but it does seem to be slightly easier than publishing a novel and making it reach readers. I would still like to write more novels in the future but at the moment the visual side is taking over.

8 Minutes Idle Golf

On being a disciplined writer:

I haven’t been recently but I used to be. I sat down at a desk every day for nine years and wrote six novels and three children’s books but recently I’ve just started thinking in a different way. I think when you’re writing a novel you really need to shut everything out and its becoming increasingly hard to do that. I think I’d quite like to keep doing more collaborative stuff and then after a while go back there and shut the door and start writing a novel again.

On the possibility of directing:

I don’t think I have the temperament for it but I really like being as involved as I was. Everyone knows as a writer you are shut out of the process at a certain point and I’d like to not be shut out of the process If that meant being a director then yes but it’s not where my natural inclination would go.

On Kickstarter, which was used to fund the release of 8 Minutes Idle:

It seems to be useful in terms of backing independent films and it seems as though all these Kickstarter films have a certain quality and it’s the same quality that I used to look for. I think if Sex, Lies, and Videotape was made now it would be a Kickstarter film so it feels like that it helps that.

And to finish we have Matt’s answers to our soon to be famous Lee Questionnaire:

What is your favourite carb?
Bread. I eat far too much bread. In fact I eat bread for every meal if possible
What’s the first thing you ate this morning?
I didn’t have any breakfast this morning so the first thing I ate was some whitebait which I know sounds odd
What’s the first thing you said this morning?
I was talking to my children. They came in to say that they hope that the premiere went well
If you could be any stationery product what would you be and why?
A pen
If you were to die tomorrow who would you like to punch in the face before you go?
Whoever was the cause of me dying tomorrow

Shane Carruth – Interview

Shane Carruth - Upstream Colour

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to speak to Shane Carruth about his new film Upstream Colour. As a big fan of his first feature Primer I was excited to speak to the auteur and a little nervous in case he asked me what I thought of his new film; I’ve written the review and I’m still not entirely sure what I think. Naturally this combination of excitement and nerves meant that I failed to record the interview properly and am forced to rely on my notes instead. Ever the professionals here at Mild Concern

I began our conversation by making myself sound slightly foolish. It being nine years since Primer I asked Carruth if he had intended to leave it so long before making his second feature and was met with some friendly sarcasm, “I was trying to hold out for a full decade but accidentally turned a camera on and started shooting.” Suitably, and frankly charmingly, chastised I moved on to ask about A Topiary which was the failed production that took up much of the last nine years for Carruth. He described how he had wasted a lot of years working on the film and waiting for funding to be finalised but that “financing was always just a few weeks away but never came together”.

An entry on Carruth’s IMDb page, vital research territory for any interviewer, credits him as receiving special thanks on Rian Johnson’s time travel masterpiece Looper. I asked about his involvement in the film and he confessed than he had “very little material involvement.” Aside from working on some cloud like special effects for when Bruce Willis’ character’s past is changing (these weren’t used which is why you can’t remember them) Carruth was mostly on hand to help Johnson as a friend and check the script’s time travel logic. Anyone who has seen Primer will know that time travel logic is something of an area of expertise for Carruth.

Upstream Colour - Shane Carruth

After the failure of A Topiary Carruth considers himself lucky to have had another project to fall back on in the form of Upstream Colour. When I asked if the success of Primer had made the financial negotiations any easier I was met with a wry laugh. After Primer Carruth had failed to finance A Topiary and so when it came to Upstream Colour there was no funding to get; instead the whole production was financed by Carruth and some friends.

Having struggled to describe the plot of Upstream Colour to anyone since seeing the film I asked if Carruth was able to give me a quick synopsis. His answer was simple, “I wouldn’t try to summarise it”. He went on to explain that a synopsis can describe exactly what happens in a plot but it still won’t accurately describe the film. After reading a synopsis you will either watch the film and think it is far better than the description or that it is far worse than you expected. I have to agree with Carruth here as I will never be able to convey the experience of Upstream Colour to you unless you go and watch it for yourself. Please do. I need to talk to you about it.

Wanting to reassure myself I asked Carruth if we should expect to fully understand the film in one sitting. “No.” Shane very interesting described the film he had tried to make as being like “literature” rather than a film; “you should trust that the film has not been put together without any thought and trust the director to take you on a journey”. I felt like he was speaking directly to me (well… he was) as someone who was perhaps trying to over think the film and so struggled to enjoy it. The comparison to literature is an interesting one as Carruth is not a film maker who limits himself to the conventions of cinema and require plenty of re-examination and ready between the lines. If Upstream Colour were a text it would have a hell of a lot of subtext to go with it*.

Upstream Colour - Shane Carruth 2

With Carruth so far having taken on so many roles in his films including but not limited to writing, acting, and directing I wanted to know if there was any role in particular he preferred. Carruth replied that writing and directing were his main passions and that after this latest film that composing music for a film had become part of the process. They are all parts of the whole creative film making process and from our conversation I can safely say that Carruth has no plans to ever be less involved in any of his future films. I mooted the idea of him writing a film and letting someone else direct or him directing someone else script and the response was a simple “no”.

Before the interview I had asked on Twitter if anyone had any questions for Carruth. Only one sensible response came in, more on the less sensible replies shortly:

Mark Tweet

When I raised the idea of Kickstarter, something we have looked at on this blog, Carruth seemed intrigued but cautious. “I’m not really comfortable with the idea of having a fan base,” he explained and said that he didn’t like the idea of people donating money in exchange for getting a sticker with the film’s logo on it. Carruth is keeping his eye on the situation and hopes that there will be a model where “fans” or their equivalent can properly invest in a film rather than simply donate to it.

And then we have Stephen’s question…

Stephen Tweet

Thankfully Carruth took the question in the spirit it was intended and replied with deadpan wit, “I wasn’t always like this. It took years and years of practise.”

Shane Carruth was a very friendly man to chat to and was remarkably funny and unpretentious. I may have struggled with Upstream Colour but it is clear to me that this is a case of someone genuinely trying to make art in the form of a film for the sheer love of it. Carruth puts his money where his mouth is and makes only the films he wants to make. Upstream Colour is on limited release from 30th August 2013 and you should see it so that you can explain it to me.

To close we have our soon to be traditional quick fire round that inevitably requires more thought than the rest of the interview:

The Lee Questionnaire:

What is your favourite carb?
Pizza. (In truth Carruth mentioned a specific Pizzeria that my phone failed to record. Apologies.)
What did you eat this morning?
Coffee, I don’t eat until 1pm
What is the first thing you said this morning?
“Hello” on the phone
If you could be any stationery product what would you be and why?
I just bought a fountain pen which has a really nice weight to it so I would be that
If you were to die tomorrow who would you like to punch in the face before you go?
Whoever invented the plastic packaging that you can’t open with your hands and end up cutting yourself if you try. Not the inventor, it’s not their fault, but whoever insists on continuing to manufacture it

*That sentence makes sense in my head at least

Neil and Rob Gibbons – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa Screenwriters Interview

Neil and Rob Gibbons

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa opened in UK cinemas yesterday and our friends over at AskMen.com have been lucky enough to sit down with the film’s screenwriters Neil and Rob Gibbons to talk about breaking into comedy and working with Steve Coogan on writing Alan Partridge from Mid Morning Matters through to Alpha Papa. They were also kind enough to let us share with you our highlight from the unedited interview so read on below where Neil and Rob discuss how they came to write for UK comedy’s most cringeworthy character and what collaborating with Steve Coogan is really like.

Neil: [Our] new agent sent the scripts to Baby Cow and literally within 48 hours we were sat in front of Henry Normal and Steve Coogan, with them saying “we really like your stuff, I really liked the line about” this or the way you did that.

Rob: When you’ve been struggling to get somewhere and you have those guys not just saying it’s good, but saying a specific line, then you’re just, “wow”. Actually, the line that Steve liked was pretty shit, but, you know.

It was a sitcom about a guy with an imaginary friend, of which there are quite a few around, but they just liked elements of it and some of the lines. So Steve said that he liked the Northern sensibility of it, which fitted with the way he used to do Paul and Pauline Calf. And that he’d been looking for writers for a few years with the same sensibility and quality of lines that could basically bring them back for a one-off. He then asked us if we’d be interested in doing that and coming up with a half-hour show. The meeting finished and we went to the lift. Steve’s assistant followed us out and said, “Boys, I know Steve can be quite forceful. I just wanted to let you know, it’s entirely up to you, you don’t have to say yes and take your time.” And we said, “Oh, thank you. We will, thank you.” And the lifts doors shut and we were like, “Of course we’re going to fucking do it!” So, anyway, we wrote it, but it didn’t for some reason. But from there, we started doing more stuff with them, mainly for the tour he did a few years ago with a lot of his characters.

Neil: At the party after his tour had wrapped up, Steve said that he was planning on Alan doing this travelogue programme, where he rediscovers the old Britain through blacksmiths and stuff like that. But the germ of that idea we later brought back for Places of My Life. But he seemed to like our Partridge style. There’s two versions of Alan, one on stage and one “real Alan”. Mid Morning Matters happened quite soon after that. From that point on, we’ve been all Partridge.

Mid Morning Matters

Rob: I remember being in meetings with Steve and improvising Partridge material. You have ten minutes of absolutely nothing and finally you get a great line and feel terrific for the rest of the day. And Neil would say to me the next day, “you realise that was in series two of I’m Alan Partridge, don’t you? I just didn’t want to say in the meetings.” 90% of the time it’s me, Neil and Steve in a room and Armando if he’s around.

Neil: He’s a sort-of godfather. He’s very good at anchoring things back to the Partridge essence. So, if you take too much of a divergence, he’ll close that road.

Rob: With Mid Morning Matters, which were self-contained 12 minute episodes just in the radio studio, we would write a script, take it in, pull it apart with Steve and rebuild it again. But sometimes we start from scratch with Steve in a room. Both times the process is the same, really. You start talking about the joke and why it doesn’t work and then try and improvise ways to fix it. And you have to sort-of do that in an Alan voice.

Neil: Even if you did the best Partridge impression in the world, it’s still going to be rubbish because you’re doing it in front of Alan Partridge.

Rob: But you have to go halfway because otherwise it’s not clear if it’ll work. Sometimes Steve will be “doing Alan” and then he’ll say something like “last night I saw a great episode of Air Crash Investigation,” and you haven’t realised he’s back as Steve. You’ll start writing it done and he’ll say, “Oh, no. That was me.”

Neil: On the day of the shoot, we’d often have to write fresh scripts! Everything we’ve ever done with Steve kinda goes like that. Even when they did I’m Alan Partridge in front of a live audience changes were being made right up until the last-minute.

Rob: And you have to buy into that or you’ll get spat out the other end. I remember on the first day of anything we do Partridge-wise, any new cast or crew just goes a bit pale. There’ll say, “This can’t be how it goes?” The first day of the film, all the assistant directors were just looking around as we’d be doing a take, then stop, change the line again. Get halfway through, stop, change it again. We were getting to somewhere good, but it wasn’t always set it stone when we started shooting it. The crew were all looking around saying, “Surely it can’t be like this for eight weeks?” They were coming up to Neil and I saying, “You’ve done this before, this is a one-off, right?” and we’d say, “No, no, this is quite a good day, actually.” And it went on from there.

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa

Neil: As a writer though, those environments are good though, because you don’t ever become precious about lines. Because you’re writing new lines constantly. Just by its nature, once you start getting into that speed of churn, good stuff gets chucked out when it shouldn’t do. It has its benefits, too, and you come up with some inspired stuff on the day, when you’re there and react to what’s around you on set, but there is some unfortunate wastage. Armando on Twitter at the moment is burning though this 200 page document of unused Alan material. I guarantee that’ll be boiled down from many, many more pages. We’ve probably got more than that each. People ask how many drafts of the movie script did we do and I’m not sure there was ever even in a draft. There was just constantly a swirling cloud of starlings constantly juggling jokes in the air.

Neil: There’s more Mid Morning Matters lined up for early next year. So we’ve got six months. We had the book, the Sky specials and then the movie and I think we lost perspective a bit about what was funny and what was working and what wasn’t.

Rob: I think when you turn up at 6am for a day of shooting on a film and you don’t go home until 9pm and you’re at home doing rewrites until 2am, it’s very easy to think, “Fuck this”. It’s stressful and it’s hard work. But all of it is because we’re fussy and picky about wanting to make it good. It’s painful to do it. Good stuff doesn’t often come out when it’s too easy for you. You should never forget, too, that it’s Partridge. He’s a gift for a writer.

Neil: You hear those stories about American team writing, where you’ve got a ball-breaker sat around a table and it’s very industrial and things get shut down. With Partridge, it’s high pressure and you’ve got to bring your A game and come out with stuff on demand, but it’s always a laugh. It’s a really good laugh.

The rest of this interview detailing how to write comedy can be found at AskMen.com