What is it?
If you’ve ever seen most of any of the films by Mike Leigh (Happy Go Lucky and Career Girls are two of my favorites), you’ll have seen a film made by a specific creative process which is not the way feature films are normally made.
How it works – the inspiration
The usual way of making movies is to have a script first. From that script, you cast actors that best fit the roles. Then you go into production and film the scenes, edit the film and release it for viewing. As far as I can tell, Mike Leigh doesn’t work from a manifesto like the rules of Dogma 95. Rather, his process seems to be “whatever serves the story, drama, and the creation of authentic characters.” The principle is that two heads are better than one which is to say, Leigh doesn’t rely on one person’s vision, experience, or understanding of the world in order to create the story. Instead, he gathers together a group of actors and the actors choose their characters, guided by Leigh. There is no strict guide for the creation of characters. Sometimes the actor is playing parts of themselves and other times the actor and Leigh choose the character based on someone they know or have observed, even if just briefly. In short, they go with their passions and what they know to create something interesting and authentic.
The actors don’t know what other characters exist in the story when they create their own. Leigh, I’m sure, starts to see the connections and choose what those are going to be. Eg. You two are chums from University, this is your father, etc. The issues between characters and the driving story points and events, and of course all the dialog, come out of the improvisation and rehearsal process. Notes and are taken during this time and Leigh keeps the dialog and story events that he likes and this becomes the script.
How it works – on this project
Leigh’s films are slices from the everyday lives of specific characters. Not unique – we know people like the ones we see in these films but for the sake of drama and story, we get to see them in circumstances that lay bare the deepest nature of the characters. It gives the final product a powerful feeling of authenticity. Many of his films I feel like I could send in a time capsule for aliens to show something of what it’s really like to live as a human, with other humans, in a specific time and place that actually exists. That’s Leigh’s style and choice of character – the sometimes gritty, sometimes happy but always a challenging world for those in it. I don’t intend to try and copy Leigh’s results in terms of style. Our style will emerge from our work together.
Nothing is set in stone. We may follow Leigh’s process closely or not. An authentic, interesting, and entertaining piece is the goal, so whatever supports that, we’ll go with it. Micking a specific process is not the goal.
We are restricted by time. I don’t want to be working on this for the next five years. In seven months, this film is in the can (end of July 2017). We are restricted by budget, which at time of this writing is non-existent. I will undertake to raise funds via Kickstarter and other means but the budget will not prevent the project from moving forward. Creative and practical decisions are always made to fit time and budget constraints.
Who am I?
I grew up in West Vancouver and then went to high school in Whitehorse, Yukon. Spent a year at Lakehead University, then three years at University of Windsor and then four at Ryerson where I completed a Film Arts degree. I then worked in the Toronto film industry for ten years as a script supervisor on movies for TV, movie channels, and Canadian features. In 1999, I won Best Short at the Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival.