In Sightseers Chris (Steve Oram) wants to show Tina (Alice Lowe) his world and he wants to do it his way – on a journey through the British Isles in his beloved Abbey Oxford Caravan. Tina’s led a sheltered life and there are things that Chris needs her to see – the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum and the rolling countryside that accompanies these wonders in his life.
But it doesn’t take long for the dream to fade. Litterbugs, noisy teenagers and pre-booked caravan sites, not to mention Tina’s meddling mother, soon conspire to shatter Chris’s dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him up the wrong way, over a very jagged edge…
Ben Wheatley is the director of the Sightseers, his debut film Down Terrace won numerous awards, including Best Feature at Fantastic Fest, Raindance and Boston, and played major film festivals throughout the world (Moma NYC, Rotterdam, PIFAN, Melbourne, LA). On its release in the US and UK it garnered fantastic reviews across the board. His second feature Kill List was released in 2011 to global critical acclaim and won several awards including the BIFA for Best Supporting Actor (Michael Smiley) and the Empire Award for Best Horror Film. Ben has also won multiple awards for his commercials and viral work including Gold, Silver and Bronze Lions at Cannes advertising Festival and has directed many television shows including BBC3’s cult hits ‘Ideal’ and ‘The Wrong Door’ and C4’s ‘Modern Toss’.
Bijan Tehrani: When you were approached to direct Sightseers, what convinced you it was a good script and story to make?
Ben Wheatley: I read it and it was good. I also wanted to make a comedy after making horror films so that attracted me, too. I knew the people who’d written it and I trusted them and I wanted to do something with improvisation in it, so it all seem to come together quite well.
BT: From what I know, you made some changes to the screenplay. What were these changes and why did you feel the need to make them?
BW: I made structural changes. We’d learned a lot of lessons on the movies we’d made before and we saw a few issues in the script that needed fixing. And then there was a general tightening and sprucing up of the dialogue basically.
BT: Were you familiar with the work of Steve and Alice prior to making Sightseers?
BW: Yes, I’d worked with them before, doing TV comedy sketches with them and I’d seen the short films that they’d made that had the characters in it so I was aware of the set-up for it.
BT: Sightseers has a very nice flow and many different layers. It’s a comedy but there are many layers and characters development and a good balance throughout the story. How did you manage to keep the balance all through the film?
BW: It’s the pace, and when you’re editing you keep changing until you like it. You work at it until you’re happy with it.
BT: The visual style of the film is very nice, it seems like natural lighting. What was your approach to the visual style of Sightseers?
BW: Lighting came from the need to get an exposure for film cameras, they started developing lights and three-point light and we got stuck with it, but if you have a camera that can get an exposure in any kind of lighting, even in low-light situations, you ask yourself why you would want to put a load of lighting into it, when naturally light is beautiful, unless you are in an office like I am right now. But out in the country side or even in a house that doesn’t have practical lights, it’s amazing. And if you try to recreate that with lamps, you wouldn’t get something half as good as what you get naturally. So I didn’t see the need to control that light; I find it more interesting to chase reality.
BT: From my understanding, what you do is give the actors a lot of freedom on the work. Is it true for this film with Alice and Steve?
BW: Absolutely. There’s a very good script. You film the script first to get it done, and then play around and see what you can get. When you have people as good as they are, and all the other actors in the film as well, you really want to lighten off the leash and see what they’ve got. That gives you the best stuff. Then, for the edit, you need to fit in as much good material as you can find.
BT: The background, all the locations, traveling a lot through England, all that was quite new to me even though I have traveled through England, but it wasn’t shot just for the beauty; it went with the story that was told. How did you pick the locations were you shot? Did you research them first?
BW: Sure, it’s part of the process of making a film; you go to the places first to make sure that you can film there but the actual trip was planned by Steve Oram’s father, Eddie Oram: he was the one who knew about all these places. But what we tended to do was that we filmed all the way, all the time, wherever we went. So we were very open to everything around us. We felt like the film was a documentary in a way, we had that hat on. So if we saw something that was great, we’d stop and film it, like the mist rolling across lakes that was all found in the moment and not planned for. We’d find something beautiful was happening; we’d jump out and film it before the rest of the unit was even ready, when everyone was having their breakfast. Laurie Rose, our D.P. and I would just go.
BT: You tell what you want not in lengthy conversations or a lot of explanation. Has your background in making commercials helped you make movies?
BW: I don’t think so. They’re very different things. Commercials are very compressed story-telling and I wouldn’t want to cross over that kind of storytelling into cinema because it loses all subtlety you can have in the long form. But it certainly helped me in terms of working with really good crews and different kinds of equipment, different styles. That would be the useful thing about advertising. But the fact that the storytelling in Sightseers is so compressed has more to do with my hatred of exposition, and how we’re really tough on the film in terms of what gets seen and what doesn’t. You strive so that there is no fat in the film at all, everything earns its place, and everything’s got to be doing something.
BT: What is your next project you are working on?
BW: We just finished a film called Filed in England about the English Civil War. That will be released in the UK on July 5th; I don’t know when it will come out in the US. The next thing we are hoping to film is a project called Freak Shift towards the end of the year, which is a sci-fi movie, a little bit like Hill Street Blues but with monsters.