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Star and co-writer Alice Lowe on Sightseers at Cannes: part three

Cast and crew of Sightseers at its Cannes premiere

Cast and crew of Sightseers at Cannes premiere

Alice Lowe and Steve Oram’s Sightseers, directed by Ben Wheatley, premiered in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes 2012. Here, Alice remembers the response to Sightseers – the ovation, Twitter – and the rest of the festival…

So we get a standing ovation at the end of the film. At the time I have to admit I didn’t really know what was happening. But I read it on twitter afterwards. I’m standing there confused but happy that people didn’t hate it. I feel like a bit of a dick and sit back down. Then the screening co-ordinators made us get up again. I just think it’s maybe some kind of charming French game. People around us are standing and clapping and looking at us, like the leper scene in Jesus Christ Superstar, but nothing like that. I just can’t think of a better comparison. All my film references have gone down the toilet. Or are in my rucksack. Which is currently at an unknown location. Richard is crying. He denies this now of course. I look at Steve, and he just looks the same as he always does. When you’ve been writing with someone for five years, their emotions begin to merge into one. Ben, Amy, Claire, Andy, Nira, just look really happy but equally surprised.

We are ushered into the car with all the urgency of Barack Obama’s personal security. I don’t know why. ‘My rucksack’ I whimper, in a pathetic cry. No one hears. ‘I bet Nicole Kidman doesn’t have a rucksack,’ an evil voice whispers in my head. Possibly Tom Cruise. ‘That’s why she’s an internationally successful actress’. ‘Yes, but does she have a London A-Z for emergencies?’ I respond smugly. I decide to fuck the rucksack and see where the night takes me. Possibly towards a cold night on the beach, but what the hell.

The rest of the night is a blur: we go to the after party, talk to many nice interesting people, eat unusual prawns, talk about wanting to make more films, which doesn’t seem so patently absurd now. People apparently say nice things on twitter. Although, typically British, I decide to focus on twitter’s Darren Bolton, who says ‘Sightseers is the most embarrassing thing he has ever seen’. I give undue attention to this negativity as I feel naturally more comfortable with it. Also, Darren Bolton sounds like someone who would have been a bully at my school, so I feel at home with that too. Then someone finds my lost rucksack, so I slip back into my Converse. Definitely more comfortable now.

At 4am, drunk and happy and hotel-bound, we skip down some steps that I notice look like a priest could fall down them. The Exorcist! I’ve re-found my film references. Thank god for that.

The next day is press day for me, Steve and Ben. Two lovely hair and makeup artists at the L’Oreal Studio paint the hangover right off my face, and psychologically I am almost fooled. In the lift back down from the L’Oreal Suite, Ewan McGregor gets in, dressed to the nines, with his beautiful wife. I’m so close to him I can smell the fame. It must be awful to be famous, people sniffing you in a lift. I thank my lucky stars.

The press are delightful and enthusiastic. Me and Steve, still new to this, are like excited puppies talking about the film. But it’s surprisingly tiring. After a team Sightseers dinner with our wonderful French distributor Manuel and his gorgeous and charming girlfriend, we decide to get a relatively early night. We’re going to see Cronenburg’s Cosmopolis at 8am the next day. He’s one of my favourite directors and it seems a mortal sin to not see a film in Cannes, even if we are there for such a short time. Steve meanwhile has already seen two films. And what was I doing during that time? Having make-up applied. Fake tan is slowing down my ambitions as a filmmaker. Is this why there are less women in Cannes? They’re all stuck in the hotel applying bronzer. It’s a disaster and I don’t know what to do about it. I have to get up at 7am and watch Cosmopolis or it means that I am worthless and should be destroyed. I will do this thing.

8am. We’re shooed into the huge cinema at the Palais by Celine, our French press lady. The beginning of the film – I’m not sure, and I’m not sure about R-Pattz either. But as the film continues with it’s strange stylised performances, I start to laugh. Especially the ‘pie-protester’ and the Muslim-convert dead rapper. ‘Coming from the streets… to Mecca’ rings in my ears well after the film finishes. It completely sets its own tone. It’s strange and absurd and original and exactly what I realise Cannes is about. How a festival can, for appearance sake, revolve so much around money, but yet take such artistic risks, is really quite miraculous. I come out with a sense of wonder, and of confusion. What time is it? It’s like… 10.30 am. How weird. I’ve just seen a film. That’s Cannes. Let’s go swimming!

After swimming, we race to the UK Film tent for the prestigious Palm Dog award ceremony. We’ve been nominated! Alongside the (admittedly talented but as I’ve heard, extremely demanding) dogs from The Hunt, Moonrise Kingdom, and Holy Motors. Our flight’s at 6 and we have just about enough time to lose out on an award to a dog. I prepare to throw a table, which is my default action for if I ever get nominated for an award and don’t win it. We meet the delightful Toby Rose, who runs the award and he amuses me greatly. He makes the press and the audience sing a doggy version of ‘My Way’. And then we win! Tears stream down my face as I think of all the times that Smurf licked my face with his tactile and subtle tongue, of the times when I had to repeatedly try to elicit a head turn with the use of a chewed shuttlecock, of the times when I found a salty doggy treat in my pocket well after having finished filming and wondered why my fingers stank of meat…  I can’t believe it. We have immense fun talking about working with Smurf and chatting with Toby and the panel afterwards. It’s the perfect end to the festival. Kate Muir from The Times even takes a picture of my caravan handbag. She doesn’t seem to mind that it’s not a handbag. For the UK premiere I vow to make a bigger version that you can scrabble around in for a lipliner like King Kong looking for Fay Wray. We won something! Like a kid with a party bag, I’m really really happy.

As we climb in the cab to take us to the airport, the sky turns grey and some big fat droplets of rain spatter the windscreen. Les ‘Touristes!’ are leaving but the British weather is returning. I’m reminded that I’ve got an overdraft and less collateral than a Cannes tramp. And a broken kettle. I’m still on the outside looking in, but I feel like I’ve been chucked a few croissants now. Really nice ones. Filled with gold and strawberry jam. It’s been an amazing dreamlike trip: one that couldn’t be more different than Chris and Tina’s. But one that I’ll remember for a long time. I’m too excited about everyone else seeing the film, my family, friends, etc, but we have to wait until the UK release. Meanwhile I’ll just enjoy adding Cannes to the Sightseers scrapbook, and remembering that the rocky journey has been worth it.

Click here to read Part One: The Build-Up or Part Two: The Premiere

Star and co-writer Alice Lowe on Sightseers at Cannes: part two

Alice Lowe and Steve Oram’s Sightseers, directed by Ben Wheatley, premiered in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes 2012. Here, Alice arrives at Cannes and prepares for the premiere…

Steve Oram and I arrive at Nice airport to find that taxi drivers the world over will lament a bygone age and complain about immigrants. We’ve heard that it’s been pouring with rain in Cannes and meanwhile it’s sweltering in the UK. This is no good if you’re trying to make people jealous. I mean, that’s the point of going to Cannes, right? Isn’t it? As we get out of the cab at the hotel, the sun begins to shine. This I take to be a good omen.

Despite being miserably British (and this is a theme in Sightseers), we’ve managed to somehow bring the sunshine. This didn’t work when we were filming. We had rain, hail and wind and appalling conditions. Cannes couldn’t be more different. How is this film going to go down? Are people going to be able to identify with two geeky cagoule-wearing British nerds trudging through mud in Yorkshire? I see some glamorous women swaying down the Croisette with massive heels and tiny dogs. Again anxiety hits me like a big handbag to the urethra. Will they like our film? They like dogs at least. There’s one of them in our film… Perhaps this will mitigate the whole situation, and the anger about the absence of Sean Penn etc.

It turns out that the point of Cannes is selling your film (and not to make people jealous as previously thought). We arrive at Film4 pizza and drinks to celebrate the screening of Sightseers to find that the film has been sold to US distributors, IFC Films. Everyone is smiling and very happy about this. Steve and I, like small children who don’t really understand that ‘daddy has got a promotion’, or what that means, are delighted by proxy. It’s so interesting what actually the film business is about, like seeing behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, and a rare glimpse for me as a newbie screenwriter. I try to meet everyone who’s going to play a part in Sightseers being seen around the world and what their involvement is. We clink glasses with Ben the director, Nira, Claire and Andy, and wonder at the journey that has brought us here. After the huge success of KillList, it seems slightly more familiar territory to them, but for me and Steve, it’s all rather dreamlike.

Steve and I get a bit giddy and end up at the Petit Majestic, the booze-hole of choice for Brit filmmakers in Cannes. We bump into a few people we know, and everything seems a little more familiar and comforting. I’m reminded of how many interesting and talented people aren’t getting their feature films made – yet anyway, and how lucky we are. But also that anything can happen if you keep plugging away (and I have got at least a metre of plug chain, £3 per metre).

Canine star of Sightseers, Smurf

Canine star of Sightseers, Smurf

Meanwhile, during our drunken evening, Arianna of IFC tells an amazing anecdote about a transvestite she knew who accidentally killed his tiny dog at a party by skewering it on his high heel. Swings and roundabouts. Okay, you can have glamour and a dog. But there may be consequences. Rumours abound that because of the doggy content and doggy star of our film, we may be eligible for the prestigious ‘Palm Dog’ award, won last year by ‘The Artist’’s ‘Uggie’. Our canine star, ‘Smurf’, is one of the greatest talents I have ever known, but sadly, like many great artists, overlooked thus far by both BAFTA and CRUFTS. I know we don’t stand a bloody chance, so I push the thought to the back of my mind, and drink more rosé, bitter as hell. We are the mere underdogs.

The next night is the night of the premiere. I have somehow, with the help of my agent’s assistant, convinced amazing designer, Liz Black, to lend me a dress. Neil Gaiman says if you don’t know what you’re doing, you have to pretend to be someone who knows what they’re doing. So this is Phase One. I’ve got the caravan handbag. It’s not a handbag. It’s pretending to be one. So I’ve also had to take a massive rucksack that contains a change of shoes, makeup, money, a whole wodge of anxiety, and other burdens I just don’t really need. I call this ‘Tina’s revenge’. Tina, the character I play in Sightseers, is a hiking nerd, and swathed in North Face fleeces and walking boots. It seems she is haunting me in the form of a rucksack that I just can’t. Seem. To let go of. It’s like a security rucksack. The symbol of my fearful repressive British character. It goes everywhere with me.

After an informal dinner, we quiver on the steps of the Theatre Croisette cinema, minutes before the film is due to start – quivering mainly because I’m wearing some impossibly high heels. Bobby Entwistle, Sightseers Sound Recordist has pointed out that you can’t wear Converse to your premiere and insists that I put my proper shoes on. He’s like Gok Wan with a boom. Steve and I do a small incantation, which involves staring at each other’s sweaty eyes and then wetting ourselves throroughly. There’s some fuss about where I’m going to put my bloody rucksack. It’s decided that it should be put in a random place that will be later forgotten in the panic. Good. Good thinking. Then we go in. It’s packed. Steve has to help me down the steps like an old lady because of my shoes.

We watch the film. Throughout which I hold my breath, it seems. The audience laugh early on and I’m relieved. But I still don’t relax. I’m becalmed by the presence of the very funny and talented Richard Glover, who plays ‘Martin’, sitting on my right hand side. He’s excellent in the film, but this is the first time he’s seen it. That’s exciting in itself. Richard is an old friend whom Steve and I have worked with since the days we used to perform at ‘Ealing Live’, a little known alternative comedy night held at Ealing Studios. He knew us when we started performing ‘Chris’ and ‘Tina’ as a double act. It’s so nice having him here. Like a really close friend present at the birth of your first child, smiling down benevolently upon your vagina. Perhaps it’s a first child that you thought might never be conceived. So it’s extra special. And he’s been really supportive. So you’ve asked him to be present at the birth. Richard. Gently encouraging. But at no point overstepping the mark. I don’t remember if I grab his knee at any point, but spiritually I do.

The film goes along at a trot. I’m trying not to read the French subtitles but I do anyway. It’s like a very emotively challenging French A Level exam. The film comes to an end. I’m exhausted. I think it’s better than I remembered. But I’m not sure. I quite like the film because I wrote it and am in it and staked my soul upon it and all that. I’m physically shaking and I feel sick.

Click here to read Part Three:  The Response or go back to Part One: The Build-Up

Star and co-writer Alice Lowe on Sightseers at Cannes: part one

01 Jun, 2012 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Cannes, Festivals

Alice Lowe and Steve Oram’s Sightseers, directed by Ben Wheatley, premiered in Director’s Fortnight at Cannes 2012. Here, Alice writes about the build up to screening Sightseers…

So our comedy feature, Sightseers, a film that I and my co-writer, Steve Oram, have been developing for the past five years, gets accepted by the Director’s Fortnight section of Cannes. This is a project that we’ve both invested hugely in: emotionally and physically. Steve grew a huge ginger beard and I aged by at least a decade. We initially developed the characters as a live double act. Then slowly evolved the idea into a film through many permutations and learning experiences, with Edgar Wright as our mentor and Exec producer, and Film4 and BigTalk guiding us all the way.

It’s been a rocky but perilously beautiful journey. And just getting to make the film was a reward in itself. Working with director Ben Wheatley and the amazing cast and crew was a joyous maybe-never-to-be repeated experience. But getting into Cannes seemed like the impossible icing on the filmcake. It was blowing my mind thinking that this small low-budget comedy was being taken seriously enough to show at a festival associated with so much history and artistry. To my shame, my next thought was ‘what will I wear?’ I’m just a woman. And when I’m not thinking about films I’m mainly thinking about shoes and lipstick. Do I deserve this opportunity? I read in the paper that there are NO women allowed in Cannes. How is this going to work? I haven’t got the right dress or a penis. Where will I get a penis at such short notice? Will French people laugh at our jokes? Will anyone laugh at our jokes? Has it all been a huge mistake? Perhaps they  meant to accept Ridley Scott’s new film ‘Site-seers’, a dramatic re-imagining of ‘Time-Team’ starring Sean Penn? And not us. It turns out that it’s not a mistake and we’re going.

The Sightseers Cannes ‘gang’ consists of producers Claire Jones, Andy Starke and Nira Park, Ben Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump, who contributed additional material, BigTalk’s Matthew Justice, sound recordist Robert Entwistle, and ‘the kids’, me, Steve and Richard Glover, who stars as ‘Martin’ in the film. Everyone’s excited about the prospect. But I’m also nervous.

I decide that first and foremost I must make a handbag out of a small caravan. I buy a toy caravan on ebay and a length of gold plug chain in a plumber’s shop.

The Caravan Cannesbag

The Caravan Cannesbag

The caravan arrives. It’s not six and a half inches across as claimed. It’s much smaller. In a Spinal Tapp moment I curse Angelica Huston, for no good reason, but stick a chain to it anyway. You can’t get anything in it either. Because the door doesn’t open. It’s essentially a tiny caravan on a chain. But I’m ready.

I cast my mind back to five years ago when I entered a competition called ‘Straight8’. They send you a reel of 8mm and you make a film, editing in camera. Then you send the undeveloped reel back, with a separate soundtrack to accompany it. If you win, you see the short for the first time, on the beach in one of the screening tents in Cannes. My collaborations with director Jacqueline Wright, ‘Stiffy’ and ‘Sticks and Balls’, both showed in Cannes years ago, and we went. We couldn’t afford it as I seem to remember. Filled with hopes and dreams, and our bank accounts empty of cash, we stopped short of auctioning a limb in those days just to get a whiff of rosé, and to soak up the Cannes atmosphere. Like Brit-flick Dickensian orphans, grimy faces pushed up against the windows of a yacht, begging for croissants. So it feels pretty strange to be returning with a feature: ‘Touristes’, as it will be called in France.

Alice and Jacqueline’s Straight8 film Sticks And Balls (contains strong language)

Click here to read Part Two: The Premiere or Part Three:  The Response

by Alice Lowe

Alice Lowe is a writer, performer and director who stars in and co-wrote Ben Wheatley's Sightseers with Steve Oram.