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 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)