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).
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.