Interview: Ben Wheatley talks Sightseers


A serial killing caravan trip?

Yes, it does sound like a distinctly British film, and tasked with bringing this to life is director Ben Wheatley who burst onto the cinematic scene last year with the breakout film “Kill List”. Still on the theme of death, but in a more light-hearted manner for “Sightseers”, we spoke to Ben about the different between violence on cinema and television, James Bond the serial killer, and carrying your shit (literally) around when you go camping.

Congratulations on the film, I really enjoyed it. I know creating a film is an incredibly long process, is it nice to be at point where you’re showing people and seeing their reactions?

Yes, that’s what it’s all about really; it’s kind of a relief when it starts to work properly.

I understand you went to the Cannes film festival with this, what was that experience like?

It was great; it’s a dream really to get a film into Cannes. When they played the video beforehand of all the other people who had been in the section that we were in which was ‘Director’s Fortnight’ it was quite humbling really as there were so many of my favourite films.

Yes absolutely, a great career milestone. So I’m from Australia, and I personally think our sense of humour is very similar to the UK, have you been and would you agree?

Yes I’ve been to Australia, I was in Melbourne a couple of years ago, it was great, but when I say I’ve been to Australia, I’ve really just been to a room in Australia, so unfortunately I didn’t see much of it! But I think culturally it is very similar.

Well hopefully you’ll get to come back and see more than a room next time!

Yeah you know, I’d like to see maybe some streets…

Yeah the streets, maybe a tree, that would be good. So your two leads in this film, Steve Oram and Alice Lowe co-wrote the film and have spent many years really honing their characters, they must have had a lot of faith and trust in you to hand it over to make their vision come to life. Does it make it more difficult working with people so invested in the film, or did it make it a better experience?

We went through an intensive rehearsal period beforehand to kind of shake off the stuff that they had done before really, because making a film is very different to play they had done before and the short film they had done before so it needed to be changed, and they know the characters inside out so that was useful for improvisation.

Yes I wanted to ask, there seems to be two different styles, particularly in comedy, of the Judd Apatow school of filming lots and lots and lots of footage, improvising and then just cutting it back in the end, or being very strict with the script and knowing exactly beforehand what you are shooting.  I guess you would veer more towards the improvisational side?

Yeah, there was a very tight script that was shot, but we liked to play around with it as well and we did that as much as we could. Technology has changed in that shooting loads and loads and loads of footage is not a problem. If we had made this film ten years ago it would have cost about 30 million pounds. But now there is no cost to filming as much as you can. In a way, why wouldn’t you? Comedy is a furnace and you have to keep feeding it.

You’ve filmed quite a lot of death scenes now, do you have any tips or things you’ve picked up along the way to make it very realistic, and how to use the fake blood…

A lot of that is actually to do with sound. It always amazes me when people are so shocked by the stuff in the films I make! I remember when I did my first film “Down Terrace” everyone one was going ‘Oh god it’s really violent’, but really it’s less violent than a soap opera I think [laughs]. But the cinema experience is quite overwhelming, and that’s to do with audio.  That’s the difference between television and film; cinema is much louder and much quieter. TV is much more compressed, so a gunshot is as loud as someone being punched in a TV Show, and that’s why it doesn’t feel as dramatic.

Yeah wow, that’s a good point and I’ve never thought of it that way. Now a caravan features very prominently in this film, was it difficult shooting in a very confined space?

No it was actually much bigger than I thought. I was actually very nervous about it but it ended up being about as big as many rooms I have filmed in real houses. I ended up directing from inside the toilet. I had my little monitor and somewhere to sit.  And it would all unfold from that position.

Very handy! Are you tempted to take a caravan trip of your own now across the UK?

Um…no. No I like a bit of camping, but a caravan is quite a lot of work. They have a thing called a cassette, which is basically the thing out the sides that’s full of excrement. And you have to empty it out. And that really doesn’t chime with me for having a good time on a holiday…having to deal with a load of your own crap which you carry around with you.

Definitely not high on my list.

Yeah, kind of rubs the edges off your enjoyment.

And it seems based on the film, that you come across a lot annoying people as well.

Well you come across annoying people everywhere you know [laughs].

And I think maybe that’s why people can identify with the film, the two leads, they are very likeable, probably the most likeable serial killers I’ve come across.

Except for James Bond.

Yes good point, I do like him as well!

And he kills more people than anyone. He should be on trial for that shit.

Yeah I’d love to see that in the next movie. But they are very relatable still, even though they do unspeakable things, is that what drew you to the story?

Yes sure, you can’t make a film like that and make them really unlikeable, because then you can’t watch it. When I read it I could understand what they were up to, I mean I didn’t condone it but I could understand it. There’s two versions of” Sightseers” you know there’s the version where the filmmaker is looking down his nose at those characters and thinking what idiots they are, and I don’t think that would make a very good film, you’d tire of that position and I don’t think you should be so judgemental about people really, because everyone is made up of good and bad. I’ve yet to meet someone who is purely terrible you know. People are bad, but that’s part of the complex make-up of character traits.

Congratulations again on the film, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, and can’t wait to see your next film “A Field In England”!

Brilliant, thank you.

“Sightseers” opens in Australia 26 December 2012, and is now showing in the UK.