Hot on the heels of our exclusive interviews with the director and cast members of Sightseers comes our chat with one of the film’s producer, Claire Jones. Velveteer Mog managed to grab a quick natter with her to get the inside scoop on how the film was put together.
It’s a pleasure to meet someone who so obviously enjoys what they do; the delight that Claire Jones feels for her work as a film producer bubbles up and out of her as she talks. As the producer of choice, alongside Andy Starke, for director Ben Wheatley, it’s no wonder; Claire joyfully admits to the appeal of Ben’s intuitive, pared-back approach to movie-making and the pleasure of working with a familiar close-knit crew.
Claire explains: “Ben shoots really fast then he moves on. Actors love it, because they don’t have to hang around for ages waiting for lights to be repositioned. They’re not just sitting in their trailer doing the Guardian crossword. They’re out there acting, being part of the crew, part of the family. It’s a complete joy to work like that.”
In this upbeat working environment, Claire took the challenge of managing a 42 location shoot in her stride. Presumably though, Sightseers threw up some very particular headaches for its producer – afterall, it’s largely set outdoors, and Britain isn’t known for its consistently reliable weather.
“We came across some really shitty weather,” she admits. “When we were on top of the mountain we had a massive hailstorm that kept coming in waves every fifteen minutes, and we were shooting outside with no shelter whosoever…it was hideous! But it really adds to the ambience of the film, and when it starts hailing and they [Chris and Tina] have to pack up their stuff it’s one of my favourite scenes – it really adds to the anxiety of their situation.”
I ask Claire how receptive the campsites were which were approached to appear in the film. “To be honest, not every caravanning site wanted us there,” She says. “I think it’s because these poor people are trying to have a lovely holiday in their caravans, and then we rock up. But we managed to find three amazing camp sites – they were perfect and really lovely. And they were really excited about being part of the film!” At the time of writing Claire hasn’t heard whether the camp site owners have seen the film – we’d love to know what they make of their starring roles!
Like most British independent films, Sightseers was made on a budget significantly smaller than its American counterparts enjoy. I wonder what Claire might have done differently with a Hollywood budget at her disposal? “I don’t think you can make this kind of film on that kind of money,” She explains. “It’s too weird and wonderful – and the way Ben works with smaller budgets means you have to work out clever ways of doing things. Sometimes you come up with a better way because of it.”
Claire describes a case in point: “We shot as much as we could chronologically, so we really followed the route that Chris and Tina take in the film. That journey helped the actors, because by the end of the shoot Alice and Steve were completely exhausted, and it suited were they were in the film.
We started off really urban, in Birmingham – a gritty, British urban environment. Then, as the characters get a bit more feral the landscapes get a bit more feral too – so it all fell nicely into place. It really helped the film, and we could only really work that way because we were a small unit.”
Claire’s latest project also involved shooting in the great British outdoors with a small crew (see, there’s a pattern emerging here…). It’s for Ben Wheatley’s next feature film, A Field In England, which Claire describes as, “A psychedelic English civil war film with a group of guys in a field taking mushrooms and going crazy.” She’s clearly very excited about it, citing “an incredible, challenging script” by Ben and his partner, Amy Jump, and “incredible, breathtaking performances” from the cast (which includes some famous TVO faces!). “I can’t wait for people to see it. It’s completely bonkers and completely brilliant,” Claire says. “We shot black and white for most of it and it’s very different to most of Ben’s other films. It’ll be interesting to see how people take to it.”
After that, Claire will be working again with Ben on his new film, Freakshift. I ask whether he (and therefore she) ever slows down or takes a holiday. She laughs, “Ben never stops!” An infectious peal of the giggles. And then with that she’s off. It seems Claire never stops either.
Many thanks to Claire Jones for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to The Velvet Onion. And a big thank you for sharing some of her personal collection of photos from the Sightseers shoot with us.