Friday, 28 July 2017

Access All Areas: EIFF Interview

Hit the jump for a slightly surreal conversation about driver-less cars, illegal festival entry, and Jordan Stephens wearing a poncho...


The atmosphere is infectious today in the upper floors of Edinburgh’s Caledonian Hotel. Writer/Director duo Oliver Veysey and Bryn Higgins are sitting with actors Georgie Henley (The Chronicles of Narnia), Jordan Stephens (One half of Rizzle Kicks and star of Rogue One), Nigel Lindsay (Four Lions), and Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children). Their fantastic movie, Access All Areas, is having its world premiere in just a little over an hour, and the enthusiasm is palpable. Unfortunately, Ella had to dash, but I sat down to chat with the others about making a film in difficult conditions, festival shenanigans, and toilet sex.

1.       So, straight off the bat, what inspired Access All Areas?
a.       Oliver Veysey: Music, it’s definitely music. The idea came about from going to many festivals my whole life – I hitchhiked to Glastonbury when I was 17, and jumped the fence….
Georgie Henley: I didn’t know that!
Oliver: Which I do not condone…. And I apologise to the Eavis family - I’ve since made a sizeable donation to Oxfam.
Nigel: Good man. I stole my mum’s car when I was 16 and drove to Reading when I hadn’t passed my driving test. So, you know, that’s just what you do…
Jordan Stephens: Why did you go to Reading?
(laughter)
Nigel Lindsay: Because it’s a festival. And Sham 69 were playing with The Jam…
Jordan: He brought his books.
Nigel: And Patti Smith. It was the most eclectic mix….
Georgie: You saw The Jam live?
Nigel: I did.
Bryn Higgins: Can we let Ollie tell his story?
Oliver: It’s alright (laughs). The weird thing about that year is apparently Ella was there as a baby, which is kinda a weird coincidence. But yeah, I just always had this idea in my mind, and the sort of kaleidoscopic stories that always unfurled – things went wrong, friends got lost, and as I became a writer I was always interested in trying to capture some of that experience. It felt like a really significant weekend, so I wanted to try and do that, and get it on film. Only when I put my producer hat on did I realise that was a ridiculously good idea.

2.       Is Kurtz, the reclusive musician character, based on a real life musician, or is he just kind of an amalgamation of egotistical music clichés?
a.       Oliver: He’s based on my egotistical demons….. Nah, he’s not.
Jordan: Ronan Keating
(laughter)
Oliver: That’s definitely not what I said…. The thing I’m interested in is the projection of Heath in that character and how to kinda dramatize where that young kid is at that stage of his journey, and the things that are troubling him. It’s a reflection of that young boy, and that’s the most interesting thing about Kurtz for me. We wanted to send it up a little bit – not take it too seriously.
Nigel: Was he named after the Joseph Conrad character?
Oliver: Yes.
Bryn: I mean, this film is a journey into a heart of darkness, right?
(laughter)

3.       You’ve got your world premiere coming up in a few hours, what do you want the audience to be thinking in the car on the way home?
a.       Oliver: That they’ve been hugely entertained, and that they’re excited about going to a music festival themselves…. I’d love it if they’d want to get the soundtrack and listen to the music. Go to Bestival with their friends…
Bryn: That they’ve had a great trip!
Oliver: Also, I’m always surprised by how impactful a film can be on a personal level – especially when you’re dealing with something like anxiety. It’s so easy to fall into that trap of being too scared to go on stage or to perform in front of people, and I think that might be something that stays with the younger members of the audience.

4.       Georgie, Jordan, and Nigel, what was your favourite scene to film?
a.       Jordan: Anything with a moped. I think I put a stuntman out of a job for two days now….
Nigel: Well, for me it was playing drums in a band….
(laughter)
Nigel: To be honest, that was the best day of my life….
(more laughter)
Oliver: Spoiler alert: Nigel plays the drums. But, yeah, he turned himself into a proper rock n’ roll god!
Jordan: You know when somebody practises their whole life on the wrong notes? It’s like that thing…
Nigel: Yes, thank you for that. It was great fun for me.
Georgie: We had some great time zooming around on mopeds…. I felt very safe on the back of your moped Jordan…
Jordan: Well yeah… I had to do my CLB…. No, that’s not right, CBT….  They thought I was lying – that I hadn’t just passed my test I’d been doing it for ages! And now I’m not allowed to get a moped….
Nigel: See, he’s a natural.

5.       How do you get into the mood to play your characters?
a.       Jordan: Absent minded, really…. It worked out  well for me because I had to kinda have as little knowledge of what was going on as possible… and that was my prep.
(laughter)
Georgie: I just basically thought about every night out I’ve ever been on rolled into a weekend… Every time you see her [Georgie’s character], she’s kinda jumping around, with her tongue out like she really wants to have the best time possible, and she doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks. So doing that in front of a bunch of spectators is kinda daunting, but I just thought, you know, screw it.

6.       In the vein of the coming-of-age tale, what’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done (that you can tell us about)?
a.       Jordan: At a festival, I can’t say all of it, but I can say some of it. One thing I do remember, which was really funny - from Reading. I saw this one guy go for a piss in a bush, and he had a head torch on. Just think about that for a bit…. He kinda just turned around to a whole campsite and illuminated his…. Urinating willie….
Nigel: Lovely.
Jordan: It wasn’t me! I took inspiration from it though…. I stole a gazebo, an orange one. It was bright orange and everyone else’s was green so someone came up to me, and was like ‘that’s my gazebo’. I was like ‘I can’t argue with you there mate…’
(laughter)
Oliver: There’s a scene in the film where Leon kinda gets into a situation which is inspired by a real life incident. When I was with a friend at a festival called Secret Garden Party, I looked around, and I was like ‘where the hell has he gone?’ and I look up…. There’s this band called The Infidels, remember them? They were like new-wave Klaxons type gig…. Anyway the place is going fucking crazy and he’s on the stage, tequila bottle in hand, back to back with the bass player… (laughter) so that was the inspiration for one of Leon’s big moments.
Nigel: I sung with AC/DC once at the Houses of Parliament…
Georgie: What?
Nigel: I always used to sneak off school to get tickets for all the bands, and I got front row AC/DC… It’s when Bon Scott was still alive, that’s how long ago it was.
Georgie: The stupidest thing I’ve ever done? There’s one thing which keeps jumping to mind but I really can’t say…
Jordan: You can….
Georgie: Nah, seriously, if this got out, my child would actually kill me…. Sorry mum.
Nigel: Getting on the back of a moped with Jordan?
(laughter)
Nigel: Have you ever run through a field of wheat?
(More laughter)
Georgie: No. But I did decide to be an actor…
(More laughter still)

At this point, Jordan and Georgie left to go get ready for their premiere…. Jordan wanted you to know it’s a great film, the music’s wicked, and he wears a poncho, so you should see it.

7.       Although the film is very current, and very much in the spirit of today, there’s a thick vein of nostalgia that runs through it. I was wondering, what do you think we’ll feel nostalgic for in 40 years time?
a.       Nigel: 40 years?
Me: Well, that was just a random number… it can be anything…
(laughter)
Oliver: Maybe talking to each other. Actually talking to each other – face to face. The thing with festivals, at least, is if the phones don’t work and the batteries run out, then you actually spend time together and hang out. Maybe in 4 years time, it’ll be even worse than it is now.
Nigel: I think we’ll miss driving…. Apparently we’ll all have driverless cars in 40 years’ time.
Me: But, perhaps too many people enjoy driving for it to die out….
Nigel: I see what you mean… But, ostensibly, people also enjoy talking to each other…
Bryn: I think we’ll be nostalgic for the European Union…
Nigel: Also, just being in the now…. If you go to a festival now or see a band now then everyone’s just on their phones and watching the thing through their screens… You wanna go ‘mate, put that away, what’s happening?’ Ipads! I’ve been in the theatre and people are on ipads… they need to be thrown out – experience what’s in front of you…. Or maybe we’ll come round the other way and people will realise that there’s nothing better than living in the present, in your shoes, now. We’re having a fantastic interview at the moment – what could be better?

8.       The film’s mostly set at a music festival, which yields some fantastic images. I was wondering, what was the experience of shooting at a festival like? Did you get harassed?
a.       Oliver: Yes. It was a nightmare!
Bryn: Well, in some ways, yes, it was a challenge. It’s not recommended that you take a film crew into a festival. Amidst that chaos, you need good planning and good preparation, so we did as much of that as possible working with the Bestival people who were great. And then you go with whatever happens. And, to be honest, Nigel and I hadn’t met that much before we started shooting, and Nigel came on the last night of the festival to do the work that we needed to do. So it was a bit like ‘right Nigel, hi, you’re gonna walk past this camera and it’s gonna follow you straight into this huge crowd’. Thankfully, Nigel’s already done a number of these projects which involve keeping it together in a very live environment I suppose, and you get great results. You know if you go confidently and on the front foot. But, yeah, the outtakes we’ve got are…. Extensive.
Nigel: The problem is, of course, that A) You’re the only sober people in the whole area – especially the later it gets; and B) as soon as a drunken person, or a person on drugs, sees a camera, they want to look down the lens. When you’re not filming a documentary, you’ve got that problem: this is supposed to be a drama so you don’t want people looking and shouting ‘HI!’ on the film. And, at the beginning, it was happening every five minutes – it’s really difficult.

9.       Yeah, I can imagine the scenes in the huge crowds around the main stage needed multiple takes.
a.       Nigel: Well, as Bryn said, the first thing I had to do was walk into a crowd of about 20,000 people – it’s fight or flight. I’ve found over the years that I’m as terrified as everybody else and you’ve got two choices: you can either run a mile or you can just do it – and just do it to the best of your ability. And that happens quite a lot, from an acting point of view. You know, when you’re about to step into a crowd of thousands of people we all get the same feelings and you have to learn to go ‘right, fuck this, I’m gonna do it’.
Bryn: There’s a real buzz: there’s a real elation in getting it - perfection in that moment. And you’re watching the monitor, and everyone’s on the move type thing. But you can always tell, you know, ‘fuck, it fell apart there, someone cut’. But then when it doesn’t, it’s amazing what you can get away with! We talked a lot about how it’s supposed to be an immersive experience as a film, you know, and I think that’s how you have to do it to achieve it. And I think there’s sections that work really well from that point of view.
Nigel: You all have to be on the same page, as well, and genuinely, it does sound a bit wanky but you have to be a team: it’s a team game. When you’re filming, everyone has to be playing their part; and when it all comes together and they have the same attitude it can be very special. You don’t want to let anybody down when it’s like that, and it’s down to you two [Bryn and Oliver] because you brought that great atmosphere on.

10.   I’m interested – the festival is clearly Bestival, and you sell it so well. Was there ever a time where you were going to keep that Bestival branding, or was it always going to be the Island of Sounds?
a.       Oliver: You know, we talked about it… but, you know, Bestival have their own brand and their own thing going on… It sort of felt like, because we were creating this fictional world, to sort of anchor it in a name that was real might pull you out of the narrative a bit, so we thought a fictional name would be a better idea.
Bryn: Personally, to me, you know, the Isle of Sounds is a great name for a music festival. This is part of the slightly more magic-realist element of it I think. There’s this sense that you have to cross water to get to the island: it’s very much a modern pilgrimage by boat. So we built that journey as the stages in a pilgrimage: to arrive and be transformed.

11.    What’s the funniest thing you can recall happening on set?
a.       Bryn: I think it was, for me anyway, a very strange moment… Not giving anything away, it’s a festival film - so there’s a scene set in a toilet.
Oliver: Can we talk about that?
(laughter)
Bryn: Yes… I think so… That’s just the sort of stuff that’s happening, you know. So we were working live, in a sense, with that big row of toilets. We nominated the single toilet we were going to use – so they secured it, people were ready to close it off for us. We had the camera set up, we had an actor ready to go – everything was ready to go – but whoever was in there wasn’t coming out. And then the sound person who kinda had everything already up and ready looked underneath, and went ‘there’s two pairs of feet’.
(laughter)
Bryn: And sure enough, there were two people in there! And then, it’s hard to describe as it were on the radio, but if you imagine the front door, then these two hands came over the top of it. And then the door started shaking… We were like, ‘ermmm, fuck!’. We ended up using the next door one, or a couple down, and then these two totally out of it people came out, and I mean this place stank. You really could have found a better place...
Me: Wait, you didn’t really drop a phone down a toilet filled with shit, did you?
Bryn: No (laughing)… we combined that scene with a toilet we made of our own.
Oliver: But I’m glad you think that we might actually have done that…
(laughter)
Bryn: I think, also, on the boat, we were alright, but there was this fucking huge ship! I don’t know if you were aware [to Nigel], because you were working away…. I don’t think we mentioned it at the time, but there was this sense that, ‘hmm, maybe we should get out of this shipping lane at this point’.
Nigel: Ah, I didn’t know that, and I’m glad I didn’t know that…
Bryn: Yeah, exactly… There’s a lot of that lovely stuff to react to.

12.   It’s been great talking to you guys! But before we part, one more question: How would you describe Access All Areas in three words?
a.       Bryn: A great trip.
Nigel: Feel the music.
Oliver: All about the music. No, that’s four words…. I’ll have to email you that one.

(laughter)

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