Andrew Haigh’s compressed gay romance Weekend is lovely, in its quiet way, and its very moving story of two young men who hook up, get to know each other, and maybe fall in love, over the course of a single weekend, rings true and moving because of the wealth of natural detail revealed unobtrusively by writer-director Andrew Haigh and stars Tom Cullen (Russell) and Chris New (Glen). The film opens Friday; Haigh answered some questions over email.
Did you shoot in any particular order? How long did you have?
We decided to shoot in story order, which if I could I would do every time. I think it’s hard filming out of sequence, for me anyway. The progression in tone and mood from scene to scene is so difficult to get right and shooting in order makes it a lot easier. I also think it is fantastic for the actors and helps performance no end. Life doesn’t happen out of sequence and so it makes sense that when you try to recreate life, it doesn’t either. Of course producers and assistant directors think you are little crazy for even suggesting it. We had 16 days to make the film.
It’s interesting how we skip right over Russell and Glen’s initial blackout drunk hookup—what was the thinking with that elision? It seems as though you’re withholding sex from the audience (but not from the characters!) until there’s been time for some emotional intimacy to develop, both between Russell and Glen and between us and the people onscreen.
I think that’s a nice way to put it. The film is certainly interested in intimacy rather than simply sex. It is also very important that the conversation that the two guys have in the morning is about how they feel about the sex the night before, rather than what actually happened. These are two very different things and allow us enormous insight into the characters. I also wanted to withhold any of the on-screen sex until, as you say, the audience is ready to see it. When it does finally happen, I think you have got to know the characters enough to really want them to get it on. I also thought it would be interesting in the early section to let the audience imagine the sex rather than see it, put themselves in the recreation. In film school everyone says that you should show and not tell but I don’t think that is always the right way to go.
Was the story always going to be told from Russell’s perspective, or were you at any point considering coming in to the couple through Glen, or giving equal screen-time to their time apart?
I knew that the story should come from Russell’s point of view. It really is about the impact Glen has on him. I also wanted Glen to remain as somewhat of an enigma—for example we only hint at his background and most of what we do hear comes from his friends and not him. I was fascinated about a character like him who is determined to know all about other people and their backgrounds but does not want to be defined by his own. Saying all that we did actually shot some scenes back in Glen’s house with him alone but even as I was shooting them I knew they were unlikely to make the cut. I do think though they will make an interesting DVD extra. We will certainly get to know a little bit more about Glen’s life but they scenes are interesting rather than essential.
It’s interesting that both men keep records of their sex lives—though Glen’s playful “art project” of audio recordings is as character-appropriate as Russell’s private diary. Do you see the personal history-recording as a gay thing? If so, does it have anything to do with Glen’s riff about all the books and films and music that straights unthinkingly “inherit”?
That was certainly the key, that their different types of record keeping would reflect their characters. Both are doing it for different reasons. I know that I used to keep a very private record, so perhaps it is a gay thing. As gay people we have less reference points in the culture around us so it makes sense that we try to make our own, whether it be in public or in private. I also think it is similar to writing a diary. It’s as if we want to work through our lives from a more objective angle.
One of my favorite things that this movie does is show how political outspokenness is a privilege of class. Russell and Glen have very different standards for what constitutes an ostentatious display of gayness—unsurprisingly, Russell, who grew up in foster care and hangs out with his married working-class friends, is less comfortable than Glen, whose parents owned VHS tapes of E.M. Forster adaptations, who wears a graphic-print t-shirt that says “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” (!), is an artist who runs with a young, single, attractive crowd… but neither has a completely filled-in backstory. How much did you fill in about each character as you were writing?
Even though a lot of the background work I did on the characters did not make it to the screen it is an essential part of the writing process. Our personalities, our politics, our philosophies do not exist in a vacuum, they develop because from our histories, from the events in our lives. All of what has happened to these guys in the past has a direct effect on how they live in the present, and how they interact with each other. We seem to live in a strange world where people forget that. People seem to think that you make decisions based on the present not on the past. To me that is clearly not the case and so it was vital to me that I understood the backgrounds of Russell and Glen before I could come to terms with how they behave during the life of the story. I think once you really get to grips with who these people are via their backstories it opens up everything—you know what their apartment should look like, what their clothes should be, what films they like, what music, their politics, their views on relationships. All come from their backstory.
When the two are out in public, it seems, you keep the camera far away, shooting them with longer lenses through a crush of bodies or a fence. Is that a function of necessity when shooting out of doors, or a way of examining what they look like to the world at large?
It was certainly the latter. The film deals with how we define ourselves individually and then to the world around us. One of the ways the audience can know how Russell and Glen define themselves to that outside world is by showing how that world sees them. This led to our decision to shoot all of those scenes with longer lenses, using zooms, shooting from behind other people, from behind fences and buildings and cars. It does also make life a lot easier when people don’t know you are there!