Black comedy “Sightseers,” which won top screenplay at the British Independent Film Awards and is among the candidates for BAFTA’s British film prize, is proof positive that the Internet is bringing fresh blood into Blighty cinema.
Given the pic’s high levels of gore, literally so.
Director Ben Wheatley and co-writers/co-stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram each got their break after posting dozens of experimental, self-financed shorts online.
“My career wouldn’t have happened without the Internet,” says Wheatley, who shot “Sightseers” in quick succession after his self-financed debut “Down Terrace” and his second pic “Kill List.”
“Sightseers” premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. He has finished his fourth low-budget film, “A Field in England,” and embarks early next year on a $20 million American movie, “Freakshift,” for David Linde’s Lava Bear.
“After college in the mid-’90s, I was making short films, showing them in pubs and cinema clubs.” Wheatley says. “It was going nowhere — the industry felt very much like a closed shop at that point — so I became a creative director in a marketing company.”
The advent of the Internet inspired him to start making flash animations and live-action shorts with his wife, Amy Jump, and putting them on their website mrandmrswheatley.co.uk.
“This was before YouTube,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot of video on the Web — you could make stuff and get literally millions of views.”
He got picked up by ad agencies and TV comedy commissioners, which gave him the confidence to make the kitchen-sink gangster movie “Down Terrace” with just $10,000 from his own pocket. Suddenly he was one of the hottest new talents in the British film industry.
Meanwhile, Lowe, a comedy actress with a background in physical theater, and Oram, a character comic, hooked up at the Edinburgh festival and improvised a double act about a sweet couple with a homicidal secret, which they made into a short TV pilot. It didn’t get picked up, so they put it online.
“We have the Internet to thank for ‘Sightseers,’ ” says Oram. “Alice and I did a short, stuck it on the Internet (and) Edgar Wright saw it.”
Wright took it to his producer Nira Park, who struck a deal to turn it into a full-length feature, attaching Wheatley to direct and Jump to do a script polish.
“I’ve been making short films for 10 years, and putting things on the Internet for the last two years under the pseudonym Steve Aura at www.lincolnstudios.co.uk,” Oram says. “You have more control over your creative output that way. You get tired of having meeting in TV and people telling you to tone your stuff down. If we’d done that on ‘Sightseers,’ it would have been rubbish.”
Lowe also ran her own website, jackalfilms.co.uk, with director Jacqueline Wright, putting a fresh “bloodied offering” online each month. Lowe is now developing her feature helming debut “Lily” with Warp Films and Film 4, which she describes as ” ‘Madame Bovary’ meets ‘Trainspotting.’?”
Oram has also expanded his short “Lincoln Tiger” into a feature script, which he plans to shoot next year.
“It’s a low-budget affair, inspired by Ben’s can-do attitude of just making very lo-fi films with his mates,” he says.
Adds Lowe: “It feels like there’s lots of exciting things happening in the British film industry, where people are trusting creative, individualistic voices. I’m interested to get on board with that.”
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