For the tenth anniversary of Weekend, writer-director Andrew Haigh sits down for an interview on this life-changing film, telling queer stories, and more.
This essay is part of our 10th anniversary celebration of Andrew Haigh’s Weekend. Read all our articles on the film here.
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Ten years ago, I went to the Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco to see Andrew Haigh’s first fiction feature, Weekend, and I immediately fell in love. Set in Nottingham, the film is the story of lifeguard Russell (Tom Cullen) and artist Glen (Chris New) who meet up at a club, hook up, and then end up spending the weekend talking, getting to know each other, and having sex. Glen is moving away to Portland at the end of the weekend, so there’s no future for the couple, but that’s rather beside the point.
These two men are opposites in some ways: Russell is quiet and shy about his gay identity while Glen is confrontational about everything, including his gay identity. Through spending time together, they challenge each other to deal with what scares them most, even as they discover that ultimately, they both are looking for a long term relationship, though not with each other.
At the time, Weekend was unlike anything I’d seen before. Not only had I never seen gay intimacy depicted on screen that way, but I’d never seen intimacy depicted that way, especially outside the context of a committed, monogamous relationship. Now that we have so many more queer stories and onscreen sex between men is a bit more commonplace, it’s easy to forget that straight people watching Weekend for the first time in 2011 were seeing tender gay sex for the first time, too. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Francis Lee’s films God’s Own Country (2017) and Ammonite (2020) without Weekend, or even the Argentinian film, End of the Century (Lucio Castro, 2019), which we discussed on our podcast celebrating the tenth anniversary of Weekend.
Andrew Haigh’s career really took off after Weekend. He, too, moved to San Francisco to make the excellent TV series Looking (2014-2016), also about gay male intimacy and identity. With every new project, he continues to surprise me: they’re rarely projects I would have expected him to do. But as Haigh puts it, “Every time I go into one of these stories, I’m trying to find the side angle into that story. Essentially, I guess, [I’m trying to find] the queer narrative in that story.”
He followed up the first season of Looking with 45 Years (2015), a portrait of a middle-aged woman, Kate (Charlotte Rampling), amidst an existential crisis, as she prepares to celebrate her forty-fifth wedding anniversary with Geoff (Tom Courtenay). Next, he made a sort of American western, adapting the novel Lean on Pete (2017), about a boy who walks across country with a horse in search of a home. His latest TV series, The North Water (2021) — which is now on BBC iPlayer, AMC+ in the US, and SuperChannel in Canada — may seem most baffling of all, as it follows a surgeon on a whaling vessel in the Arctic in the 1800s.
To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Weekend, I sat down with Haigh via Zoom for an interview about why he wanted to make the film, how he approached making it, and how it changed his life. In this interview with Andrew Haigh, we talked about how he works with actors, why he might want to edit his own film again like he did on Weekend, telling queer stories, choosing projects, and much, much more.
Andrew Haigh on the genesis of Weekend
Seventh Row (7R): What was the genesis of Weekend? What made you want to tell the story?
Andrew Haigh: I’d made a very low budget [before Weekend], kind of a docudrama film called Greek Pete (2009). I knew I still wanted to to tell a story about a gay relationship. At that time, there wasn’t really that much on screen that was doing a similar thing, so I felt like it was time that I tried to do it. I’d been nervous, I suppose, about telling a story like that. It’s not that it’s necessarily a truthful story about my life, but it’s certainly a personal story.
It was really hard to get any funding for [Weekend]. [Producer Tristan Goligher and I] sent it to everybody we could think of, and I think we were only asking for $100,000, which is no money. We sent it to a lot of people, and they were like, “We don’t really see that there’s a market for this,” or “We don’t really get it. It’s just two people sitting around and talking.” We spent probably two years thinking we’re never going to get this funded.
There was a funding body up in Nottingham called EM Media, and a producer there called Anna [Seifert-Speck]. She really loved the script. I think they gave about £65,000, which is like $80,000. Unbelievably, we shot the whole of the production for that money.
It’s funny looking back now. I was very nervous about making it. It was my first proper film. But also, there was no real expectation of it becoming anything. It was very freeing, at the time. Looking back at it now, with everything that happens when you make a film and the expectations that are put onto that film, there was none of that. In fact, I thought that nobody would ever get to see it. Nobody wanted to spend the money on it, so I figured nobody would want to see it either.
7R: How did you know that Nottingham had money to give?
Andrew Haigh: My producer basically went around and looked at all the regional funding bodies. They were like, okay, EM Media, there’s some good people, some of the producers that are working in that region.
Originally, it was set in London because that’s where I was living; I’d never even been to Nottingham before we were prepping Weekend. And then it was like, “Can you make it in Nottingham?” And I was like, “Absolutely. If it means I can make the film, that’s no problem.” In the end, I think it was actually a benefit to the film that it wasn’t set in London.
Pre-production on Weekend
7R: Weekend has such a good sense of place. What was the process for getting to know Nottingham and scouting locations?
Andrew Haigh: I went up there a bunch of times. I went up with my partner, and we stayed in a hotel for the weekend and went out, went to the local gay bars, and wandered around.
The truth is, I often end up shooting in locations I don’t really know. I sort of love that. It means that your eyes are wide open to the environment when you get there. You see things in a slightly different way than you would if you lived in that place. To me, that’s always exciting. I can go to Nottingham and think, I really like this environment and can understand how to put this on the screen visually. I didn’t grow up in London; I grew up in suburbs, and I moved around quite a lot as a kid. So I sort of know cities like Nottingham and towns [that are] similar. It’s very much embedded in Englishness, I guess, those kinds of places.
Andrew Haigh on the production design in Weekend
7R: I understand from production designer Sarah Finlay that you scouted the locations very early in the process, before she came on to the project. Do you usually scout locations that early?
Andrew Haigh: Sometimes, yes. I guess I do. Certainly for [Weekend], because we weren’t paying anybody really to do the work on the film. You don’t want to take advantage of people’s generosity. You end up doing a lot of the work by yourself. But it is true that I need to see those locations early enough that they can then infiltrate into the script and I can adapt the script to fit the locations. Even with The North Water, we went up a year before, and we went up again. You go to all these environments, and even if it doesn’t end up being the exact environment, you get a sense of where you’re going to be filming. As much as I can, I want to be on location.
Obviously, Weekend is all on location. It’s in a tiny little flat that we found on the top floor of this building, which is now no longer there. Actually, they’ve knocked all those buildings down, which is really strange. That tower block in the film becomes a huge part of it. It becomes part of the visual language, part of the story, a reflection of Russell’s character.
How Russell’s apartment should look
7R: What were you looking for in that apartment?
Andrew Haigh: I knew that it had to be small, or that I wanted it to feel small. I wanted it to feel like this contained little world that the story could live in, like lots of people have lived there in the past. Russell was trying to bring his own life into that apartment in how he decorated it and all the places he would get his furniture from. I didn’t want it to feel depressing. It’s a nice place. He’s got a beautiful view; it looks out over Nottingham. But it’s not the kind of place you’d necessarily aspire to live in. But to him, it meant something: it was his own first place to live. He called it his own.
We looked at lots and lots of apartments. That was the one I knew we wanted. I think it was really close to shooting that they confirmed that we could use it, so it was really tense. It happens all the time, actually. Locations drop out. And I hate it because it’s been in your mind about how something is, and then suddenly, it’s a completely different location. You’re like, oh, Christ, now I have to reconceptualize it.
Finding Russell’s apartment
7R: When we talked for our ebook on Lean on Pete, you said that when you’re scouting for locations, you’re always checking if the location can accommodate your blocking. Is that something that was on your mind, too, with Weekend?
Andrew Haigh: When you’re in an apartment that is so small — and it is as small as it looks — even though the crew was about ten people, there was absolutely no room. I went there with the DP [Ula Pontikos] and with [production designer] Sarah [Finlay] at some point. It was just like, how on earth do you actually physically shoot in this environment? In many ways, that dictates how you end up blocking something.
There’s a scene in the kitchen when they’re talking, and really, there’s only one way you can shoot it, which is from one direction, because there’s no room anywhere else. I knew I didn’t want to cut within each scene; I wanted each scene to play out [in real time within a single take], which is what, predominantly, it does. It was just making sure that that environment was the right space to be able to shoot like that. It forces you into a narrower way of thinking of how to shoot a scene, which I like. If you’re on a soundstage, all the walls can come off. You can shoot from ten different directions. You can shoot all over the place. But you’re limited when you’re on location. I like those limitations.
Shooting in small spaces
7R: I was watching the special features on the Criterion Blu-Ray of Weekend, and I just couldn’t believe how much you got to fit into that tiny little space.
Andrew Haigh: The bedroom is tiny. The lounge is tiny. But I do remember that there were windows on all the sides, like behind the bed. There’s a window behind them in the kitchen. In the lounge bit, there’s a window, and then there’s some space behind the sofa. There was still enough depth. You can look down a corridor even though it’s not very big. The worst is if you’re in a tiny room, and all you have is a wall behind you, or there is no sense of space. [When you can] see out the windows, you can feel the life outside the windows, so it gives a bit of depth to the image.
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The quote from director Andrew Haigh is taken from our interview on Lean on Pete: “Blocking is everything”
Andrew Haigh on writing blocking into the screenplay for Weekend and beyond
7R: I know that when you write your screenplays now, you draw blocking diagrams as part of that process. Is that something that you were doing as early as Weekend?
Andrew Haigh: Yeah, I was doing that. In the opening section, when Glen is first in [Russell’s] bedroom, and there’s a long, long scene of them talking, this is essentially, if I remember rightly, three shots. It’s set up so that a third of the scene is in one shot, then it sort of jump cuts to another third of the scene, and then [the final] third of the scene. They are essentially separate scenes, but a long sequence. So I knew that the blocking was vital for that. I knew that the first scene needed to be slightly wider, and then the second section medium, and then a closeup. A whole sequence feels like how a normal scene would traditionally feel.
I block things quite precisely and then do diagrams with the camera placements. But then, it is always changeable. Sometimes, on set, we’ll be like, “Ah, that doesn’t work anymore. Let’s try something else.” And sometimes, that’s a bad decision, and I regret it later, I should have stuck with what I originally thought. But usually, it kind of works out. I guess the bigger the [project] gets, like on a bigger TV show, you don’t have the time to block every single scene like that. And then, you have to be a little bit more fluid when you’re shooting. When you’re doing multi-camera, which is what you usually do on TV, it’s kind of easier anyway. You don’t have to be so precise.
Andrew Haigh on why blocking is everything
7R: Have you done multi-camera?
Andrew Haigh: Looking was two cameras. The North Water was two cameras. Mainly, they do it because the networks want to make sure they have some coverage. I often don’t use the two cameras. There are times when I’ll be like, just put [one] camera away. Often, it’s very hard to try and work out where on earth you would put the camera. But if you’re going to cut within the dialogue scene, then having two cameras is useful if you can get them both in elegantly.
7R: Your blocking is always so precise. Even with Looking, I remember when I was watching a new episode, I would always be like, oh, that’s an Andrew Haigh episode. And then, I was not surprised when I saw your name at the end. You could always tell.
Andrew Haigh: I am pretty precise about it. But also, I want it to feel like I haven’t been precise, if that makes sense. It should feel like this was a natural progression of the scene. So a regular person that is not someone like you, or like a film critic, they never notice it. Or they almost feel like there’s cuts when there isn’t cuts. That’s the key. You can pretend you’re changing shot sides through the blocking without necessarily having to move the camera too much.
Andrew Haigh on learning from Weekend
7R: Those constraints that you had in the apartment in Weekend — were there things that you took from dealing with that that you brought to other projects later?
Andrew Haigh: When you’re starting out in your career, unless you’re given loads of money to make your first film, there are so many constraints and you find a way to work through that. You find a visual language, sometimes out of the constraints, and then you bring that with you, rather than suddenly, [when] you get more time and money, changing everything. I’ve definitely brought it with me.
Actually, interestingly, I think that I found that way of making something more in Greek Pete, the first [feature] I ever did, because it was essentially a dramatized documentary. They were non-actors. I could only work with them for, like, two hours before they didn’t want to do any more work, or they had to go do something else. [It was about,] what is the simplest way I can cover this scene? Because they’re not actors, so they can’t repeat things, and they were improvising. I liked how that felt, and so I tried to bring that onwards into the other things that I’ve made.
7R: I guess a lot of that was in his apartment, too.
Andrew Haigh: Exactly. If you’re just in a small environment, if you cut too much, it’s exhausting to watch. To me, it gets boring. I’m bored watching things that are just constantly cutting within a small space. I think letting things breathe a bit more in restrictive environments allows you to understand the environment better, understand how it is important to the story and important to where the characters are at.
Andrew Haigh on editing Weekend and beyond
7R: I’m wondering about your taste for not cutting very much. I know you used to edit other people’s work. Was that partly editing other people’s work, and thinking, eugh, why are you using so many shots?
Andrew Haigh: I think it’s that. Also, I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think it may actually be related to the fact that, when you’re in the edit on something that you’ve made, every time you cut, you are very, very aware of the cuts because you’ve cut them. So you’re like, okay, I feel that cut. [Using long takes and few cuts has] almost been a way for me to feel fresher when I’m watching something that I’ve edited, to watch it just unfold, because I’m actually less aware of the filmmaking. When I’m editing my own work, I like to still feel like I’m the audience. I think that’s bled into my instincts about not cutting.
Obviously, I do cut. And the bigger the things get, the more cutting there probably is, and that’s great. Cutting is good. It has an effect, and it works in scenes. But I’m always trying to find out what is the minimum that I can cut. If you have a group scene, once you get into coverage, you pretty much have to keep cutting. You can’t then suddenly go out and stay in a wide shot. It just doesn’t work. With two people [in a scene], it’s kind of easy not to cut. With six people in a scene, you have to start cutting more.
7R: Right, because then you can’t see what’s going on.
Andrew Haigh: You can’t see what’s going on. I mean, you can not cut. I mean, there’s lots of people that don’t cut in big group scenes. But it’s all dependent on what you’re trying to feel.
Andrew Haigh on working with an editor after Weekend
7R: When I talked to your frequent editor Jonathan Alberts — who worked on Looking, 45 Years, Lean on Pete, and The North Water — about cutting with you, he was talking about how you guys try everything. It’s trying to find the exact frame to cut on or else it goes wrong.
Andrew Haigh: I know I drive him absolutely crazy. He might do a scene that’s perfectly good and great and works. And often, we go back to his original cuts. But I almost have to go through that process. Weekend was interesting, because I edited it myself. I didn’t have an editor. I have a different connection with the material when I edit it myself. You know every single second of everything. When you’re a director, and someone else is editing, you’re not there when they’re doing the assembly. You are doing something else; you come back in. It’s a different relationship with the material.
The impossibility of getting distance from your work in the edit
7R: I imagine that it’s tough to edit your own work. I talked to Jonathan about the challenges of getting distance when he’s editing your work, but when you’re editing your own thing that you wrote, and you directed…
Andrew Haigh: It’s impossible. The truth is, whichever way it works, whether or not I’m editing it myself, there’s no distance. Distance just vanishes. And to be honest, it’s a nightmare I wish I could wake up from, because you want to be able to watch it fresh, and you just can’t.
I’ve tried so many techniques. One thing that oddly works when I’m watching something that I’ve edited, or have worked on for so long, is I try and concentrate only on their mouths, talking. Somehow, it makes you readjust your mind into focusing on what an audience often does look at, even if they don’t realize they’re looking at it.
The pleasures and challenges of editing yourself
7R: I imagine that part of the reason you edited Weekend yourself is that you just didn’t have the budget to hire an editor.
Andrew Haigh: Yeah, there was no choice. And I think I got paid a little bit of money to edit it. It was more than I got paid to direct Weekend. So I was like, okay, I’m going to edit it myself. I think it gave me, like, £300 a week — whatever we managed to get out of the budget.
I think if I did another really small project, I would be interested in going back and editing myself. Not that I don’t love working with Jonathan. I worked with Matt Hannam who did three episodes [of The North Water], and I loved working with him. I like working with editors.
But sometimes, I feel like it could be interesting just to see what it does to me to edit myself again. I personally want to keep trying to work out exactly what it is I’m trying to do in each project. I’m like, what can I try this time? What new muscles can I flex? What can I re-flex?
I do think there’s a real tendency, when you start working in the industry, that you automatically think that bigger is better. I especially find it in America, sometimes. There’s always a perception that, surely, you’d want to do a Marvel movie in the end. Well, no, not really. Or maybe I would if someone came to me with one.
But I think it’s sometimes important to remember that actually, this is the story that I want to tell next. And actually, I can make that for a million dollars or $500,000, and I can have nobody famous in it. You know that it will probably have a lot less people who will see it, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make it. I think you sometimes have to remind yourself that. When I look at the slate of projects I’ve got, there’s some that are slightly bigger, some that are much, much smaller.
7R: How many projects do you have on the go? Are you writing lots of different things?
Andrew Haigh: I probably have about five or six things. I’ve spoken to quite a lot of people about it, and I feel like it’s quite common as you get on in your career, because more people send you things and you’re like, oh, this is interesting. And then you take that on.
Especially because I’m doing TV and film, you get TV pilots sent to you. And you’re like, oh, maybe this is interesting. And before you know it, you’ve got this heap of projects that are stealing all of your attention. It’s a good problem to have. It’s better than having nothing.
TV vs. film
7R: Do you have preferences now between TV and film?
Andrew Haigh: I think my heart will always be in film. TV is a very, very different thing. Even though people seem to think it’s the same thing now, and filmmakers can go on and do TV. It’s not the same. You watch a film and it is a singular thing. It is like a dream. You start it. You wake up at the end of it. It’s there. It’s over.
A TV [series] is ongoing — it’s more like reading a book. You put it down; you pick it up. It has different expectations of an audience. There are certain things in film that you can do, that you can’t do in TV. TV has a different soundscape to it. It has a different way that you have to tell the story, which I don’t necessarily always like, so I try and make my TV feel as much as I can like a film.
7R: You’ve done lots of great TV.
Andrew Haigh: I do love doing it. It’s not like I don’t like it. Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to make films. And it’s getting harder and harder to make films that you are interested in. TV does open up opportunities to tell stories that you’ve never get to tell in film.
Working in chronological order
7R: I know you like to shoot your films in chronological order, which I imagine is a lot harder to do in TV, because you just don’t have the time or control.
Andrew Haigh: Yeah, I don’t tend to do it in TV, with the schedules. The slightly strange thing about TV is everybody wants it to feel filmic and feel like a movie, but at the same time, you’re not given the schedule that you would get on a movie.
Even if it’s a relatively high budget TV show, you’re still not given time. Looking was five days an episode to shoot, which is not very much. Occasionally, we had six days an episode. The wrap-up movie we did was like thirteen days.
You don’t get much time on a TV schedule. But at the same time, they want it to look good, and they want it to do all the things that film does. I find that a challenge. Whereas on 45 Years, we got six weeks to shoot it, and the film is only an hour and a half. You have time to try things.
Andrew Haigh on capturing Russell’s world in Weekend
7R: Back to Weekend. How did you think about how to shoot outside of Russell’s apartment? There’s lots of wide shots with long lenses so you can see Russell in his environment. I feel like that’s something that you’ve done a lot in your other work, too: like Charlotte walking across the landscape in 45 Years, or the characters in Looking against the romantic backdrop of San Francisco.
Andrew Haigh: We made the decision that the interior scenes in the flat would be shot on the [Canon] 5D, and there’s very little movement. We pan between the two. It was quite simple. And then outside, we used zoom lenses more. There was a different kind of aesthetic to it.
I think it was all about this idea of outside, in the world, Russell felt like he was being watched, because he wasn’t comfortable with his sexuality in the world. And then inside, there was a safety that he felt that allowed the camera to feel more intimate and closer, and closer to him.
A lot of the outdoor stuff was actually shot on a different camera because you couldn’t have a zoom lens on the 5D. So we had a different digital camera for outside.
I quite like that kind of picking someone out in the environment, and then honing in on them. I used it in 45 Years a lot, like when Charlotte [Rampling’s character Kate is] walking through the town towards the end. It’s basically a similar thing: we’re on a zoom lens, and we’re moving closer to her. I like playing with that idea of the private and the public. If it’s a gay story, that definitely makes a lot of sense because you feel less comfortable in the outside world than you do on the inside. But for Kate, too, in 45 Years, suddenly, in the outside world, the world is pushing in on her; she’s feeling it.
It’s always about trying to just work out how the environment is affecting the character and then finding a way to shoot that. You hope that that can somehow come across.
Andrew Haigh on getting out of your comfort zone in Weekend and beyond
7R: Russell’s apartment is so cozy. He’s comfortable there. But that comfort makes him complacent and that can be stagnating. You get that partly from the contrast between inside and outside. But I feel like that’s a theme across a lot of your work: this idea of comfort and then the need to get out of your comfort zone.
Andrew Haigh: Yeah, I think that’s true. That’s smart. I do feel like that’s my life, as well. I think all of us love comfort, and we need comfort. We want it: in a relationship and in our lives. We want to feel that we are protected. Sometimes, that is just by sitting on a sofa that’s comfortable — as simple as that. We need to feel that.
But you have to live in the world, as well. And I think if you don’t feel part of the world, that can be a very challenging thing. I think all of my characters — Charley in Lean on Pete, Russell [in Weekend], and Kate [in 45 Years] — are trying to find a way to live in the world that they don’t quite understand or don’t quite fit into. They have to force themselves.
I think all of my characters, actually, are constantly trying to test themselves and force themselves into environments that they feel very, very uncomfortable in. But they still push forward. In some strange way, my characters are both very resilient and also kind of terrified at the same time. They’re very nervous in the world, but they are quite resilient. They can deal with things in ways that they didn’t think they would be able to do.
The influence of Watership Down
7R: I have a couple of friends that make the YA Podcast Hazel & Katniss & Harry & Starr, and they did an episode about Watership Down. They described it as a story about somebody who needs to get out of their complacency. When I heard that, because I hadn’t read it or seen it, I immediately googled your name and Watership Down. (Andrew laughs) Because I was like, that sounds like an Andrew Haigh thing. I hadn’t realised that it’s one of your favourite films.
Andrew Haigh: That’s so funny. I love that film. It terrified me, as a kid, absolutely terrified me, but I could not stop watching it. I still watch it now. I’ve got the Criterion edition of it, and I love it so much.
It’s very easy to fall into complacency. Essentially, what you are doing is not taking control of your life. You’re not using the freedom that is inherent to all of us. You’re not using it in the best way you can. In Watership Down, that’s what they’re doing. They’re sort of having to do it. And it doesn’t mean that it’s not painful. It doesn’t mean that it’s not full of suffering. They won’t necessarily succeed. But it’s the existential desire to try and make the most of your life, even if it’s very complicated.
I think all of my characters are trying. Even Sumner in The North Water, it’s the same thing. He’s trying to be better, trying to do good, trying to find a place in the world that he can feel strong. It doesn’t mean he’ll get there. It doesn’t mean he’ll be successful, but at least he’s trying. And I think all of them are doing the same thing, as are the rabbits.
Andrew Haigh on collaboration
7R: From talking to your collaborators, the impression that I get is that, during production, your closest collaborations are with the actors and the DP, and everyone else is more or less allowed to go off and do their own thing.
Andrew Haigh: I think that’s true. In prep, it’s the other people: it’s the production designers, etc. But also, look, you hire the right person, and if they do good work, then I want them to just go off and do it.
The truth is, I can’t think about all of those things when I’m shooting. I can’t think of costumes when I’m doing Looking. But we had Danny Glicker, who’s a great costume designer, to do it for me. He’s great, and I don’t need to worry about it. I only need to think about it if something doesn’t feel right, and then I’ll say something.
In the moment of shooting, to me, it is all about the actors and the camera, and how that camera records what the actors are doing. In the moment, nothing else matters to me. That’s the thing that, in the end, is the most important. That’s the thing you are recording.
Andrew Haigh on working with DPs on Weekend and beyond
7R: How do you navigate that collaboration with the DP?
Andrew Haigh: It’s a strange collaboration with the DP because they are very, very creative individuals who have a very strong opinion of things, which is what you want them to have. But at the same time, I want them to reflect how I see the world. So I want to try to get them to see through my eyes. It’s just a discussion and a conversation and a feeling.
I don’t really know how it works. I don’t spend hours and hours talking to a DP about things, just like I don’t spend hours and hours with actors rehearsing. I’m quite sure about what I want when I’m shooting. I have a decision about something, and that’s just how I want it to look and feel. And then, you hope that you and the DP can collaborate on doing that the best they can. I’m always open to their suggestions. The DP, oddly, is like another actor in the scene, when they’re good. It’s like they are another performer, working with the actors and you to make it come alive.
7R: Do you feel like that’s true whether the camera is moving or still?
Andrew Haigh: Even when it’s still, something strange happens [between the DP and the actors]. It’s why I like the DP to operate themselves, as much as they can. If you’re doing steadicam or something, then you can’t. It’s why, even though I do use steadicam, I don’t really love it, because it’s not the DP operating.
There is some kind of relationship that happens between the DP, or the operator even, and the actor. Jonathan Groff, in Looking, would talk about it. When Reed Morano was the DP in the first season, he would feel her behind the camera. He would feel that camera moving, and he would respond to that movement. A good actor can sense that the camera has decided to move a little bit closer, and they will respond. A rush of emotion may come from them from that movement.
It’s very hard to get that special moment. It can sometimes come from an out breath coming at the same time as the camera moves slightly in. It can be so subtle. I remember, in the end of Looking: The Movie, there’s a scene with Jonathan and Raul in the diner at the end, and they’re talking. Raúl was looking at Jonathan, and I wanted there to be [some kind of] a release. I talked to Raúl about holding his breath, and then just letting it go when he feels like he can’t hold it anymore. At the same time, Xavier, on the camera, just moved slightly in, a tiny, tiny bit, as that exhalation was coming. I think it creates a little emotion in you, as an audience. You’re like, “Oh, I feel something. There’s something happening in that moment.”
But they don’t come very often. You know what I mean? Because most of the time, it’s like, shit, we’ve got to go on. And you haven’t quite got that moment. That’s what you’re chasing all the time is that sudden moment when you’re like, oh fuck, there’s something there that I’ve got it in that moment. It really does not happen very often. It happens once in a blue mood and probably only about six times on a film or a TV show, but that’s kind of enough. You can’t have it all the time. But when you get that, it’s like, ah yes, that’s it! That’s the moment I wish I could get all the time!
On working with different EPs
7R: You’ve worked with a lot of different cinematographers, so does that change? Do you feel like you learn something from each one?
Andrew Haigh: I think you learn something from each one. You’re right. I’ve always worked with different cinematographers, I guess. I’ve worked with Magnus [Jønck], who did Lean on Pete, and then on a couple of episodes of The OA. Xavier Grobet did the second season of Looking and then did the movie. So I do sometimes have the same DP.
But I quite like it being a different DP. Something about the energy from that is quite interesting. It’s like working with a different cast. It’s the same thing. I like the sort of tension that comes from a new DP. I quite like that newness in each project.
7R: They don’t already know how you work.
Andrew Haigh: Yeah. You sort of want there to be a little bit of a tussle, not in any kind of vocal sense, but even just emotionally, as they’re trying to work out what you want. You’re trying to work out what works. The actors are trying to work out what is good. It’s why I don’t like to rehearse too much, because I like to see them trying to work it out. I think what comes out is maybe a sort of vulnerability from everybody because you’re not entirely sure what the hell it is you’re doing. That gives a certain texture to what you see on the screen.
Andrew Haigh on working with actors on Weekend and beyond
7R: Weekend was your first feature film where you were working with actors. I think you gave an interview where you were like, yeah, I didn’t know how you work with actors when I did that. Obviously, you’ve figured it out at this point, and you figured it out with Weekend.
Andrew Haigh: I don’t know if I ever figured it out. I still don’t know if I figured that out. I’m convinced a part of my directorial skill with actors is just fear. It’s fear of not knowing what to say to them. I was talking to Colin Farrell about it on The North Water: he said he really enjoyed the process of working, because I don’t always know what to say to an actor. I just don’t say anything in a moment, and sometimes, that’s exactly the right thing to say.
What I tried to do on Weekend was just watch them and feel what they were trying to feel. I don’t mind if it’s not always right. If it’s interesting, then it’s good. I tried to make them feel comfortable enough that they can just try it again. Nudge when you need to nudge and give them something to do when they’re in their heads. Whatever it is, just try and make people feel comfortable in the moment.
I’m not a very — this is probably not the right word — ‘manly’ filmmaker, if you know what I mean. I’m not dictating what it should be. I think that allows other people to do something slightly different with their performances. The North Water was all a bunch of quite big men in a big manly thing, but I think there’s a sort of vulnerability to their performances, which I think comes from a different way of working, maybe. And that, I think, is what I learned on Weekend.
It was very, very collaborative on Weekend with the actors, more so probably than anything else has been since. Every night, we would sit and go through the script and work out what we should do the next day, what was working and wasn’t working. There was probably more improvisation on that than I’ve done on anything else. That was a very, very collaborative process. I like that.
Sometimes, you need to be firm about certain things. Everybody loves to improvise, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. If you’ve got to improvise, it’s got to be improvising within a very strict boundary. I often find that if you tell an actor to improvise, they often stick to the script a lot more than if you tell them that they can’t improvise. It’s almost that they feel like, because they can, they look at the words that you’ve given them in a slightly different way. It’s all manipulation. You’re just constantly trying to manipulate people into doing what you want to do, but in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re some crazed dictator.
7R: Why was Weekend particularly collaborative?
Andrew Haigh: I think it probably was just about not knowing what the hell I was doing. And just trying to be open to discussion. I knew I wanted to be the kind of filmmaker that brought people in, the people that you were working with, and used their skills. I can’t act. I’m never going to be able to act. The actor is always going to know more than I am. So you want to utilize that, not try to shut that down.
7R: You were talking before about nudging actors. What does that look like?
Andrew Haigh: Sometimes, it is literally just going up to them at the end of the take, putting your hand on their shoulder, and being like, “That’s good. That’s good. Try it again.” I know, that doesn’t sound like it’s nudging, but sometimes, it’s just about giving some encouragement. Or giving them something to do slightly differently. I often find that giving really, really simple actions can suddenly make the scene come alive.
It’s always about working out the psychology of the character in that moment, and what would they literally be doing with their hands; trying to find something for them to do that isn’t random, but actually reflects their state of mind. If you can find that thing, then I think actors love it. But there’s a fine line, because you’ve got to find the right thing.
Most of my directions are just trying to find the right thing for them to do, or the right thing to look at, or the right time to look up, or the right time to look away. I try to only give one thing per take. There’s no point in giving a bunch of directions. You want to give one little thing, and then, see how that works. And then, give them another little thing and see how that works.
You only have a limited amount of time, as well. You have to make a decision, and you have to see what they’re giving you. They’re giving you something that, even though it’s not what you necessarily thought the scene was, if you know that you’ve probably only got about four or five takes before you have to move on, then sometimes, it’s better to stick with that, and work with that, than trying to reinvent what their performance is.
Andrew Haigh on rehearsing Weekend
7R: I know you say that you don’t like to do rehearsals, but I find every director means something different by that. Some people call sitting at a table talking about the script rehearsal, and other people say, “That’s not rehearsal. That’s just prep.” I believe I heard that on Weekend, you had a week of rehearsal. But what does rehearsal mean to you?
Andrew Haigh: That’s very true. What I don’t want to do is go through all of the scenes and rehearse them in any traditional sense. But certainly, I want to talk about the script. We will go through each scene talking about it. Absolutely.
When we did 45 Years, I went to Paris and saw Charlotte [Rampling] for three days, and we went through the script every day. We talked about ourselves, about ideas, about everything. It was the same with Tom [Courtenay] on 45 Years, and it was the same with Tom [Cullen] and Chris [New] on Weekend.
On Weekend, we did go through the script, and we read through it. I cut stuff out, and I added things. I don’t think I’ve actually done that since. Maybe I did on 45 Years; I did a read through. It gets harder, the more actors you have, because you can’t get them together.
I still rehearse on set. The first couple of takes that we do, to me, are just rehearsals that happen to be on camera. But I don’t do huge amounts of rehearsal, I think, is the better way to put it.
But I absolutely do prep. I will send the actors things. On The North Water, I sent the actors photos. I sent them historical documents and my idea of what I wanted it to feel like to then start conversations. It’s gentle rehearsal.
7R: I feel like that’s pretty common. And then there’s just some people, often from theatre, who want to get the actors up and moving.
Andrew Haigh: The other weird thing about being a filmmaker is you don’t work on other people’s sets; you only work on your own sets. Crews get to work with all kinds of directors.
It’s actually quite a lonely job, being a director, because it’s just you. Even when you meet other directors, you don’t necessarily sit around and talk about how you direct. It’s a very strange thing. I just do what I do. I have no idea what other directors that I admire might do. I’d love to know, actually, how they work, but I’ve got no idea.
On how other directors work
7R: Last summer, we started running this series of conversations between pairs of directors. They’re always so excited because they never get to talk to other directors about what they do.
Andrew Haigh: Never. What’s really nice, especially when you do it without anybody listening, is you get to talk about the insecurities that you have, as a director. I think, as a director, you’re supposed to pretend you don’t have any. I understand that, when you’re working, because you’re trying to gain everyone’s confidence.
But directors are riddled with insecurities and fears that what they’re doing is wrong, and they’re terrible. And their first assembly is a nightmare. When you talk to other directors, it’s a really nice thing to realize that everybody goes through it. Especially directors that you really admire and really like. When you find out that they find the job a nightmare half the time, you’re like, “Okay, that’s good. It’s good to know that everyone finds it difficult.”
7R: I don’t think anybody likes their first assembly.
Andrew Haigh: Oh, god, no. Horrendous, horrendous, horrendous.
Listen to our podcast celebrating the tenth anniversary of Andrew Haigh’s Weekend
There’s even a brief audio clip from this interview of Andrew Haigh discussion Russell and Jamie’s relationship in Weekend.
Andrew Haigh on the Jamie relationship in Weekend and the importance of secondary characters
7R: We recently recorded a podcast on Weekend for its tenth anniversary, and we were surprised by how much time we spent talking about the relationship between Russell and his best friend, Jamie, since Jamie has limited screen time. But that relationship is so important to Russell. How did you think about that relationship?
Andrew Haigh: I do think that people sometimes forget that there’s other people in Weekend. I think it’s the same in 45 Years, like with Kate’s friend who she talks to a lot. They are sort of forgotten when people think about the films, but they’re fundamentally important to the understanding of the film and how it feels, I think. That was always my intention.
That relationship that Russell has with his friend is vital because it’s almost the thing that is keeping him back. He doesn’t want to change his friendships. He doesn’t want to lose the friendships he has. And of course, he won’t lose them. In Weekend, his friends love him for who he is. His reticence to live truthfully is his own rather than his friends’. But at the same time, there’s sort of an uncomfortableness.
Times change. I wrote this twelve years ago. It was a different environment then. People forget that. Everyone’s like, “Everybody loves gay people now. It’s all great. Everyone loves queer people.” But it wasn’t that long ago when it was a very, very different situation. I sometimes get a bit frustrated that people forget that.
Queer people still remember what it was like, and we still bring that knowledge with us going forward in life, not feeling comfortable. I know, even now, if I’m in a room full of straight people, I’m different than if I’m in a room full of queer people. I’m a different person. Suddenly, I’m like, I’m freer now. I don’t have to worry about anything. Even if you know you don’t have to in the other environment [full of straight people], you still feel like you do.
Russell feels like if he wants to live a gay life, let’s say, he has to turn away from the rest of his life. I think that’s a very common feeling for a lot of gay people. They [wonder], can I bring these two worlds together? Or do I have to say goodbye to that world? In those days, you couldn’t get married, and gay people didn’t have kids. It was a very different situation. You felt like your life would have to be separate from straight life.
When Russell sees Jamie, again towards the end, it’s Jamie that’s like, “Come on. You can do this. You’ve got to go to the station and see him. You’ve got to take control.” It’s maybe slightly depressing that Russell needs his friends to tell him it’s all right in order for him to feel like it’s all right. But I felt like that was relatively truthful to how that character would have been.
How things have changed for queer people (or not)
7R: I remember what it was like back then, but I also forget that that was just ten years ago. I was recently watching interviews that you gave at the time, and listening to the kinds of questions you were getting, I was like, oh my god, were we doing that back in 2011? In my head, it was somehow further away.
Andrew Haigh: It is very strange. It can be quite tough for queer people, in that regard. Everybody else feels like they’ve moved on, but they forget that they were the ones before that weren’t able to move on. They made it quite difficult for queer people. They’ve sort of forgotten all that now, like, “Oh, we love you. We were never bad to you, were we?” And you’re like, “Excuse me! I’ve heard all of you say things only six years ago, that now would be perceived as absolutely unsayable. And you’ve all said it.” Of course, we don’t remind them because, I guess, why would we? But it’s always there. Times have changed so rapidly, but people do need to remember what it was like.
On what a new Haigh film about a gay relationship might look like
7R: It’s true that they have changed. But on the other hand, Patrick in Looking is dealing with a lot of the same stuff as Russell is. When I watch Weekend now, I don’t look at it and think, that’s a period piece about 2011. Those things are still happening now. It’s just that the world around them was that much worse.
Andrew Haigh: And now, let’s say I do another film that is about a gay relationship, they would still have the same problems, because you bring all of those things with you. You don’t suddenly get over them. You don’t suddenly get over feeling alien from your family growing up.
I was talking to someone the other day, and they’re like, “Oh, it’s so great that you can come out really easily to your family.” And I’m like, “Well, that’s not entirely true. I don’t believe that that’s the case.” Also, I think, sometimes, people forget that you still are constantly coming out. I had to come out to the taxi driver the other day. They ask you, have you got a girlfriend at home? And you’re like, wow, you still have to do it. Every time you do it, a little part of you remembers all of those other times you had to do it. You’re dragging all of that with you, and that won’t go away. Regardless of whether everyone says they like you now or no one cares, you still care. You still have all of that stuff that you’re bringing with you.
The tension between the past and present in Weekend and Andrew Haigh’s other work
7R: That’s one of the things that I love so much about your work. I don’t think I’ve seen how the past and present are in tension with each other in a lot of other stories.
Andrew Haigh: A lot of people keep saying, “Oh, we should stop telling coming out stories. We should stop telling first gay love stories. Now, we should have gay superheroes.” Which is fine, have gay superheroes, whatever, great, fantastic. But it doesn’t mean that those other stories aren’t interesting, if they’re done the right way and say something about what it is to be queer. Those things are still really interesting and still need to be unraveled even if the world thinks we should move on.
7R: There’s lots of people who are not there yet, anyway.
Andrew Haigh: Exactly. And even the ones that are there… like, I couldn’t be any out-er. I’m publicly out; I do interviews and I’m talking about being gay. But that doesn’t mean that it’s still not something that I have to deal with and try and work out how I feel about it, and how I feel going into a room and being the only gay person [there].
On how the past affects everything
7R: If you were born more than, say, ten years ago, you don’t have the privilege of having grown up in a better world. It’s almost unfathomable to me when I think about how sexist the environment was, say, five years ago, and fifteen years ago. That’s one of the ways that it’s connected for me is you forget that it was there, but of course, that’s still part of your identity and how you see the world.
Andrew Haigh: Absolutely. It’s forged; it is set in stone, how you are treated in the world, as a woman, as a gay person, as a person of colour. They are scars, essentially, that you cannot remove. And you constantly will have to keep dealing with them. In terms of the gay thing, it’s very different! I know some people now, like some relatives of mine, have come out, and they’re like, thirteen. You’re like, wow. It’s a different world! It’s fantastic! I’m glad it is a different world. I’m really glad it is.
7R: I went to an all girls high school, and obviously, girls were dating each other then. But at the time, it was a big deal that the head girl wanted to bring her girlfriend to prom, and she wasn’t allowed to. And now, they have PDA rules at the school. I can’t even imagine that having been the case when I was there. It was so secretive back then.
Andrew Haigh: I remember being at school and there was not a single gay person that was out. You wouldn’t even dream of it at a school of a thousand people. Nobody, not a single person, was gay — officially, obviously. And that’s in the late ’80s. Times have dramatically changed.
Andrew Haigh on the changing landscape of queer cinema since Weekend
7R: What has that been like for you, as a filmmaker, to see the queer films that we now have that didn’t exist back when Weekend was made?
Andrew Haigh: Maybe this was part of why I wanted to make Weekend. In the ’80s, especially in Britain, but also in America, with the New Queer Cinema movement, some really interesting queer films were made. In Britain, it was the same. They made My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, 1985), Prick Up Your Ears (Stephen Frears, 1987), and Young Soul Rebels (Isaac Julien, 1991). Derek Jarman was making films.
There were queer films being made in the ’80s that were political, and they were angry, and they were very queer. They were saying something. They were linking queerness and politics in a really interesting way. And then, there was a sort of blanding out of queer stories. They all got a little bit tedious. Some of them were good, but it wasn’t [the same].
I wanted Weekend to hark back to some of those earlier films a little bit and try and be a little bit more… radical is not the right word, but a little bit more confrontational, let’s say. To make people think a little bit. And maybe even be quite aggressive to a non-gay audience to be like, “Oh, is that what you feel? Is that how you think it is?”
I think that that still exists now. There are still some good LGBT films that are coming out. But it goes in waves, of being like, oh, these are quite challenging. And then they’re like, it’s just going to be nice and about love and kissing and romance. And then, it will come back again. It’s like waves of anger rushing out that will hopefully come up in cinema.
Getting political but not didactic on screen
7R: How do you thread your political ideas through a film without it being like, ‘Here are my ideas’?
Andrew Haigh: With Weekend, I spent a long time trying to work out how their characters would relate to their viewpoints on the world, whether it was to do with queer politics, or whatever it was to do with: to try and [create a] sense that a person’s politics comes out of their situation. It comes out of how they’re brought up, their background. It’s forged in the fires of their youth. I wanted to make sure that it always felt like that.
A lot of the time, first drafts are very dogmatic and very on the nose about what they’re trying to say, and then you try and find ways to soften it. But the reality is, people do talk about things. In some films, you’re like, are we pretending that people don’t talk anymore? People talk. When you’re having a relationship, you want to try and understand the other person so you talk about things. You talk about what you feel about the world. You talk about your experiences.
A perfect way to understand character is in the beginning of a relationship; it’s the perfect way to understand someone’s backstory, because essentially, it’s two people trying to tell each other who they are. Sometimes, not telling the truth, sometimes, telling the truth, sometimes, elaborating on the truth, but they’re giving a version of themselves to the person that they’re trying to attract. Politics and how I feel about the world, I always want it to be in there, but in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m screaming at the audience, telling them what to think.
Andrew Haigh on upending heteronormative narratives in Weekend and beyond
7R: Something running through the film that Glen talks about a bunch are the heteronormative narratives we have about romance and love and the way that that can be kind of toxic. This is going to be a very roundabout question. They have that moment at end of the film at the train station, where they’re like, “Oh, is this our Notting Hill moment?” And they’re like, “Oh, I haven’t seen it anyway.” But you worked on Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999)!
Andrew Haigh: I did work [on Notting Hill]. That’s true. I did. I was an apprentice editor on it.
7R: What stories did you have in mind that you’re sort of rebelling against, or maybe thinking about how to pull out what you like and change what you don’t?
Andrew Haigh: I feel like the characters, as I do, both want to be part of the mainstream, and we also don’t want to be part of the mainstream. It’s a constant tug of war between the two things. We both want to be accepted, but we also don’t want to be like everyone else. Glen desperately wants to be, essentially, in his eyes, a queer radical artist, but at the same time, he wants to fall in love and have a relationship. He may talk about how he doesn’t want all those things, but he desperately wants to be with Russell. But then he goes away, because he’s also terrified of that.
It’s such a mix of wanting to be part of something, wanting it to be Notting Hill, and to have a great big [romance]. But if I saw a queer film that was exactly the same as Notting Hill, I’d probably think it was gross because I don’t want us to necessarily have to fall into those stereotypes. At the same time, I’d probably love it. It’s a very, very difficult thing.
This heteronormative idea of love is still there now. Queer lives are put into that narrative still. You see lots of gay people and lesbians on commercials now, selling bank products. But it’s still the same fucking story. It’s still like, “Oh look, gay people can have a kid. They can live happily married.” There is a narrative, that to be accepted, we have to be a certain type of queer person, which is what Glen is still talking about in Weekend ten years ago.
I don’t feel like that’s changed. If we want to be part of the world, and we want to be selling products for corporations, then we have to be a very, very certain type of gay person. And I do feel that’s actually quite a damaging thing. It’s not to say people don’t want to be like that. But it’s sort of saying that the other people that don’t want to be like that are somehow wrong, and somehow need to live under the surface of society.
On contemporary queer romances
7R: A lot of those narratives are really toxic regardless. They’re really patriarchal. Something that Brandon Nowalk said, who used to write the Looking recaps for The AV Club — he’s kind of joking, but it’s also kind of true — is that the queers have gentrified the romance genre and now the straights are priced out.
Andrew Haigh: It’s very true. That’s very good.
7R: A lot of the best romances now end up being queer stories. One of the reasons, I think, is because they don’t have to fall into those toxic ideas from heteronormative stories that go back ages and ages.
Andrew Haigh: I think that’s very true. I think that’s exactly why there have been a lot of queer romantic stories. It’s hard, isn’t it? Because if you’re making those films, you’re rebelling against the traditional, heteronormative narrative, but you’re also sort of playing into it, as well. It’s very, very difficult to get it right. Because then, you feel like, well, I have to have some kind of happy ending, don’t I? Or should I not have a happy ending? If I don’t have a happy ending, what does that say? There’s a lot of pressure on those narratives. It’s good that those films are being made. Thank god. They never used to be.
7R: Yeah. But it’s still not enough.
Andrew Haigh: No.
On getting the work seen
7R: People don’t see them, I guess, is also the problem.
Andrew Haigh: This is the problem. The truth is that people need to remember that, probably, queer cinema is never going to be mainstream. It just won’t be. And you sort of have to be okay with that. You have to accept that, and it has to be okay. They’re always going to have a niche audience. And actually, that’s quite exciting, because you can embrace that and do things that you couldn’t if you’re doing it for a mainstream audience,
7R: Because you don’t have to cater to everyone. You can exactly cater to what you want.
Andrew Haigh: Exactly, exactly.
7R: That must have been quite a shift, then, to go from Weekend, where you’re deliberately rebelling against this, to then 45 Years, where you have a straight couple who’ve been married for forty-five years.
Andrew Haigh: I loved the juxtaposition, I guess, between those two stories at the time. Every time I go into one of these stories, I’m trying to find the side angle into that story. Essentially, I guess, [I’m trying to find] the queer narrative in that story.
They are not a traditional heterosexual couple [in 45 Years]. You don’t see stories about two old people that don’t have grandkids and kids. They don’t exist in the world. And you certainly don’t see a story where the woman is the centre of that story. And she herself is essentially having an existential crisis, which is usually given to men and never given to women. So it was a different angle into this story. That was what drew me to that and made me want to tell it. It could have been two gay people in that story. I could have almost told it the same way, which I quite liked.
I think I’m always trying to do that, whether it’s a bunch of men on a ship [in The North Water], or whether it’s a story of an American kid [in Lean on Pete]. It’s like, how can I find a slightly different angle into this, which feels truer to me and how I see things?
7R: What was that on Lean on Pete for you?
Andrew Haigh: There was a tenderness to that kid. To me, he absolutely could have been gay, that kid. I think, in my head, he was. He’s never with any girls, but he’s never with any boys. To me, he felt like a gay kid. There was something so, so sensitive about him, and sensitive about Charlie Plummer’s portrayal of him, that I really loved. Throughout the story, he was both tough, but incredibly sensitive, at the same time. He was broken and emotional and struggling.
I still don’t feel like that is a traditional male story, even if you do see him as a straight kid. I think, for men, when they look at their stories of tough kids, they want them tough and scrappy. They want them to get what they want from the world. They don’t want a gentle little boy that could almost look like a girl.
The dad is a bit of a dick in that story, but he also loves his son. He’s super soft and gentle with him, too, as well as being a dick. I’m trying to find the middle ground in characterisation, I suppose. Trying to find what you might perceive someone to be, and then be like, hold on, maybe that’s not quite who you think it is.
I want to do that with genre, as well. So you’re like, oh, [The North Water] is going to be a big, manly story of adventure at the sea! And then you’re like, is it that? I don’t think it is that. It feels like it’s not that, and why isn’t it that? Do I like that this is not that? I find that really interesting. With a story or a character, you can lead people down the path to believing they’re one thing, and then be like, hold up, this actually isn’t who this person is. This isn’t the story of redemption, you might think it is, because all the other stories are. But this isn’t. You might think this is a story of toxic masculinity. Yes, it is that, but it’s not just that. It’s something else, too.
The challenge is, how the fuck do you get that to an audience? And allow the audience to understand that? Because audiences sort of don’t want it to be lots of different things. They want it to be one thing that they can understand in a certain way. I mean, I’m generalizing, of course.
The difficulties of challenging an audience
7R: But I think that’s true. The more complex your film is, the more likely it is to be misunderstood.
Andrew Haigh: Exactly. Or not given the time to be understood. We think it’s about one thing; it’s disregarded before you can be like, hold up, what actually is this saying? And I think it’s especially the case if you do something like an American road movie, or you do something set on a ship. Or with 45 Years, you do something about a romantic relationship between two old people. It suddenly sets off, “Oh, I get what that is.” When they’re watching it, people want it to be that. And then sometimes [are] disappointed that it’s not that when it was never your intention for it to be that.
7R: I find that really frustrating, too. I think a lot of the best movies do what you’re not expecting. But then, the way a lot of reviews get written, they write their review five minutes after watching the film, and they’re not interested in that complexity.
Andrew Haigh: I also think that it’s especially difficult with English-language films. When you have a foreign language film, you automatically assume that it’s going to be a little bit more challenging. Also, you have to read the subtitles rather than actually just listen to it. It’s almost assumed that there’s probably something else going on here.
But English-language filmmaking is expected to follow some tropes more than, say, a French film. You don’t expect a French film to necessarily follow the tropes that we expect of a standard thriller or standard romantic comedy.
Working in Britain vs the US
7R: Do you think that works differently in the British film industry versus in the US?
Andrew Haigh: I think they’ve all become a bit of a mishmash, to be honest. American cultural hegemony goes over to the UK. We’ve sucked it up, and we want to be part of that. You see it everywhere. The BAFTAs is for American films more than it is for British films. The Booker Prize is for all English-language books, rather than just British books. And I feel like it’s a mistake. Canada’s the same. You want Canada to have its cultural heritage. You want Britain to have its cultural heritage, and they tell different types of stories. We’re not all the same. Britain is not the same as America, just because we speak the same language.
Telling stories about AIDS on screen
7R: We recently recorded a podcast on AIDS stories on screen, which included a discussion of Weekend. We talked about how, when we think about stories about the AIDS crisis on screen, there were a bunch while it was going on. Then, there was Angels in America (Mike Nichols, 2003) and a couple things in the 2000s. But it wasn’t until after Weekend came out that we started getting a ton of AIDS stories, like How to Survive a Plague (David France, 2012) and BPM (Robin Campillo, 2017). Weekend was somehow before we started dealing with that on screen, and then of course, now you’re working on this project on Act Up, adapting Let The Record Show as a TV series.
Andrew Haigh: There are so many more stories to tell about the AIDS crisis. It was such a devastation to communities, not just to queer communities, but to other communities. So many people died, and so many young people died. There is absolutely a story to tell. With ACT UP, it’s the strength and the passion and the power of that activism and what they managed to do: actually change minds and opinions and change the medical establishment. Probably, really the last successful social movement in America was the AIDS activist movement. To tell their stories is fundamental. It helps us understand lots of the political and social movements of today.
But I also feel like the legacy of AIDS and what it did to people… I’m forty-eight now. I’m slightly younger than the generation that was seeing all of their friends being killed, dying. But I’m the generation that grew into their sexuality thinking, fuck, if I’m going to be gay, I’ve probably got death to look forward to. That leaves a very, very big scar on queer lives. And I think that’s an interesting story to tell.
There’s lots of different ways that the AIDS crisis can be told and lots of different stories. Pretty much, PreP in the US and the people that can afford it around the world has stopped people getting AIDS. But people are still dying around the world. In ten years, fifteen years, probably, there will be a vaccine, I’m sure. But we need to still remember those stories. They still need to be told and kept in the narrative.
Andrew Haigh reflects back on Weekend and how it changed his life
7R: What has your experience been with Weekend, in the intervening years since it came out? Do you hear from people who saw it?
Andrew Haigh: It’s so meaningful to me. Part of wanting to make that film was to feel like I wasn’t alone in how I felt about being gay, and how I felt about living in the world. The film did more than I could ever have imagined.
But even in the long term, people now come to me and say, “I love that film, and it meant so much to me.” I still get emails and stuff and messages, like, “I came out after I saw this film, and it did so much for me.” I bet it’s really annoying for some other filmmakers when they make their film and [people are] like, oh, it’s a bit like Weekend! I’m like, you poor fuckers, you must hate the fact that they refer to that.
If it’s inspired other filmmakers to make films, that’s amazing. Look, there were other films that inspired me to make Weekend. I was really inspired by what were then called mumblecore American films, by [filmmakers] like Joe Swanberg and Aaron Katz. I was inspired by them to tell my version of that story. That’s how it works. You are inspired by other people, and you hope that it inspires other people. I love that.
I still think that it will probably be the film that has the most effect on people that I will ever make. And that’s fine. I like that, If you can make one thing that actually has an impact on people, that’s a pretty amazing feat.
It’s such a long [time ago]. It’s ten years, and it freaks me out that it’s ten years. That’s so scary to me. A lot has happened in that time. I’ve had a career, which I never really thought I would have, and it’s all from that film. My life has changed because of that film. I’m insanely grateful for it and pleased that I got to make it.
There’s always been talk of whether I would do a sequel and whether we would go back and do it again. Over the years, I’ve thought about it. But it feels like it exists as its own thing. I would always be very wary about reopening that. Actually, Chris [New] isn’t acting anymore, so that would be very tricky. But it’s very hard to revisit something like that. Obviously, [Richard] Linklater did it and did it really well with [the Before trilogy]. But for me, it was such a thing of that time in my life that it would be hard to redo that.
Andrew Haigh on the ending of Weekend
7R: In Weekend, Russell and Glen have this really tender and intimate connection, but there’s no expectation that it’s going to be anything more than that weekend. I love Linklater’s Before movies, too, and Before Sunset (2004) is like, oh, well, they were always meant to be, and will they get back together? And it was great to see that they did get together. But I sort of don’t care if Russell and Glen ever see each other again, because that weekend changed their lives, and whether they are with each other or not doesn’t really matter.
Andrew Haigh: Exactly. And the truth is, they probably wouldn’t be very good together. I actually don’t see them as a relationship. But I feel like they were so fundamental to each other. Russell’s life will be infinitely better through meeting Glen, but that doesn’t mean that they would have actually worked as a couple. We all go through life meeting people, whether they’re lovers or friends, and we don’t necessarily have to have them in our lives for very long. But they leave a really, really important mark. They change you fundamentally, and you could only have been with them for a weekend. Those relationships are as important as long-term relationships.
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