Freitag, 14. Dezember 2012

INTERVIEW: CHRIS MORRIS

Als kleine Adventszugabe zu Heft 27, das gerade im Druck ist, hier ungekürzt und im Original ein Interview, das Steve Hudson im Rahmen der Veranstaltungsreihe "Der komische Film" des Filmforums NRW am 14. März auf Englisch mit Chris Morris ("Four Lions") geführt hat. Vielen Dank an Esther Rossenbach und an Steve Hudson für die Abdruckgenehmigung, an den Verlag der Autoren fürs Transkript und an Ellen Wagner für die Korrekturen.




Steve Hudson:
What actually happens though, you’re walking along the street, you’d woken up in the morning, gone to bed at night and for some reason or other you think: I’m going to write my first film about suicide bombers like these Yemeni guys who’d blown their boat up and it sank. What’s the thought process that goes on behind that?

Chris Morris:

Well, it was the repeated discovery of how absurd things could be in a scary project like undertaking to blow yourself up in the name of a war that people around you didn’t necessarily know was being waged. That’s scary for the people on the receiving end of the explosion and indeed probably scary for the people who are undertaking it. And yet you kept finding funny … I mean the thing that really anchored it was, after reading lots of examples like I was talking about in the introduction, of which there are many more: A British jihadi cell who are actually responsible for the fact that we have to put all of our liquids in tiny little bottles and hang around taking our shoes off on airplanes and airports. They had a sort of not very advanced plot to blow up an airline using fizzy drinks. Which sounds silly but can work. But they also had a stash of weapons and they wanted to hide them. And the guy in the cell whose job was to hide them decided to bury them in a wood and the police, who monitored his computer, found that he’d gone on Google and typed “how to dig a hole”. There is a sort of repeat take of examples like that. But in this court case in the High Court in London, in which seven guys where in a dock, there was three months worth of 24/7 surveillance on these guys who had bought 600 kilos of fertilizer and put it in a lockup. Now there were lots of little bits along the way that felt like at least ironic moments in a sitcom and they bought the fertilizer from this gardening centre, and the guy said “That is more fertilizer than you need to fertilize a football pitch. What are you doing with it?” And they just said “Well, it’s a big allotment.“ And he said: “ You’ve got a big allotment have you?” and they went: “Yeah”. And he said: “You’re not gonna make a bomb, are you”. And they said: “Nooo”. So you have that sort of Ealing comedy version. They went to Pakistan to learn how to convert this fertilizer into bombs, then they came back to Britain and realised they’d forgotten how to convert the fertilizer into bombs. So they got back on the phone to their contact in Pakistan and said “Brother, you know that recipe for making fertilizer into bombs? Will you tell us that and” …and the guy on the other end: “click”. Cause he thinks it’s the CIA and MI5 and every one else trying to nail him. So you’ve got that going on, and then the transcripts of their conversation which is very revealing because, number one, they have conversations like “Who is cooler, Bin Laden or Johnny Depp?” And actually Johnny Depp is cooler than Bin Laden, apparently, according to these guys. They have conversation in which all their cultural references are very familiar. You get a strong sense of their sort of intermediate identity. They don’t sit around sort of being holy and praying and sort of in a cliché version of an Islamic terrorist. They don’t do that. They sit around having conversations, which are about girls, films they like, cars they like, cricket, television programs they’ve seen, the fact that it would be great to blow up a nightclub, more girls that they liked. You know, this kind of ongoing… whose laundry smells, who woke up so and so the other night. One of them brings in a dog and they can’t work out what sort of animal a dog is. And then they have a whole conversation about, cause it is a little puppy dog, although it’s a baby Rottweiler, they have a conversation about whether the rabbits – they have pet rabbits which they keep on a balcony – could beat up the dog. These are not the kind of conversations you think that a terrorist cell has. They have conversation about an ant. There was one bit where one guy says: “Look at that. Do you know what that is?” and the other one goes “No.” And he says: “It’s an ant. And I know what it’s thinking”. And the other one says: “What’s it thinking?” And he says “it’s thinking ‘Where the hell am I?’”

Are these guys stoned? This is not the talk of jihad that you expect from a bunch of people who are going to blow up a nightclub. And it was that sort of juxtaposition of banal, youthful, bunch-of-guys conversations with the fact that allied to this cell I’ve just been talking about were two of the guys who went on to blow up bombs in London in 2005. And so you have that sort of intersection. And it means that you are dealing with people who are completely understandable on a foolish level, and yet are undertaking these acts. And I could not get away from the fact that this paradox was not contrived. It was real. So that’s sort of what pushed me into keeping on going.


SH:

Perhaps that’s a really interesting thing, because you’ve got all that wonderful comic material, but at the same time … I don’t know if everybody here knows this, but 7th of July 2005, four guys from Yorkshire, which is where these guys are from in the film – three of them Pakistani, or of Pakistani parentage, I’m not sure, and the fourth is a convert – blow themselves up on various buses and tube trains in London and killed 56 people.

So you’re making this film against the background of very serious human suffering and there are all these guys and you think they are funny. There’s a huge gulf of pain behind it as well.

CM:

You could make an easy mistake of saying the fact that you blow up a bomb that kills people is funny. That would be a mistake. But I wanted to do something where the life and death issues were serious because I then believe that those exist. You get the same stories from soldiers, from anybody who is involved in life and death situations. Of course there is always something funny to be told about it. If you’re a doctor you don’t make a joke to the relatives of somebody who just died on the operating table – they’re not going to receive your joke very well. But there is always going to be a story about somebody who falls over or something lethal happens to them. I mean after all you think of The General, the Buster Keaton film The General – you know – The climactic scene of that is essentially a massacre in which a train is plunged into a ravine and then its just a shooting, a fish-in-a-barrel shooting for about ten minutes during which Buster Keaton is doing a very funny routine in front of a canon. So it’s simply a case of identifying where the right place to make this joke is and what the joke is about. And if the joke is about stupid arguments and the idiotic nature of sort of putting together a plot like this amongst people who are just average. You are NOT saying that, for instance, any of the 56 victims of the London bombing was a hilarious death.  

SH:
No. But is it the fact that is put in this perspective that makes it funny? It is funny when people are talking about whose socks are smelly IF we know what they are about to do. It seems to me that in this, and the other things you’ve done, the real source of comedy is human suffering. (Morris laughs). You’re very attracted to pain.

CM:

I don’t know – Okay: justify that statement. You’ve just said the source of the comedy is human suffering. Now I’d like you to speak on that for five minutes. (Laughter).

SH:

They haven’t paid for that...

CM:

Okay, give me 30 seconds.

SH:

Well, the fact that we already know that these guys have condemned themselves to death or at least think they have made some decision, gives the puts a tragic perspective on them, so that when they’re arguing about lots of silly little things and having water pistol fight, there’s a lump in your stomach at the same time, which makes it more important then if I were just watching a soap opera in which people had a fight with water pistols, because it becomes something much, much more important.

CM:

I would say that’s not the source, that’s the context. And the context often in any comic situation, there is a sort of underlying context or a danger. And you can be working against the tension of that danger. Though I think actually sometimes in this film jokes are set against a context that is lethal and other times really not. Other times you’re a million miles away from that. And the scene you mentioned with the water pistols, it’s distant; it’s a moral argument conducted in sort of a way that becomes absurd. I mean I think you’d actually struggle to make the source of humour human suffering directly. You know, there is a strange morality in films where you are allowed to make some deaths funny and others not. You know, in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ a guy comes up with a sword. Harrison Ford shoots him and: Haha! The man dies. So it’s not actually a moral issue, it’s something else. That’s not a moral decision to laugh at that, it’s simply: I don’t know who he was; he was an idiot with a sword, I don’t care about him. Whereas you can actually get people to care about somebody who is quite a bad person. Often filmmakers do that. You know they put you in the interesting position of caring about the wrong person, sympathizing with the wrong person. So the extent to which there is a sort of lethal undercount in this, I feel it’s not the source of the humour; it’s the context of the humour, which makes the fact that something humorous is happening relevant. Maybe, because if you go back it’s a secular argument, but why is it there in reality? Why is it funny? I mean I spoke to people who went to fight in Afghanistan. I met a guy who fought alongside Osama Bin Laden who described an argument with him. This guy had a big argument with Bin Laden in 2000 in which he stood up and said “You’re mad. I’m leaving.” and left. And you could say he got out just in time because if he’d hung around for another year he would have been on the receiving end of a rocket attack. So he got a big ideological disagreement with Bin Laden, but he described Bin Laden sending an emissary to an Algerian terrorist and saying “Come and visit me in Afghanistan”. So this Algerian terrorist travelled on a dangerous journey all the way to Bin Laden’s cave, and Bin Laden said: “Brother, I’d like you to work for me”. And this Algerian terrorist who had a very high opinion of his own terrorist activities on behalf of his Algerian resistance movement thought “Fuck you, Bin Laden” and said “I tell you what: I dislike this idea so much. If I ever hear from you again, I’m gonna come all the way back here and I’m gonna cut your fucking head off.” and left. And I thought: You don’t often think of Bin Laden sitting on a rock, looking like a slapped giant. But that was the situation that had been described. And it’s in those kind of anecdotal details, you know, you just keep finding this stuff. And, so long as you’re careful – I wrote it with two other guys and we would always be going: “Does this reflect the funny stuff that we found in real life or not?” And I don’t think – I’d be interested to know actually – we were certain that the idea of blowing up a human being is not innately funny. So we were never going to be doing that as a joke.

SH:

But like the crow, for instance.

CM:

Yes, well that’s...

SH:

There are a lot of these moments where you either laugh or you cry. There is this instinct somehow; we don’t know what to do when. We laugh but it’s almost weeping by proxy. Would you agree with that?

CM:

Laughter is weeping by proxy?

SH:

Well, you could film all of these scenes, you could make that piece into a tragic drama.

CM:

Oh yeah. Well I think comedy and tragedy are very closely linked. I mean they always are if you think of the best. You could make most of Buster Keaton’s work into a sort of tragic drama if you wanted. It’s simply whether you are allowed to laugh at something, which is often quite serious, by the way it happens. And I’m not sure if anybody – did anybody weep for the crow? (laughter) I’m not sure if you were in the position of weeping.

SH:

No, we laugh because it catches the bomb. Then you think: Oh, my God, that’s awful. It surprises you …

CM:

Yeah, well I think you have a lot of empathy for animals. I would suggest that the average laugh at the destruction of the crow is more a matter of timing. It’s more a matter of a vexation of this guy’s rather idiotic plan. It goes wrong. You know, it blows up in the wrong moments. I think it’s probably not inaccurate to say that a sheep is a slightly more complicated creature than a bird. I’m not sure. Did you feel any sympathy for the sheep?

SH:

I didn’t really catch that till the end until when the credits came on, you see. That was a pretty big surprise.

CM:

You know, for a man who’s taking up arms on behalf of animals, which you almost are, I would say you neglected your job already because he detonated in the context of a lot of sheep. And more than one of them might have died.

SH:

I was more worried about the sheep actually. 


CM:
Well that’s a stealth bomb. That one, yes I think there you laugh out of sheer surprise. But actually that one is an example of where I think people sort of laugh and then realize: Actually that man must be dead. And I’m still laughing. And then, if they are young and callous, they carry on. And it is quite interesting. The younger, teenage audiences have laughed all the way through. Including, I have seen a teenage audience laugh when Omar blows himself up. That’s not really meant to be funny. It’s meant to be slightly ironic that he does blow himself up in a chemist’s, having said: We want to do better than that. That’s not really a laugh out loud thing. Unless you’re a teenager, apparently.

SH:

It’s a defense ...

CM:

No I think that teenagers are insane. (Laughter) I’ve got two teenage children, they’re borderline psychotic in the nicest possible way. It’s actually scientifically documented, that teenagers have very low capacity for empathy. Therefore will laugh at misfortune, willy-nilly or their parents. I mean that’s all there for them.

SH:

I was a bleeding hear to a teenager, I don’t know. Does anybody want to ask Chris a question? Yes, Tony?

Audience member 1 (Tony): 

Given that we all know that religious extremists are noted for their advanced sense of humour intolerance, didn’t you have any kind of fear that some bunch of loonies would take exception to this film and come chasing after you?

CM:

Well, either I am an idiot – which I think I am, an idiot, we’re all idiots – but I didn’t indulge that thought very much. Partly because, you know, I’d sort of sat down and exchanged jokes with some pretty radical minded people whose politics I strongly disagree with, but who were capable of seeing the joke in something. And I think that Jihadis – for want of a better world – have bigger things to worry about, really. I mean, these people are fighting and undertaking these operations really as a kind of advanced form of charity – I‘m serious! I tried to show it in the film, really, that one of the strongest elements in these undertakings is a belief that they are fighting a good fight.

Audience member 1 (Tony): 

But what about the Danish caricature?

CM:

I’ll come to that. But hence, the White Lion thing is there. You have to think that you’re Simba and not Scar to get involved in this kind of operation. There will be the odd lunatic, like Barry, who is a Nihilist and is doing it for that reason. So they’re not really bothered; they’re not undertaking these kind of bombing operations for those reasons. I’ve had death threats, when I used to work on local radio, for playing a Tony Bennett record instead of Frank Sinatra record (audience laughter). So you can never quite be sure. Regarding the Danish cartoons, you know you can’t be sure either. These things come out of a very politicized situation. Salman Rushdie, the whole Fatwa, came out of, essentially, a need for the Ayatollah to make a grand gesture, because things were going very badly, domestically. And so it was good to have a sort of almost an abstract international target in that situation. That helped him politically at home. The Danish cartoons were heavily worked. You know they were published several times to virtually no reaction at all. And then a guy who wanted to make a name from himself in Denmark, a local cleric, saw an opportunity for infamy, actually for fame for himself, to sort of stand up and make a public statement that would count. And there were two separate tours of those cartoons and banished by cartoons, which were never printed in Danish papers. So they had additional cartoons which were much more offensive than the cartoons in the Danish papers. And sort of tours in the Middle East. And by the time you’re hitting tinderbox-areas, which are tinderbox-areas for their own political reasons, you don’t get a riot in Pakistan just because a Danish newspaper’s printed a cartoon. You get a riot in Pakistan because there’s a riot in Pakistan about to happen, and you trigger it. So all sorts of local issues pile in on the Danish cartoon case. Now, you might say: Can you tell that won’t happen with Four Lions? No. But what you can tell is that you’re unlikely to get the same degree of approbation as you would if you burnt the Koran, or if you flushed the Koran down the toilet. That’s a direct challenge to somebody’s sense of what they hold holy, pointing out that some fairly average lads who are undertaking a project on behalf of global jihad in a semi-competent way is not “prime offense” area.

Audience member 1 (Tony):

But you did reference 7/7 quite directly by the…

CM:

Oh, sorry, do you mean People who’ve been victims of terrorism being cross?

Audience member 1 (Tony):

Oh, no. Not at all. I said really just extremists. I feel that yet you’re very brave to have made a very funny film, I loved it. But you say you really didn’t think that there might be some kind of MAD people out there who took exception of the film and might, you know, go after you? 

CM:
Well, as I just said, you can never 100% know that. You’d have to be really analizing, as I was trying to say, the situations. If you look at Southpark, that’s another one. So Southpark in 2004, they portrayed Mohammed hanging around with the other sort of dudes, you know, Christ and Buddha, and then they did the same on that 200th anniversary edition in 2010. And some loon in New York went online and said these guys better watch it – he was a Muslim convert – these guys had better watch it, they’re courting disaster. That episode was censored. And the FBI went crazy, they surrounded the Southpark offices, and there was all sorts of brouhaha, and all sorts of sense of danger – no actual threat but a sense of danger. Whilst the 2004 version of Southpark is still available with the depiction of Mohammed in it and has never caused any trouble at all. So what does that tell you? It’s unlikely. They went ahead and showed Mohammed twice. The second time a lunatic in New York said that might be dangerous, it turned out not to be dangerous. So you know, you have to step on, you have to be unlucky and step on a landmine – you know what I mean – to get the kind of reaction you might think I would fear. It would be easy, if you wanted to do something, if you were undertaking to do something which offended a religious icon directly or attacked a religious icon directly, that would be more likely to inflame people because loads of people would just feel personally insulted.

There are obviously Muslim actors in the film. We premiered it in Bradford, actually cause we were invited to. Bradford is a city in Britain with a significant Muslim population. And I guess about 30 percent of the people who first saw it were Muslims. But they, they’re the opposite. I mean, in fact, it played longest in Muslim cities in Britain because they’re crying out for somebody to make a joke about this stuff, which is like a sort of black dog on their backs. And if they can laugh about it and they recognize, they say: “Oh my cousin is just like Waj.” (audience laughter) It’s never: “I’m just like Waj”, it’s always somebody else! So it was strangely inclusive. And I found the same actually, whether it was in the States or in Turkey or wherever there was a Muslim population, they tended to go towards it. The thing that people didn’t like: Riz, who plays Omar took his parents to see the film and on the way out they said: “Yes, yes, very good, yes, very funny. Why all the swearing?” I actually knew that by the time we put it out there would be more people that I’d met, so the older generation, you know there’s a strong sense of propriety in a lot Muslim families, you know you just have to behave properly, and people DON’T swear in public. I knew that a lot of the older folk like them would be going: “such a shame” And they’d be giving me a hard time for that.

SH:

Do you have another questions in answer to that? Oh, Patrick?

Audience member 2 (Patrick):

Yes, how easy was it to find money to finance the film, to get this subject across the table of the production companies?  

CM:
It was very frustrating because it was also a rollercoaster ride. And that happens because most people don’t know anything about the subject, so I had several conversations where I was explaining to people that I had spoken to a lot of Muslims and a lot of people, a lot of them find the stuff funny. I would get as far as: “I’ve spoken to a lot of Muslims” … and on three separate occasions the person on the other side of the table said: “Oh yeah. No sense of humour.” And you think: I can understand why you would say that if you think about the Danish cartoons. But are you seriously saying that there are 1.5 billion people on the planet who from dawn to dusk never laugh, because that’s quite a mad statement to make. There was ignorance that would work against you. And there was sort of local film funding bodies who would sort of say “We’re very interested in this.” and then, when it came to the final crunch would say “Hmm, we’ve read the script closely and we think that there might be a couple of health and safety issues. So we can’t fund it”. And I did have conversation to a man from a regional funding authority whom I’d spoken to the previous week, and he had quite a loud voice and a big laugh. And I spoke to him a second time and sounded sort of (C.M. makes monotone muffled high tooting sound) and I said “You sound different. What’s wrong?” and he said “Yeah I’m phoning you from a cupboard because I don’t want the other members of my community to know that I’m talking to you about this new funny film.” So you’d have silly conversations as well. And it just took a long time.

Audience member 3 (male):

What I really liked a lot about the film was that after about 2/3 a really tragic element enters into it and very well coexists with the funny stuff. I think both work better in the context of the other and wondered whether this was part of the original direction you developed the script into or whether that was something what came up the more you dealt with the characters in their situations?

CM:

Well, it’s both. Because you know if you’re making a film in which your main characters detonate themselves, then there’s going to have to be some confrontation with death which isn’t always going to be amusing because you know that within the spectrum of the cell you will be containing your good and bad, you know, as it were from Omar to Barry. And then, yes, it then comes up again as you’re writing and thinking of the story and thinking of particularly that scene where Omar’s conscience is troubled by the fact that he has misdirected Waj. Waj has had a moment of childish conflicts himself and Omar has tricked him. The heart/mind-thing is very important. In fact there was surveillance material in the court case I went to where one of the guys woke up in the middle of the night. He was worried about his faith and he was saying “Will God know if my belief is shaking?” And the other one says “Yeah, but brother, your belief’s in your heart, listen to your heart, what’s in your heart?” And he goes “Well, in my heart it’s Lord of the Rings” (audience laughter). He’s having trouble, a sort of crisis that he basically believes in Gandalf more than he believes in God. And they then go on to have a discussion about what if your heart is telling you the wrong thing, and the other guy says, having spent the whole conversation saying ”The truth is in your heart”, at the end he says “Well, if your heart is telling you the wrong thing, then your brain tells it what to do.” So it wasn’t that much of a skip to turn that into a sort of farcical inversion of Waj’s conscience. But I wanted Omar to be running around with that problem in his head, because for Omar you have to be doing it for the right reason. If you stop to realise that you’re not, then you’re in a sort of dramatic crisis. So I thought, when you’re in the process of writing it, I thought: Okay this is way we’re not particularly going to mind when Barry dies, because we think he’s a bastard, but if we think that Omar has got a chance of seeing that what he’s doing might be wrong, that’s a death you’re not going to take so lightly. So it was sort of intentional, both in a kind of just an original thought way, and then actually you’re driving through it, yeah.

Audience member 4 (Deborah F.):

You’ve mentioned the great deal of research you did and also kind of surveillance footage you were able to see – three months of 24/7 footage. How hard was it to get your hands on that kind of research?

CM:

Well, the personal research I did relied on building up contacts and developing trust and mainly convincing young Muslim lads that I was not a policeman. I don’t quite know how I managed to do that, really; I think just by actually boring their suspicions into submission

SH:

Hadn’t they seen you on telly?

CM:

That helped, actually, cause I did a program which actually mocked people’s hysterical reaction to various things including drugs and beauty farms and that sort of thing. And I thought: This isn’t going to go down very well. You mean, I go to some sort of God fearing folk and they go: You’re the one that thinks paedophilia is funny. Well, I do. But I thought: this won’t work. But actually, no. In a sort of more straightforward way “Aw, yeah, I saw him on telly!” so that was a trading card now and then. But then I thought actually, if you were in the secret services, that would be quite a good cover. If you basically said “I want to make a film about jihadies, tell me everything you know”. (laughter) Because people were curiously frank. So that was just establishing trust and, obviously joining a view terrorist cells, and showing people where they were going wrong. Some of the results have yet to come out, but I tell you, when they do, you’ll know (laughter). And then the surveillance material was transcripts, it wasn’t video footage, but it was just transcribed conversations. Because if you go to the high court and it’s part of the presented evidence then it’s available to look at, and you go to the public gallery or you go the press and you can see. And actually the police are hugely indiscrete and the press area was right next to the police area and at the end of every day they’ll sort of call you over and say: ”Yeah, well, we didn’t get a chance to show this as evidence, but look, when we arrested these guys, that one’s hiding under the bed and he’s crying out for his mummy. Hahaha.” So they show you some of extra stuff in a slightly kind of bragging sort of way. Not that I used any of that. But it gives you an insight into the police mentality as well. So it’s just meeting a lot of people and using publicly available material.

Audience member 5 (male):

How big was the success in the UK and how big was it in Europe? Was it a success?

CM:

Yeah, it was bigger than Harry Potter (laughter). It did alright. I mean your measure is often whether you make your money back. And the odds are set against you because in the UK 75 percent of everything that is paid in the box office goes to the cinema. So you’re left scrapping around for the last quarter and you have to pay off a lot of people. We made our money back in the UK and then elsewhere. I don’t know whether or not you’ve looked at the box office. You know it had a kind of independent movie life, because it’s very British I guess. Elsewhere it was a bit more luck. There’s a dubbed version here you were slagging off earlier. I don’t speak German so I couldn’t tell whether the nuance was good or bad. But the Italian version was so ridiculous that even I could tell that it was just pure bad; it was so bad that I actually liked it. (laughter)

SH:

So what’s your next plan? Are you going to do a film again?

CM:

Well, I like discovering swearing languages and it was a delight to discover that Punjabi, which these guys used for swearing, is filthy. I mean, you know, “you’re aunt has a hippo’s vagina” is just a start, and I won’t go into what you put into it and what noise she makes and all the rest of it. It’s very uncultural and that’s really why I made the film.

And I’m now looking at the coup in Iran in 1953, but only because I discovered that Mossadegh who was the prime minister who was deposed by the CIA in their first coup operation had a mother who was said to have the foulest mouth in Teheran, and swore in Farsi. So I’m just following exotic swearing patterns.

SH:

Oh, okay, fine. So another question! 

Audience member 6 (male):
I would like to know if the aesthetics of your movie, I would say “authentic documentary style”, was a budget decision or a creative decision from the beginning, or was it part of the development? Because it makes it very authentic, especially for a comedy.

CM:

There are several considerations that go into that. I wanted it to feel like you were sort of hanging out with these guys. So the camera work has to be apparently casual, though obviously on the day you’re making damn sure that you get coverage with the performance that you want. I tended to say, I told the cameraman – I had two cameras running the whole time – follow the ball but follow it late, remember, even though you now know, because we’re doing take 3, what this guy’s going to say, don’t swing over to him until he’s started talking, so that you’re doing what you’re doing in a room full of people. You’re talking to them and then they talk and you look at them. So that just to make you feel that you were hanging out with these guys, it also reflected a lot of research recording that I made. I liked the fact that sometimes you’d be in a room with these guys having an argument about the fine points of Islamic law and whether Bin Laden was a heretic or not and it would get very heated and someone would have left the camera on the table. We never quite went this far in the film but I like the fact of things that are sort of caught accidentally with people walking across frame, feeling casual. But also, using it for comedy is like using a form of deadpan. It’s like a sort of camera language, which is deadpan because it’s straight and feels accidental, so it helps diminish the sense of a forced comic delivery. Obviously if the actors aren’t as good as this, the camera work won’t help, but if it can go in a sympathy with the way they’re performing, which is, I would say, a kind of suppressed form of pantomime, then maybe that helps, too. 

SH:
Did you improvise at all?

CM:

Sort of. Yeah, by the time you’re doing a third take … Because when we wrote the script and I kind of get boiled it down to a sort of very meticulous mathematical – not mathematical but something where you can feel every rhythm, you can say it all in your head and know exactly how it should be said, and then by the time you’re filming a third take of that it’s dead because people are just repeating a pattern, so I just say: Well, you know what the thoughts are, so just do it again, just loosens it up. And you will find you’ll get a sort of hybrid version where people actually remember chunks of dialogue but then – I don’t know – they say something differently because it occurs to them just to use a slightly different phrase. Or actually, because we were filming fast and furious I just sort of shout things out for people to say whilst we were going through the scene: say that again, go back and just do that bit, because the actor was so – you’ve got a rhythm going – so there is a bit where Riz is explaining that he’s communicated to the enemy as “Puffin” by going on this website Party Puffin, and I thought it’s going sound funnier the more he says Puffin, so I just said, okay that’s great, let’s do it again. But just put in two more Puffins at the start, because it will just start to feel more ridiculous. And then, at the end of that scene, Kayvan, who plays Waj, Riz, or rather Omar, gives his long, rather inchoate list of reasons for attacking this Godforsaken, Paki-bashing country and Kayvan just said “fuck ‘mini babybel’! ” and that’s in the film. You know, that wasn’t in the script. And then you just think: Fuck, we’ve been writing this for months and he just went and did THAT, the bastard! It’s nice when you’ve got people as good as that you can give them the freedom.

Audience member 7 (male):

So the Punjabi swearing came on set?

CM:

No. I met a very, very proper, polite Muslim girl who offered to help out with some of the language. I then gave her the dialogue. She asked me “What sort of vagina are we talking about?” And I said “You know, I’m very glad this is on the phone, because I just know that you’re finding this quite awkward, but you’re being very helpful.” Anyway, she came up with all of the translations and then sometimes, if we changed the swearing on set, Riz – he speaks Urdu more than Punjabi – would put in some Urdu words, which is fine, except that Punjabi is acceptable for swearing. You know, it’s just the language you swear in. If you swear in Urdu, it’s like you’ve taken very special care to be offensive because you’re using a more courtly language to be vulgar, which is partly why Riz’s parents would say: It’s such a shame about the language, because some of his swearing is in Urdu. That obviously delighted me as well. You know it’s kind of like some very helpful people who are probably secretly delighted to be being filthy.

Audience member 8 (male):

Were they actors or not?

CM:

Were they actors! (laughs). No, man, they’re not actors, and they’re not worthy of the name actors! No, they actually all were, I think. But then what’s an actor? I mean Kayvan, who plays Waj, doesn’t really consider himself to be an actor. But he obviously is. You know he considers himself to be a sort of a comic. And he’s clearly an actor. The one who would see himself the most as an actor is Nigel, who plays Barry. He’s got a lot of stage experience was always telling others what to do. To which they could only say “Fuck off, mate.”

SH:

So, one final more question to wrap it all up so we can all have a drink outside hours: You go through this immensely long process of having these ideas, and researching fantastically and writing and choosing and editing … How do you know, when you finally get into the editing room and you’ve seen all this stuff 500 times, that you’ve written, how do you know if its still funny? How can keep that gut feeling about good and what’s not?  

CM:
Yeah. That’s a good question because I don’t really know. The only thing you can do technically, I think, is trying to give yourself amnesia. Clobber your brain into malfunction in whatever way you can. I mean really you need to flood it with chemicals; physical blows; going on holiday; getting into massive arguments; I mean, literally, getting run over. I don’t know. Because what you need is something like the reaction of a stranger to a cut. Now, if you’re working with a good editor you can say: Alright, you just do the first assembly and I’ll come to in fresh; I’ll have been away doing other things for a month after filming then come back to that.

SH:

Is that what you did?

CM:

Pretty much, because he was assembling as we went along. He was about a week behind, and then we had a mini break, and we went to Spain to shoot the training camp material. So by the time we got back from Spain he had a first assembly, which included everything except the training camp scenes, which felt like it was already historical. It had managed to sort of lose… Cause that fatal thing is, when you look at something and you can feel the rest of the room and you can remember how hilarious it all felt at the time, because that’s hardly ever gonna help you out on screen. No one else is going to be aware that that particular bit of timing broke the tension of the first AD just having had an argument with the costume lady in which she cried so much and she actually fell out the window. So you know, you have all sorts of situations on set where the people will laugh at the end of the take which has to do relief or something, which will not be inherent in the finished film. So if you have a good editor you can trust them, and then you rely on a horrible drudge-like process of understanding the mechanics. So you sort of go (quiet monotone delivery) “Yeah that’s funny. Okay. Yeah, yeah, Okay. Now, it would be better if, that would be funny if we saw it from the other angle first. Haha, you blow up a sheep.” You know, you get to that stage and all you’re relying on is a mechanical sense by that stage, and faith that at some point in the past you did think, it’s funny. It’s a dreadful process, really. If I’m doing a bad advert for it, that’s the intention.

Audience member 10 (male):

What happens after the jihad?

CM:

Do you mean did these guys get to Heaven?

Audience member 10:

Yeah, with 17 virgins waiting for them. What happens to the girls that blow themselves up?

CM:

I couldn’t find any talk anywhere in the surveillance about virgins as a reward, because that would speak of such a reduced motive, that you wouldn’t find anyone to blow himself up for that reason. You know, the fact is that you need to have sort of Lion King motivations to blow yourself up. And I’d be putting myself in the position of God which could be a dangerous thing to do, if I was to say whether they went to heaven or not afterwards. But were you asking what am I going to do next?

Audience member 10:

Yeah.

CM:

And I was deliberately misunderstanding you so as not to have to answer that question. As I’ve already said, pursuing the foreign swearing angle is one way I could go. At this stage there are three projects fighting each other. And the Iranian one is one of them. And that’s clearly quite difficult to get an angle on because anyone who can remember the coup is about 90 now. And there are people still alive who remember it and it’s fantastic when you do talk to them. They’ve reached the glorious stage of being 90 where you don’t have to be responsible for what you say even if you know how to be. I’ve got other things going on. There is a great amount of absurdity in the running of the Department of Homeland Security in the States, which bares some examination. There was one bunch of guys who where arrested, who belonged to a cult that’s so obscure you can’t even find on Wikipedia. It was a synthesis of Judeo-Christian-Islamic-black-white-Pagan beliefs, and involved them walking around town wearing black t-shirts with Star of David signs on them. Going up to local drug dealers and saying ”Brother, there’s another way” risking being beaten up and spending most evenings trying to work out scams on construction schemes and then bumping into a guy from the FBI who identified them as a bit low grade and said: “For 50 grand, I can get you” and it didn’t matter what he has to get them because they didn’t have 50 grand and he basically said: “If you want 50 grand, swear allegiance to Bin Laden and come up with a few ideas to punch a hole in this Godforsaken country.” And these guys were sort of sitting round going, oh, I don’t know, could we, what about towers? Could we knock down a big tower? What’s that big tower called, oh, the Sears Tower in Chicago, yeah, let’s do that. Let’s take over Chicago on behalf of our sect. And the way to do that is that all seven of us will ride into Chicago on horses because people respect men on horseback.

They couldn’t make a cup of tea without smashing a window. But it’s that sort of thing that is quite interesting to look at. All right, that’s a smokescreen; I’m not doing that.

SH:

Thank you!



Transkript: Laura Hohmann, Annika Hohl. Korrektur/Ergänzung: Ellen Wagner. www.filmforumnrw.de.


(Eingestellt von Marcus) 

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