“I can’t tell you about the character because there is no character.”
Oh yes, I was an actor in an independent film that we worked on just this way, knowing his work. Naked is an ALL TIME favorite film that launched Thewis into the stratosphere.
There is a story that Scorsese, Kubrick, and Spielberg watched the film together and kept trying to call him up, but he was asleep, London time, and when they said who they were he kept hanging up on them, saying: "Fuck Off!"
This reminds me that it's time to watch Naked again.
Those were some excellent insights, Mason. I know I will apply them to my writing. When I was learning photography, a seasoned mentor was like take pictures until the people start acting natural. There seems something to this dialing in to realness of life. Thank you.
I had no idea that anyone made a movie this way! Thanks for this. It makes me feel less anxious about “inefficient” processes during a week I am copy editing/ proofreading a novel for the millionth time.
My husband David and I went through a "Mike Leigh phase" some years back, but I had NO idea about his process! Now of course I need to start watching his films again. Thanks Mason!
This is one of my favorite entries so far. You seemed to write it almost free-style to mirror the filmmaker you're analyzing. I am excited to watch some more of Mike Leigh's work now, knowing what I know about his process. It also feels wonderful to know that you can throw off structure and formula and freestyle in such a beautiful, person-centric way. I will use the spirit of this during my next writing project. I know structure, I know character, but can I write without plotting scenes and sequences....? (I am mainly a screenwriter. But I think this will also unblock me for writing my fiction and creative nonfiction. I have a list of ideas I need to dust off and get to gettin'. )
Less is more. When a film is almost nothing, it is almost everything. Will seek out Mike Leigh's work.
I have been a huge fan of Mike Leigh’s films since I saw High Hopes in 1988. Every single one--he channels genius, and he gets sooo much out of the actors he regularly works with.
I recommend “Another Year” and “Secrets and Lies”
Fantastic process. It’s amazing how unconventional some people are and how so many just see the conventional box.
Appreciate this, as someone who's recently dug into the Mike Leigh filmography.
This is incredible! We spend so much our time trying to use our time more effectively, more orderly. Trying to be more productive. More structure. trying to streamline all our procesess. And yet, how often do we pause to wonder if each of the efforts might be in vain? If the best of what we have to give, the best of what we have to offer, the best of what's inside us, might come out best through inefficiency?
Wow, this is so amazing that he co-created the movie with the actors. He seemed to have been comfortable with not knowing what will turn up. The sense of discovery, curiosity and adventure in the project! How I wish I could cultivate this for myself in my work - and life! This is a great post, thank you for writing this, Mason.
Isn’t that what every artist craves, the freedom to approach each project in an organic way with no strings attached. Except in his case, I would venture to say he’s still attached to the outcome which eats away at his free form method. But maybe it is the case and there is no outside investors to please and he’s able to improvise his way into a film and if not, it’s still ok. Either way, I think this is the pole position for all artists if they can pull it off.
I think it speaks to the difference between creation and execution, which are two different skills/processes. It would seem that Leigh is a master of both. Have you ever read Dorothea Brande's book, BECOMING A WRITER? She talks about this in terms of Writer/Editor. You need control over both to be able to write well, and I feel like this could be analogical to Leigh's approach.
Fascinating. For his BBC movie, "Abigail's Party," I think the camera stayed in one spot the entire film. It blew my mind that a compelling film could be made from just a locked-off shot of a handful of people in a living room. Can't wait to see the films you particularly recommend. Thank you! Jerry Seinfeld said if the writing process is efficient you're doing it wrong.
Now I know what I’m doing this week! I’m not familiar with Mike Leigh’s films but my husband has been telling me about “Naked” for a while. So thank you for this - the nudge I needed. Looks like I’m in for a treat! ☺️
The embodiment of 'trust the process'. I knew a tiny bit about Mike Leigh's way of making films but wow! Thank you for a great read. (I met Mike Leigh very briefly, late one evening as I was leaving the sadly missed 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street. My boyfriend back then (many years ago) was a film buff who sort of pounced delightedly on the poor man...not the perfect way to meet someone whose films you love!