Ever since Christopher Guest attained such popularity, the mock documentary has become a genre in itself, aided by the success of reality TV. The latest addition to the comic genre is from Britain, and director Debbie Isitt, which charts the journey of three couples as they battle it out to win the title of Most Original Wedding of the Year. Like her film, the gregarious Ms Isitt is a bundle of energy, even as she ploughs her away through a string of interviews during the Toronto Film Festival. She spoke to Paul Fischer.
Question: Why do you think the mocumentary, which has now become a genre on its own, has become so popular, and how much do you owe to the American mocumentaries that have become so successful?
Isitt: I owe everything to that – my life. [Laughter]
Question: How much was a structure?
Isitt: Well there was an idea.
Question: Well all the Guest movies that they make are similar, I think they’re written down.
Isitt: Theirs are but ours wasn’t. No, they do write a story. They say we have to write the story.
Question: They write the story but they let the actors…
Isitt: Improvise the dialogue then, but we didn’t do that.
Question: You had a complete free-for-all?
Isitt: No, we had a competition and we made sure that everyone entered the competition, signed a contract to enter the competition and do it for real. So we just did it all for real. It wasn’t a free-for-all, it was a very clear thing that we were doing.
Question: So how much leeway do you give your cast as a director in trying to keep within that framework at the same time?
Isitt: Well it was just easy because once you say to the actors just for six weeks pretend to be a real person, and just for six weeks pretend you’ve entered this competition, and just for six weeks really plan a wedding for real: Make the phone calls, get the dresses, with the help of the wedding planners, then have a wedding and I’m going to film you all day everyday, there’s no acting involved, no big discussions, you just get on with it and actually do the job, choose the cakes, everything. You’ve got to do it all and you haven’t got long, get on with it. It’s that simple.
Question: I mean what would have happened if any of these people would have been lousy?
Isitt: Well that would have been the film.
Question: So you were prepared for that?
Isitt: I was prepared for Lost in La Mancha. Yeah, I was gearing up for that. (Laughter)
Isitt: That’s what I was expecting actually. I was amazed that they pulled it off.
Question: Why do you think they pulled it off?…
Isitt: Because those wedding planners were so committed it was ridiculous, and they kind of metamorphasized into wedding planners – stopped being actors weeks before we even started, they just started researching wedding planning. They’d never met, those two men, and suddenly they just took it so seriously that they found things, they did deals, they got it up and I didn’t think they would. You know, I thought they’d be disasters. I thought it would be a disaster movie, that’s what I thought it would be.
Question: So a disaster movie and a Lost in La Mancha type movie?
Isitt: Yeah, with comedy but yeah – all about it all going wrong, and they went and did it right.
Question: But it was still funny.
Isitt: Yeah, it was still funny.
Question: Why do you think that was? I mean were you in some ways satirizing… wedding planning or were you satirizing reality TV?
Isitt: I suppose I just wanted to see what would happen if you flipped it round a bit more, because we watch on reality TV people kind of acting up now. You know, it’s almost like real people have become actors. So I thought well let’s get the actors to become real people and see what happens. It was just an experiment really.
Question: Now to what extent do you direct actors’ performances to tone it down, as it were, so that they do exemplify that reality?
Isitt: Because it’s about creating the conditions to ensure that they have to do that really by making it very grueling for them. It’s a kind of process of torture so that they don’t have to think about their acting, so you kind of make them get there really early and you make them arrive in character and they’re not allowed to break out of it so that by the time you turn over, they’re so tired already that they don’t even think about what they’re doing. They just behave instinctively, and that’s what you need if you’re going to do reality…
Question: When you were thinking about doing this in the first place, was the idea of wedding planning your original idea, or do you just simply want to explore this reality?
Isitt: I wanted to explore the reality I think, and the idea of a wedding competition, because there are bridal competitions left, right and center was appealing.
Question: Is it a very British thing?
Isitt: Maybe it is. But not where you’re wedding is judged so much, but send in your picture and if you’ve got a nice dress you might win a honeymoon. That kind of thing happens. So it’s kind of extending that, developing it to its logical conclusion if you think Simon Cowell will probably be producing Wedding Idol. So I thought I’d get there first and see what happened, but also, weddings are kind of competitions anyway I think – you know, in that we judge weddings.
Question: Do you think this could have been a very different kind of film had it not been directed by a woman? I
Isitt: I don’t know, but I think I am a bit of a man in female clothes.
Isitt: Well that’s what everyone has always told me.
Question: How does that manifest itself?
Isitt: In my aggression.
Question: Do you have to be aggressive to be a filmmaker, to be a female filmmaker?
Isitt: No, I think I was born that way. I think it’s a family trait. I don’t want to be aggressive, but that’s what everyone says. I mean when the cast were interviewed for the electronic press thing I was horrified…
Question: About what?
Isitt: The way they talked about me.
Isitt: I was mortified. I thought… I consider myself a really nice easy-going kind of person.
Question: What did they say?
Isitt: They said I was really rude and really blunt, was often quite hurtful – stuff like that. [Laughter]
Question: And I’m sure they were saying that with such seriousness…
Isitt: But they were.
Isitt: Talk to any of them they would say things like “we would improvise for hours and at the end of it we’d look at her hopefully and she’d go ‘that was shit'”.
Question: And did you?
Isitt: Yeah, but I… (Laughter)
Isitt: …I thought that was the way we wanted to make things good.
Question: Do you prepare stuff for the DVD? When you do a movie like this you’re supposed to be mindful of the fact that that’s an alternative medium?
Isitt: Let’s hope. I mean we shot three endings. Shot each couple winning.
Question: Would you like to do another mocumentary?
Isitt: Yeah, I would. I love that process. …
Question: Any ideas what topic would be the perfect one?
Isitt: Well I’m a massive fan of the Eurovision Song Contest…
Question: ABBA came out of that or…
Isitt: ABBA came out of it, and I went to the final of this year’s in Athens and it was up there with the birth of my child. It was fantastic. I love musicals. [Laughter]. I love the costumes as well. That would be great. And there are other ideas floating around.