Daisy (furthest right) at You Me & Him premiere (courtesy of BabyLifeLine)
Scripts, Films and Me - An Interview with Daisy Aitkens
After a successful local charity premiere in Birmingham of her new film 'You, Me and Him' at the end of March, we catch up with the movie's director Daisy Aitkens.
With a host of celebrities on the red carpet (click here to see our photos) You, Me and Him was brilliantly received during its Midlands premiere at an event that helped raise money for local charity Baby Lifeline.
In a film that also deals with issues of relationships, pregnancy and support, we talk to Daisy about her latest production as well as the connections she, and the movie, has with the Midlands.
Hi Daisy! If we start at the beginning, was there an event in your life when you recognised that filmmaking was not just going to be a hobby, but that it would in fact be your living?
I was really pleased with how my first short film, 96 Ways to Say I Love You, turned out. I think it was sitting watching an edit on my laptop with my producer and great friend, Georgia Tennant, when we both looked at each other somewhat amazed that our no-budget, random little mini rom-com was half decent. That’s when I thought, could I do this for real?
As that swiftly moved into this film, where did the story for You, Me and Him come from? And how did you see it being translated onto film?
I had been writing in TV for years and I was really looking to write a romantic comedy film – but one that was less traditional and a little more real and offbeat.
At the same time, one of our producers had come across this true story that he thought would make a great film and what he pitched to me was so moving and sweet and hilarious, I knew that was the film I wanted to write. I saw it as having all the bright and hopeful trappings of a romantic comedy with an underlying truth to it all. The comedy, the drama, every moment, I wanted to be as honest as possible, which is not always what springs to mind when you think ‘rom com’.
And with regards to the Midlands - as a website dedicated to the “local”, we’d be very interested to learn what were the reasons for shooting the film in Stratford?
Well, I’ve always thought it was the most magical place. I used to visit actor friends when they were in the RSC and wish, pray, hope and dream of working there too one day. I never won a part at the RSC, so I thought I’d take matters into my own hands.
Ha ha. And you have! You’ve also got three strong central stars (and performances) in your film. What were the qualities they brought that made them the best choice for your material?
I had admired Lucy Punch for a long time and I haven’t been surprised that her career has gone from strength to strength. Lucy is a brilliant comedic actress, but I think this film really shows off her capacity for drama as well. I could tell she’d be able to open herself up to the more emotional elements of the story and she didn’t disappoint! Faye Marsay got the job about ten minutes into meeting me for a drink. She had such a relaxed and easy and innately cool air about her, I knew she’d bring all that and more to Alex.
David Tennant I’ve known for a few years now and am still constantly surprised by his ability. I was over the moon when he agreed to take the role because I knew he’d be able to completely dissolve into this character whilst remaining vulnerable and true, as he does in all his roles.
And it's not just those three either. You have a superb support cast too so I was wondering what made You, Me and Him a fruitful collaboration?
Yes, I was certainly not going to let all that great talent go to waste! I remained very collaborative on set, I encouraged the actors to improvise at the ends of scenes to see if there was more story to eke out. There were moments of comedy gold. Especially the scenes we shot with Sally Phillips, who just seems to be the master of improvisation. I always knew what I wanted from the scene and once I had that, I allowed time for moments of experimentation, new lines and, well, play.
It appeared on screen that some dialogue may have been improvised. Did you stray far from the original script? Were the actors encouraged to chip in with lines?
The script was fairly set but if a line wasn’t working, or coming out honestly, or there was a funnier way to say it, I encouraged the actors to use their own words.
Your film covers many funny situations but in contrast one of the most moving occurs in a heart-breaking sequence in the third act. Were those scenes difficult to film and how did you (and the cast/crew) approach them?
Due to a fantastic first AD and her scheduling, we shot all those scenes together and in order, so it made the emotional journey a lot easier for the actors. Dramatic scenes like that are hard to shoot because of the authenticity of feeling the actor must find, but comic scenes can be equally as demanding. You’re constantly searching for the ring of truth to the moment in both situations. I did feel a pressure to get the scenes right out of respect to the women who had endured a similar situation to what we depicted.
A recent study showed children raised in same-sex-parented families do as well as children raised by heterosexual couple parents and your film tackles these issues directly - but also with humour. How did you decide on the tone of your film given its varied and difficult topics?
My intention was to have an LGBT couple in a mainstream film and not have it be about their sexuality. The idea of them raising a child together is completely normal - as it should be - and not really focussed on. What they do focus on are the same worries that both same-sex couples and heterosexual couples are concerned about when deciding to have a child - do we have enough money? Who will be the main childcare provider? What are we going to teach this child? So I wanted the tone to be an honest, witty look at the concerns many women have when babies become part of their story.
Were there any funny stories from the production or anything that didn’t go to plan you had to make provisions for?
This is probably not my story to tell but I’m going to anyway so apologies in advance to Simon Bird. The poor man was struck down by Noro Virus when we were shooting scenes on the lake. Really he should have taken the day off and been in bed but clearly he is a saint and knew that would have caused me endless amounts of re-write pain. It was a day when we had a lot of paparazzi and onlookers and all the actors had to be in boats. Poor Simon was just being sick on the jetty every ten minutes. Once he’d finish I would shout ‘action’ and we would get a great scene out of him, then I’d say ‘cut’ and he’d go back to emptying the contents of his stomach into the river.
We are a big supporter of independent, micro (and zero) budget films as well as first-time filmmakers – especially from the Midlands. What advice would you give to someone starting out on their own journey in the film industry?
I think because you can make a film on your phone nowadays my advice would just be to go out and do it. Do it this weekend. Get some friends, scribble some lines down, shoot it. I think it’s in the doing that you learn. I was making films on my Dad’s camcorder from when I was nine years old. I’m just doing it on a slightly bigger scale now. I also don’t make quite so many Spice Girls videos starring me and my mates but that’s another story...
And finally, what are your future plans with this film and other projects?
Doing more lovely interviews like this! At the moment it’s just about spreading the word about You, Me and Him and getting as many people to see it as possible. Alongside all that plugging I am in the middle of writing a couple of new projects - one is TV and one is a film. Can I take this final moment to say some thanks? I will anyway. I want to thank everyone from the area who were so supportive during the filming of You, Me and Him and who continue to do so with its release. I’m so appreciative, thank you.
Thank you, Daisy.
You, Me and Him is on nationwide UK cinema release now and follow the updates on the film's official page by clicking here
Read our Midlands Movies review of the film by clicking here