Last night I went to the May Fair Hotel in London for the premiere of Almost Married, a movie starring Philip McGinley (Game of Thrones) and Emily Atack (The Inbetweeners and Dancing On Ice). It starts a limited cinema release – and has a simultaneous digital release – tomorrow.
Before last night’s premiere, I asked writer/director Ben Cookson: “What’s it about?”
“It’s about,” he said, “a guy who comes back from a stag weekend with a sexually transmitted disease.”
“So it’s a comedy?” I asked.
“It was… err…” said Ben, “It became a comedy. It had to be.”
“Autobiographical?’ I asked.
“Biographical. Not necessarily my own. The stories I’ve heard: it’s not an isolated case.”
“How much did it cost?” I asked.
“I think the official line is $1 million. We lost some regional funding so then it was a case either looking for another region to back us or just do it on a tighter schedule.”
Almost Married was originally scheduled for a four week shoot but, because of the last-minute partial loss of funding, it was shot in 18 days (three 6-day weeks).
“Within the first three or four days,” Ben told me, “we realised we needed to use a 2-camera set-up otherwise we weren’t going to get it done.”
Ben graduated from Bournemouth University with a First Class Honours in Scriptwriting after winning the Alan Plater Award for Best Screenplay.
Almost Married got off the ground when he met producer Lionel Hicks in a toilet at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
Some stories are best left dangling – leaving the reader wanting to know more.
“I never really had any ambitions to direct,” Ben told me. “I just wanted to write stories.”
Like many another writer-director, he directs to get the script closer to his vision.
“We shot a 15-minute teaser in 2011 to help raise money,” he told me yesterday, “and then we shot the film independently in March 2012 with no distributor or sales agent in place. That’s about as independent as you can get. And then, when you get a sales agent or distributor, they’re going to want to make changes, which is why it took a lengthy time to get here.
“In the edit, the original cut was just under two hours which they liked but which for a comedy – which is how it’s being packaged and sold – is too long. They wanted it nearer 90 minutes, which I understand. Shortening it was a difficult process. We went from two hours to 90 minutes and then I fought to get it up to 97 minutes.”
“I went to AFM (the American Film Market in Los Angeles) for the first time in November last year and managed to get a manager off the back of it. We got on and he really likes the idea of my next project.”
“Which is?” I asked.
“It’s a romantic thriller set in Paris about a fashion photographer who’s left with severe double vision after a mugging. It’s about his relationship with a young woman he meets in hospital.”
“And the relevance of the double vision is…?” I asked.
“Well,” said Ben, “it completely debilitates his career and… Well, I had double vision myself. I’ve still got it to an extent. If I play pool or snooker, I have to play with one eye closed, because it goes double vision at the top and the bottom.”
“How did that happen?” I asked.
“It was originally from a trauma,” explained Ben. “I got got hit in the eye with a pool cue… My eye and cheekbone were affected for about ten days… The socket of my eye was replaced by polythene and a few screws. When the doctors correct it, your brain has to learn to put the two images from your two eyes back together again and it’s pretty debilitating but it also drives you pretty insane. It’s 24/7. You can’t do anything. You can’t read; you can’t write. If you make a cup of tea, you’re pouring it all over the table because you see two cups.”
“Will there be humour in this movie?” I asked.
“It’s pretty dark,” replied Ben. “It’s more… How are we billing it?… It’s Blow Up meets Black Swan or maybe more Blow Up meets Leaving Las Vegas.
“I want to try and get the double vision across visually. Tinnitus of the eyes is the best way of describing it. I’m talking to DoPs (directors of photography) about ways of doing it in-camera. When you see double vision in films, it’s usually done in post production: it’s just two images and that’s not representative of what it is actually like to have double vision – because everything moves on a bit of an axis. Everything’s all out of kilter.”
“So it’s not,” I asked, “like me watching a 3D movie without wearing 3D glasses?”
“Not quite the same,” said Ben, “but it is as nauseating.”
“How long did your double vision last?” I asked.
“For six months at least. It’s really hard to measure, because it’s so gradual when it improves. You wake up every day thinking Oh, it’s just the same, but it’s actually incrementally getting slightly better. For six months, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t work or do anything.”
“You must have had trouble just walking down steps,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Ben, “it’s like being paralytically drunk but without the enjoyment. And all the time. And you can’t drink either, because what’s the point?”
“You must have thought when it happened: I can never be a film director.”
“I dunno what I thought. Christ! You think Worst case scenario is, if it stays as bad as it is, I’ll have to get rid of one eye. It would be better to be blind in one eye and function. But I didn’t have to do that.”
There is a trailer for Almost Married on YouTube.