1 July 2019

So Danny And I Made A Film Together

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When Danny Boyle and I were making his latest film Yesterday, I mentioned to him that he was my favourite director of all time. Huh, what? Oh, I hadn't told you that Danny and I made this film together? Oh right, okay, err in which case I spent a day on set with the D-Meister as he directed me in his latest film. That's pretty cool, right? What a brag. Not only has Danny Boyle also directed Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender, and Ewan McGregor but now he can tell people that he's also worked with me. Admittedly I was an extra and his direction was, "instead of standing right here by me, why don't you go and stand over there instead", but it counts. Anyway, so when I was chatting to him at his hotel afterwards after I'd waited four hours for him to leave the set, chased him to his car, and forced a taxi-driver at gunpoint to follow where he went, I told him that he was my favourite director of all time. He said "thanks", as though he hears it all the time and as though I was only saying it to kiss his arse because he was right there. But in my case, he really is my favourite director. Trainspotting is my all-time favourite film, I swear that 28 Days Later reinvented the horror genre, and I will fight to the fucking death with anybody that is dismissive of The Beach. But the bit in that film in which DiCaprio hallucinates that he's in a computer game is a bit shit? What the fuck did you just say? Right, you, me, tooled up, by the bins, right fucking now!

I tell you all of this just to put my excitement for this film into context I suppose. I was about to see if I'd made the final cut of a proper film; it was the latest film from D-Bo (my favourite ever director), and it was about a world in which everybody has forgotten who The Beatles are. Now, it's not that I don't like The Beatles but I live in a place called the Wirral which is essentially on the other side of the River Mersey to Liverpool. It's the direction that the ferry sails the fastest towards. And so we on the Wirral have to hear the fucking scousers banging on about the fucking Beatles all the fucking time. A world in which nobody has heard of The Beatles sounds like heaven to me. I should possibly also mention that at one point when we were filming I looked over and stood about five foot away from me was writer/director Richard Curtis just mulling about. I'm not a huge fan of his work in general although I like some of the stuff that he's written. Although obviously, I had to get a picture with him because approaching a famous person called Richard for a photograph is one of the few times that you can legitimately ask a celebrity for a Dick pic. In case you're wondering too, despite his Love Actually being one of the most horrendous things humanity has produced since the nuclear bomb, he's potentially the kindest man that I've ever spoken to in my life. Danny Boyle was great to meet and I really do love him but Richard Curtis... and I don't mean to exaggerate... is an actual angel sent down by God to impose a feeling of love warmth on those he talks to. He is a gift to the world and I would die for him.

So not only is the film being directed by one of the UK's most iconic filmmakers with Boyle, but it's also being written by one too with Curtis being responsible for the script. The film begins with the lead character and failing musician Jack being hit by a bus as he rides his bike before waking up in a completely different world. Does that sound familiar? Because that's pretty much the exact set up to Boyle's own 28 Days Later if I remember rightly. Although here the world that he wakes up to has lost four Beatles instead of gaining one rage infected monkey. Yesterday is also a gentle romantic-comedy that has a pretty high-concept that doesn't entirely follow through on its central ideas as soon as you apply even the smallest amount of logic. Does that sound familiar? Because to me it sounds like Curtis's own About Time in which the lead character can travel back in time but in a way that seemingly has no real consequence or consistency to how it's used. In the case of Yesterday that just happens to be regarding the ripple effect of removing The Beatles from our history and yet somehow having almost all of our culture turn out exactly the same. Unless of course, The Beatles didn't really have that much of an effect on our society and the scousers are just exaggerating. Not that I could possibly ever imagine them doing that. In the case of both About Time and Yesterday though, it's hard to let those plot-holes even remotely get in the way because of how good natured and enjoyable the rest of the movie is. It'd be like rejecting Christmas presents just because of that slight niggle of Jesus having not existed and even if he did he probably wasn't magic.

Although it's actually kind of a misrepresentation to say that this film is about a guy waking up in a world in which The Beatles don't exist because that's not entirely true. When Jack discovers that nobody has ever heard of the band he turns to Google for confirmation. Because apparently, Google is for more than just finding porn. Who knew? Once he's discovered that they're missing he begins to Google other things too to see how far the butterfly effect of losing The Beatles does actually go. The Rolling Stones still exist which is odd considering I've literally read interviews with Keith Richards in which he's stated that, "without The Beatles, there'd be no Stones". But as he continues to Google away it turns out that Oasis doesn't exist which is fair enough I suppose. That's obviously a joke at Oasis's expense because of how they're constantly being accused of ripping The Beatles off. But as the film continues it turns out that Coca-Cola doesn't exist either. Did The Beatles have something to do with the creation of Coca-Cola? And then he discovers that cigarettes don't exist either. I mean, "what the fuck?!" I thought. "Did The Beatles invent cigarettes? How many people have died as a direct result of that fucking band?" I wondered. Both of my Grandads died of smoking-related illnesses. Is the blood of my Grandparents quite literally on the hands of John, Paul, George and Ringo?! Fucking twats. Well.. not George I guess. He produced a few films that I literally prefer to my Grandparents and so I'll let him off. But the rest of them are fucking murderers.

Then it occurred to me that people used to smoke cigarettes during the first world war and although it might feel like Liverpool has been banging on about The fucking Beatles since then, that technically did come first. At which point I realised that this film is actually about a world in which a load of random shit has been Thanos-snapped away and The Beatles just happens to be the one in which this main character is able to capitalise on. He's an unsuccessful singer whose suddenly gifted their entire back catalogue of music but perhaps somewhere else in this world there's a wannabe merchant of death that's frantically trying to figure out the exact combination of rat poison and tobacco to create the first cigarette. In which case you could argue away the ripple effect of The Beatles being removed from our culture on the grounds that certain things are always fated to happen. The Rolling Stones were always going to exist, Coldplay who are at one point referenced were always going to exist, and the warbling troll Ed Sheeran was always going to exist. In case you're unaware, Sheeran appears in the movie as himself which put me in an interesting position. I can't stand the orange orc's music but the scene I was in happened to be a crowd scene for one of his gigs. I do however have a friend that quite literally said that he loved Ed Sheeran's music so much that he'd let him "bum him" if he wanted to. In honesty, I think that friend might let Sheeran bum him anyway because he's a little bit gay but he'll only admit that when he's drunk so I won't tell you what his name is. Although if you know me and you think you know who I'm talking about then you're obviously right. I did, however, keep the fact that I'd been in a scene with Ed Sheeran from him for over six months until the perfect moment presented itself to me and honestly it was fucking perfect. He called me a dickhead for no reason to which I responded, "at least I've worked with Ed Sheeran this year", and it was like I'd fucking punched him in the stomach. It was so funny. Although now that I'm thinking about it.. maybe I am a dickhead?

But is Ed Sheeran any good in this movie I guess is the real question.. now, this is the interesting position that I feel I've been put in really because I can either lie and slag off an aspect of a film by my favourite director which I don't really want to do. Or I praise a man that I've been arguing with a friend is a talentless, carrot-topped goblin for years. In which case I'd have to concede and it's hard for me to say this... but Sheeran isn't bad in this movie. He's not great but he's not bad. However, I heard Danny Boyle in an interview a few years ago in which he was asked for his opinion on the very young children in the film Lion and whether their performance could be attributed to them or the director. In answering he cited his own experience of working with young actors in Slumdog Millionaire in which he claimed that it was his job as a director to make the situation real enough for the children that they would give the desired response despite not necessarily understanding the nuance of a scene. So I guess that what I'm getting at is that if my friend is reading, Sheeran might not be terrible in this film but he's still an unskilled ginger hobbit and any redeeming qualities that might be on display here are exclusively due to the skill of my favourite director. I'd also argue that on the day I was filming, all Sheeran had to do was play himself whereas I had to play a fan of Ed Sheeran and so it's me who deserves for the fucking praise in terms of performance.

If I were to criticise this film for anything I think it would ironically be the romantic element and that of the female lead played by Lily James. She's obviously great and so I'm not slagging off James herself but her character feels like one that the film occasionally forgets about and has to keep remembering to cut back to every so often. She also plays the main character's long term friend and original manager who's in love with him despite the fact that he hasn't noticed or ever thought of her in a romantic way. Now I can accept that if a man gets hit by a bus the entire world might forget about The Beatles but I can't quite suspend my disbelieve that a guy could fail to fall in love with Lily James. Despite Curtis's history with rom-coms though, Yesterday actually reminded me again of About Time in that that also seemed to neglect its central romance once the story got going. In About Time it starts off about two people falling in love but ends up being about a boy and his father. In the case of Yesterday, the film's main focus seems to be on the power of music and the ownership of the songs. Were The Beatles famous because of the songs or because of a combination of the songs, the time period, and their individual personalities? When Jack first plays Let It Be to his parents you'd expect their minds to explode having never heard it before but the reality is that they couldn't really give a shit. When he does begin to find success however he finds himself feeling the guilt of his fraud. So it's about imposter syndrome too. Is it wrong to claim credit for the work that isn't his own or should he simply gift the music to the world and keep his mouth shut about where it all came from? Of course, the biggest question I was left wondering was WHERE THE FUCK AM I IN THIS MOVIE BECAUSE I CAN'T FUCKING SEE MYSELF ANYWHERE?!!

Both Boyle and Curtis are truly titans of British cinema and so Yesterday was always going to be interesting if only to see whose film it ended up feeling like the most. Having seen it too I have to say that it's Curtis's voice that comes through the loudest. Obviously, the films of both men do share some similarities with music being one of them. Curtis made a film all about music with The Boat That Rocked and Boyle is responsible for the Trainspotting soundtrack which was to the entire fucking 90's what The Beatles are to Liverpool. But the genius of Boyle has always been that despite having a completely distinct voice as a director, he never seems to feel the urge to impose himself on the material. Just look at his previous and brilliant Steve Jobs for further proof which feels predominantly like the work of writer Aaron Sorkin with only a few subtle Boyle-esque flourishes throughout. Perhaps 127 Hours would be peak Boyle in terms of identifying his style being that it's about one person trapped under a rock and so required his creativity to tell the story. But when you consider that the message of the movie is ultimately that the art is more important than the artist it's also pretty admirable that Boyle has simply let the story play out without an egotistical need to remind you that it's him behind the camera. Curtis is often accused of being too sentimental and Boyle is often accused of being too edgy. Yesterday definitely leans more towards sentimentality than edginess but Boyle's sense of cynicism prevents it from ever becoming too vomit inducing. One of his other many skills to has always been in finding a good writer and bringing the best out of them. Curtis might have directed films too but writing is clearly where his true skill lies, and with Boyle in charge Yesterday essentially feels like Curtis's work at it's absolute best. Funny, sweet, warmhearted, and charming. But to reiterate what I said a second ago and to get back to the main point... WHERE THE FUCK AM I IN THIS MOVIE BECAUSE I CAN'T FUCKING SEE MYSELF ANYWHERE?!

I've been full on pestering people with the fact that I'm in this movie for over a year now and so you can imagine how embarrassing it'd be if I did end up on the cutting room floor. The scene I was in finally arrived and despite the fact that it had taken all day to film, the majority of it had been cut down to a simple thirty-second montage. There is a good chance that I'm still in the film in one of the crowd shots but it was cut so fast that I wasn't able to spot myself and I certainly didn't get a close-up. This lack of close up is particularly strange too when you consider that I'd spent the day scouting the room for the location of every single camera there and then staring straight down the barrel of them like I was in an episode of fucking Fleabag. But in a way, the scene's complete lack of focus on me has made me respect my old colleague and former boss Danny Boyle even more. With me on his set, he was given fucking gold and he decided not to make it a prominent feature of his film. A lesser director would have spotted me in the crowd and been seduced by the urge to zoom right in, but not him. He'd already taken his own ego out of the equation in order to make Yesterday feel more like a Richard Curtis film and so I imagine that he knew that prominently including my face would have been a distraction from the story too. "Who was that eye-catching adonis at the Ed Sheeran gig", people would have asked. "Why did they include a Jesus figure in the crowd and then never reference him again?!" I'd have been the Chekhov's Gun of extras in that from the moment the audience laid eyes on me they'd have only spent the rest of the movie wondering when I was going to show back up and that's not fair on the main actors of the film because you could see that they were working really hard to create their characters on that day. I can only imagine Danny Boyle's frustration too at wanting to keep me in but knowing in his heart that I had to go. In which case, all I can say is that I loved the film of Yesterday despite my lack of top billing and I am truly sorry for making Danny Boyle's job any more difficult than it no doubt already was. Thanks for reading, motherfuckers, and see you next time.

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