Mike Leigh OBE begins the Q&A session by reflecting on his beginnings in theatre and film. His first cinema inspirations came after moving from Manchester to London, where for the first time he watched subtitled film, as works such as Ermanno Olmi’s formed his biggest inspirations. He trained to be an actor at RADA, he realised he was able to sneak into the LFS lectures without raising too many suspicions and there he began an education in film. Not long after, his first feature film- Bleak Moments– was created as a collaboration with a school friend with a budget of less than £20,000, largely donated by the lead actor.
What I found most interesting about Mike Leigh’s conversation was learning of his relaxed approached to film creation. Despite being known as a screenwriter, he never writes a script but rather has an idea of what he wants the film to be about and where he wants it to go. Once the idea is formed, he will organise a cast who he then collaborates with in creating the scenes. Afterwards it is written up as an ‘assembly’ for sound production to use. He explains that he began creating Naked– his film about an unemployed Mancunian who vents his rage on unsuspecting strangers- with only the remotest notions of what he wanted to create, embarking on a journey of discovery. This free way of working extends across all of Leigh’s work, as he refuses to use story boards even when it means fighting with his crew on Peterloo, sticks to small crews as well as budgets. The only ridigity it seems Leigh adopts, is that he is firm that actors should only ever know what a character knows at any given point, allowing for the most authentic of performances. It is clear his works are real passion projects focused mostly on exploring character rather than subject, but that his films are always about things which interest him, as Vera Drake was born from his consciousness of illegal abortion growing up. Leigh is definitely proof that for film, you really don’t need a rule book to be successful just passion, inspiration and of course, money.