Blair necessities

Film-maker Les Blair is not big on scripts. In fact, he never writes them until he has finished three months' improvisation and actually started shooting. And he admits that this approach doesn't always endear him to producers. "What a producer wants to do is read a script and say, `yes, I like it. Who can we get to play this part?' But all I could say to the producer at the beginning of Stand and Deliver, my latest film, was that it was going to be about a comedian who comes up to Glasgow for the weekend and does a gig. I can understand how my method can be a problem."

Fortunately, there are enough far-sighted producers around to know that with his track record (Bliss, News Hounds, Bad Behaviour, Jump the Gun) Blair doesn't need a script, just time to work up a story with a hand- picked cast.

This technique has inevitably led to comparisons with another Salford- bred film-maker, Mike Leigh. Indeed, Blair produced Leigh's first film, Bleak Moments. But Blair does not especially welcome the link. "I don't think Mike Leigh and I have a lot in common. There's obviously a certain kind of neo-realistic or naturalistic relationship to real life, but our films are different things."

The fruit of Blair's latest improvisation is an intriguing meditation on what motivates stand-up comedians. Phil Daniels (right) a long-time Blair collaborator, plays Alun, a cocky Cockney comic with a serious addiction to gambling and danger. Having breezed through one gig in Glasgow, he decides to spice up his second by abusing his audience. "We get a lot of Scottish comedians coming down to London," Alun sneers. "We usually recognise them by their catchphrase - `can you spare any change?' `Yeah yeah, just don't breathe on me'."

"Statistically, you're less likely to die in a car crash than you are from buying your dinner at a Scottish cooked-meats counter. What a horrible way to die." Talk about a fast track to suicide. Blair explains the thinking behind this self-destructive tirade. "They say that with gambling, winning is the wrong answer. If you win, that's the end of the story, and you don't want that. The right answer is to be punished by losing. There seemed to be a nice little link to stand-up there. If you go on stage and successfully make an audience laugh, what do you do next? Maybe you make them hate you."

Daniels and Blair worked up the character over a three-month rehearsal period. "Phil was nervous at the beginning because he knew I'd ask him to do gigs to get experience," Blair chuckles. "Stand-up is so different from acting because there's no character to hide behind. Phil did a couple of gigs in London alongside Harry Hill, Jo Brand and Mark Lamarr, which he found very brown-underpanty. But then he got a few laughs and started to enjoy himself.

"At the beginning, working on my films, all the actors can see is this expanse of nothing. But once they get over that initial yawning chasm and know who the characters are, the actors always start to enjoy it. They like showing off."

A genial, greying man, the director rejects the charge that building up a character through improvisation is self-indulgent. "It's actually very efficient in terms of short shoots because the actors end up knowing as much about the characters as I do. We spend less time talking about motivation. I can leave that to the actors and concentrate on the technology."

Next up, Blair is contemplating making another film by the same means, this time set in Armagh. However it turns out, one thing it won't be is mainstream. "I do feel an outsider in the sense that I plough my own furrow and try not to compromise," says Blair.

But wouldn't he ever fancy a crack at Hollywood? "I'd do a big-budget film there if they'd let me improvise. But I suspect they wouldn't. It would end up being about a bunch of New Yorkers rather than people surfing and sunning themselves on the West Coast. I'm much happier working on smaller-budget films. I want to make films on a human scale. I'm interested in people, not pyrotechnics."

`Stand and Deliver' is at 9.55pm tomorrow on BBC2

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

    £35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Operative

    £6 - £15 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a well e...

    Recruitment Genius: Data Scientist

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Full Stack Software Developer - Javascript

    £18000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen