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

Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living