Michael Müller talks CITY SLACKER ahead of Raindance Premiere
Having written Dummy which aired at Raindance Film Festival back in 2008, Michael Müller has returned with his latest feature City Slacker, and we caught up with the writer at a special preview screening of the feature.
Not only Müller written this feature, but he produces it also, alongside his wife and starring role Fiona Gillies – who plays a hard-working professional who is vying to find a man whom she can have a child with. The romantic comedy – also starring Tom Conti – is a little different to what we often see at Raindance Festival, yet City Slacker has been nominated for Best British Feature nonetheless.
Müller tells us of his delight at being nominated, as well as the challenges faced in not only writing the screenplay, but when shooting on location on the streets of London. He also discusses his working relationship with his wife, which fortunately, as he says, is still in tact…
Having written the film and spend ages going through pre and post production – now you’ve just seen it up on the big screen, how does it all look compared to what you had initially envisaged?
Pretty good, you know – I’m really impressed. It’s been an extraordinary process for me, because I wrote it on my own with my little laptop, and I’ve been in through the whole process as I’m producer of it as well – it’s been a roller-coaster. Making a movie is really difficult, because okay you want to make a movie, but you then have to convince a hundred other people to make it as well, as they’ve also got to have time, talent and money. But yeah on the whole I am completely delighted, I’m proud of it and the work we’ve all put into it. I remember Woody Allen saying that no film he had ever done ended up the way he thought it would, and that’s just it. But some things work out better.
The film is of course a romantic comedy – is it difficult writing comedy?
It’s weird isn’t it? Because what you might think is funny doesn’t automatically mean other people will find it funny. You write funny lines, or situations and you can’t force it – you can’t sit down and say “I’m gonna write a really funny scene here”. With me, I kind of write about serious things and I can’t stop myself from making them funny because that’s my world view. Life is kind of shitty and awful, but also really funny. I’m the guy who laughs at funerals I’m afraid. The last film I wrote called Dummy was very serious though, about two young boys who lose their mother and it’s about grief and growing up and facing responsibility but I still put humour into it.
What was the inspiration behind City Slacker?
I tend to write quite a lot of parts for women, because I feel they’re under-represented, my wife is an actress, so that was my first thing – write something about a powerful, successful woman, what would be the dilemmas she has to face? Career, and family. And that’s how it started, so I set it in the city because that’s where successful powerful women are, and that was the genesis of it.
Did you write the part with your wife Fiona in mind?
Subliminally yes, but I don’t write parts for anybody, I just write them for the character. But of course subliminally I must have been thinking of her, you know, we’ve been together a long time and we have two children and when you’re an actor you make those choices all the time – family against career, and I’ve seen those dilemmas all the time, and choices she has had to make and I think that’s a kind of thread that runs through the whole film. There is also the relationship with ehr father, and I was sitting next to her dad when we were watching it and I was thinking he might turn around and say “Is that supposed to be me?” Although I do think it’s a lovely relationship between Tom Conti and Fiona on screen, and a lot of people who have seen the film have responded to that.
You must have been thrilled to get Tom Conti on board, what with his hugely successful career?
It’s a lovely part and I knew that we’d be able to get a really good actor and we thought about Tom Conti, and we thought it’s absolutely right so we went to get him. We looked him up on IMDB and there’s a phone number for him, so Fiona phoned him up and she told him about the film and that we’d all love for him to be in it, and we sent him a script and that weekend he sent an email to say he liked it and wanted to get involved. Tom is an amazing actor, and he pulls the character off perfectly. He had just come off the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises and we were worrying he’d be expecting a great bit stretch limo and we had this tiny little VW camper van for him to do his make-up in. But he has been great, lovely to work with and has championed the film – and he puts in a magnificent performance. We’re really lucky.
City Slacker is a film that could really appeal to a US audience, as it has that charming British feel to it which they seem to adore – was that something you were bearing in mind when writing the screenplay, catering to an American market?
No, when you write you have to write for yourself. If you’re writing for a particular audience, most of the time you’re going to fail. If you write a story that you believe in, it will find an audience, because the truth has to come first, you can’t tailor everything, because you start to go crazy that way and go formulaic. I just wanted to make an honest, straightforward film with a good story that has humour and romance, and to set it in London. I love London and I’ve lived here all my life so I wanted to show what it’s really like.
Talking of London, of course you shot on location – did that pose any challenges?
Huge challenges, especially parking. As anyone who lives in London will tell you, parking is a nightmare and when you have a film crew you need to get them and their equipment around and you have to park! It was a logistical nightmare. Not to mention the congestion charge…
You aren’t just the writer of this film, you are the producer as well – was it always your intention to get in on that side of things?
Yep – because as a writer the hardest thing is to give your work over to somebody else and let go of it completely, and for a long time I’ve wanted to get creative people around who think the same way and I could have influence on it all the way through, and that’;s been a huge challenge but incredibly satisfying. A script is like a blueprint for a film because film is about picture, with a romantic comedy there seems to be more dialogue that most films bur essentially you’re writing picture so as a writer you give it away and it can frustrating what you see at the other end.
Of course you are married to Fiona – what is that like working professionally with somebody already very close to you?
Well Fiona is fantastic, and I’ve worked with her a lot on all of my scripts and she is a very good script editor, always the first person my scripts pass through, and we have a very good relationship and what we say is that at 6pm we don’t talk about work any more, that’s our general rule. We have our work time and our relationship time. And we’re still together so we must be something right!
The film is premiering at Raindance Festival and is nominated for best British film – you must be thrilled with that?
Absolutely delighted, I love Raindance, I’m a big fan. The last film I wrote called Dummy starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson in his first film – was very different to this one and what I would see as a fit for Raindance, but I was quite surprised this was selected, they usually have a more gritty, urban feel to a lot of their films.