Debbie Isitt talks directing and the Hollywood Experience | The Fan Carpet Ltd • The Fan Carpet: The RED Carpet for FANS • The Fan Carpet: Fansites Network • The Fan Carpet: Slate • The Fan Carpet: Theatre Spotlight • The Fan Carpet: Arena • The Fan Carpet: International

Debbie Isitt talks directing and the Hollywood Experience

18 November 2010

Debbie Isitt, the comic writer, performer and two time film director has come from humble beginnings in Birmingham to working in Hollywood. Her work has been produced at the Donmar Warehouse, the Royal Court and in the West End and her plays have toured the world and been translated into many languages.

As Nativity! her second feature film is released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 22, we sit down with her to talk about the film and her experiences working in Hollywood.

Nativity! Film Page




Where did you get the inspiration to make a film about Nativity?

My daughter is 11 years old now so for the past few years I have been going to see her Nativity plays at school and laughing and crying along with the other parents.  I suppose it has been a slow dawning that the natural comedy inherent in a school nativity play is there for all to see and that it hadn’t really been tackled as an idea for the big screen.  I also really wanted to make a Christmas film because I love Christmas!


Why did you choose to film in Coventry?

I moved to Coventry when I was 17 years old and fell in love with the city.  I still live in the city and really wanted to set the film in my home- town because I knew there were a lot of talented children and I’d get a lot of support from the schools and local people.  Also, the cathedral ruins are so beautiful that I felt it would be the perfect play to set our Nativity play in the movie.


Did you instantly have an idea of who you wanted to cast in the lead roles?

Pretty much.  I knew I wanted Martin Freeman to play the teacher because he has all the qualities I was looking for – someone warm and funny but also someone who could bounce off the brilliant Marc Wootton who plays the anarchic classroom assistant.  I definitely wanted to put Martin Freeman and Ashley Jensen together because I thought they would make a lovely couple.  And Alan Carr is just someone I find truly hilarious so he was my number one choice for the critic.  All of the key actors are so great that I spent much more time on casting the children for the film.


What’s the biggest challenge when working with children?

Keeping them quiet!  Keeping them interested.  Keeping them happy and trying not to kill them when flying them off the cathedral spire!!!!


Would you say you’re a competitive parent?

That’s such a great question!  I’m unlikely to think that about myself as I tend to feel more of an observer of others but maybe that’s what some of the other parents think of me?  I’d hate to think that I’m competitive as a parent because I really believe in children finding their own way through life and just supporting them as much as possible rather than pushing them too hard.  I must admit my heart did always sink a little when my daughter was right at the back of the Nativity plays at school!



Was there much improvisation in this film?

The story was pretty much water tight but all of the dialogue was improvised.  That is the way I love to work, allowing the actors to own their characters and say what they would say if the situation was actually happening to them.  I think the children were brilliant at improvising, it came very naturally to them.  All of the cast work extremely hard to be real and convincing in their roles but they have to put up with me shouting at them “Be funnier – faster!”


How much difference does a big budget make to your work?

Well I certainly feel like I work with tiny budgets for my films.   Everything is relative of course but we have to compete at the box office with films that are made for millions and millions of dollars and Nativity cost around 2 million pounds to make.  It does make things very challenging.  But then again, necessity is the mother of invention or so they say!


What exciting features will be on the Nativity DVD?

We have a funny and touching featurette that features interviews with the cast and crew and lots of unseen footage.  It provides quite a good insight into how the film was made and the improvisation process.  There are some great deleted scenes that I wished I could have fitted into the film.  There is also a ‘sing a long’ feature to get everybody into the Christmas spirit!


Do you have any traditions that you do every year around Christmas?

I have to admit that every Christmas my family makes a naked Christmas card and send it out to friends and family to make them laugh.  I’m getting a bit too old for all of that now but the family keep demanding it so…..

Of course I do all the traditional things too like buy a fresh Christmas tree every year and buy one new decoration each year.  Hang the stockings up on Christmas Eve and pour out the brandy for Santa (help him drink it) then put out mince pies and carrots for Rudolf. I love Christmas!


What’s up next for you?

I am developing a few feature films at the moment.  One is a film about a Welsh Male Voice Choir who are taken over by a young woman.  I am also developing a Nativity franchise so I am hoping to make a Christmas sequel too.


Who or what are you a fan of?

I am a fan of Will Ferrell!  I only have to hear his name and I start laughing!