The Truth Game
I'd never planned on doing a 90s youth trilogy but once I'd made Strong Language, I still wanted to make Club Le Monde and so having a film with a budget in between the two seemed to make sense given that I had no idea how easy (or hard) it was going to be to get another film off the ground. Also with my predilection for trilogies (which came from Krystof Kieslowski's Red, White and Blue) and the marketing potential for doing three films (theoretically if one's successful it helps the others sell), it seemed to make sense.
Given the uniqueness of Strong Language and the 'twist' at the end of the tale, I didn't want to do another film with a 'gimmicky' structure so I chose to make The Truth Game as linear as possible. I'd also planned on making it very much as a fly on the wall documentary about a bunch of late 20somethings meeting for dinner, with very little drama or conflict. I was speaking to Stuart Laing about it over a beer and he suggested that the film should culminate in the characters playing the truth game so it would have more punch; I decided this was probably more of an interesting concept than not and thus the concept behind The Truth Game was born.
It's funny how situations arise but I was trying to finance Club Le Monde with then producer Mike Riley. We'd been promised 40% of the budget and had applied to the Film Council for another 40% (the other 20% was to come from gap financing and Sale and Leaseback). Our assessor was Piers Jackson who loved Strong Language and the script for Club Le Monde and even though he gave the film a positive report, the film council still didn't give us any money. However, he was interested in seeing what other projects I had so I mentioned the idea for The Truth Game (which at that stage wasn't even a treatment).
He made me write a treatment (I hadn't written a script because I wanted to make this in the same way I'd made Strong Language, ie: using the actors' input as well as my own) and we started taking it around various actors' agencies and sales companies. Our feeling was that if we could get a couple of named young actors, it wouldn't be that hard to finance given that it was such a low budget. I met up with the likes of Tom Hollander, Christopher Ecclestone (took them out to lunch at Picadilly's beautiful Criterion restaurant) and Emily Woof (Soho House) but still no prospective financiers were interested in funding a script that didn't exist!
It just so happened though, that the production company Piers had been working for (Screen Production Associates) had been trying to get a 4m Austrian co-production off the ground for quite a while and were still trying, and found the trying quite trying. So executive producers Doug Abbot and John Jaquiss met up with me and said if I could make the film for a limited budget, they would seek finances whilst we were prepping. If they didn't find any, they'd pay for the film themselves; I was suddenly in pre-production again!
Through various adverts and contacts with agents Piers and I cast the film ourselves, starting off with the core of Stuart Laing and Tania Emery both of whom had worked on Strong Language. Piers was looking after his next door neighbours' house so we used this as our casting offices and spent about 3 days talking to various up-coming actors which is always quite interesting and given that I knew the kind of characters I was looking for it was a relatively easy and pleasurable task.
It's funny when you actually hit pre-production because when you're struggling to raise finances you always think how great it would be to make a film but once you're in that situation you have so much to think about, worry about and do that you hardly ever have time to enjoy the experience. With The Truth Game, we got the 'greenlight' in August and we had to shoot in late October I think. This means I had 12 weeks in which to cast, improvise, write a script, re-write a script, rehearse, prep and then shoot! It was like Oh Fuck! I did the only sensible thing I could think of and gave up alcohol for this duration, figuring that it'd provide me with an extra hour in the evening and an extra hour in the morning (waking up earlier) which on such a tight schedule afforded quite a bit more time.
For a couple of weeks the actors came over to where I was living in Peckham with Judy Lipsey (this time co-executive producer) and we spent quite a while just hanging out and talking and getting to know each other. We tried a few improvisations which ultimately didn't work that well but after a couple of weeks of chatting I felt I had enough ideas to sit down and write the first draft which was then honed and fine-tuned over the weeks to come during rehearsals.
Apart from getting the script and actors ready in time, the other major problem was to source a location - a large central London residence which we could take over for 14 days, bring in about 25 people, re-design to suit the characters' living habits and tastes and generally use as our own; all for next to no money whatsoever. A pretty impossible task really. After various false starts, someone suggested a friend of theirs called Lawrence who was a property developer who wanted to become a film producer and who'd just purchased an old residential building which he was about to renovate! A perfect combination if ever there was one and so we ended up shooting in this amazing property near Angel Islington. It turned out that there was no way we could afford to 're-design' the whole place to our characters' specifications so the script changed and suddenly Stuart Laing and Selina Giles' characters were house-sitting for a friend who'd gone abroad for a couple of months whilst h! e was ! renovating his new property...
We shot the film over 9 straight days, using each different room as a different 'location.' My dad came up one evening and leant his car for the opening credit sequence which we filmed between 2-6am, driving from Notting Hill Gate to Islington. Another night we were driving around with Alastair the camera man standing up through the roof of my convertible 2CV and I remember someone on the streets shouting 'Go back to film school!' During these long nights I discovered the heart-throbbing sugar coated buzz of redbull and have been drinking it ever since. The nearest we came to a disaster was when someone had washed Paul Blackthorne's white shirt and put it on a radiator to dry but had ended up burning it brown instead...On the scale of things pretty minor...
By the time we'd finished shooting Colin Sherman, the editor, had pretty much finished a rough cut which I proceeded to change quite extensively. My concept for the film was that it should be about people's reactions and what they're trying to hide or what they're giving away rather than what they're saying so because we hadn't had time to discuss my concept, the film had been cut in a completely way to how I wanted it.
It was during the cutting of The Truth Game that the National Film Theatre was being re-launched with Strong Language as its flagship film and I remember going to the press launch for that and talking to Geoff Andrew and the equally well respected film critic Jonathon Romney whilst supping enjoyably on a glass of champagne in the NFT foyer, thinking damn, I've got to go back to the editing suite and then thinking what are you thinking! It's great you've got to go back to the edit suite! That was the first time time I felt like a 'proper' director.
We ended up premiering The Truth Game in Cannes 2000 from which we were offered a distribution deal from Metrodome which ultimately never materialised. They'd had one test screening and told us that no-one liked the film which was v.depressing. For a few months I thought it was going to be Strong Language all over again until, bizarrely, I had another chance encounter with Geoff Andrew.
I was waiting for a friend to get me into a press screening of a Stanley Kubrick documentary when Geoff waltzed passed. He stopped a couple of metres past me, turned round, walked back said 'I really liked your new film.' I thanked him and that was that; he went on his way. I was confused since this conflicted with the Metrodome report but excited because suddenly not everyone hated my film! I phoned up Metrodome and questioned them about this and in the end they admitted that they'd only spoken to a couple of magazines which included someone like FHM who were completely the wrong audience.
We took the film off Metrodome and sent it back to the NFT with Geoff's support. It received a joint release with Ben Hopkins' The Nine Lives of Thomas Katz (which also featured Thomas Fischer as its lead) during the June of 2001 and came out on video and DVD soon thereafter through the same company who'd done such a great job with Strong Language; Third Millenium. Compressing everything into a few sentences like this makes everything sound like it was very easy flitting from one film to another (it wasn't) but by the time The Truth Game had come out, I'd finally shot Club Le Monde...