by writer/director Mike Leigh
We shot Another Year in just twelve weeksSpring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, all looking different, each with its own distinctive spirit and atmosphere. Some people assume we filmed over an actual year, waiting patiently for each new season in turn. What an exotic idea! Low-budget independent film-making doesn’t allow such luxury. Instead we rely on the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the creative team.
The production design department, with the help of some very clever guys who specialize in flowers and plants and trees in movies, made the different seasons totally believable, especially in the allotment sequences. Leaves, tomatoes, shoots and rich foliage came and went with ease. And some other wizards showed up with a machine which spread some very convincing frost. This was made from potato starch and could disappear into the ground when sprayed with water.
Dick Pope is my brilliant long-time cinematographer. He has shot all my films since Life Is Sweet in 1990. His inspired idea was not only to use a different film stock for each season, but to treat them in contrasting ways photographically, giving each of the film’s four chapters a distinct style.
The film is about the endless passing of time as we grow older, year by year. So the four seasons of Another Year are a sort of metaphor for life. This is how we arrived at the whole idea of the seasons.
Like all my films, Another Year began without a script. Instead, as always, I worked with the actors over some five months before shooting began, creating the characters and their world. My job throughout this process is of course to discover the film: to work out what story to tell, and how to tell it.
At a certain crucial stage of this process, I always share with Dick where I think it’s going. Then, once we’ve discussed it, he shoots a short test film, to determine a possible visual style.
This time, while he was shooting the test, I was struggling with the story. How could I dramatize Tom and Gerri’s “green,” gardening side? And how could I open up their not-very-close relationship with Mary, who only visits them occasionally?
These were problems because I normally like my films to take place over a short time-spana week, or a month at the most. And I assumed this would be the case now.
Dick shot the test and early one morning, we crammed into a small cinema in London’s Soho district. Another Year is about many things, and Dick’s interpretation of my thoughts resulted in four different possible “looks” for the film.
As I watched them, I thought “Hey! I know what this is!”
The lights came up, and Dick asked me which way we should go. And I said, “All four ways: we’re doing the seasons!”
This not only gave the film its style and structure, but it liberated the story, and solved my narrative problems.
Our experience illustrates the collaborative nature of creative film-making.