Married/unmarried

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Production Story

Noli originally wrote MARRIED/UNMARRIED as a stage play in 2000 but rejected overtures to stage the play in both Paris and London upon deciding to adapt it for film.

“My first play BLUE EYES RED had received numerous film offers but it was increasingly difficult to attach myself as director having had no prior experience in film. My theatre directing seemed to count for nothing and I realised then that I had to shoot something on a smaller scale to cut my teeth.”

Meeting an independent producer who was attracted to Married/Unmarried’s explicitly dark and confrontational attack on love and fidelity, they initially agreed to make the film as a small DV feature and the budget was muted at £50,000. “Even at that budget I was determined to approach the actors I wanted for the roles.”

His first two choices were scheduled to star in the original London stage production.

PAOLO SEGANTI as PAUL: “I met Paolo in Venice two years prior. He had just made Zefferelli’s TEA WITH MUSSOLINI and had read and loved my first play. I wrote the character of PAUL for him and he agreed to come to London to do the play. When I called and told him I’d decided to make it as a film instead, he simply said ‘Count me in’ without even reading the screenplay – which I had yet to write anyway.

KRISTEN McMENAMY as KIM: “Just before writing the stage play I saw Kristen in a Tennessee Williams play and thought she was amazing. I approached her and asked to send her the script. The role of Kim is extremely harrowing, she is like a punch bag to the misogynistic manipulation of her boyfriend. For an actress to give herself completely to such a role she would have to embrace humility and shun vanity. Kristen was one of the biggest Supermodels of the eighties and nineties, one of the most recognisable faces in fashion but I never questioned whether she would be able to commit to such a character. She completely immersed herself into the role and wanted to do it from the off. When I subsequently called her and told her I would now be making it as a film, she had no hesitation in wanting to be part of it. The producers were blind as to whom she was, but I refused to consider anybody else for that part. She came into my rehearsal studios and I had her read Kim’s moving and explicit monologue to them. They were chilled by the intensity and passion of her performance.”

BEN DANIELS as DANNY: “I wanted the cast to be completely international. Paolo was Italian, Kristen was American, so my vision was to have an Englishman to play ‘Danny’ and a French woman to play ‘Amanda’. The only English actor I wanted to play Danny was Ben Daniels. A year earlier I had witnessed him give one of the greatest stage performances I had ever seen in Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS. He was phenomenal and quite rightly won Best Actor at the Olivier’s in 2001. Unfortunately, his agent told us that he was working on another feature in Amsterdam and would not be finished in time. We sent him the script anyway and he responded immediately that he was interested. I jumped on a plane the same day and met him in his hotel. I didn’t have him read for the role or even discuss it. I just told him I wanted him to do it and said I’d figure out a schedule. I pushed all his scenes into the final ten days of shooting and he literally stepped off a plane on completing his other film and stepped onto my set.”

GINA BELLMAN as AMANDA: “I had decided at an early stage to approach Romane Bohringer for the role of Amanda. I met her in Paris and she read the play and the screenplay and we discussed the role in depth. I was convinced she would do it and kept holding off the producers awaiting her confirmation. Ten days before shooting she told me she could not go through the emotional journey of that character. I came back to London a little distraught. I decided to switch my attention to English actresses and scoured the names offered to me. Gina Bellman stood out like a beacon. Dennis Potter has always been one of my writing icons and Gina’s association with him via BLACKEYES was extremely influential to me. I had also seen her recently on stage in David Mamet’s SPEED THE PLOW where she stole the play from the other actors. She completely understood the script and I gave her the role almost instantly from our first meet.”

DENIS LAVANT as LOVE: “For me, Denis is one the greatest actors I’ve ever witnessed. His performances in the Carax trilogy of films, culminating with the tour-de-force LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF opposite Juliette Binoche make him completely unique in World cinema. He is even more amazing on stage, little known by anyone outside of France and I was fortunate to meet him after one of his performances a few years earlier. I had always promised to write something specifically for him, but was so excited to be making my first film with Married/Unmarried that I offered to write a tiny cameo for him. He had just completed Claire Denis’ BEAU TRAVAIL and had thrown himself back into theatre work. We met for a drink in a small bar by the Bastille and he pulled out a small tattered diary which revealed that he had only two days free during my filming. I went away, wrote this silent cameo role for him and he came to London and mesmerised us all with his sublime craft. I’ve subsequently written the lead role for him in MOI NON PLUS which hopefully will be my next film.”

Assembling such a strong cast on a threadbare budget encouraged the financiers to invest a little more money into the film. The final budget reached a little over £200,000, a pittance in comparison to most average budgets. But this increase allowed the option to shoot on film instead of DV. “I didn’t hesitate,” says Noli. “I always wanted to shoot on film and insisted upon it. And the more I was warned or advised NOT to do so because of the restrictions to stock and time, the more insistent I was to proceed.” Shot on just 80 rolls of film and restricting each scene to an average of three takes – “some of the longer takes were shot in just one take!” – other sacrifices had to be made to stay within the budget. “I was told from day one that there would not be a penny more available to me so everything had to be cost-effective. I didn’t have a monitor for the first 5 days of shooting and being on location meant I couldn’t see or hear my actors properly. It was ridiculous and I threatened to walk off the film. I finally got a tiny monitor and some headphones.”

DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY - PAUL SADOURIAN: “From our first meet Noli told me he didn’t want to make a Brit-flick. He didn’t want hand-held, he didn’t want jerky camera style, he didn’t want kitchen-sink. He wanted presteen cinematography, that every freeze-frame to be like a painting. He wanted clean, classic filmmaking. It was a pleasure to hear that. And the complete opposite to what the Producers were wanting. They wanted aggressive hand-held, fly-on-the-wall stuff. Noli detested that.”

PRODUCTION DESIGNER - RACHEL PAYNE: “I had worked with Noli before on one of his stage plays and knew beforehand that he is very demanding and meticulous about the smallest details. I did try to forewarn others! His first proviso was that he wanted every set to have an artificial sheen of beauty. He wanted to juxtapose all that was rotten within the characters with a beautiful if somewhat fake veneer of their exterior. I suggested we designate colours to each character, not crudely and overtly noticeable, and we began to structure the design of the film from that starting point. Amanda was given the colour red, Paul was autumnal in brown, Kim was cold in silver, and Danny was icy in blue. We then transposed that to their habitat and various locations and began to link the colours with each other character. For example, when Danny comes out of the bathroom after having sex with Amanda, he is using a red towel because he is effectively wiping her off him. It’s those kinds of subliminal details that Noli is obsessive about. Even the peripheral characters were designed this way. Tanya, the ex-girlfriend has this enormous build up of being a wanton woman but her entire scenes are enveloped in pure white! My actual working budget after locations was less than £900 so we needed a hell of a lot of favours from prop-companies and set builders. I think what we achieved is remarkable.”

An amazing fact about the movie is that the script was written merely two months prior to shooting. “All the money and most of the actors and crew were in place purely on the strength of the stage play. I think I finally wrote the screenplay on Christmas Eve and we started shooting in the first week of February.”

Married/Unmarried was shot on Super 16 in just 20 days. Shot entirely on sticks, no track, dolly or hand-held. “I wanted static images. I wanted claustrophobia within the frame. I wanted to take the oxygen away from the viewer so that in the final scene when we are in the park and the characters are running we can suck in the air too. I wanted long takes, an unflinching eye to dissect the characters with. The film is cored within a series of two-handers and I wanted to give the actors the platform to fully justify that. Jacques Rivette is the king of the two-shot and with Paul my DOP we constructed varying two-shot frames to accommodate the long takes. On the majority of the two-shot scenes, we averaged one or two takes only. That’s the real craft of the actors coming through.”

The post production proved equally restrictive. The complete edit was made in only 27 days and the entire sound design in less than 22 days. “Martin Brinkler (editor) and I were literally told that we had until the end of the month and that was it. When we hit our deadline we desperately needed a few days more. We couldn’t get them. It was insane. Looking back now I still don’t understand it. I have a great deal of resentment about it. The film was not completed to its optimum state. I know the budget was small, but I think I delivered a film that looks ten times its worth. If I could’ve paid for extra time in the editing room I would’ve, but I was completely broke. I had to even pay my own costs to go to Canada to direct the ADR of Paolo Seganti who was there working on another film and couldn’t come to London. That’s how farcical it became. No-one wanted to raise a penny more to help the film.”

More trouble emerged when the film was finally blown up to 35mm. A fault was revealed on the entire right-hand side of the frame. “To this day we’re uncertain what the fault was. All we know is that the right-hand side of the film was out of focus and can only presume that the film plate wasn’t holding the celluloid flat. I thought the film was ruined, could never be shown on the big screen. We certainly had no money to rectify the situation digitally which would’ve cost hundreds of thousands.” What followed was a long and agonising wait as insurance claims were filed and accusations ricocheted at everyone within range. “It was almost a year before anything happened and tempers were brittle. No-one was taking responsibility, not the labs for not flagging the problem in the negative at an early stage, not the camera equipment who claimed all tests on the cameras proved accurate, not the insurance companies who claimed human error as opposed to a technical fault, and certainly not the camera crew. Finally we received a small amount of compensation which enabled us to attempt the cheapest solution. By sharpening the inter-positive during the Telecine grade, we were able to burn the film directly onto 35mm. This saved the film and we final had a 35mm print to premiere in October 2002 at Mifed.”

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