When you think of the words ‘British wedding movie’ no doubt the image that pings to mind is of a foppish, awkward, plummy gent and a high-breasted American lass with glowing teeth. That is, until now. Hoping to change all that is Nasty Neighbours' helmer Debbie Isitt, who has conceived the very brilliant Confetti.
The director told TF that the inspiration came from her own sister's wedding, which, unfortunately, didn’t go entirely to plan. The bride decided to give her eyes that winning sparkle and popped some eye drops in before the ceremony. “She had an allergic reaction,” Isitt tells us, her mouth slightly cocked into a cheeky grin.
“Once it had happened, once she’d regained her sight and we knew it wasn’t serious, it just got funnier and funnier to me, everytime I remembered it. The image of her in the beautiful white dress, with these big swollen eyes, it’s terrible really but it was so funny.”
Instead of simply using the idea as the kick-off for a script, Debbie decided to approach the topic of weddings from arse-end – skipping the falling in love bit, body-swerving the happily married couple malarkey and concentrating on the juicy bits, the most stressful time in any betrothed couple’s calendar, the planning.
“They say if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. This is why the planning of the event became the focus because it was that aspect that interested me rather than the romance of two people meeting. The romance then comes out within the story anyway.”
With that in mind, the director created wedding magazine Confetti, its arrogant publisher (Jimmy Carr), ambitious editor (Felicity Montagu) and a competition for the most original wedding. The idea was that three couples would compete to scoop the first prize of a dream house and a cover shoot and oh yes, the entire thing is 100% improvised from top to bottom.
“Confetti was so different from anything I’ve done in that there was no script at all, no plan, no nothing.” Green Wing star Stephen Mangan plays Josef, one half of a tennis-obsessed couple, desperate to snatch the top prize. “I know Debbie had a rough idea of what she wanted but basically we were told, ‘here’s your missus, go and get married, you’ve got six weeks, here’s your wedding planners, what do you want to do?’ So they set up visits – they would take us to a woman who does cakes and just roll the camera.”
Mangan and his onscreen beau Meredith MacNeill are pitted in the final against naturists played by Peep Show stars Robert Webb and Olivia Coleman and Hollywood musical enthusiasts Martin Freeman and Jessica Stevenson. The three couples all had to plan their themed weddings with the onscreen coordinators (Vincent Franklin and Jason Watkins) and then swap nuptials in the huge finale.
“The wedding scene, it was the only day that we had five cameras,” Isitt says with a shake of the head and a smile. “When they arrived in the morning, I told them I wasn’t going to be around so they couldn’t speak to me. They just had to trust that they were getting married at eight o’ clock that night and they just had to get on with it. The stress and the nerves made it feel like they were getting married and so in a way I knew we’d get some great stuff from backstage.”
Isitt made sure that the competition was fierce between the three couples by not revealing the winning couple and filming three separate endings, where each gets to celebrate. This only fuelled one particular couple’s mounting paranoia…
“I know that Stephen Mangan thinks that his couple was isolated and it was fixed,” says Felicity Montagu, who plays Vivien, the determined editor of Confetti magazine. “I think he was probably right but it was done for good reason because it got that reaction from him.”
Surely not? Mangan is too professional an actor to allow his character to take over his mindset for an entire six week shoot... right?
“No, I was a nightmare. We hid in crates in Jessica and Martin’s rehearsal room, just to get an idea of what we were up against,” he says, with a slightly embarrassed shake of the head. “I was so sure it was a fix and you get consumed by it, those emotions on screen are real, I think!” So what must his co-stars have thought of him?
“My character’s fairly obnoxious and I’d never met Martin Freeman until you see us meet in the film, so God knows what impression he took away from that. That was the beauty of this film, you only did anything once, you had no idea what was going to come out of anyone else’s mouth, or more frighteningly, out of your own. I ended up in a punch-up and hurt my back for God’s sake. But it’s like X-Factor or one of those reality shows, it dominates you for that period and then when it’s over you leave those emotions behind.”
Montagu is no stranger to riffing in character or working off the cuff - the chameleon-esque actress featured in the colossally popular Alan Partridge series as his downtrodden assistant Lynn, so you’d imagine that shooting a flick without a script is something of a busman’s holiday for her, right?
“It’s an actor’s dream but it’s tough, you think it’s easier than it is. If you wrack your brain trying to be funny, you’ll fail” You have to immerse yourself and just let it happen, let it unfold.”
“The joy of an improvised film is that that panic is real sometimes,” Mangan concurs, “you’re living it as it happens. If you can capture it and if you can edit it, that’s where the writing of the film takes place, in the edit.”
With over 150 hours of footage, Debbie cocooned herself in the edit suite for somewhere close to a year.
“That was the beast because a six week shoot was relatively short to get three weddings on in that window,” she explains. “It was then scheduled for a three month edit and I knew that there was no chance in hell, it was a mammoth task and we made some painful decisions.”
With so much material left on the cutting room floor, surely the actors hearts must’ve sunk when they saw some of their favourite nuggets of comedy gold had been preened away?
“Yes but we’re not objective,” Montagu says seriously. “It was a very brave enterprise and we trusted Debbie. I think she’s pulled it off brilliantly. She had a great vision and she drove it through, that’s why it’s a good film."