Following the film’s premiere at the London Film Festival, Variety said - “Ben Wheatley strips things way back for his nerve-raddled family reunion comedy, and the result is one of his best, most fluid films.” Happy New Year, Colin Burstead  is playing in selected cinemas around the UK on a Q&A tour before screening on BBC2 over Christmas.The NFTS was delighted to welcome Ben for a pre-tour screening and Q&A at the School.

The acclaimed writer-director-editor’s previous films include Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England, High-Rise and Free Fire.  Introducing the Q&A Sandra Hebron, NFTS Head of Screen Arts, commented “The film is atypical for you – there’s no bloodshed, people get hurt, but in a different way.” Ben agreed, laughing “It’s quite depressing, it’s the first film I’ve made without killing someone in it!”  Explaining, “I wanted to make something closer to my own experience, to not hide it in genre.”  Continuing, “It’s based on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, distilled down to family arguments.  Similar to Free Fire, which reduces action films to their essential elements.  I reduced each scene down to a sentence and then built it back up again.”

Still from Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Sandra admired the way the film captures the simmering nature of family arguments.  Ben laughed, “It’s a British thing, everyone is cross to start with, about family things that go back years.”  Asked why he chose to set it on New Year’s Eve, Ben explained “It’s a reason to get people together, I could have gone for a birthday or a wedding, but I always find New Year particularly irritating – usually the year’s been shit and you’re under all this pressure to have a good time.”

Ben Wheatley with NFTS Head of Screen Arts, Sandra Hebron

Discussing the script and the amazing cast, which includes Neil Maskell, Charles Dance, Hayley Squires, Sam Riley, Doon Mackichan, Asim Chaudhry, Bill Patterson, Richard Glover and Mark Monero, Ben revealed he’d written the roles specifically for those actors.  When it came to shooting he welcomed input from the cast, although it was largely to script and not improvised, “We’d do a take on the script, and then a take around the script, paraphrasing a few words, and then if we were having fun try the actors throwing in a few of their own bits.”  

‘Happy New Year, Colin Burstead’ poster

The film was shot in 10 days and was self-financed through Rook Films, Ben’s company with producer Andy Starke.  Ben explained he didn’t do read-throughs beforehand with the actors as “It’s usually miserable and soul-sucking – it’s not a radio play, it’s visual.”  Staying in a little portacabin on the location, Ben edited together the footage each night.  He advised students on the benefit of setting films in a single location, as many of his films are, “A single location is manageable, it saves budget, and you still get the drama.”

Ben Wheatley on set on Free Fire

Discussing the editing, for which he has been nominated for the British Independent Film Award for ‘Best Editing’, Ben explained he had always planned to cross cut between the characters’ conversations.  Adding, “I love editing, it’s the best bit!  I’m not precious about what I’ve shot, you keep chipping away at it, the film should tell you when it’s done.  You might find the emotional high point is not where you expected it to be.” Praising his DoP Laurie Rose, who he’s worked with for 10 years, Ben said “His eye is really good, he’s like a witness to the drama.”

L-R Venetia Hawkes, NFTS Executive Producer, Sandra Hebron, NFTS Head of Screen Arts and Ben Wheatley

One student asked about the lovely moment at the end of the film in the credits when members of the crew are seen dancing with the cast.  “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for ages, to show the people who have made the film,” Ben said, “it’s a cottage industry, the films are made for the love, it’s a cliché to say crew are family, but a lot of this crew I’ve worked with for years.” Sandra noted that it also somehow brings the audience in to the film as well.  Ben agreed, “By watching it, you are part of it too.” Asked about making films fast and at a low budget, Ben said “I get a lot of pleasure from making films.  I’d rather be making films at a low budget than not working. And I like working at a low budget, you have creative control.  I don’t want to wait.  I don’t want to be told I can make a film.  I’d rather just do it.”