The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Brian and Charles.
This project started as a radio sketch, became a live show, and now it’s a mockumentary. I’m interested in the differences between those and what you needed to consider to make this film.
Jim Archer: I didn’t do the radio show, but the evolution of that was totally different in regards to characters. The backstory changed completely. With mockumentary, you really have to consider the crew and the logics of how they would cover Brian’s story and where they would be when something unexpected happens. They have to run after these moments and stuff like that. We were always trying to think through the brain of these mysterious documentarians. With the car chase, for example, they probably would have known that was coming because they knew Brian’s plan. So they could fix the GoPros to the car. We were always thinking about how it would look and feel the most realistic.
If I watch it with the sound off, I’m like, this feels and looks like a doc
And what was the evolution of Brian and Charles through these different incarnations? You’re a great vaudevillian act.
Chris Hayward: When we did this live, they were much more adult in nature. I was dressed as Charlies, David was Brian, and our producer Rupert was voicing Charles in the back of the comedy club. And to survive in a drunken comedy club, they had to be much more chaotic and aggressive. We still had lots of dancing and stuff in there. When we came to do the film, the characters changed quite a bit; they softened. Charles, as you saw, goes through a bit of progression from childlike to angsty teen.
Rupert Majendie: Naturally, Chris can’t see anything in there, so when we did the live show, he’d always be knocking into stuff. I remember at a festival he knocked over a big sign in front of 300 people.
CH: Yeah, at this big festival, they had like a big sign at the back of the stage and I completely lost my footing and just fell backwards on the whole back of the stage. Flat out on my black and I think someone thought I was really injured. I look back and I think, what were we hoping to do?
David, as a comedian, was it challenging to hit the more emotional marks of Brian?
David Earl: To be honest, I wanted to pull out a month or two before we began. I asked if we could get someone else.
RM: Come on, that’s just your default for everything!
DE: Well, it was serious because I was panicking. I was really worried about carrying the movie and just trusting this guy [Jim] to give me the direction. But I really enjoyed playing opposite Chris as Charles… I found it much easier playing off a dummy head than a human being!
RM: David would get the giggles when the more dramatic moments occurred.
JA: But once we started watching the dailies, David really settled in and that definitely shows in the performance.
What were some of the things you discovered in the edit that helped shape this film?
JA: One of the biggest tips we got was to start rearranging the movie. We were in full script order at first.
RM: Our goal was to focus on Brian and Charles’ journey. We had been focusing a lot on the external characters and their journeys too early. I think that really helped shape it.
CH: We swapped two scenes. Originally, we had the first time Brian meets Hazel being when he went around to her house, with the parrot. Then the second time he meets her is in the street, after he built Charles. Amazingly it worked better to switch those two around.
JA: We wanted him to meet Hazel in the first 5-10 minutes, and that scene just fit in there more smoothly. Then we rearranged loads of stuff after that, but not in huge ways… small cuts here and there that really helped the narrative.
The aesthetic of the movie is very particular. It doesn’t necessarily feel like a comedy, it feels like an elevated documentary.
JA: That’s great to hear since it was meant to feel exactly like that, like a real doc that is a bit moody and super cinematic. We wanted that to make a silly story even funnier. So we treated it super seriously when engaging with the characters like Charles.
RM: Also, Gabby [Yiaxis], who did costumes, and Hannah [Purdy Foggin] from the art department, from their pitch they really got that we wanted it to be as real as possible. All the references they were showing us to fit in the world came from so much research. They understood the approach we wanted to take.
JA: If I watch it with the sound off, I’m like, this feels and looks like a doc. Like genuinely real… except for Charles, obviously!
What was it like working with Jo Walker, your editor? Comedy is so dependent on pacing.
JA: She was amazing. We tried to focus on the story first, and once that was right, we tweaked the comedy as we went. With Charles, we could rewrite all his lines if we wanted to because we could just plug in the voice. Towards the end, we did a lot of tweaking of the delivery of certain lines or rewording.
RM: It was all very collaborative. She even pitched a few lines for Charles that got in there. Jo has great instincts.
Is it hard to maintain a sense of style when you’re doing a mockumentary?
JA: You do have to give up some stuff because there are some things that just don’t fit in that world. But at the same time, you get to shoot stuff that you wouldn’t normally shoot. And we discovered a lot of things, like I actually loved the framing of shooting from the backseat of a car. There’s no crane shots or dollies or anything like that, but I think learned things that I would take into non-documentary films.
And what about for the performers? Is that any different?
CH: Not for me, because I can’t see anything in there. I’m just told to turn Charles’ head!
DE: I’ve done other mockumentaries. When I’m not doing a mockumentary, I’m always looking at the camera and getting told off while I’m doing it. But I really like playing with the camera to give some insight about what’s going on behind the character’s eyes.