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Wigilia

A Christmas Eve Story

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Director Graham Drysdale on Wigilia

Graham on... the evolution of the film

Wigilia (*The Vigil – Polish Christmas Eve meal / celebration) was developed from two Dogme-like restrictions or challenges set out by the Producer, Grant McPhee. He asked me, “Do you want to make a feature film?” Condition 1 - it had to be shot in 5 days in early January, downtime for the industry. 2 - The action had to take place in one indoor location to eliminate weather problems and time-wasting crew moves. (Though we eventually shot over 6 and a half days – one extra day in another flat and half a day on Dunbar beach.)

I kept putting Grant off, “I don’t have a script!...” but he just said, “We’re making a film. Improvise.” So there was no way out!

So I came up with an outline of a story – lonely Polish cleaner in an empty flat on Christmas Eve meets her employer’s Bad Penny Brother.

Graham on... his previous film Lovely

There was no conscious connection to my previous short Lovely when I was developing Wigilia but looking back there are some similarities – a lonely female protagonist in a menial job… and Tunnocks Tea Cakes.

 

Graham on... casting

The prep and casting process was quick as the shooting date was fast approaching. I knew needed a Polish actress late 20s/30s and a slightly older Male artist/musician type.

The Polish Cultural Association in Edinburgh gave me the contact details for a Polish Theatre Company based in Glasgow. I met two actresses from this group but I could tell that Iwona was perfect for the role

Graham on... the traditional talent-led approach to casting, financing and distribution of film

I totally understand that distributors prefer a name actor in a film so they can sell it more easily but that’s only one approach. It depends on budget and the various types of exhibition now available. Examples like ‘Mumblecore’ or the Duplass Brothers show that there’s an appetite out there for ‘indie’ films.

Graham on... the musical background of both leads

It’s a happy accident. We knew that we wanted Duglas’s character (Robbie) to sing in the film so we looked for a place in the story where he could conceivably burst into song! He wrote the lyrics the night before we filmed the scene and it was a special moment in rehearsals when he unfurled a little piece of paper and started to sing. It’s a great song and a touching moment in the film when he sings to Iwona (Agata).


Graham on... the writing of the film

We started from a basic outline of the action which was developed during rehearsals. On shooting days we walked through the action and improvised dialogue, then we shot from 4 – 10 in the evening, so everything was very fresh for the actors.

The actors added a huge amount to the story and their characters. We talked a lot about their backgrounds – what had brought them here and how they would react to various situations. We also used the location in the development of the story – the empty kids bedroom where Robbie goes to sleep – the balcony where Agata stands, thinking of jumping.

Graham on... improvisation

Improv isn’t particularly new in filmmaking. Buster Keaton said “50% of a story should be nailed down after the cameras start rolling.” But Hitchock had everything pre-planned to the nth degree… Different strokes for different folks.

 



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