Some Ramblings by Andrew Eaton
The Producer of A Cock and Bull Story Andrew Eaton, and the long term business partner of director Michael Winterbottom, gives us an intimate insight into the making of the film:
A Cock and Bull Story is intended to be an affectionate look at the business of making a film as well as a version of Laurence Sterne’s wonderfully mad book The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Much of Sterne’s book is concerned with the problem of how hard it is to write an autobiography. No matter how fast you write, you can never catch up with yourself. We felt it would be in the spirit of Sterne to make part of the film about how difficult it can be to make a film. Stephen Fry pops up in the middle of our film to explain what the whole thing is about.
Most of A Cock and Bull Story was shot in Norfolk. We all lived in little cottages and gathered in the local pub in the evenings. A random tourist would have been very puzzled by the strange company. I have happy memories of sitting in a pub called The White Horse being entertained by Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Dylan Moran. They would do impressions of each other. One evening I looked around to see David Walliams reduce a woman to tears of laughter at the next table. Apparently her husband had seen him coming out of the gents and asked him to come over and say something funny. After some shyness, he duly obliged. Rob Brydon told him he owed it to his public.
Tristram Shandy had a big influence of 24 Hour Party People, and that film borrows its tangential, shaggy-dog style. When we were filming A Cock and Bull Story, we had a documentary crew from the South Bank Show following us around, and at one point we were filming them filming the fake press crew filming an interview with Steve. I’m sure there were occasions when the actors weren’t sure which was the main camera…
The film is book-ended by two scenes with Steve and Rob. These were never in the original script. Well, the first one, in a make-up trailer, was, but there was little or no dialogue. During the first week’s filming, the weather wasn’t great, so we couldn’t shoot outside. We didn’t have any weather-cover, so Michael decided to take the two actors in to the make-up truck and ask them to improvise some dialogue.
It’s fair to say that up until that point, the film had been struggling to find its tone. Let me digress for a moment and give you an example. Gillian Anderson, who we had never met, traveled up to Norfolk to shoot a scene with Rob Brydon where she appears in a dream to Steve. She was playing a fictional character from the book, Widow Wadman, in a dream sequence, being watched by the fictional film crew. So when we met for a drink the night before, she asked Michael how this scene fitted in to the rest of the film. What tone should it have? How should she pitch it? The honest truth was that we didn’t know. It is the most disconnected scene in the film – Steve’s dream of a fictional version of Rob acting out a scene from the book.
Anyway, I firmly believe it was on that rainy day, in the make-up truck that the film found its rhythm and tone. When we wrapped that evening, Michael had a smile on his face. It was quite a long time in to the editing process, before he came up with the idea of putting this scene at the start of the film. There are lots of funny bits from that day that will end up on the DVD, including Rob’s fantastic impression of Hugh Grant, which made even Steve laugh.
The penultimate scene of the film (not including the end credit sequence), where the cast and crew watch the final version of our film (confused?) was shot in a screening room on Wells Street in London’s Soho. This is the screening room that Michael Winterbottom and I screened our first film together for the first time, called Go Now. When we first screened A Cock and Bull Story for the press, we showed it in this same theatre. We thought this was really clever and very much in the Shandyean spirit, but I’m sure some people just thought it was silly and confusing.
There is a producer character and a director character in the film, played by James Fleet and Jeremy Northam. In the script they were called Andrew and Michael but we changed the names at the last minute to avoid any confusion. A lot of their dialogue is based on our own experiences.
My favourite exchange in the film is when the Producer asks the Director: “Why did we want to spend a year of our lives making this film?”
A few years ago we made a film called 24 Hour Party People with Steve (and Rob playing a journalist) about Factory Records and the Manchester music scene. Some people thought you needed to like the music of that era to really enjoy the film so; we thought it would be fun to make a film with Steve and Rob that had only one aim – to be funny.