Danny Boyle falls in love with East Anglian coast during filming of Yesterday
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
Film-maker Danny Boyle's latest film Yesterday is a collaboration with romantic comedy legend Richard Curtis and tells the story of a young musician who through a quirk of fate finds himself reintroducing the music of The Beatles to the world. We spoke to Danny about the film and the joys of shooting in Suffolk
Danny Boyle is one of the nation's greatest film directors having made a brace of hard-hitting, life-on-drugs Trainspotting movies, the tense thriller Shallow Grave, the disturbing stop-the-world-I-want-get-off zombie movie 28 Days Later, and the edge-of-your-seat sci-fi thriller Sunshine - not to mention feelgood films Slumdog Millionaire and Millions.
Danny Boyle has also staged live spectaculars such the two part adaptation of Frankenstein at the National Theatre and the Olympic Opening Ceremony in 2012.
Danny's work is rooted in a gritty, believable reality which pits the resilient and resourceful human spirit against some of life's greatest obstacles. At first glance he doesn't seem the sort of director that would be an automatic fit with Britain's greatest romantic, Richard Curtis but it turns out they clicked.
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Was Suffolk a place you knew before you started shooting Yesterday?
"No, not really. Suffolk is a wonderful place that hasn't really been exploited filming-wise. But, things are changing. There are lots more smaller studios being built around the country and that will lead to more location filming round about them and I can see Suffolk benefitting from this.
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East Anglia is perfect for period filming because you can convert a lot of the countryside quite easily to look like the 18th or 19th century, they are not my kind of films, I like the modern personality of places, but for another kind of director the unspoilt countryside would be perfect.
For Yesterday, I was particularly drawn to the coast. That was our guide, our touchstone, because The Beatles came from a port town and the area around Lowestoft has a similar vibe.
One of my instincts about the film was to push it more towards the coast. Richard wanted places like Halesworth in the film and we did film there, but, I saw the story being very much about the coast and proximity of the sea.
Did any of the locations stand out for you?
"I loved Gorleston, which is a town I did not know. It reminded me a lot of Liverpool, so it was perfect for a film that tried to summon up the spirit of The Beatles. It was a working port and you still see evidence of that but if you look the other way, you then encounter one of Britain's most remarkable beaches and I am amazed that no-one seems to know about it.
I hope the tourist trade in Gorleston gets a bit busier as a result of this film because it is a very special place.
Location work of the joys of film-making. I love being a storyteller but I love exploring new places and putting them on film. I love finding great places, interesting places, shooting scenes there and they can be huge scenes with thousands of extras, like the roof top concert at the Pier Hotel with everyone dancing away on Gorleston beach, or it can be an intimate recording studio that's by a railway, that's a real quirky little find. You think about it and it doesn't make sense. He has to stop recording every time a train goes by but it leads to a laugh within the film. It's a lovely joke within the film and you find little treasures everywhere when you shoot on location. They add to the script and make the film better. Also, for comedy to work, it's very important that it is rooted in a real place and you think about the great British comedies like Full Monty, Brassed Off - you know the landscape straight away, so place is very important. Richard is the poet laureate of romantic comedy, so it's great to have such a rich world, a world which he thoroughly understands, for the story to play out against.
At first sight you and Richard may appear to be odd bed-fellows - how did you two come to work together on this film?
"We first got to know one another while working on the Olympic opening ceremony. We did a Mr Bean sequence and he said: 'I'll have to come along to help you with Rowan'. He's very rude about Rowan, he's very rude about all his friends and they are very rude about him. But, the whole thing went off very smoothly and I said to him, in passing, "If you want to send me anything don't be shy about it," then, almost immediately came this script. He didn't prep me, he just sent it, and you start reading it and it's a struggling singer-songwriter from Suffolk, fairly charming but nondescript opening, then this accident happens and the world shifts on its axis, just as The Beatles did when they exploded onto the music scene but now they have been erased.
How difficult was it to get the rights to The Beatles catalogue?
"The Beatles are very protective about the rights to their songs, quite rightly so, but we were thrilled when they agreed to let us use 18 of their songs. They are very particular about how they licence their songs. They don't want them used for things they don't agree with. They don't want people to misuse their songs. Their work has resonance and legacy and they don't want them to be misassociated. The premise we sold them is a quirky one. Unlike most groups who are being approached to licence their songs for bio-pics, we were saying: 'Sorry guys we have erased you from history.' Now they have a Monty Pythonesque sense of humour and they agreed and I think they realised that this provided a wonderful prism for the world to see their work afresh. Also, it's great to see how our hero, Jack Malick, negotiates his way through the moral maze he finds himself in as he tries to pass off The Beatles work as his own.
The other great thing was that although we were limited to 18 songs we didn't have to nominate which songs we wanted to use. Because of the story they would naturally be the more famous ones because he would have to remember them but we could also use some of the less famous ones and we could change them at any time to help the telling of the story. We did change a couple of songs in the editing just to help things along and make certain choices clearer.
When Richard wrote to Paul (McCartney) about calling the movie Yesterday, he wrote back, having seen the trailer, saying: 'I didn't think it would work, but it appears to, so well done." Talking about the title, he said: 'You know the original title of Yesterday was Scrambled Eggs, so if the finished film turns out to be a bit of a mess why not call it Scrambled Eggs. But, he gave us the thumbs up to call it Yesterday, so everything was fine.
The strong link between you and Richard is the fact that you both love a strong musical soundtrack. Did you and Richard spend a long time planning what songs were going to be used where?
"Quite a lot of it is in the script, what was good about the movie is that Richard had thought about it very carefully at script stage, about why that song goes there. For example: Ed Sheeran invites Jack to be his support act in Moscow, so Back In The USSR is a great song to go in there. We worked hard to make sure the songs made a lot of narrative sense. There are moments where you could mix and match, not many but there are few. For example, I put Hello,Goodbye in because it was one of my favourite Beatles songs and they were the sort of songs that don't immediately jump out at you when you come to list The Beatles greatest hits but when you hear them you go: 'Oh yes, I love that song'. It gives the film a lift.