Mike Leigh was at the New York Film festival in connection with his film Another Year. The film festival people also talked Leigh into being interviewed in connection with his use of London as a location in all but two of his films.
The talk is going to be impossible to summarize. Leigh's answers were long and detailed and I simply got lost in the answers (ina good way). The best I can do is summarize but a small portion of the talk and hope that the talk, which was filmed ends up on a DVD somewhere.
Leigh said that he came to London in 1960 and has been living there for the last 50 years. He said that the use of London as a location for all of his films has been purely a budgetary thing and not because of anything else. When Leigh writes a film he concentrates on the characters and what he wants to get across and not the location. Often the location comes out of where they are rehearsing and putting the film together.His films are not about the city rather about the characters.
All of his films are set in the time he made them, with the exception of the Gilbert and Sullivan film Topsy Turvy and Vera Drake and all of his films are there for products of when he shot them. He costumes and set decorates the films based on what the characters actually would wear of have in their homes. He will often have the actors wear the costumes and handle the props so they feel comfortable with the items.
The productions for the two period films were originally planned to have more extensive location sequences but the budgets wouldn't allow for it. With Topsy Turvy most of the film was shot on an abandoned estate and grounds, which included a gym and school which they converted into a de facto studio. The French restaurant and brothel sequences were filmed there with only a few people and props brought in from France.
There was a discussion of how film making in London has changed over the last 40 years. From there being no film councils and having to struggle to make films in the city because the police, and in one case a politician wanted no part of it; now there are councils in every borough of London. He added that the fact that people are now using shooting more films in London is both good and bad. Good because it means that its easier to do many things because people are used to film crews. It's bad because when a small production follows a big Hollywood production into an area they often find themselves priced out because the people in the area thing they also have the ready cash of a Hollywood blockbuster.
There was more but I really didn't remember much of it other than one of Leigh's last questions. A person in the audience mentioned that Eric Rohmer never used music unless it came from something the characters would hear or play. The person wanted to know, why,since Leigh's characters and situations are so real that he uses added music and doesn't go the route the same was a Rohmer.
Leigh's answer was that his first few films didn't have music, but that after three or four films he decided to experiment. He said that using the music was liberating for him. Since films are ultimately contrivances anyway why not use music? He pointed out that by using or not using music you can manipulate mood better. Some scenes simply play better with it while others better with out it and that by not ruling it out he can do what is best for the film.
It was an excellent talk, though to be honest I wish it hadn't been tied to London and had been allowed to wander farther a field.