Having spent much of his working life as an editor, 38-year-old British writer-director Andrew Haigh knows very well the way that disparate scenes can be woven together to form a complex, unified whole. All that’s required is a critical eye to determine how the pieces fit together. That’s the process on display in Weekend, Haigh’s second feature film, which is now showing in NY and LA (with more cities coming shortly: weekend-film.com). The movie introduces Russell and Glen, two philosophically opposed gay men who meet at a club, have a one-night stand, and then spend the weekend together assessing the extent to which past relationships have shaped their opposing philosophies. Key to the film are the cataloguing methods the men use to track past romances as they struggle to better understand themselves. A few days before Weekend’s release, Haigh and I met in NYC’s Bryant Park to riff on the role of diary-keeping.
The Rumpus: Both characters chronicle their sex lives: Russell writes case studies about his one-night stands in a journal, while Glen has his partners record an audio recap of their just-concluded hook-up. And really, that sort of analysis, both inwardly and outwardly, is the gist of the movie. What is it about self-documentation, particularly of a sexual nature, that prompted you to set it front and center in a film?
Haigh: I really wanted to represent—and dramatize—that these people have these private selves they’re trying to define. If you listen to someone talking about their sexual experiences, you get a key to understanding who they are as a person. The way Russell describes his relationships in that journal provides so much insight. You get a sense of what he wants and how he feels about both a relationship and other people. It’s important to think about that.
Rumpus: Other than the one he makes with Russell, the audience isn’t privy any of Glen’s recordings. But a number of Russell’s entries are read aloud. You hear—or at least I do; I don’t know what you hear—that some directors, when producing movies that involve a journal or diary, will actually populate the book with real entries to help the cast and crew get into character. This is all a long way of asking how many entries you wrote for Russell’s journal.
Haigh: We did write quite a lot. The thing is; when I was younger, I used to do something similar to what Russell does. I kept this weird, private list of people I had been with. I never really knew why I did it. I even wrote it as though it was for someone else to read, but password protected it on my computer. I guess it was a way for me to see my life objectively. When writing Russell’s journal, I was able to use some of those past experiences—though, his stories aren’t my stories.
Rumpus: I did the same thing, in a way. My first years out of college, while trying to make what I assumed was a necessary transition from college dating to real world dating, I found myself with women, and in romantic situations, that confused me. My way of sorting it all out was to write fiction sketches about the girls—one was a time bomb on my couch; one was pinned down to a styrofoam mounting board like a butterfly (though conveniently alive and uninjured); one was a character named Malory for the sake of a lame Holy Grail allusion. Did it help? Who knows. How old were you when you were keeping your notes?
Haigh: It was in my early 20s, when I was first coming out and meeting people. I came out quite late, around 24—and like you said, when you start living differently you spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it all means and what you want. Writing is a good way of doing that. It was also something I wouldn’t talk to people about. I didn’t have many gay friends, and I didn’t bring it up with my straight ones. Nowadays everyone is happy for that sort of internal monologue to be public. I’ve never been that kind of person.
Rumpus: Memory’s not serving well here, but I think the movie had three of Russell’s journal entries read aloud. Maybe four. Regardless, what notes were you trying to hit with the handful of passages the audience got to hear?
Haigh: It’s a lot about the coming out process. In the entries, Russell is always interested in how the people that he met came out—and in all of them, there’s a sense of the person not being honest. Like Russell thinking about how the guy who just left him is heading back home to see his wife and kids. Much of the film is about learning to be honest with yourself and to live authentically. All the people Russell met weren’t doing that. A lot of us don’t do that. And it weighs on us.
Rumpus: I’m here talking to you in large part because the film’s journaling theme resonated with me. Have you been hearing that from a lot of viewers?
Haigh: It does seem like a lot of people do those sorts of things. That just sums up how unsure we all are about what we want in the world. That’s why we write. We’re trying to work through it. You can talk to people all you want, but sometimes it just needs to be you, alone, struggling, trying to work out what to do. I tried to make it so the film was very distinctly about these two people and their issues. Strip away the fact that they’re gay and you’ll realize that it’s universal.
Rumpus: Speaking of the fact that they’re gay: Early in the movie, when Glen is describing how he’s going to use his recordings for an art exhibition, he goes on a rant about how straight audiences are willing to come see “pictures of refugees or murder or rape,” but balk at viewing an artistic deconstruction of gay sexuality. That a bit of preemptive frustration over what you assume will be the straight response to a movie featuring two gay protagonists?
Haigh: It was, definitely. I was scared it was going to be too obvious of a comment, but it is something I find very frustrating. I wanted to get it in there so perhaps straight audiences, and especially critical audiences, would think, “Maybe that’s true.” It’s partly the fault of gay-themed films, because so many of them them are dreadful. But I do sometimes feel that if you’re doing something about gay issues, it’s not taken seriously. A film about ethnic issues is taken seriously. Why isn’t that the case with gay films? Of course, my own movie is proving me wrong, because it has come out and people are taking it seriously. I just want to make sure it’s seen by more than five gay men from Chelsea.