Edinburgh Fringe 2011: Richard Sandling's Perfect Movie
Richard Sandling is a stand-up comedian, filmmaker and sometime actor who runs Richard Sandling's Perfect Movie, described as a "gloriously ramshackle, fun and informative evening of film based comedy", in London every month.
A regular at the Edinburgh Fringe and the winner of the So You Think You're Funny competition in 2007, for the month of August Richard has brought his show to the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh, and with it a marvellously entertaining stand-up comedy show about films with special guests, games, sketches, movie recreations and more.
Tony Makos sat down with Richard after seeing the show and asked him about VHS tapes, recreating films, and doing a Fringe show about cinema¦in a cinema.
Tony Makos: Welcome to Edinburgh. By performing at the Cameo Cinema you know you have what must be the nicest Fringe Venue in Edinburgh?
Richard Sandling: Well, I thought if you're going to do a film show then let's try and do it in a cinema! I don't think anyone has done that here before - turns out my agent had an existing relationship with the Picturehouse chain through previous Film Festival related goings on, asked the Cameo and they said yes! It's great, and for me, having been to Edinburgh so many times it's nice being separate from the other Fringe venues “ not in a nasty way, but I'm not sharing a building with a hundred other comedians or worrying about being nominated for awards left right and centre. I'm here to do the best show I can, entertain people and enjoy myself.
It's comfortable, air conditioned “ it baffles me how uncomfortable many other Fringe venues are, that comedians can pay thousands of pounds for rooms that aren't really performance spaces or that good for comedy. I'm also doing a show of stand-up and poetry at the Free Fringe at The Canon's Gait which is also quite a nice room for performing in, so I'm doing quite well this year.
Can you tell us a bit about how the London show got started?
When I first started the Richard Sandling's Perfect Movie night, and this is going back about two and a bit years now, I tried to find a way that I could do comedy I enjoyed. I do a lot of work with Robin Ince who does a night called The Book Club, where comedians come and do material about books, and I thought maybe I could do my own version of a Film Club.
The monthly show in London is more about what's been out this week, and I tend to get roaring drunk on cider and have a chat to the audience about what they think! There's a lot more audience interaction “ it's more about me holding court while everyone else chips in what they like about films.
There's a fair amount of filmed material in the show, most notable of which involves introducing a special guest comedian/s every night to present low budget filmed recreations of their favourite three scenes from cinema “ an opening scene, a closing scene, and a miscellaneous scene. How did that come about?
Well initially we used to do the recreations by reading out the scripts, Radio 4 style, which worked really well as we could get people out of the audience to join in “ I actually brought that show to Fringe in 2009. When I got back to doing the London show I realised that I'd like to show some sketches that I'd filmed and hey, we could just film those recreations instead to make it look more professional? I did one as an experiment with the actor Tony Way and it worked really well.
Admittedly, there was a hope that perhaps someone would see the show and think hey that would work really well on TV since, lets face it, while they'd never admit it TV is at the back of every comedian's mind at some point!
Many of these recreations are available to view on your YouTube channel and they're great fun to watch. Are you a bit of a frustrated filmmaker?
Like many people, I used to want to make films and, yes I do really like doing it. I have made proper short films but the thing is that they take so much time. With the recreations we do everything ourselves and we're pretty good at doing it all on a zero budget without taking up too much of people's time. I mean, we filmed all three recreations with Pappy's between 9am and 1pm. Their Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels opening is one of my favourites, it really makes me laugh.
The dilemma with them is that you want to make them good parodies as well as being faithful. One of my favoutite scenes of all time is in This Is Spinal Tap but you don't need to watch a recreation of Spinal Tap as it's already funny. Ours are funny because we're filming them in a house with few props and no costumes, like the Scroobius Pip one where we do Buffalo 66 and there's no-one in the bar. That's the kind of thing that makes me laugh “ where we can get to the essence of it rather than necessarily do it shot for shot.
While the Butch Cassidy one (with Jim Bob) shows that we've seen the film and know our stuff, I prefer the Blue Velvet or 2001: A Space Odyssey, where we've just had to do it as best we can. We're not taking the p*ss; the person who's chosen to do those particular films loves them and just wants to do a recreation with them in it.
Every night your show has a guest spot from another comedian¦
Well I'm probably one of the only comedians who does a lot of film related material on the circuit, whereas most comedians I know absolutely love movies but don't get to talk about it as they've got to earn a living and pay their bills being as contemporary and doing material that they think people want to hear. So they love to have the chance to come down and do film stuff - the Fringe show is exciting as you're likely to see comedians doing brand new material that they haven't done anywhere else as they haven't had the chance. And as the format of the show is really the talking point, you don't need big successful names, you just need the right comedian for the job.
You're mainly known as a stand-up comedian but you've done a bit of acting recently (Peep Show/Miranda)
Well mainly I'm a bit of a show-off “ I did stand-up first, and then when you do stand-up you end up being in things. I'm not trying to be modest here but I'm not really an actor! I don't go for theatre auditions but get the odd bit of work here and there, which I love, don't get me wrong. And I never did get that role in The Hobbit (go see the show to find out more...)
Where does your own love of films come from?
I've been into films since I was young although my parents weren't exactly film buffs. Basically I just had a TV in my room and I was an insomniac, watching late night Channel 4 film seasons, Moviedrome on BBC2 “ but with no education on cinema or concept of genre I just watched any film I could. Now I knew that The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover wasn't the same as Predator but I liked them both, and when you grow up you find out that there are films you didn't like that are supposed to be amazing while some you did like are supposed to be sh*t.
As an example, take The Third Man “ now that's an alright movie, but on its own I couldn't see why it was regarded as so significantly better than every other Carol Reed movie as I was never taught a canon of cinema, I just watched films and liked what I liked. Now that's quite nice as it keeps you quite, not pure as such but you end up giving anything a go which to me is a really healthy attitude towards cinema.
I agree completely that it's perfectly valid to look at movies in subjective terms of whether you like or dislike them, rather than whether soomeone somewhere has declared them either good or bad¦
I call it the Shakespeare Syndrome; I don't really like Shakespeare but I get it and understand it. I can watch something based on Shakespeare and while I couldn't necessarily call it a bad film, I might not necessarily care for it. Most Ridley Scott films fall into that category for me as well “ they're definitely not rubbish, but I don't really like them! Blade Runner for instance “ it looks great but I just don't like it. I'll watch it again every four years or so thinking well, I must be missing something! But nope, still not for me.
On the other side of that though, there are films where I don't know if I can actually argue with anyone about whether they're rubbish, but I really like them. Most Alex Cox films “ I love Straight To Hell, but is it actually a good film? I don't know but I really enjoy it. If someone wants to have an issue with it, I'm probably not going to argue against your point. To me, Alex Cox is like the British John Carpenter “ you just want him to come back and do something good again! Then, very much like Carpenter you think, well, maybe he just needs someone to give him money. Then people give him money and you go oh, er, right.
Tell us about your professed love for VHS?
I don't know. I've tried to work out what it is but I think it comes down to my feeling that video is my idea of home entertainment. I've never been as much of a fan of going to the cinema, too many people, it's very expensive. I've always been more of a fan of scouring shops, waiting for things to go on sale, borrowing tapes, finding amazing movies you've never even heard of in second hand shops, that whole scene. I love the trailers. If you get a video of a film made in 1983 you also get a load of trailers on it made in 1983 rather than on a DVD re-release.
When DVD came out I felt that VHS was already fine, but now you couldn't fast forward through the anti-piracy warnings, in the early days you had to turn the disc over half way through - this to me was a load of hassle. To me there's no charm in DVDs - if you get an old rubbish film on video you can consider it something you've found, a historical item, full of trailers, the original cover and box, etc. If you pick that up on DVD all you've bought is a shit film. There's a lot to enjoy about watching a film on video whereas to me DVD can be clinical and soulless.
I don't remember the last DVD I actually bought. I don't need to own a copy of The Matrix as I'm never going to be in a position where I can't get hold of The Matrix “ on TV, on LoveFilm, on demand, download etc. But the films I pick up on video tend to be ones i've never heard of and that you can't get hold of.
With my LoveFilm account I tend to just order foreign films as we have no arthouse cinema where I live. When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came to my local mainstream Odeon in Southend they had to put a sign outside apologising for the fact that it had subtitles¦.
So how often do you get to the cinema?
Well I keep up with recent releases so I can talk about them at the monthly Perfect Movie show. Luckily if I'm in London there are some great cinemas and in the afternoon they aren't too expensive. The main problem these days is how much it costs to go to the cinema. I've often argued that if the film industry want to end piracy I am convinced that they don't need gimmicks like 3D, they should just make better films and charge less to go and see them. If a film is good, I'll go back and watch it again and again “ I saw Watchmen twice in the cinema, I think I saw Fight Club three times.
I do try and see the films that are out that people are going to want to talk about at the show, some of these are good, some of these aren't. There have been months where everything I've seen has been rubbish, and it's hard to keep the positivity up and keep a nice vibe going, although that's not as bad as when everything is just OK and people have nothing to say! If that happens then I'll perhaps bring up an old film to discuss and that'll get the audience interaction going.
The show will hopefully moving to The Ritzy in Brixton (part of the Picturehouse chain of cinemas, together with the Cameo Cinema) as an experiment when I get back from Edinburgh, so I'm looking forward to that.
As you're in Edinburgh for the month, what do you get up to when you're not performing?
There's something about doing two comedy shows a day that makes you not want to spend the rest of your time watching comedy! I normally go home and watch a load of TV box sets instead. When the Edinburgh International Film Festival was on in August I used to see as much as time would allow, but I'd rather watch a film here than comedy, definitely. I love the Cameo and the Filmhouse here “ I loved the Alastair Sim season they ran at the Filmhouse a couple of years ago as I'm a massive fan. I'm also a huge fan of Terry Thomas.
Since this is ReelScotland, we really should ask you if you have a favourite Scottish film¦
Without a shadow of a doubt, it's 300. It makes the bold, creative decision “ much like Mel Gibson using authentic Aramaic in The Passion of the Christ - to show that everyone in the classical world was Scottish. I would have thought that movie was more of a rousing call to arms than Braveheart for the Scots, personally! This is Sparta!. Where, Sparta-upon-Tweed? In all seriousness I think that's a hangover from a certain amount of class-related snobbery where any thuggish character in a film was given an accent from the North“ there's definitely subconscious cultural precedent there¦!
It was certainly fun to see a Scot (Gerard Butler) enjoy himself so much in that role. Since then however¦
Hmm, yeah. Gerard Butler certainly seems to be having a great time while Hollywood works out what he does. Maybe he could be...an assassin? Nope. Maybe he could be¦a lawyer? Nope. He's good in How to Train Your Dragon though, basically playing King Leonidas again. I liked the way that the characters in the Lord of the Rings movies maintained an English accent until they had to say the word [adopts Scottish accent] Mordor. It made it sound like an episode of Taggart. I really enjoyed Small Faces, the Gillies MacKinnon film with Laura Fraser. I think she's brilliant, one of those actresses who is just great in everything she's in. I don't understand why she isn't in more.
So finally, the show is called Richard Sandling's Perfect Movie “ what is Richard Sandling's perfect movie? What are your three scenes?
I actually did do my own three scenes for the two year anniversary of the show, and they can be found online, although they they weren't all necessarily my favourites as the real ones would be just too difficult.
My favourite opening to a film is the Preston Sturges movie, Sullivan's Travels, which is a nine minutes all-in-one shot but it's already a comedy so I wouldn't go ahead and recreate that!
Weirdly, my favourite scene in any movie, the scene I could watch over and over again, is the David Bowie scene from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. David Lynch as Agent Cole in that scene is amazing - I just love the whole scene and while I'd love to recreate that it would just be too difficult. My favourite ending is The Long Good Friday, although that's already been done by someone, so I'd have to choose my second favourite, which is the end of the 1978 version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and I've actually filmed this one already:
Richard, thanks “ have a great Fringe!
Richard Sandling's Perfect Movie, 6:45pm at The Cameo Cinema until 28th August (not Monday). Visit Richard's YouTube Channel.
Tony Makos watches too much US television and prefers to watch bad movies so that others don't have to. Currently writing for anyone who asks nicely and crying out for a job making Charlie Brooker's tea, his Mastermind specialist subject would be the A Nightmare On Elm Street films.