In the classical filmmaking sense, a director finds a script. She or he then auditions actors until he/she finds that special someone.
Maybe he’s looking for a heroic ladies man.
Or maybe, she’s in the market for a fat quirky lady to play the protag’s “best friend.”
In both scenarios, the director has a script, and has a very strong idea of what the actor should look like. English writer and director, Mike Leigh, adopted an entirely different directing technique.
You may recognize Leigh’s name due to his most famous works like:
[Best Director Award at Cannes Film Festival]
“Secrets and Lies” (1996)
[BAFTA-winning, Oscar nominated, and Palme d’Or winner]
"Vera Drake” (2004)
[Golden Lion winner]
Or, maybe you’re just too young. Anyway, Leigh directs unlike many other famous directors of our time. For example, Leigh casts his films before fully writing/ obtaining the script. (At least this is how he produced his famous "dramedy" Happy-Go-Lucky.)
Leigh’s in that zone, you know, where you get the “concept” of the script, you just haven’t really gotten to the.. writing part yet. Anyway, this is where Leigh gets a little bit genius. Instead of doing all that hard work developing the character himself, he hires the most brilliant of actors and has them do it instead.
Rather than spending the bulk of his film production on set, he front loads his work to pre-production. Leigh emails his concept script to the same actors he's worked with in the past before they even accept the part. Unlike a regular script however, the actors are given a character, complete with the specific character's background story-- that's it. The actors are rarely given any lines, almost very little story context, and, best of all, they have no idea who the other character is. While most actors rehearse by running lines together, Leigh works initially one-to-one with each actor, developing a character who is based, in the first place, on someone he or she knows. It isn't until the characters meet on-set that they discover the genre of the film.
Actor Eddie Marsan played a troubled character named Scott in Happy-Go-Lucky. Because of the dark nature of his character, Eddie Marsan thought he was preparing for a heavy drama, and it was not until he started working with Sally Hawkins that he realized how funny the film actually was.
"The world of the characters and their relationships is brought into existence by discussion and a great amount of improvisation – that is, improvising a character. And research into anything and everything that will fill out the authenticity of the character." - Writer/Director Mike Leigh
It is only after months of rehearsal, or 'preparing for going out on location to make up a film', that Leigh writes a shooting script, a bare scenario. Then, on the shoot, on location, after further 'real rehearsing', the script is finalized.
"I'll set up an improvisation ,... I'll analyze and discuss it,... we'll do another, and I'll ... refine and refine... until the actions and dialogue are totally integrated. Then we shoot it." - Leigh
Leigh films his scenes in the most organic way possible. Amazing actors become a specific character. By throwing these characters together, with only the knowledge of the scenario and their own personal “background” to go off of, the actors literally write the movie. This type of directing is rare, but amazing things come out of it.
The trailer for “Happy-Go-Lucky”