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Friday, May 28, 2004

Real sex at the cinema
By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

British director Michael Winterbottom's sexually-explicit new film, Nine Songs, is set to cause controversy after its showing at Cannes.

Nine Songs is among a slew of provocative movies released during the past few years featuring real, rather than simulated, sex.

While simulated sex does not generally present as much of a problem with censors, real sex on screen is almost guaranteed to hit headlines, while reflecting how different countries tackle censorship.

French director Catherine Breillat's 1999 film Romance was banned in several countries for its graphic sexual acts.

The first mainstream movie to feature an erect penis, it cast Italian hardcore porn star Rocco Siffredi in the story of a female schoolteacher's sexual adventures.

However, in the UK, Romance was passed by censors without cuts for its cinema release, despite its explicit content. Later in the year it was passed for video release with a one-second cut to delete sight of a sex act.

The 2000 French film Baise Moi, directed by female film-makers Virginie Despentes and former porn actress Coralie Trinh Thi, caused similar shockwaves for its hardcore sex scenes.

It chronicled a violent road trip undertaken by two mistreated women - one raped, the other having witnessed her best friend's murder - as they sought revenge on men and society.

Baise Moi (translated by its distributor as Rape Me) was classified 18 for adults only by the British Board of Film Classification, which ordered a cut to a scene of violent rape. It was banned in Australia.

The directors justified the graphic imagery by saying it was used to celebrate female sexuality rather than to excite men.


1955: The Garden of Eden becomes the first British film to get round nudity restrictions by claiming to be a naturism documentary
1976: Pasolini's Salo, an art house film based on de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, is refused a certificate. A shortened version is seized by police
1988: Last Tango in Paris is passed uncut for video by the BBFC who now regard it as acceptable for viewing in the home

A year later, in a landmark ruling for an English language sex film, the Patrice Chereau movie Intimacy (co-written by Hanif Kureishi) was given an 18 certificate in the UK despite many explicit scenes.

Cannes film festival in 2001 saw the screening of The Piano Teacher (directed by Michael Haneke), in which Isabelle Huppert plays the title role of Erika, a lonely and isolated character still living with her overprotective mother.

In the film, Erika finds solace in sado-masochistic fantasy, something which shocked some critics but lifted the Grand Jury prize as well as best actress for Huppert.

A year later, British censors passed French director Bertrand Bonello's The Pornographer, an arthouse look at the French pornography industry, but demanded a cut to one graphic sex scene.

Censors also passed the bleak French movie Irreversible for cinema release, despite extreme violence and a real-time nine-minute rape scene.

The film by director Gaspar Noe was a revenge story, based around the especially brutal rape. Some 250 people at a screening in Cannes were so sickened that they left before the end, some needing medical attention.

Noe said the film tackled the hideous nature of rape, and if the UK could not deal with a scene exposing sexual violence he would rather the film be banned than cut.

The latest controversy to emerge from Cannes, Nine Songs, is based around the relationship between two young people, Matt and Lisa.

The film has been defended by its lead actor Kieran O'Brien, who co-stars with US actress Margo Stilley. But O'Brien concedes it is graphic and shocking.

"People who have seen it, even though they are forewarned about how explicit it is, come out of the cinema saying they can't believe that it's so explicit," he said. "People who say they find it offensive are liars."

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has said the film would not be subject to special criteria.

"We don't normally allow depictions of unsimulated sex in an 18 film, unless they can be exceptionally justified by the context of he film," said Craig Lapper, the board's chief assistant in charge of policy.

May 18 2004

By Nick Sommerlad

THE most sexually explicit mainstream British movie ever made has been premiered to shocked audiences at the Cannes film festival.

The two main characters in Nine Songs have real sex on screen and there close-ups of oral sex and ejaculation.

Critics were stunned when they saw the film for the first time this week.

But its male lead, former child actor Kieran O'Brien, 31, insisted it was not shocking. He said yesterday: "It's only f*****g."

His co-star, a 20-year-old American with no previous acting experience, asked to be left out of the credits, but she is believed to be Margo Stilley.

Director Michael Winterbottom is now hoping British censors will pass it for public viewing here.

He has even offered to cut some of the most raunchy scenes.

He said: "Most cinematic love stories miss out on the physical relationship.

"If it is indicated at all, everyone knows it is fake. Cinema has been extremely conservative and prudish.

"I wanted to go to the opposite extreme and show a relationship only through sex.

"Part of the point of making the film was to say, 'What's wrong with showing sex?'" The couple are seen in bed at their London flat, taking only occasional breaks to go to nine concerts including the Super Furry Animals and Primal Scream.

Winterbottom said: "We went to a local hotel for a day to see what would happen and those scenes actually ended up in the film. We just took things step by step. In general you are asking actors to be quite intimate, anyway.

"From everyday acting to having sex isn't as big a leap as it might be for someone else."

O'Brien starred in 1980s BBC children's sitcom Gruey, and was in Winterbottom's last movie 24 Hour Party People.

He said: "There is no film like this, it is so graphic. People who have seen it, even though they are forewarned about how explicit it is, come out of the cinema saying, 'F****** hell, I can't believe that, it's so explicit'.

"People who say they find it offensive are liars. If they say they find it shocking, I don't believe them. It's only f*****g.

"The only thing I wouldn't do was have sex with a man."

He said of his co-star's wish to be anonymous: "It's not that she's not proud of the film - she saw it last week and really liked it. There was one particular scene which she wasn't comfortable with because it is so explicit because of the camera angles. Overall she's happy with it."

He added: "I didn't fancy her - I felt protective towards her. On set she was the only woman with a crew of four lads. You can't get away from the fact she's a young girl."

The British Board of Film Classification must approve it for the public to watch here. It passed Intimacy which had a real oral sex scene.

A spokesman said: "It would not be out of the question to pass a film with unsimulated sex scenes. We will have to view the film and then make our decision."

-Do you know the Nine Songs actress? Ring the newsdesk on 020 7293 3831.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

We have finished all of Kevin's scenes. We shot tonight for a little over an hour and now I feel confident that Kevin can go to New York and I will have everything I need to work with. I'm still going to try and have all his scenes edited before Sunday, just in case something is missing, or dialogue needs to be re-recorded, but that shouldn't be a problem even if we do have to shoot on Sunday.

The scene tonight went very well. I shot a lot of tape, but I am accepting the fact that the way we are shooting requires a lot of takes and a lot of tape. I'm fine with that. I would rather have too much footage than not enough. I need to order another box of tapes though, which sucks, because I thought the last box would get me through the rest of the film. I was way off.

Monday, May 24, 2004

We shot and shot and shot on Sunday. All but one of Kevin's scenes are done. We are shooting the last scene on Wednesday. They he can leave for New York and be done with Kissing on the Mouth. It's actually kind of sad that I can feel the film coming to an end. There's still plenty to do, but in less than a month we should be done, then it's just sitting around waiting to hear back from festivals.

For the time being, I have about 2 hours of footage to look through and edit. I'm working a lot this week, so I don't know when I will have time to do it. I'm hoping for Thursday or Friday off. Next Sunday is our absolute last chance to shoot with Kevin, so I want to have everything edited by then, in case there is a shot we need, or some dialogue replaced. I at least need to watch it all and make sure I can hear his lines and that there's no drop out on the tape. I can't really afford to go to New York to have him redub a line or two.

We shot with Julie on Sunday, and she was great. The part was small, but she worked out very well and I think she will be very happy with the end result. We shot a very cool scene for the beginning of the film where she is modeling and Kevin is taking picture. The room was dark and we only used one light, which Kevin held in his hand and kept moving around while he was snapping photos. It will be a fun sequence to edit.

Friday, May 21, 2004

I've been working on the script like a mad dog for the past couple of days, and it's finally at a place where I'm pretty happy with it. I'm sure when we start shooting everything will change again, but I finally have a sense of where we are going and where we are going to end this beast.

I talked to Julie on the phone this morning. She is the actress who is going to play the model that Chris eventually gets involved with, or possibly was involved with the entire time, though that's up the audience to decide. She is very nice, and I think she will be great for the role, even though it's very small and she doesn't relly get a chance to show off her talent.

We talked for a little while about the modeling. I initially wanted the model to be nude in the beginning, to give the audience a sense that Chris creates situations around himself with women that potentially lead to infidelity. Julie is not comfortable doing nudity, so we agreed that she would be in her bra and panties. I think the scene will still imply the same ideas to the audience. If I had more time, and had been a little more organized, I would have held out for an actress who was comfortable modeling nude, but I am happy to have Julie on board. She sounds like a professional, and she seems cool. We will see how it goes on Sunday.

We are shooting from 10AM till about 10 or 11PM on Sunday. There will be a few breaks in there, but it's gonna be a long day. No way around that. I'm happy though, because we will have all but one of Kevin's scenes in the bag, which will make me very relieved. I was afraid that he would have to leave for New York and we would still be missing a shot or two, but now I'm confident we have plenty of time to get everything, and I'm also sure the script won't change again, and once he leaves, he will be done.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

More news on "Nine Songs." The brits are really laying into the lead actress.

Why I made that film

Michael Winterbottom's sexually explicit new film was always going to make headlines. But when its female star said she would rather remain anonymous, Nine Songs had all the ingredients for a media frenzy. Margo Stilley speaks for the first time to Charlotte Higgins

Thursday May 20, 2004
The Guardian

 You could, perhaps, have seen it all coming. Or maybe not, if you were a 21-year-old with no significant acting roles to your name. What is clear is that Margo Stilley, the female lead in Michael Winterbottom's film Nine Songs - already famous as the most sexually explicit film in the history of mainstream British cinema - is at the centre of an almighty media ruckus.

On Tuesday, tabloid headlines gleefully announced the arrival of the "Muckiest Film Ever" and the "Rudest Film Ever to Hit Our Cinemas". By yesterday Fleet Street's finest had caught up with friends and family in Stilley's native North Carolina. "Mother of Beauty in 'Real Sex' Film Shocker Prays For Her ... Oh God! Oh God!" trumpeted the Daily Express, on startlingly baroque form. "My Prayers For 'Porn' Daughter" and "Bible Belt Mum's Fear For Her Sex Movie Daughter", were the contributions from the Daily Mirror.

Stilley is plainly shocked by her first encounter with Her Majesty's press. "My mother has even had to call up the school where my little brothers go to ask them not to let people into the school to talk to them. There are guerrilla photographers following my family around. I have managed to get myself into a mess."

Some might say that one would have to be either very brave or very stupid to do what Stilley has done. She has exposed herself in all possible senses of the word. Her genitalia quite literally fill the screen. She gives a blowjob. She is penetrated. She lies on a bed, blindfolded, while her on-screen boyfriend, played by the much more seasoned actor Kieran O'Brien, performs cunnilingus on her. But what she is keen to make clear - and she is absolutely right - is that Nine Songs is not some kind of kinky porno flick.

Winterbottom's idea (whatever its merits and demerits as a concept) was to tell a love story from a single angle: that of the physical encounters between the couple. The sex is a metonym for the rest of the relationship: from it, the audience is led to infer the trajectory of their affair. First comes loved-up infatuation; later, there is a moving sequence when the pair, deeply in love, spend the weekend together at the seaside. Finally, we see a poignant endgame when Lisa, Stilley's character, finds more interest in her vibrator than her boyfriend. "She was 21: beautiful, egotistical, careless and crazy," says O'Brien's character Matt, through whose perspective the love affair is recalled from the desolation of Antarctica, scenes of which frame the narrative. That barren, strangely geometric landscape also serves a metaphorical purpose: "It's claustrophobia and agoraphobia in the same place - like two people in a bed," says Matt at one point. The love story is punctuated by footage of bands performing live, mostly at the Brixton Academy. The visits to gigs, like the sex, serve as remembered punctuation points in the relationship.

"The film shows sex in a good light," says Stilley. "It is a monogamous relationship between two people who are in love. Michael was a perfect candidate for making this film - he makes it beautiful, lovely, sweet, kind, sensitive. I think he's done a very good job of it."

In fact the jolt of the film is seeing sex so forthrightly portrayed, not that it shows anything that one imagines most couples don't do behind closed doors. "It isn't shocking," says Stilley. "If you know you are going to watch a film like this, it's not abrasive. It's normal sex that everyone has, not crazy stuff." She also points out that only two episodes go beyond "normal" cinematic sex scenes (though the film is extremely explicit, by any standards). These are the fellatio scene and the final sequence, in which the couple have full penetrative sex. "I dealt with them as best I could," says Stilley. "I expect Kieran did the same."

The process of filming, according to Stilley, was "very easy to cope with", though it's hard to imagine that many women would willingly put themselves in her shoes (or, as in one scene, spike-heel thigh-length boots). After the casting, there was an initial rehearsal. "We rented a hotel room as a studio and did some speaking scenes. There was no sex. It was just a screen test. It was very professional." Winterbottom is also keen to point out that there was every chance at this stage for either of the actors to pull out. "Both Kieran and Margo made a very difficult choice," he says.

Winterbottom had conceived of a shape for the story but much of the script was worked out collaboratively. "We had a strong sense of our characters and we all wrote the scenes together," says Stilley. The process was film for eight days, and have 10 days off, after which the team would come together for discussions. It was a closed set, involving just the two cast members, Winterbottom, a cameraman and a sound man. Despite being the solitary woman in this setup, Stilley says, "Our crew was incredibly respectful and professional. I never felt uncomfortable because they were there."

So were the - literally - bare facts of Winterbottom's film enough to trigger a media storm or was there another ingredient that helped set fourth estate pulses racing. Winterbottom suggests that the Guardian - actually, I personally - was partly responsible because we reported (without naming her) Stilley's request that her name be removed from coverage of the film. By drawing attention to her decision, and thus implying that there was a bit of a mystery, we encouraged salivation from other quarters, he suggests. Perhaps he's right. Stilley, in turn, thinks it's her fault. Of the media coverage, she says: "I'm surprised, and even more by the fact that I've brought most of it on myself."

Should Winterbottom, an established director with numerous credits to his name and a high public profile, have foreseen the fuss the film would inevitably generate and done more to protect the relatively inexperienced Stilley? Or is she - as Winterbottom implies - a grown-up who can make her own decisions? "I am having a really hard time reading what's going on," she says. "I'm not sure people are taking an interest because I chose to remove my name, or because I haven't done any roles before. At the moment I can't really see the wood from the trees."

Regardless of the critical reception of the movie, it will certainly - if and when it gets a certificate - push back the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable in the cinema. Time will also tell whether the quality of the movie justifies its uncomfortable fallout for its female lead. It will certainly take its place in film history.

Stilley will also take hers: but as what? As just "the girl who was in the sex film"? Where does this leave her: will the notoriety of the role dog her career endlessly? Plucked out of obscurity to make the movie, and now the unwilling quarry of a media on the hunt, she is none the less determined. "I am an actress. I was an actress in this movie. And I have every intention of carrying on." She delivers a brave and professional performance in Nine Songs, and Winterbottom said yesterday that he will be casting her in his next film. He also asked me, "Is Marlon Brando just the man who was in Last Tango In Paris?" The answer, of course, is no. But then Marlon Brando wasn't a 21-year-old without a history of famous roles to his name. Nor is he a woman.


Margo, the porn again Christian

Church-goer ... Margo writhes half naked on bed in scene that is the most explicit ever produced in mainstream cinema

in New York

THE beauty who has real sex in British movie 9 Songs was a devout Christian.

US student Margo Stilley, 21, grew up in North Carolina — in the heart of the Bible Belt — with a deep faith in God.

And she has kept her family in the dark about her steamy scenes which take up more than half the film.

She told her mother that sex sessions with co-star Kieran O’Brien were FAKED.

In fact, Margo has full intercourse in the flick — which also shows oral sex and close-ups of O’Brien having an orgasm.

Some critics blasted it as porn when it was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Director Michael Winterbottom admitted that Margo no longer wanted to be associated with the movie after she shunned the premiere.

And it will send shockwaves through her home town of Bear Creek.

Mother Debbie Collins, 48, was stunned when told of the X-rated movie.

She revealed her daughter had only ever had ONE boyfriend.

Debbie said: “He was the love of her life and they are still friends.”

She added: “She had a very deep faith in God. I pray for her every day, twice a day.”

Then she asked: “Is she in any kind of trouble? Did she use her real name?”

Mum-of-two Debbie said Margo came home ten days ago saying the sex scenes would look real but were not.

She grew up dreaming of movie stardom and moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, aged 14 after Debbie and dad Frank divorced.
She opted out of art school to travel in Europe and landed work on a make-up campaign with a Milan modelling agency.

She returned home to see her mum and brother Woody last year filled with Hollywood dreams.

Bible belter ... growing up a Christian

Margo told her local paper: “I’m dating movie stars and people are telling me I’m the hottest actress around.”

Director Winterbottom said he found Margo at a casting agency specialising in extras.

He took his two stars to a hotel to film them having improvised sex.

Winterbottom said: “Most films with explicit sex only feature a tiny amount.

In 9 Songs I didn’t want people just to be titillated by a brief glimpse.”

But producers are waiting for British censors to rate 9 Songs for release here — and are prepared for some scenes to be removed.


ONE of the few Brits to have seen 9 Songs is veteran film critic Derek Malcolm, who watched the Cannes premiere.

Here, Guardian reviewer Derek gives The Sun his verdict. He said “This film is hardcore but it is not porn.

“It is certainly the most explicit mainstream film by a British director. It is a story of two people who fall in love at a gig then go and have sex.

“Their obsessive affair is expressed in physical terms.

“You see scenes of oral sex, the lot. The film is very well made and very well shot. It is not gynaecological like porn.

“There’s not much acting because of all the sex — but Kieran O’Brien probably deserves an Oscar just for that.

“It is not awful at all but if you don’t like that sort of thing you will be shocked.

“It is certainly not a film which will end up at the multiplex cinemas.

“Michael Winterbottom is a very good director. He knows exactly what he is doing, so he would not make something which is totally porn.

“Only half the film is sex, the other half is music.

“The music is shot well, as is the sex. The combination creates a film which will shock and surprise a lot of people.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Michael Winterbottom sounds like our brother in arms. Check these two stories out. Long live sex in cinema!

Cannes screening for most sexually explicit British film

Charlotte Higgins in Cannes
Monday May 17, 2004
The Guardian

The most sexually explicit film in the history of mainstream British cinema, containing unsimulated sex scenes including fellatio, ejaculation and cunnilingus, many in close-up, yesterday had its first screening at Cannes. Michael Winterbottom, the Lancashire-born director of Nine Songs, a love story, said: "I had been thinking for a while about the fact that most cinematic love stories miss out on the physical relationship, and if it is indicated at all everyone knows it is fake.

"Books deal explicitly with sex, as they do with any other subject. Cinema has been extremely conservative and prudish. I wanted to go to the opposite extreme and show a relationship only through sex. Part of the point of making the film was to say, 'What's wrong with showing sex?'"

The film revolves around a young couple in London, Matt and his American girlfriend Lisa. The sex scenes, which occupy more than half of the film, are intercut with scenes of bands playing, including Franz Ferdinand, the Dandy Warhols, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Super Furry Animals. The story is framed by shots of Matt flying over the desolate plains of Antarctica, as he remembers the relationship from afar.

The screening yesterday was at 10am, too soon after breakfast for many viewers. The grunt and huff-and-puff factor in the film is notably high, and the language is strong.

Matt is played by Kieran O'Brien, with whom Winterbottom has worked on a previous film, 24 Hour Party People. However, the woman playing Lisa has asked that her name not be used in coverage of the movie, although it does appear in the credits. "She's not an actress," said Winterbottom. "She really likes the film but she is going back to university and I think she wants to keep a low profile."

Despite the intimacy of the subject-matter, shooting the film was straightforward, according to Winterbottom. Having cast the two leads, a rehearsal was staged, after which they were given the opportunity to leave the project. "After a couple of days it was a case of that was what we were doing, and everyone adapted," he said. It was a matter of going "one step further" than the requirements of conventional, simulated sex scenes.

The film has not yet been given a certificate, though Winterbottom is optimistic. Of the fellatio-and-ejaculation scene, the one likely to give the censors most pause, he said: "We can always take that out."

In the film the couple also attend Michael Nyman's 60th birthday concert, with shots of the composer playing the piano at the Hackney Empire in east London. "I'm very pleased to be in the most sexually explicit film in British film history," said Nyman from Berlin yesterday, "especially as I am not doing anything sexual. I can't wait to see it."

Derek Malcolm, the Guardian's veteran film writer, said: "Nine Songs looks like a porn movie, but it feels like a love story. The sex is used as a metaphor for the rest of the couple's relationship. And it is shot with Winterbottom's customary sensitivity."

Winterbottom's previous work includes the 1996 Jude, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel starring Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston, and Welcome to Sarajevo, about an ITN reporter's adoption of a Bosnian child. He is currently working on a football movie, Goal.

Lights, camera, explicit action

Michael Winterbottom's latest film is filled with so much real sex that it may never make it past the censor. The maverick director explains his provocative intentions to James Brown

13 May 2004

"When I was at university, the film club always showed In the Realm of the Senses at the start of a new year to get people to join. It was full of explicit sex, yet you can buy it in HMV now. That's the benchmark," explains Michael Winterbottom. He is explaining what possessed him to make his startling new film, 9 Songs. It turns out that the motivation was an overwhelming pursuit of realism.

"Most films with explicit sex only feature a tiny amount. In 9 Songs I didn't want people just to be titillated by a brief glimpse. It's a story of an affair and the action is mainly played out in bed; you see their relationship from the point of view of them making love."

The director, and his production partner at Revolution Films, Andrew Eaton, have made what could possibly be called, in artistic circles, A Short Film About Knobbing. 9 Songs, which will be shown to industry insiders for the first time this week at Cannes, is the first film I have watched with my mouth open since seeing Russ Meyer's Ultra-Vixens aged 17 on a school history trip to France. The surprise comes not from the amount of sex on show (lots), but the way it is shown: entirely realistic, a million miles from the mpegs you might get on www., say. Had he been inspired by any personal sexual desire to do this? "No." Did he at any point find it arousing? "No," he laughs again.

Michael Winterbottom picks his films with the consistency of a blind man shopping at a car-boot sale. He has, in his short but extremely productive time, made a Western version of a Thomas Hardy novel, a family drama set around a hairdressing salon, a war film, a musical biopic of Manchester, a real-life refugee road movie and a sci-fi film. His next movie is about a fading football star, but before that you can also add a minimalist sex film to the list.

With a cast of two, it is like nothing you've ever seen before. Although you might find the sex scenes graphic, it is certainly not pornographic. The nine songs of the title break up the action, as the starring couple make occasional forays from the bedroom to watch live bands: Primal Scream, Super Furry Animals, Franz Ferdinand, Von Bondies, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and, to add some generational balance, Michael Nyman.

"We filmed them as if through the eyes of the characters," says Blackburn's best hope of an Oscar. "If we'd had lots of gear it would have affected the crowd, so we just used hand-held cameras and people got used to it."

9 Songs might as well have been named Getting Away With It - a title that would reflect not only the film's content but also its production process. Winterbottom spent last winter filming whenever and however he could. Between a bedroom in Islington and the mosh pit at Brixton Academy he has created an erotic video diary that will do for live music as an aphrodisiac what Last Tango in Paris did for butter sales, and all on a tiny budget.

The inspiration for the musical element of the film, he says, came "when we were filming the Joy Division scene in [his 2002 production] 24 Hour Party People," he remembers with a degree of satisfaction. "The writer Paul Morley said to me how amazing it was that we'd managed to recreate it to such an extent that it felt real again. I thought, why not do a real concert movie? With In This World I took two real refugees and made their road movie. I like making films as real as possible. The one exception is that in a love story, the sex can never be real. If you film actors eating a meal, the food is real; the audience know that. But when it comes to sex they know it's pretend. You'd never do that with food and so I started thinking we should make sex real."

Winterbottom answers many of my questions with a wry smile. Were the drugs in the film real? "No comment, but we were keeping it all real." How was the explicit sex explained to the actors' partners? "You'll have to ask them. It was their decision. It was a difficult thing to have to ask an actor to do, but it wasn't my job to advise on how they should handle their private lives." Did the bands (who all gave their permission to be filmed) know about the rest of the content? "I told them it was a love story of sorts." Is he a fan of porn? "I've seen it. I'm not that into it."

The 43-year-old director discusses his film with a clarity and lack of pomposity that would throw Hollywood. He also looks like a member of Just William's gang The Outlaws, all rosy cheeks and snub nose, which helps. Indeed, he has the charm of a cheeky outlaw, something he drew upon when explaining his vision to the cast, Keiran O'Brien and Margo Stilley. O'Brien, who is currently starring in the BBC3 drama Burn It, admits he would do anything for him "so long as it was legal, and even then...".

Winterbottom was initially inspired by Michel Houellebecq's novel, Platform. "A great book, full of explicit sex and again I was thinking, how come books can do this but film, which is far greater disposed to show it, can't?"

He met Houellebecq with a view to converting his book to film, only to discover that the author was already planning to do so himself, and so Winterbottom decided to create a story of his own.

"I needed to find a man and a woman who were willing to be involved in the project," he says. "I didn't want to be forcing or encouraging anyone into this. Initially, we put adverts in newspapers and magazines - some of them were unwilling to print it. Of the first 60 we had, 59 were men and there was one woman. In all we received hundreds of replies but nothing came of it.

"I found Margo at a casting agency that specialises in extras and small parts. I knew Keiran from 24 Hour Party People, mentioned it and he just really understood it. After that I gave him some time to think about it; we had two or three conversations and he was up for it. Margo was the only woman we screen tested.

"At this point I didn't know if it would work - we had no script and no story. For Keiran it was a big risk as an actor and a person. We went to a local hotel for a day to see what would happen and those scenes actually ended up in the film. We just took things step by step. There was a crew of three, including myself. On that first day there wasn't a pressing need for them to have sex, it wasn't clear what was going to happen. In general you are asking actors to be quite intimate, anyway. From everyday acting to having sex isn't as big a leap as it might be for someone else. It certainly never felt like I was intruding because they were there for the film."

How does he think it will affect the actors' careers?

"They did well. They maintained an interest in it. Even with the content we had, shooting becomes boring. After a few days it was like being on any other set, there were times when it became mundane. We would talk through a scene, do a block of shooting and then go back over it. I hope it will do them good. I can't imagine the BBC having a negative attitude towards Keiran's role in Burn It. It would be ludicrous if the BBC vetted the actors work for moral suitability."

O'Brien is naturally guarded when asked for his feelings on the film's content and the impact it may have on his personal relationships. Both he and co-star Stilley reveal what most people consider private in their lives, so it is perhaps fair to allow him a degree of silence on the matter.

"9 Songs is the fourth time I've worked with him [Winterbottom]," says O'Brien by way of explanation. "First time was Cracker, [then] 24 Hour Party People, this and Goal, the football film we're doing with Jimmy Nesbitt." In the background as he talks I can hear recorded crowd noise roar around Newcastle United's St James Park. "Sorry about that, they're recording reaction shots here. The thing with Mickey is it's almost all totally improvised. In For This World he didn't even know what the actors had said until he was in the edit suite and got a translator in. He tells you what he wants basically, and then it's up to you. He asked me to do something no one else has done before and would be incredibly hard to do. I trusted him implicitly."

After this film, O'Brien and Stilley's notoriety is assured. They will undoubtedly become "the ones from that film". 9 Songs' release date is yet to be confirmed; its reception at Cannes will determine that. Whether or not you will get to see the film in its current state, however, lies in the hands of the censors.

"The only films that really show sex are porn," says Winterbottom. "That's just a comment on film, isn't it? People assume it's porn if it's got sex in it. But why should sex only be shown in a pornographic context? We're certainly hoping for a certificate. The censors' argument is that it is pornography if it has no characters or story. Our film has both. I hope HMV see the bands in it, put the DVD in their music section with the appropriate rating and fans of the bands will buy it. We will have a small cinema release but that will mainly be to publicise the DVD."

Asked if he has considered whether the sexual nature of 9 Songs might compromise future work, he simply shrugs his shoulders and smiles. "I don't see myself as having a 'career' in that sense. I just make films I want to make. With 9 Songs I want to provoke people, I want to say, 'Why? What's wrong with showing sex?' Obviously, I hope it won't affect future films negatively, but I don't think it will. I haven't misled anyone. I describe it as a concert movie. I can't really call it a love story as I'm not sure Margo's character is in love."

Film clubs up and down the land will shortly have a new recruitment weapon in their hands.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

We shot on Friday night for a few hours, and I'm going to edit the footage today. I'm happy with what he got, and it's gonna be a nice quick sequence between Patrick and Laura with a funny payoff. As serious as the film gets at times, I'm still hoping people see it as lighthearted. We are certainly having fun making it, and I think it would be a shame if people don't get some real laughs out of it and walk away feeling good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

We are entering crunch time for "Kissing on the Mouth." Kevin leaves for New York to work on another film in about 2 weeks, and we have to get all his scenes done before then. All of them. He won't be back for a long time, so if we don't get his scenes done, we miss the deadlines for a lot of the festivals we want to enter.

I actually enjoy having tight deadlines. I work best under pressure, when I don't have time to screw around. We are going to shoot this Sunday, and hopefully we will get a good deal of Kevin's scenes then. He doesn't have much to shoot, but I'm nervous that he's going to leave, and then we'll realize we forgot something, or we will have a good idea that we won't be able to film because he's gone. It makes me want to get organized, but part of the process of this film has been the disorganization and I don't want to lose that.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Kris, Kate, Kevin and I all got together last night to talk about the coming month and how we plan on finishing this film. We've gotten pretty far, and it's time to kick it into high gear and get the rest of the shooting done. I'm still working on the script, but we have plenty to shoot until then. I'm most excited about the interviews that we are going to start doing. Based on the interviews, I will really get a feel for how the whole piece is going to shape up. They might even give me ideas for ways to finish the film.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

When we decided to make this film, I think we were all nervous about the content a little bit, but we knew that we had to do the film, and we knew that we would make something beautiful that we would be proud of. Now that we are midway through making it, we are all really happy and excited about what we are doing. We aren't worried anymore, because we know that people like the film and we know, most importantly, that we like what we are doing.

The hard part now is dealing with everyone else. In fact, that's probably the hardest part of life in general. Everyone thinks they know what is best for everyone else. It's very hard to do something that you feel strongly about when you have to worry about what your family will think. Family is this amazing loving thing that can help you through the hardest times in your life, and be a constant source of support, and family is also this terrifying group that judges you and tries to tell you what's best for you. My parents are very reasonable people, but that doesn't mean I'm not nervous to tell them about the film. I'm not nervous for me. I'm nervous for them. It will be hard to make them understand that I feel like I'm doing something important. It's easy to tell strangers anything, but it's so hard to tell family, even if you are proud of what you are doing.

I guess that's why people told us we were brave when we showed the footage in Carbondale. They know that what we are doing involves hard things like explaining the film to family. But it's worth it. We are doing what is important to us, and people are responding to that. We are making a film that we can honestly say we are proud of. We are making a film that we feel needs to be made. And in the end, I'm counting on anyone who loves me and calls me family being able to understand that.

Monday, May 03, 2004

We showed the film in Carbondale on Friday, and the response was great. I'm now totally sure that we are doing a good thing and making a film that needs to be made. People were really excited to see a film that dealt with sex in a mature way, and they responded nicely to the acting and production.

Many people told us we were "brave." It's actually really nice to hear this, because I was thinking about it, and "brave" is not a term you hear very often outside of the battlefield. It's really a great compliment to all of us. Even if I hear no other compliments for the film, "brave" is enough to keep me going, and hopefully it encourages other filmmakers to be brave.

I'm really excited to take the film back to Carbondale when it's finished. Some of the people who were at the screening will have graduated, but a lot of them will still be there, and they were interested in seeing more.

Now I have their comments to work with, and I got a few ideas of my own when I watched the cut, so I'm probably going to spend this week working with the footage we have, and finishing the script, then we have to kick it into high gear and get this film shot before June 1. We have started to line up the interviews and I'm going to start working on some of the more experimental footage, but like always, it's the dramatic scenes that I'm most worried about.

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