“IN THE LOOP” co-writer-director, Armando Iannucci
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Thursday, Jan. 22, 6:15 pm — Eccles Theatre, Park City]
I wanted to tell a comic story with a fast, screwball structure but set in the real world and that feels genuine and convincing at every moment. It was inspired by the real-life story that’s kept the world gobsmacked for the past five years: a U.S. President (using and abusing a UK Prime Minister) who mounts an ill-thought-through military invasion in the Middle East that looks like it’s been planned on the back of a cigarette packet. I wasn’t interested in portraying those high up in power, but all the second-raters in the State Department and Pentagon and UK government who could have said something but didn’t. And I didn’t want to apportion blame; just show how these things happen. Fundamentally it was to be a story just as much about office politics as international politics, and it was to be set in the present day. The implication was to be it could all happen again, especially if we all let our inner idiots get the better of us.
I spent a long time speaking to people who worked in D.C. and who could tell me what the whole business was really like. I wanted the dull stuff. What time people get in, what time they clock off. I learned that Republicans arrive early and go home at 5, while Democrats get in late and stay up at night. I found out that most of the world is run by 23 year olds with degrees in international studies from George Washington University. I fed it all in to the story. And to keep things real, I cast actors who could improvise or who had a comedy writing background. I wanted people who could take scenarios and run with them even after we’ve shot all the lines in the script.
And I involved our writers at every stage of the shoot. I told the production team to treat them like actors, with call sheets, quiet rooms and runners to come and get them when we were ready to shoot. They were there all through the shoot so we could keep improvising and rewriting the story as we went along. I wanted to bury the structure, bury the fact this was a comedy, or even that this was a film: I took jokes out if they felt too well-written, I dirtied up shots if they looked too neatly composed on the monitor, I gave new stuff to actors if the poor guys looked too much like they knew what they were doing. I kept ladders in shot when they should have been cleared away. The whole point was to make the world of In the Loop look messy. This was to be chaotic, replicating the chaos in which our real-life politicians are required to operate.
The story really only resolved in the edit. The first cut was four-and-a-half hours long. Finding the story involves looking back at all this footage and then asking yourself who and what really interests you, and then going with them in the cut. But shooting on HD, with two cameras on the go at all times, we generated so much material that even in the main shoot we were thinking of off-shoot stories that could be released elsewhere. Not just deleted scenes on DVD but whole virals that contained stand-alone moments which, hopefully, Web users will find and then relate back to other scenes in the film. In portraying a big, bad, complicated and, hopefully, funny world, we ended up generating a big, bad, complicated and, hopefully, funny mass of material that we’ll now disperse over several media.