Not Another Happy Ending: On set with Karen Gillan

Stanley Weber and Karen Gillan in Not Another Happy. Picture: Contributed
Stanley Weber and Karen Gillan in Not Another Happy. Picture: Contributed
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Former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan stars in a romcom that will close this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. Gaby Soutar was on the set for filming in Glasgow

Tip-tap, tip-tip, tap. Actor Karen Gillan strides across the wooden floor of a swanky Glasgow apartment, brow knitted and brown brogues clipping.

“Cut,” says trendily bespectacled director John McKay. “You know I said to walk fast? Well, not that fast.”

Make-up is reapplied, Gillan’s auburn fringe is teased by the make-up artist.

Action, and she tip-taps across the set again, marginally slower and sadder, in a geek-chic style Argyle tank top and tweedy trousers. Cut. And repeat. When this scene eventually wraps, five takes later, the cast and crew whoop and high-five.

I’m on the set of indie romcom Not Another Happy Ending, which will close the 67th Edinburgh International Film Festival. It’s been in production for weeks, from 7am-7pm daily, and today is their last day of shooting. Everyone looks drained, strained and a little sad that it’ll soon be all over. Today they’re shooting an argument scene between 25-year-old Gillan, who plays writer Jane Lockhart, and her fictional beau, Thomas Duval, played by the ridiculously good-looking and floppy-haired French actor, Stanley Weber, 26.

My vantage point is the mezzanine level – aka Tom’s rumple-sheeted boudoir. Here, are all the accoutrements of a clichéd Gallic character – an ashtray full of stubs (Gitanes, naturellement), dishevelled manuscripts (he’s a publisher). a bust of Napoleon and a mug of stagnating black coffee. Downstairs – the living room and office – there are funky, asymmetrical bookcases, a messy desk and a drinks trolley featuring a bottle of Pimm’s.

The latter is slightly incongruous, as this film has not only been shot in Glasgow – like recent productions World War Z, Cloud Atlas and Under the Skin – but it’s also set here. As far as I know, nobody in this city drinks Pimm’s. Your bad, props department.

The set is on the ground floor of one of the tall warehouse-like buildings that surround a gated courtyard in Candleriggs. However, just because Not Another Happy Ending has been filmed in Scotland, doesn’t mean that it’s going to fall into the gritty genre. This is not another Trainspotting or Red Road.

“There tends to be a culture of miserablism in Scotland – stories always have to be gritty and real,” explains Dorset-based scriptwriter David Solomons, who’s originally from Glasgow. “I think it’s important that we break away from that”. According to him, seasoned Scottish actor Kate Dickie, who plays Anna Le Fevre in this film, “Is delighted not to be playing a drug addict, or shoplifter”.

Producer Claire Mundell says: “Glasgow is an international place and this film could be set in any contemporary city. We took inspiration from indie films like Juno and The Squid and the Whale and I’m very influenced by Bill Forsyth”.

There are no murders, and zilch heroin use. Instead, Not Another Happy Ending is a romp about an author of bleak fiction, Jane Lockhart, who develops writer’s block after becoming “too happy”. As her creativity wanes, she gets hooked on baking instead of scribing.

In order to get another book out of her, Lockhart’s cynical publisher, Tom, tries to make her depressed and thus productive again, with the help of his best friend, Roddy (played by Iain de Caestecker). Much hilarity and, eventually, falling in love ensues.

When it comes to the script, Solomons says that he’s most influenced by the work of Woody Allen (“He’s The Man”, he says), and he wanted to inject new life into his chosen genre. “I think the romcom has been devalued, they’re not made for grown-ups any more,” he says. “I wanted to make something witty, charming and grown-up, to rival a classic Clark Gable film”.

His job on set is to watch from the sidelines and ensure that his words are being interpreted as he envisioned them. Gillan has been asking him for advice. “Karen wants to know what it looks like when I’m writing – do I stand up and pace?” says Solomons.

“However, we didn’t want her sitting and trying to type at a desk. Instead, as a symbol for her writer’s block we use the motif of a blinking cursor on a blank computer screen.”

Currently, in the sheltered concrete courtyard, Gillan has folded herself into a blue director’s chair. She has turned towards the wall at the back of the courtyard and is chatting enthusiastically to somebody on the phone – Grazia magazine, apparently.

A few minutes ago she was doing a “meet and greet” with 31-year-old Fabio from Switzerland. It seems he’s the ultimate Doctor Who Fan, and paid has $600 to meet Gillan (formerly companion Amy Pond in Doctor Who). That’s because this film – though partially funded by BBC Scotland and Creative Scotland – used the increasingly popular method of international crowdfunding to raise some of its production costs.

Through the Indiegogo website, movie fans (or, more likely, extreme Gillan fans), could contribute cash to ensure this film got made, with $100 buying them a signed poster, or $1000 for one of Gillan’s size eight outfits including a co-ordinating pair of size six shoes. I’d imagine Fabio would love any of those items, though he’d never fit into them.

Mundell says: “The sci-fi fans are very passionate”. In the end, the production team raised a total of $22,660 through crowdfunding.

Although there are other well-respected names on the cast, such as Henry Ian Cusick (who played Desmond Hume in Lost) and Dickie, the influx of cash must mostly be down to the draw of Gillan. Well, it must be, if people want to pay for her lightly worn brogues.

Was there anyone else lined up to play Jane Lockhart?

“Nope. She was on a casting list of one,” says Mundell. “We think we’ve got her at the perfect point in her career, and we even put the shooting of Not Another Happy Ending back by a year because she was filming Doctor Who”.

However, getting the up-and-coming Weber on the cast was a bit of a coup too. As Mundell says, “With Stanley on board, nobody could accuse us of being a little Scottish movie”.

• Not Another Happy Ending will close the Edinburgh International Film Festival (19-30th June) on 30 June. For more information, see