Christmas Comes Early at Cinemagic

Actor and Nativity! Director Debbie Isitt on having a go and keeping it short 

Who is Debbie Isitt?

I’m a writer and director mainly of feature films but I am also working on television ideas. I live in Coventry, England which is where Nativity! is set. I love making films, even though they take forever. Nothing makes me happier than making audiences laugh or cry.

How did you get into making films?

I trained as an actor when I was 17. I then toured all over the place in various theatre productions. When I was 21 I set up my own theatre company and began writing and directing plays. After many years working in the theatre I decided it was time for a change so I started making films. My first film was very short – just a few minutes long – but it was enough to make me realize that it was what I wanted to do.

Can you tell us a bit about Nativity!?

Nativity! is about a primary school teacher, Mr Maddens (Martin Freeman), who has to put on his school Nativity play with a bunch of ‘hopeless’ children. But when his new classroom assistant arrives, the crazy Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton), he begins to discover that his children aren’t so hopeless after all. Just as well, because Mr Maddens has told a lie – that Hollywood are coming to see them – and now he has to try and make it happen!

Nativity! was partially written by you and partially improvised. As a director was that fun or difficult to deal with?

It was both fun and difficult! I write the story and the actors make up the dialogue – so everything that is said in the film the actors are making up and everything that happens in the film is down to me. It’s a great combination. I love working this way because it is full of surprises!

What are you working on now?

My new film is the sequel to Nativity! and it is called Nativity 2 “Danger in the Manger”. A new teacher, played by David Tennant, arrives at St. Bernadette’s school and gets dragged along on a crazy road trip by Mr Poppy, who is taking the children to compete in a song contest called ‘A Song for Christmas’. All kinds of wild and mad things happen to them along the way when they get lost in Wales…it’s very funny!

What’s your favourite movie and why?

I love comedy films best. I think my favourite comedy film is ELF starring Will Farrell. He makes me laugh out loud!

If you could work with any actor in the world on a film – who would it be and why?

I would love to work with Will Farrell! He’s so funny – I think I would laugh the whole way through the shoot – just like I do with Mr Poppy.

What do you think of FILMCLUB and the Cinemagic Film Festival?

I think that FILMCLUB and Cinemagic Film Festival are AMAZING! When I was a child I would loved to have seen all of these fantastic family films. I am so happy to be a part of it now.

Nativity! is about Hollywood dreams not quite coming true – do you think that happens a lot?

I do think that Hollywood dreams can be very disappointing in reality. But I do think we all need a dream – it’s what you do with it that counts. Working hard and enjoying what you do is a dream come true for me.

What advice would you give young people interested in directing films?

Just do it! There is no better way of learning how to make films than to have a go. You need to have a good story, some people to play the parts and a clear vision of how you want your audience to feel every step of the way. Then you need a camera and some way of editing it together at the end. My advice is when you first start out – keep it short. I have seen some amazing films that are only one minute long!

Cinemagic and FILMCLUB are offering schools (involved in the initiative) the opportunity to attend a free screening of Nativity! on October 15 at 12.30. Following the screening there will be a Q+A with Debbie Isitt and Nick Jones presented by Cool FM’s Mairead Campbell.