Totally Tom

All My Friends Hate Me: Sab Astley in conversation with Totally Tom

18th June 2022

Totally Tom talks about scrubbing cars with Brillo pads, nuancing posh people and the best modern British comedy.

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What’s the moment of social awkwardness that haunts you guys?

Tom Stourton: I recently did a reading at a wedding, and I just slightly fluffed it. I got really worried that I just really let everyone down because I’ve JUST just made a film about how you shouldn’t do this. But, like I was saying, kind of disappointed people, and it’s so narcissistic –  I don’t know what it is about me being at weddings and making them about myself. It’s worrying!

Tom Palmer: I remember a party just after university where I was introducing a school friend to three friends from university, but when I got to the third person, I just couldn’t remember their name, and I’ve been at university with them for three years! So what I did was I built my drink on myself, so I could be like, “Oh god, look at me!” It was a good out but must have looked absolutely insane to everyone that was in front of me. Yeah, that definitely has stayed with me.

TS: I still remember when I was 14, and we were staying with this family, and there were two really good-looking daughters, and I became this nerdy besotted 15-year-old who wanted to impress one of them, so when she asked if anyone wanted to wash her car, I was like “I’ll do it!” I got up the next morning really early, and I washed it with what I thought was a sponge, but it was a Brillo pad. I took off all the paint, and she just burst into tears. I realised that it was taking the paint off rather than cleaning it, but for some reason, I just went harder.

What do you think is the best piece of modern British comedy?

TS: I would just say Partridge every time. Nothing makes you laugh like it, but because it’s been going on for as long as it has, I think it is a real testament to the depth and scope of the character. Partridge is always my knee-jerk answer.

TP: Yeah, I would say the same, but to change it up a little, I’m gonna say Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. I absolutely loved that show and wish there had been more. We used to watch it obsessively, then watch the deleted scenes, then the commentary and then watch the commentary on the deleted scenes. We really immersed ourselves in it. That’s just a fantastic show.

I wanted to ask, did you have any specific film inspirations for the tone of the film. When I was watching, it reminded me of a film called The Servant (1963) by Joseph Losey.

TP: Yeah, I actually saw it a long time ago – because it’s Pinter, isn’t it? I mean, we were always a bit influenced by Pinter – someone described him to me once as the idea that you’re never sure what’s happening on stage, whether it’s a deep conspiracy or whether you’re watching a nightmare, and the idea of not being able to know what’s real induces paranoia, and that’s what you’re meant to feel watching a Pinter play. That was always a touchstone for what we were trying to do, never committing to one side of the story, continually making you wonder, is there a real conspiracy? Or is this all in Pete’s head?

TS: Yeah, we always wanted to match films like Festen, Force Majeure – films that manage to have an operatic awkwardness and tension to them, but there would never be something to break that – like there’s never a murder or something. That just made sense in mainly budgetary terms, but also it feels like a really good challenge to set yourself.

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So what does the BFI’s support mean to you? Because I think with incredible independent films like this, the wrong support risks it being buried.

TS: I think we’re insanely lucky because I think you’re so right about it buried with anyone else.

TP: Our strategy going into it was, we made it on spec, and the strategy was to retain that creative control, and then our slightly harebrained plan was to sell it to a streamer, nice clean sale, they’ll do the rest and actually, it never even crossed my mind that we would get a theatrical release, let alone a proper nationwide one. Posters and support and amazing marketing. So having that backing to turn the film into an event has been invaluable in spreading the word, and it’s just a massive reminder that only a theatrical release can do that.

TS: The trailer they’ve done, I’m slightly worried, is better than the film. [Laughs.] It’s been so instrumental, I think, in the word getting out.

You guys have been up and down the country doing Q&As; what’s that been like touring the film?

TS: (Surfer boy voice) So wild, dude. [Laughs.] No, we have eaten a lot of free Picturehouse food, and I’m very grateful for that, but it’s not a diet that’s sustainable. I think we’ve been nervous about the world of the film being too niche, but then you know, to have the BFI back, it was a huge vote of confidence. And then we were like, “Well, what’re people gonna make of it in Newcastle?” We thought they’re gonna be turned off by the whole posh thing. But actually, it’s been really fun, and it’s been really encouraging in all the cities to see the themes are universal enough for it to translate. What’s been amazing is just to have people that want to talk about the film.

TP: The questions at the Q&As have been so varied and continuously sort of challenging and interesting, and it’s just nice to feel like we’ve got something that throws up a lot of talking points, and that was really satisfying to experience.

I guess it’s because this film sort of nuances posh people if that makes sense. There’s an immense relatability to everyone in the film, even characters like Archie, who we strongly associate with the icon of the ‘Posh Boy.’

TP: I think we will always instinctively get frustrated when you see the really over-the-top posh character who’s driving the Ferrari and has a cashmere sweater around his neck. That is one way to lampoon that class, but we always felt there was something more interesting to create these characters that had one foot on the ground and construct these people that should know better and yet still indulge in these semi-obnoxious, quite classist pastimes. So it was great creating these more nuanced characters that didn’t wear or do things that you sometimes see posh people do.

TS: Although Archie IS wearing a gilet for most of the film. [Everyone laughs.’ So you know, there are certain musts – you can’t get rid of everything!

I wanted to ask you about High Renaissance Man. Would you guys ever considered going back to that and making it a full feature?

TS: We were actually thinking about doing a film about him! Something like his dad, who loathes him, dies, and he gets the estate and tries to put on this whole festival. But then the estate falls into the hands of momentum, or I think ISIS was involved at one point. But I think All My Friends Hate Me felt like a thematic return to that similar kind of character. It’s been a long road since then, of, at times, maybe trying to second guess what’s trendy to write too much rather than just a world that we know. There are definitely crossovers between Pete and James in terms of that desperation to not be perceived as deeply uncool.

That does make a lot of sense; you can feel a lot of the themes in High Renaissance Man much more refined in All My Friends. So, when the penny drops toward the end, was that always going to be the same reveal? Did you work on a few different ideas for what was going to be?

TP: Yeah, again, without trying to say anything, the thing he confesses to, that was the ending at one point. Something about ending that way felt very kind of Agatha Christie, and it felt like it suddenly took away all the magic of the dread and uncertainty and setup. So, after that draft, looking back at it with fresh eyes, we came up with this idea, “What if he confesses to something really bad, but that’s just not related to anything at all?” And isn’t that more painful? Certainly more frightening.

TS: There were also gorier endings, and as I said, it started with, like, “Can we afford that?” and actually, it felt like a cop-out. There was an alternate ending in the car, where there was a birthday card that was blank. Pete doesn’t know if they forgot to write it or if it’s a metaphor for how they see his personality as blank. But that felt a bit fiddly. And in the end, the final line that I feel is the most successful, instead of tying up all the themes of the film and giving that bleak centre that the ending implies, you know, “he’s gonna have a miserable life from here on in.” It was Andy [Gaynord], the director, who cracked it. We were on a car ride, just talking through the end because it was so hard to get something that satisfying about something that is, by its nature, very vague.

My final question would be, let’s say you have carte blanche, you can work with anyone in British comedy, do anything with them – who would you pick?

TS: Ooh, that’s a really good question.

Steve Coogan would be great, obviously, but honestly, having been able to work with Dustin [Demri-Burns] is a kind of hero of ours as well; we were big Cardinal Burns fans, so it was just really cool to get him involved. I don’t know, like, God includes revive.

TP: Geena Davis is pretty incredible. I always loved her comedies and stuff. I know it’s hard to say without it sounding like quite an unrealistic pitch.

TS: Hmm – let’s say, Hugh Grant!

TP: Yes, let’s say, Hugh Grant. He’s doing pretty cool stuff, and he’s so funny. Yes – we’d love to do something with him.

All My Friends Hate Me is available to watch in cinemas nationwide.

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