With “Driving Lessons,” writer/director Jeremy Brock finally realized a long-held dream. The writer of successful screenplays “Mrs. Brown” and “Charlotte Gray," and the co- creator of British television’s most successful medical drama, “Casualty," had started the screenplay of “Driving Lessons” some five years earlier. The subject is intensely personal, a rites of passage story about the influence that an older actress has on an awkward young teenager, the son of a vicar, when he goes to work as her assistant.
This story is loosely based on a vignette from Brock’s own adolescence when he, also the son of a vicar, worked for legendary actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft.
It was only when Brock showed the screenplay to producer Julia Chasman that making “Driving Lessons” became real.
Julia Chasman wanted a debut project for her new production company, RubberTreePlant and “Driving Lessons” was it. The involvement of the UK Film Council’s Premiere Fund changed the dream to a reality.
Chasman and Brock worked closely together refining the script. They hired Alexandra Ferguson as co-producer and together began interviewing crew for the project. As casting director they enlisted the help of Priscilla John, doyenne of casting directors, whose considerable experience includes ”Quills,” “Aragon,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Van Helsing,” “Little Voice,” “Seven Years in Tibet,” “Frankenstein,” “Little Buddha,” “City of Joy,” “A Passage to India,” and “Jewel in the Crown.”
Brock’s script, also worked its magic on actors: Julie Walters talked about the truth of the screenplay. “It’s been five years in the writing, it’s really textured and real and the people are completely layered and whole, all of them, no matter how small.” She was keen to play eccentric, exasperating, hilarious actress Eve Walton.
A trip to America and a meeting with Laura Linney gave Brock a second committed player. “There’s something very satisfying about working with first time directors,” said Linney. “I’ve worked with a lot of them. They have complete understanding of the material, particularly if they are directing their own screenplays. They understand how actors work and they have a decency of character about how to treat a crew.”
The third piece of absolutely vital casting was the adolescent who would play Ben, Linney’s screen son who goes to work for Evie and finds the whole world opens up to him. Rupert Grint of the phenomenally successful “Harry Potter” films, in which he plays Ron Weasley, was keen to play a rites-of-passage role that would acknowledge that fact.
Grint was signed to play Ben.
While casting continued, other principal crew were hired director of photography David Katznelson worked tirelessly with Brock before shooting started, poring over Brock’s storyboards, traveling with him to potential locations.
The appointment of production designer went to Amanda McArthur. “We saw a lot of designers but I thought Amanda’s work was fantastic,” said Brock. “The moment I met her I knew she was the right combination of being highly organised and very confident of the graphic look I wanted the film to have.
Trevor Waite was hired as editor. Waite has a wealth of experience with directors spanning three decades. Kevin Spacey’s “Beyond the Sea," Tim Roth’s “The War Zone” and Michael Winterbottom’s “Welcome to Sarajevo” are only a few.
Location manager Algy Sloane found location options to entice. Looking back on the film, Brock singled out three locations for special praise: the salsa club in west London, where young Ben is initiated into a frenzy of salsa dancing by the sparky young Scot called Bryony, the loch filmed in a haze of typically Scottish weather during three days on location in and around Edinburgh, and the extraordinary Georgian house in Greenwich which served as the set for Evie’s home. The house boasts one of the biggest private gardens in London. It was a major location for the film, and the unit spent a full week there filming interiors and exteriors.
Jeremy discovered that the actors, once cast, the sometimes developed their characters beyond the point that he had envisaged. “Nicholas Farrell as Robert interpreted the role in a much bolder way, and suddenly he became a more significant player. I’d seen him as transitory and peripheral, but he became a real fighter so much so that I re-wrote a couple of scenes for him.”
Once filming started, it was a kaleidoscope of six-day weeks that crisscrossed London, and ended with three days filming in Scotland. The shooting schedule coincided with the shocking events of quadruple bombings in the capital on July 7, 2005 and the aborted bombing attempts on July 21. A day’s shooting was lost as the producers could not risk the safety of cast and crew during a terrorist attack, but the show did go on, with the film now safely in the can.
As filming ended, the filmmakers paused to reflect on the experience. Julia Chasman said her biggest surprise was how emotionally touching the story was. “When you develop a script over a number of years, you do fall in love with it and have your favorite characters, and lines, and so much of that was about the comedy. That was all there, of course, but I hadn’t realized until we shot it, how moving the story was.”
“Driving Lessons," was produced by Julia Chasman and written and directed by Jeremy Brock, with Alexandra Ferguson as co- producer. David Katznelson was the director of photography and Amanda McArthur the production designer. The film was edited by Trevor Waite. Starring Julie Walters, Rupert Grint and Laura Linney. “Driving Lessons” is a RubberTreePlant production.