Debbie Isitt Talks About The Making Of Nativity 2

Debbie Isitt, the writer and director of Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger paid a visit to the Christian Resource Exhibition in Manchester earlier today where she presented clips and answered questions about the film and its predecessor Nativity!

Inspired by nativity plays at her daughter’s school and the stress and competitiveness that they bring to parents and teachers alike, Debbie created Nativity! three years ago. The home-grown, low budget movie was a surprise box office hit, showing that cinema audiences value traditional family fare at Christmas too rather than automatically turning to the usual special-effects driven blockbusters that fill the multiplexes.

Debbie’s films are fairly unusual in that they are totally improvised by her cast. “I create the story and I write it down, but I never show it to the actors.” She explained, “So the actors improvise their way through the film, making it up as they go along. I know exactly what’s going to happen, but I don’t tell them. So they’re constantly in the dark about what’s going to happen next, we have to film everything in order and they don’t know how it’s going to end until it ends, so it’s very exciting.” It takes a lot of faith by her actors to work this way and to trust in her and the project, especially if they are used to reading scripts in advance and knowing how big their role is going to be in the project.  “But in my world they don’t know if they are going to star in it or be an extra in it so they just have to come on board for the ride.”

Debbie also tackles the challenges of working with children and animals with genuine enthusiasm. Of course there are problems. “A pig bit Pam Ferris” she confessed, “That was a tricky moment”. But the joy is not knowing what is going to happen next; whether it is a donkey refusing to move or the child actors just coming out with whatever is on their minds. She casts ordinary children from ordinary schools, taking three months over the process and making sure that they have the opportunity to be themselves and show her their strengths and vulnerabilities. It is important to her that the children enjoy the experience.  “For them it’s all about the social side, they don’t even care that they’re in a film which is really reassuring. They are not bothered about the red carpet and all of that; it’s about being together and making friends”.

The first Nativity! film dealt with themes of growth and self-belief, as the underdog went on a personal journey to discover their inner strengths and to succeed against doubt and adversity. The plot of Nativity 2 follows similar themes, but this time the children of St. Bernadette’s go on a physical journey, out into the big wide world and it is here that they, and they adults around them, find the answers that will allow them to believe in themselves. Key to the transformation is the character of Mr. Poppy (played by Marc Wootton), a 35-year old man who sees the world through the eyes of a child, without prejudice or cynicism, who guides the children through by encouraging them to believe that they are able to achieve whatever they want in life. “The children absolutely love him and they’re drawn to him.” says Debbie, “He’s fun, he’s adventurous, he’s risky, he really loves the children and he really gets them.”

The first Nativity! film starred Martin Freeman, soon to be seen as the star of The Hobbit. Nativity 2 stars David Tennant in a dual role. “He plays his own twin,”Debbie explains, “So there’s ‘Good Twin’ David Tennant and ‘Bad Twin ‘ David Tennant. They’re competing in the Song For Christmas contest, but actually they’re competing for other things too, they’re also competing in their own values. ‘Bad’ David Tennant is a very successful composer, an elitist kind of songwriter, he’s hell-bent on winning everything, and ‘Good’ David Tennant is a very humble primary school teacher who really isn’t interested in the values of winning and success and money and more interested in the values of family and self-confidence and faith. So they take on each other. The metaphor is the Song For Christmas, but actually they’re taking on each other’s values.”

Debbie presented the film’s trailer and a clip of Marc Wootton as Mr. Poppy encouraging the class of children to come up with their own ideas for the Song For Christmas competition.

In Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger the children of St. Bernadette’s enter a Song For Christmas competition and, despite being forbidden to do so, they take a trip to the finals held in a castle in Wales. It is there that they find that their values are not necessarily the values of some of the other competitors, and they have to stand up for their beliefs. Their song, Born In The Hay, says Debbie, “…starts very humbly and grows into something tremendous.”

She finished by recommending the film as a Christmas outing for families and groups alike: “There’s not many films that are U certificate, accessible to all, safe, feel-good, funny, entertaining, that have a real heart and a real message of Christmas.”

About the film:
This Christmas, the unforgettable pupils of St. Bernadette's are heading to Wales to compete in the National choir contest; 'A song for Christmas'. New supply teacher Mr Peterson (David Tennant) has the unenviable task of trying to curb the hysterical enthusiasm of the kids - not to mention Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) - but reluctantly finds himself getting swept along!

Under the stars on one magical night the sparkle and shine of Christmas once again comes to life in Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger! The film is out in UK cinemas on 23rd November 2012.

Read more about the film here