September 17, 2008

Christmas Comes Early As Film Crew Rolls into Town

"THEY say never work with children or animals and I am working with 100 children, camels, a donkey, pig, sheep ... and Alan Carr," laughs Debbie Isitt.

The Coventry-based writer and director has been heading all over Coventry and Warwickshire with a film crew in tow for her latest movie Nativity.

The cast includes The Office and Love Actually actor Martin Freeman, Ugly Betty and Extras favourite Ashley Jensen, comedian Alan Carr, Confetti actor Jason Watkins and Marc Wootton from Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel.

And it was camp comedian Alan Carr who minced into the Telegraph offices, resplendent in white suit and dickey-bow, to shoot scenes in which he plays a local newspaper's colourful drama critic.

The feel-good film, which will be released nationwide for Christmas 2009, tells the tale of frustrated, under-achieving primary school teacher, Mr Maddens, and his long-time adversary from the private school up the road.

The schools are embroiled in a bitter rivalry every year to achieve a five-star review in the local newspaper for their Christmas nativity play.

Maddens' class always comes runner-up and foolishly he makes an idle boast that his school's showstopping musical has attracted the attention of an American movie producer.

Nativity is Debbie's follow-up to her hit comedy movie Confetti.

The improvised "mockumentary" was an international success and Nativity is being filmed in the same style.

"I've already filmed more than 100 hours," admits Debbie, "and the hard part will be editing everything later. I already have more footage than I did for Confetti and I didn't think that was possible.

"The terrible summer might have been bad for lots of people, but it's been good for us because even though it's September we have been filming winter scenes with Santa Claus and tinsel and everything.

"We just need some snow now." Filming has been taking place all over Coventry and Warwickshire, including Bablake School, Coundon; East Avenue, Stoke Park; Lower Ladyes Hills, Kenilworth; the Ricoh Arena; Spon Street; and the Coventry Telegraph newsroom.

A corner of the office was transformed into the showbusiness desk for Alan's scenes as a flamboyant and outrageous newspaper theatre reviewer.

His desk was festooned with theatre posters, press releases, Christmas cards and even a Christmas tree. He prepared for the part by slapping on a fake moustache and putting on a white linen suit.

Debbie, who graduated from Coventry Centre for Performing Arts, says the whole idea of Nativity was inspired by seeing her own nine- year-old daughter in school Christmas shows.

"It gave me the idea and I must have gone to see about 16 nativity shows in Coventry for research."

She then auditioned children from all over the country to find youngsters to play the schoolkids at the rival schools.

"It's been lots of fun and lots of noise trying to deal with so many children," she confesses.

"We've also got a lot of local children involved and were casting for a few months before filming began.

"Ashley Jensen also flew in from Los Angeles for the movie and we've been busy across the city and in Kenilworth as well."

Alan Carr is no stranger to the Coventry area. His dad Graham was the manager of Nuneaton Borough Football Club in the mid-80s and went on to become boss at Northampton Town, where Alan was brought up.

Entertainment writer

Marion McMullen finds out why comedian Alan Carr is stepping into her shoes and Christmas is coming early to Coventry and Warwickshire as she catches up with the location filming of new comedy movie Nativity

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