Hi Film Folk!,
Before you read the interview, watch the film below!
Now, here we go!
Firstly, congratulations on your win and on Room 8. Before all this, what were you doing with yourself and what were your expectations?
I’ve been making films from a very young age. Starting off with stop motion animation and then moving into live action with my friends. That experience led to me going to the National Film and Television School to study editing. While I was there I realised that directing was my real passion and took advantage of many student directing opportunities the school offers, at one point I directed Ray Winstone in a student commercial. I left the NFTS and worked as a freelance editor for a few years, doing some short films but mainly corporate jobs. At the same time I was taking advantage of online film competitions, with brands that were offering money to make films. The first one of these was run by Nokia. They were offering 8000 pounds to make a film about anything, as long as it was shot on a Nokia mobile phone. I pitched them a split screen idea, they chose it and left us to our own devices to make the film. We ended up with Splitscreen: A Love Story, which did really well online and currently has about 3 million views on Vimeo. That led on to some commercial directing work around the world in places like Malaysia and India. Then I became aware of a film competition that Bombay Sapphire were running. They were offering 40,000 pounds to make a short film, with the only caveat that I had to include some prewritten dialogue . I pitched my idea for Room 8, they chose it and I made it with a production company called Independent. Never did we imagine that it would do as well as it did.
What were you doing at the time your name was announced by Bombay Sapphire?
I was in Glasgow working on a small editing job. I had almost forgotten about the competition when I got the call, so it was a great surprise.
How were Bombay Sapphire to work with? What was the process?? Tell us about the selection process from script ideas and what you had to work with (for those who don’t know).
The process began with Bombay Sapphire calling for written proposals for stories that incorporated dialogue written by Geoffrey Fletcher (screenwriter – Precious). The stories could be about absolutely anything and they weren’t asking for a commercial, so I jumped at the opportunity. The idea came about quite quickly and I sent it in. The first part of the selection process included having a Skype call with Geoffrey Fletcher to discuss how I would make it and my vision for the film. That call went well and a few days later I got the call that my story had been picked and I would be directing it.
I was put with Independent, the London production company who were producing all the films. The series producer Ohna Falby and producer Sophie Venner then set about developing the proposal into a script. From there we assembled our crew and started production.
Bombay Sapphire pretty much took a back seat in the process, they would give notes on the edit but only as much as a more traditional financier would. I had a great experience working with them.
What was it like working with an Academy Award-winning screenwriter? Did you work to develop it together after selection or were you left to your own devices?
It was great to know the dialogue came from Geoffrey Fletcher. We did have a telephone call to talk about the script but there wasn’t much development to be done. At the end of the day the script was very similar to the proposal.
Where did Producer Sophie Venner come from? Had you worked together before?
Sophie was brought on board by Independent. We had never worked together before but I’m glad we did on this project, we had a great creative relationship during the whole process and Sophie brought a lot to the film.
How was it producing the film together with Bombay Sapphire? What kind of freedoms and/or restrictions did you have?
There were very little restrictions. Apart from having to use the dialogue there were no other creative conditions, we obviously didn’t have to show a bottle of gin or give it a happy ending.
What was the production phase like? Any catastrophes? Anything you would have done differently?
I’m happy to say it went very smoothly and that’s down to our amazing crew in the UK and Poland.
Where did you shoot? Any tricky shots?
We shot in a studio called Alvernia in Poland due to it being slighting cheaper to shoot there. Our production designer Peter Francis designed a great set with a practical ceiling that actually did raise and lower on a hinge. Shooting in Poland actually turned out to have another advantage because we found a great prison location for the opening shot. It was a real working prison in Krakow and apparently they also used it for a scene in Schindler’s List.
What did you shoot on? Did you have access to most of the kit you wanted?
We shot on the Alexa. Poland are really well set up for film crews with some great hire companies.
How did you work with your cinematographer? Longstanding collaborator or first time together? Did you storyboard or use films as references?
Magni Ágústsson was our cinematographer and I had a great working relationship with him. It was our first time working together but we got on well. He’s actually shooting the new series of Dr. Who at the moment. I like to use storyboards and plan out the shots before we start shooting, I think because of my editing background. We also used photography references that both Magni and I brought to the table.
What was your process like with the actors? How did you direct them?
I wrote back stories for both characters and found that helped a lot in working out with our actors how the characters would react to each other. Both Tom and Michael are great professionals and brought so much more to the characters than I imagined when I was writing them, they were a joy to work with.
How was post-production? Any nasty/nice surprises or business as usual?
We worked with MPC in Soho to do all the visual effects. We had VFX supervisor Bill McNamara on set with us to make sure everything was perfect for the compositors in post. It all went really well. As for the edit, as it was planned out so much beforehand there weren’t any major problems with it.
The film contains a man inside a box reaching out to a huge hand. What VFX did you have to add in? How did you go about it? Was it a technique you were familiar with? Did you use models on the shoot?
It was all a case of keying and compositing. To get the shots looking down into the box we had a very intricate scale model cell made complete with highly detailed props and furniture. Then we shot the real cell from high above with a crane and composited both together in post. For the large hand coming into the box that was just a case of shooting Tom’s hand on blue screen and compositing it against a shot of him reaching up to a marker in the real set.
What are your plans now? Do you have any new projects you’re working on (post or development)? How do you intend to see them through?
In the summer I was commissioned by PBS to make a short film set in Iceland for their Youtube channel. That was released only last week (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWJKLYcypz8) . Also, I’m currently writing my first feature film with possibly making another short set within that world.
What would you recommend to any other filmmakers (new or seasoned) that you’ve learned on your journey??
I think the best piece of advice I can give is to just put everything you have into making your films because you never know what could happen. I wanted to make the best possible film I could with Room 8 but never imagined that it would even be considered for a BAFTA. I guess the lesson is to commit yourself one hundred percent to a project and who knows what could happen.
Thank you, James and good luck with your future projects!
Thank you, it was a pleasure.
James’ BAFTA-winning short ‘Room 8’ can be seen all over the UK during the BAFTA Shorts on Tour season or here online now!Join us on FACEBOOK or TWITTER and sign up to our emails on the right hand side for articles straight to your inbox. Any questions/thoughts/experiences of your own??? Leave a comment below! Have a great week!