You seem to have a penchant for super-heroes – is it fair to say you are probably a very well-read comic reader and think in a graphic novel way? Or was this a one-off interest for creating ‘Oceans’?
I LOVE comics! I’ve just finished a stint on the judging panel for the 2014 British Comic Awards which has been amazing! Reading all of the different stories that are coming out is hugely inspiring. I really do think that comics are very close to film. It’s all about telling stories with pictures. Each writer has their own style, as does each artist. It’s like a director and their cinematographer. The world of comics is full of amazing stories that just keep flowing week after week. I’m in awe of just how hugely imaginative it is as an industry!
Personally, I’m a big Marvel Comics fan so super-heroes have a special place in my heart. I just love the idea of exploring what makes a super-hero tick. Stuff like how do they take their coffee? and how do you have a relationship when you are spending every hour fighting crime?!
Your short films – which we love btw – are gritty and rather dark northern tales with persistent bad weather. Whereas Oceans, although there’s a few flying punches, is light hearted and features the cute Maisie Williams from Games of Thrones. How did your directing of the two genres differ?
I guess I’ve been growing a lot as a filmmaker since I left film school back in 2010. When I was there I sat quietly watching and learning about making movies. I was fresh out of art school and my taste was pretty obscure. In many ways, my first few shorts films were just about things I knew, I went back home to make movies in the places I knew, with characters I had grown up with. As I got better at telling stories I actually started to regress back to all of the films and TV I had grown up with; Jurassic Park, Friends, Dawson’s Creek. In my mind I sort of mixed and distilled those with Lars Von Trier and Wes Anderson to pretty much get to my style today.
I don’t really see them as being different genres, they are just different stops along the road of learning how to make movies and how to tell a story. My style is definitely more settled now and I’m getting into the groove and telling the sort of stories I want!
Any major headaches directing Oceans – and how did you resolve them?
No major headaches at all, but there are always creative considerations. For Oceans, I wanted a really specific suburban aesthetic that was still English without being too dark and gritty. Once we found that, out in East London it all started to come together quite quickly.
Maisie was outstanding. From the very first costume fitting, when we first stared working on the mask and the cape, she was 100% into the character. We said to ourselves – imagine if a girl just woke up one day and found she had super powers, only she lived in a tiny flat on the outskirts of London, what would she do? and it just grew from there into a kind of origin story for a super-hero that doesn’t exist (yet!).
We see you’ve joined Stink, how did they discover you?
I’m really excited to be at Stink. They are a high calibre production company with a real sense of change in the air. There is such a good vibe with the direction their roster is taking and I think my films fit into that pretty well.
When I first left film school I was featured as a ‘Star Of Tomorrow’ in Screen International and through that I met Daniel Bergmann and, then Stink CEO, Robert Herman. I got talking to them about film projects and I started working on a few scripts with them and the relationship just grew from there. At around the same time I was working with producer Dominic Buchanan on some other projects and when Stink were looking for a new head of film Dom was a perfect fit and it just worked.
Do you have any current pet projects in development?
A project that I am most excited about is ‘The End Of The Fucking World’. It’s an adaptation of an American comic book by Charles Forsman. It started out life as a short film that we made with Film4 that was then going to be a web-series and then a feature film and it has now found a new lease of life as a TV series. It’s currently in development with the amazing guys at Clerkenwell Films, who created Misfits, and it’s produced by Dominic Buchanan. I think it’s finally found its proper home!
It stars Craig Roberts (Submarine) and Jessica Barden (Hanna) and it’s pretty much an adventure across England with two crazy eighteen year olds who are running away from home. We are really aiming to do something different with TEOTFW. Think Dawson’s Creek directed by Tarantino and you are nearly there!
Here’s a teaser for TEOTFW.
And here’s more info about the comic if you need it!
How did you find the transition from making short films to directing rather complicated looking interactive commercials such as ‘You Control the Weather’ for Geox?
I started out with short films. First with my graduation film and then a few commissions from what was then the Film Council but it wasn’t until I made Human Beings did I start to see a path towards more commercially orientated film. And that’s where my heart really lies – making mainstream / indie movies.
Sometimes, in the UK film industry, that path feels like the most Avant Garde. In a world which is predominantly based upon obscure and intimate films, often government funded, it’s hard to build commercially-minded projects at the lower end of the budget scale. So, I’m actually very comfortable working in commercials and music videos, it’s fun!
My approach to films, commercials and music videos is always the same. For me the most important thing is tone. A consistent tone in a film is absolutely crucial. Balancing the cinematography with the story, sound design, music choice, performance, editing etc. This is film-making! If one of these is slightly out, no matter what medium you are working in you will not get a successful piece of work.
My recent work with GEOX on their worldwide interactive campaign highlighted this. We were creating a series of scenes that you could control in order to create one entire film. The decisions were controlled by the weather and each scene had to work in and of itself in order for the whole film to take shape. I worked tirelessly with the creatives at SMFB Oslo and with Cameron, the Creative Director at StinkDigital, to make this work. Every element of our story had to match the brand, even down to the performances so the tonality had to be just right. Funny, sweet and thoughtful, but dramatic enough to engage people. I think we did a great job!
Did you train at film school or have you learnt on the job?
Both! At film school I learnt what not to do. On the job, you learn exactly what you have to do.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am currently writing a feature film with the BFI & Screen Australia called ‘Julian Corkle Is A Filthy Liar’ which is based on an Australian novel of the same name. It’s basically a high school movie set in Tasmania in the 1985. It’s about growing up, falling in love and listening to cool music on a tiny island where the next land mass is Antarctica! It’s a fun process that’s really only just beginning but I’m hoping to bring it to fruition very soon!
Seafret’s EP Oceans is out now