Samuel J Bailey you are nuts. Well your music videos certainly are and having just trawled through your 2012 output our serotonin levels are rocketing. Can we have a small potted history please of your background and what led you to directing?
I actually took a long way round and came about it through theatre directing. I always knew I wanted to make films since I was young. I would come home with a new profession I had decided upon that week: a shark hunter, a paleontologist, a NYC cop who was visiting his estranged wife in a LA… it took my parents no time to twig this was all correlating with the films I had been watching – so they suggested getting involved with drama.
I made a last minute decision to go to drama school in London, rather than film school, and studied on a directing course at the Central School of Speech and Drama. I think I really wanted to understand structure and storytelling more so than film techniques, which always felt like something I could pick up afterwards. It was at CSSD that I discovered physical comedy and clowning, and went on to co-found a theatre company which had quite a lot of success with several great shows that toured across Europe.
I absorbed as much as I could before graduating, then picked up a camera again and began writing and shooting as much as possible. I really wanted to bring a different skill set to directing for film and I think this was the only way I could do it myself. Mostly though I was relieved to not be performing anymore, I was a hideous actor.
Do you script the music videos yourself? Or do you work closely with the band storyboarding or is it a more spontaneous production process?
I do love collaboration so I often bring a core idea to the band initially and we flesh it out together. It usually starts with an image that sits well with a part of the song, usually the climactic point, and then I work through how to reach that point, or where it should go to resolve.
The bands I have worked with have always been very trusting which has been great in terms of running naked and wild with something. The band I’ve made most of my promos for is the one I’m in: Francobollo, so I’ve been lucky to have liked and commissioned all the ideas I’ve come up with. But actually being in the band has given me a great insight into how important it is to get the story you tell with the visuals right and do the music justice.
And you edit too? Are most of your films shot in camera or do you use post?
I tend to try and keep most things in camera – I’m not much of a special effects whizz, although I’ve been trying more and more things out recently. It feels like being lured over to the dark arts. My recent forays into post and animation have only come once we’ve sat and looked at an offline cut and said ‘you know what this really needs…’.
I do love editing. It’s your chance to really tell the story and problem solve. I often find things that I’ve missed because I’ve been focused on something else whilst shooting and so you’re suddenly presented with a whole other branch to a narrative. Those are my most cherished moments. That and being able to sit and destroy an entire pack of biscuits in one go.
How do you go about casting your videos and short films?
I guess it’s about having an instinct for people and trusting it. I’ve always got someone in my mind when writing, but equally I love being surprised. The most enjoyable thing is for your own character to do something outside the world that you have defined for them, it gives them life outside your own imagination somehow. So I look for quite anarchic people when casting, and then do my best to control the situation and capture it rather than over-direct them.
Your shoots look mental, are they usually fun or is the process quite challenging and stressful?
It’s always challenging because you want to push yourself with each project. Try something new each time. Ultimately if you’re working on something good with entertaining people, it’s going to be a lot of fun to make. When working with Adeel Akhtar on I Found a Bike Today we were all following him as we improvised around the scenes. In the edit afterwards I had to bin a lot of shots because I just couldn’t keep steady enough for all the laughing. I think that’s the moment you realise you love what you do, regardless of any stressful moments.
Tell us about your latest short film The Horsemen. Is it going onto the festival circuit or could we show it?
It is currently in festival limbo awaiting entry to a handful of places – so dontcha dare put it up, but if anyone is interested in seeing it they could get in contact and I could sort something out…
It’s probably the first short film I have created with any money behind it. I entered a competition run by arts funding body IdeasTap along with about 800 other people with quite an ambitious idea. I remember my first thought when they got in contact to say I’d won was ‘shit, I’ve got to make it now’.
The film is a comedy about retiring early from work and the problems that come when you have a responsibility to someone else. In this case it’s two men who are the front and back half of a Grand National winning horse that’s now on its way out. I wrote it at the time when horse racing in general was the subject to a lot of controversy in terms of cruelty – there were some pretty grizzly stories out there, but I had to fight temptation to share too many of them because it was, at its heart, a story about two men’s working relationship coming to an end. It stars Richard Ridings who was an absolute joy to work with and someone I’ve nabbed for future projects.
Which piece of work are you proudest of and why?
I think The Horsemen is up there, just because it was a real feat for everyone involved and I really got my teeth into the whole process of conceiving an idea and then seeing it right through to being on a cinema screen at its premiere. Everything before that I had created was mostly larking around with an idea, an actor and a camera.
Equally though I Found A Bike Today was picked up by the guys at BUG and they featured it on their Sky Atlantic series BUG TV, so I was immensely proud seeing that make it so far – especially since it cost 60p to make.
What are you working on now?
I am currently holed up writing several things at the moment. One is a short film, which will hopefully be going into production at the start of the new year with a few familiar faces from British cinema. The other is a four part drama which is an all round more serious affair that I’m aiming to get put in front of the right people in a year or so.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about film making?
I think at a time when I thought filmmaking was a very rigid and defined medium, the opposite to my understanding through theatre, a DP told me that there’s ‘the film you write, the film you shoot and the film you edit, and they are all totally different.’
It taught me to embrace the evolution of an idea and enjoy watching it change in front of you rather than rigidly stick to the first thing that came into your head.
Also feed people well, never cut corners when feeding people.