First, we need to talk about your leading star in many of your films… Bowie. Please tell us about the relationship between you and him and how it came about? Is Bowie just naturally compliant or is he drip fed treats galore?
We got Bowie when he was just eight weeks old and were fully prepared for how much work goes into owning a dog, but the little man was surprisingly low maintenance. It only took a week to train him out of peeing indoors and he would pick up tricks really fast. Rocket (2012), was the first film we made with him and it followed the story of a dog who builds a rocket out of cardboard and takes off into space. It won The Virgin Media Shorts Film grant of 30k and was shown in Picture House Cinemas for a year. We continued to work with Bowie after that and he was used in a number of adverts, comedy sketches and even a music video. I wrote the script for Set Adrift (2016) in a bid to really test his acting skills. Despite the obvious need for a lot of waiver thin turkey, he surpassed all of our expectations on that set and seeing audiences react with such emotion to his performance has been truly incredible. He’s the best dog I ever could’ve asked for.
Where does your affinity with animals as shown in your latest film for the clothing brand Musto come from?
I’ve always loved animals, so getting to combine that love with filmmaking is a joy. So far I’ve filmed with dogs, cats and now horses. They are stunningly beautiful creatures. I wanted to film them entirely in slow motion to capture all their grace and power. It was also a great experience to learn about the people who had dedicated their lives to working with horses and training them to be top athletes. Meeting Olympians like Zara Tindall, Lee Pearson and William Fox-Pitt was very eye-opening. I loved learning about their lives and seeing just how much work goes into building those type of human/ animal relationships. I enjoy the challenges that come with working with animals, you really have to be ready to shoot at all times or you might miss something magical, having lots of patients helps too.
You’ve teamed up with Matthew Markham as a directing duo called Afloat – how do the creative dynamics work in this partnership?
Matthew has always been my creative sounding board, so it felt very natural to combine our talents. We fill in each others gaps in many ways, he has a unique visual eye and our way of working allows me to focus more on the performance and narrative parts of it all. I also really enjoy the process of bouncing ideas back and forth with Matt, we tend to get very excited and are always trying to push our ideas further.
The elevator version please of your backgrounds that led you to filmmaking.
I’ve been an editor for ten years and recently edited the new three-part series of The League of Gentlemen for BBC2, it was a hugely surreal realisation of all my dreams as an editor. Matthew began as a photographer and then moved into Art Direction in advertising.
What genre of film would you both like to make?
We’ve been told that the uniting factor to all our films is that they are based on big ideas. It might be anything from a futurist game of ping pong called Darkball to a fisherman who can hook a girlfriend through a parallel universe, but I feel we are also known for making films with heart. It’s tricky to decide on a particular genre when you get so excited by high concept ideas, but I feel particularly drawn to comedy, science fiction and more recently horror. I feel like the best films have both light and shade in them and so I hope whatever we make, it doesn’t ever feel one note.
With your background in editing Jennifer do you edit your own films?
Sometimes, but I try not to. Especially if I’ve also written the script for it because then I feel that it’s even more important to have an objective eye on things. Editors give you that and directors often need to be less precious about their work. Sometimes you just want someone to tell you when a thing isn’t working – especially when they weren’t on set watching you stand in the sea in your socks, holding out a piece of sodden chicken to a dog, desperately trying to get a shot. If it doesn’t move the story onwards, it’s got to go.
What is your process for writing your narratives – do you discipline yourself to write regularly or does an idea simply arrive out of the blue?
Usually, we’ll have an idea and I’ll write it up. Then I’ll fret over the script for a while, sending it to all my poor, time-generous friends, who will give me some great advice and I’ll re-write it a number of times. I’m not a confident writer and I tend to question and over analyse every part of it. I’m hoping to collaborate with more writers next year, so do get in touch if you have a script you think would suit our style.
What’s in the pipeline?
Matthew and I are shooting a music video early next year. I’m also shooting a commercial in January and finishing the post on a commercial I shot last year. As well as all that, I’m developing a horror feature film that I’m hoping to shoot next year and a number of television pilots are being discussed. It’s a really exciting time!