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14th March 2019
Master of cringe comedy
Title of film: The Wankers #4 Toby & Minty
Director: Jim Owen
Production Company: Fat Lemon
Men and women behaving badly, the work of Fat Lemon writer/director Jim Owen features an excruciatingly funny carnival of morons. From his painful depictions of first date fails in Panic Stations, to his hilarious Kooples spoof series (The Wankers) plus spots for brands such as BBC, McVities and Maltesers – his work displays a subtlety that gives bittersweet depth to his characters. Carol Cooper talked to the master of cringe comedy about editing his own work, finding the truth and inflating ridiculousness for our pleasure.

Samuel Beckett said “ there is nothing funnier than unhappiness” and there’s more than a smidge of pain and desperation lurking in your comedy – particularly Panic Stations, Can We Talk? Good Grief. (See Panic Stations below). Are you mining your own pain? Or humanity’s, or are you simply all about the LOLS?

Wow. It’s very early in the morning to be answering this. Glad I’ve got a coffee on the go. Mine, other people’s, friends’ pain, bit of everyone’s really It’s not always about the laughs though, I’m much more interested in behaviour we all recognise, behaviour that rings true.

Dark comedy comes in different shades of black; yours seems to be quite a soft black, it’s about observing human foibles, rather than cruelty, your characters are wankers not wicked… How would you define it?

Soft black is a nice thing to say. I hope it’s not cruel, it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be about seeing the weirdness, seeing the ridiculous things we all do and inflating them for all our pleasure.

I love anything like that because we all recognise ourselves a little bit, even if we don’t want to admit it.

Quite intrigued by your CV, you were a journalist at one time, can you give us a little more about your career path and any other fun jobs you had prior to becoming a filmmaker?

Quick rundown: paperboy, shop assistant, barman, British Gas complaints handler (that was the thing I was best at, and should have stuck with it), journalist, film-maker. I used to deliver a lot of papers. About 600 a week. I went big, then went home.

There is a lot of attention to detail in your work; fine gestures and visual touches, such as Rachel Stubbings’ slightly mad hair in Panic Stations 3 and Sam Pamphilon’s blue fluffy dressing gown in Can We Talk?, which nicely offsets his total knobness. Do you plan these sort of details in advance?

In commercials yes those things get planned. In the shorts they have a tendency to pop up when good people work on the project, and then it’s just about whether you want to say yes or no. I think Rachel Stubbing’s hair in Panic Stations was Sasha Aleksander’s [stylist] idea, maybe Rach encouraged it, I’m not sure. Anyway, it made a lot of sense, so we went with it.

What filmmakers/writers/poets/thought leaders/mime artists/dentists have inspired your work?

I love Todd Solondz, Ruben Östlund, Chris Morris, Paul Thomas Anderson. At the moment I’m really into Dix Pour Cent (Call My Agent!) [French TV series] – brilliantly made, brilliantly acted, the perfect sitcom. That and I really love Better Things, a friend of mine put me onto that. Pamela Adlon’s incredible.

You edit a lot of your own work. Can you talk to us about the importance of editing in comedy storytelling?

I’ve edited for 20 years, in tandem with directing. I like to get my hands dirty. It started because my mates who were editing my stuff would take forever to finish things because we were all runners and using the kit in the evenings. I just wanted to get things made as quickly as possible and to show people the work, so I just ended up doing it myself.

I want to be able to play around with performances and how cuts work together, try lots of things quickly and I can only do that when I’m sat editing myself.

Your poignant, dramatic music video for Saint Saviour’s track Reasons displayed your versatility. Would you like to make more music videos?

I’d happily make another video for Becky (Saint Saviour). At the moment though, I’m really focused on writing. If you’re going to spend your time working on something with a small budget, it might as well be your own film.

In an interview you described “the lonely hours of writing in your bedroom”, do you find writing lonely? Do you prefer to be interacting on set/at rehearsal?

It’s not a sensible use of my time, is it? Not when I’ve got two kids and a mortgage. I’ve been working on other projects for a couple of months now – not writing – and while I’ve been doing that I’ve missed it. But I’m back at my desk doing a re-write on something, and the exciting thing is that I can write quite freely when working on my own stuff.

In your last interview with 1.4 (See below) you talked about keeping the actors “centre stage” and you like to work with actors you know well as they get the tone you’re seeking, but do you ever improvise the dialogue with them?

Not really. It’s usually all on the page in some way shape or form. I think the feel of it, the naturalness comes from the performances and the editing.

I think it can be useful, improvising, but it has to be very good, doesn’t it? Let’s face it, improvising is writing really quickly on the spot and that’s tough to do really well.


Fat Lemon

The Wankers Directed by Jim Owen Written + performed by Diane Morgan & Alistair Green Executive producer: Cabell Hopkins @ Fat Lemon Edited by Tim Hardy @ Stitch Director of photography: Pete Bateson Gaffer: Matt Hague Camera Assistant: Luke Tapley Sound Recordist: Blai Escayola Bosh Post Producer: Belinda Grew @ Absolute Sound Mix: Joe Worters @ Absolute Colourist: Felipe Production Assistant: Marta Belczynska Skater / Runner: Rene Youngman Runner: Robert Gifford Runner: Chloe Bigham Music: Blackroom by Moby courtesy of BBC1 Breakfast Show, Greg James Directed & Edited by Jim Owen Production Company: Fat Lemon Exec Producer: Cabell Hopkins Producer: Josephine Gallagher Creative Agency: BBC Creative ECD: Aidan McClure Senior Creative: Jamie Starbuck Creatives: Jules Middleton & Sarah Fox Senior Project Manager: Metzti Bryan Fasano Senior Planner: Jenny Double TV Producer: Chris Church 2D Animation: Blind Pig TV Cinematographer: Ann Evelin Lawford Stylist: Jonni Fitzgerald Post Producer: Belinda Grew Animation: Sean Cooper, Christine Peters, Nica Harrison Colourist: Matt Turner @ Absolute Music & Sound Design: Joe Worters @ Absolute Music: 99 Problems by Jay Z Maltesers, Buttons Production Company: Fat Lemon Director + Editor: Jim Owen Producer: Cab Hopkins Production Manager: Chloe Fernandes Client: Mars Brand Director: Rebecca Shepheard-Walwyn Senior Brand Manager: Chris Livingston Agency: AMV BBDO Flare Senior Agency Producer: Sunny Demitriodou Senior Account Manager: Alexandra Sandford-Smith Board Account Directir: Harriet Harrison Copywriter: Charlotte Mather Creative Art Director: Lucy Jones ECD: Michael Jones / Rosie Arnold