by James Briggs
Working with production companies and directors is a vital cog in the ad-making machine. So we hopped over the fence to have a chat with independent writer and director Adam Simcox.
Hi Adam, Happy New Year. What are you up to right now?
Thanks, same to you. Well, it’s the first week back after Christmas and it’s always one I look forward to (don’t hate me) because I put together my company Uncanny’s showreel for 2016. It’s a good chance to reflect on what was successful last year, and what my ambitions for the year ahead are.
Where did your fascination with film begin?
It was when I spent a year working in Vancouver after I finished university (doing a very un-film related degree of Law). The film industry’s massive there, and you would just happen upon huge shoots at the end of your road. Film, in general, was just a much bigger deal there. I ended up doing an acting course and that definitely lit the touch paper – after that I devoured every last bit of information about filmmaking.
How did you turn a dream, into a dream job?
Painfully slowly! I went into it backwards. I did an MA in TV & Documentary production which ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Because as well as on the job training, the contacts and friendships I made were absolutely vital (I’ve gone on to work with several people on the course).
Then, instead of working my way up from the bottom fetching coffees, I tried to bypass all that and head straight for the top, directing feature films. It sounds glamorous, but definitely wasn’t! I wrote and directed three feature films between 2003 and 2010, with varying degrees of success, but absolutely did not make me a penny (quite the opposite). Meanwhile I was doing anything to get by, working in call centres, debt collecting, doing public sector work. It wasn’t until 2010 when I actually started making money. I branched out into music videos and commercial films and started my own production company a couple of years after that.
Glamour and gloom? Tell us about one aspect of each part of your job.
I did a lot of travelling when I was younger, and film has allowed me to carry that on. I did a mini American tour with my last feature film, Kid Gloves, and commercial work often takes me to Europe. If the novelty buzz ever leaves you as you’re about to board a plane for paid film work, you don’t deserve to be doing it!
The gloom part isn’t exclusive to just film, it’s true of any type of freelance work; it’s feast or famine! Sometimes you’re overloaded with work, sometimes not, but it’s the nature of the beast. Due to doing piecemeal jobs over the years, I was always used to the uncertainty anyway, and it’s a small price to pay.
Where does the inspiration come from your documentaries and films?
The documentary series that I made last year (called, funnily enough, Inspirations) came simply from me wanting to find out what inspired remarkable people in subjects I was interested in. One in particular, where we interviewed one of the Mars One candidates (a mission to send three astronauts on a one way trip to Mars) was probably the most enjoyable project I’ve ever worked on and reminded me how much I loved space when I was a boy.
Your style is quite eclectic, are you keen to push contemporary visual styles and techniques in your work?
I am, but depending on the sector you’re working in, there’s a limit to how far you’re able to push it. When I started in the commercial sector, the fact that I’d made features was a bit of a sales tool, and meant I could make them look a bit more stylish than the average corporate video. But it’s a constant balancing act between pushing the boundaries, and giving the client what they want. You may insist that a genre-hopping visual tour-de-force is the only thing that will make their film sing, and they may just want a simple five minute talking head piece with Bob from accounts. It’s the age old battle between art v commerce, I guess!
As an independent director how do you promote your films?
When I started out, it was all about getting your work into film festivals. Whack it into Sundance and Cannes, wait for the acceptance, and decide what colour your private jet’s going to be. And that, obviously, isn’t realistic. The sheer weight of films produced now is staggering – the quality you can achieve with a £500 camera (or iphone, come to that) is absurd – and that means festivals are blitzed with submissions. And big budget ones, at that; even middling festivals will receive big (in indie terms) name films.
So it’s all about trying to get a foothold online, whether that’s through film review websites, Vimeo staff choice (the equivalent of a decent festival acceptance, now), or trying to grab on someone else’s coat tails! The Mars documentary was our most successful film, largely because we timed it to come out with The Martian, and managed to draw people to our film via social media.
You’ve had success at film festivals around the world, does it make it all worthwhile?
I think with festivals, you have to allow yourself to enjoy it and appreciate the moment. Getting to travel halfway across the world to show a room full of strangers my weird little English film about an OAP boxer remains one of the best experiences of my life. There was a moment towards the end of the screening, in the final fight, when someone got up and cheered when the hero landed his first proper punch. It’s unlikely anything I go on to do will match the feeling of that!
What film do you put on a pedestal above all others?
Two relatively low budget films that I’ve found inspirational were 'Swingers' and 'Once'. Neither are flashy, but both of them have cinematic magic in their veins. Swingers’ script is as good as they come, and Once had the ability to get under my skin and it’s never really come out! They’re what I aspire to.
You can die happy when?
To have my film screened at Sundance would be about as close to cinematic happiness as I could get, I think.
Adam Simcox is the director and owner of Uncanny Films.