‘Where Have I Been All Your Life?’ dir. Jim Field Smith
A young man’s personal search unlocks a series of revelations and recriminations that escalate from the emotional, via the darkly comic to the plain farcical.
Director: Jim Field Smith
Writer: George Kay
Producer: Alan Traquair
DOP: Rex Maidment
Key Cast: James Corden, Imelda Staunton
Presented in association with RSA
C8: How did you come across George Kay’s script and what made you want to direct it?
JFS: George and I have been friends and collaborators since our school days. We had already made a couple of shorter/cheaper shorts together, and wanted to make something a little more substantial. George dropped this script in my lap, and as with everything he writes, it immediately made me want to bring it to life. It was funny but it also had a real awkwardness and pain to it, as well as a great hook.
C8: You put together an experienced cast. Did this alter the way you worked with the actors?
JFS: I think a directors job is really to just to cast the right people in the first place – regardless of how experienced or starry they are – and then help them do the thing they do best, by creating the best possible circumstances for them to do that. That’s everything from the atmosphere on set, to the other casting, to how the camera supports their performance and to try to get out of their way the rest of the time. If you’re having to do any more than that with the actors, its because either the writing isn’t up to scratch, or you haven’t cast the right person. And that can only be your fault.
C8: You’ve also dabbled in acting. Does this inform the way you direct?
JFS: It helps slightly in that I know what my own insecurities and annoyances were, but of course everyone’s different. The main way it helps is that I am used to improvising and collaborating with other actors and writers and that has really informed my approach to finding what’s funny or truthful about a scene.
C8: What was the biggest challenge during production and how did you overcome it?
JFS: The biggest challenge on this film was that Imelda was in the middle of filming something else, and only available on two specific days – both of which were weather cover days for her other production. So all we could do was pray that it didn’t rain in the run up to our shoot. We got lucky, and ironically as soon as Imelda arrived on our set the heavens opened. I’ve never been happier for bad weather. We had absolutely no back-up plan. Apart from me in a wig and flowery dress, which would have been a very different film.
C8: You directed the feature film ‘She’s Out Of My League’. Did making shorts inform your approach to directing a feature?
JFS: A feature film, from a practical day-to-day point of view, is really the same as a short film. The same challenges of time, locations, money, etc. My steepest learning curve was – and remains – stepping back from the micro stuff that is also so important, and looking at the macro instead. You are trying to make your days, but also you’re trying to tell a story that sustains across a couple of hours instead of maybe 10 minutes. It’s a very different prospect.
C8: Is there any advice you would give to emerging filmmakers?
JFS: You have to have a singular vision as a director, but don’t let that stop you from listening to everyone around you and considering all the possible options. Don’t get locked into one idea or image at the expense of a potentially much better one.
C8: You’ve directed commercials as well as narrative films. What are the biggest differences between the two?
JFS: Commercials, shorts, documentaries, blockbusters, television serials… they’re all just stories. Commercials are selling products of course, but they still have to tell a story as much as a narrative film does. The biggest difference is perhaps that commercials race to tell that story in the most efficient, visual and unambiguous way possible. Whereas longer form can be more circumspect and exploratory, leave more room for interpretation. Both forms could learn a lot from each other!
C8: What is the essence of a good collaboration?
JFS: You’ve got to listen. Running with someone else’s idea, even when at first it seems so far removed from your own, often leads to the most satisfying results. But it is a challenge to force yourself do that, and is advice that I consistently forget to follow myself! George and I have an unspoken rule when we collaborate, that if either of us doesn’t like something, it gets killed. But if one is passionate and the other agrees or is indifferent, then it gets a second chance. In the end, loads of the ideas you love don’t survive anyway for a myriad of unexpected reasons.
C8: What is next for Jim Field Smith? Any exciting projects?
JFS: I am currently prepping to direct a movie in the US for Paramount Pictures, which is a re-imagining of ‘The Inbetweeners’ for an American audience. We’re hoping to shoot that this summer, and we’re working on the script, budget and casting right now. Other than that we’re coming back with a second series of ‘The Wrong Mans’, the TV show I produced and directed for BBC. That’s still early days but James Corden and Mat Baynton are feverishly figuring out the story, as we deliberately painted ourselves into a corner at the end of the first series.