The Establishing Shot: Tom Hooper Interview: Done in 60 Seconds competition, The King’s Speech and inspirational thoughts for aspiring filmmakers

Monday, February 14, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

Tom Hooper Jameson Done in 60 SecondsThe one in which I chat with BAFTA Best Film winning Director Mr. Tom Hooper about the Done in 60 Seconds Competition, The King’s Speech, his mom’s advice, Darth Vader, inspirational thoughts for aspiring filmmakers and his take on James Bond.

Last Friday I had the distinct pleasure to briefly chat with Mr. Tom Hooper. Yes, the same Tom Hooper that directed the magnificent King’s Speech.

Tom Hooper Jameson Done in 60 Seconds
Too be honest I thought I would wait for the Blu-ray but we were enthusiastically invited to see it by a Darcy fan who was quite chuffed that both Darcy Colin Firth and Elizabeth Bennet Jennifer Ehle were in a film together again. And I’m so glad I did it’s a moving portrayal of individuals, friendship and overcoming demons. Much has been made of Colin Firth’s performance and after listening to a recording of King George’s original 1939 speech I can appreciate Firth’s chameleon like performance with more understanding but I really enjoyed Geoffrey Rush’s performance as Lionel Logue. Humorous, bold and endearing. The King’s Speech is a damn fine film but is also important for a number of reasons:
  1. It reminds the world that the UK not only excels at making knock off gangster, juvenile street crime & flying wizard films and harkens to a time when Britain was known for it’s high standard of film making. When quality was unquestionable.
  2. It is a triumph of independent film making proving yet again that big isn’t necessarily better.
  3. It is one of a dying breed of films that doesn’t need special effects, aliens, a twist in every scene, guns or explosions - it allows, as well as relies on performances & the humanness to tell it’s story.
  4. It raises awareness of just how much the UK Film Council will be missed.
  5. Possibly and most importantly it is not only a film, but a time capsule, showing us the hidden world behind an event that would otherwise be lost.
But I wasn’t invited down to the swanky Sanctum hotel in Soho on behalf of Live For Films along with film bloggers Alan Simmons and James Kirby just to talk about The King’s Speech and it’s staggering 33 nominations, 1 Golden Globe and 5 BIFA wins. It had in fact just announced that the so hot right now Tom Hooper will be head of the Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds Competition. And this was a rare opportunity to chat with a leading filmmaker and hear his thoughts on the Done in 60 Seconds Competition as well as glean as much advice from his experience.

As exact specifics were kept under wraps my interview questions had to be fairly flexible so to allow for any changes closer to the interview time. As the day worn on and Tom Hooper’s availability became tighter our interview window became smaller. Fortunately my fellow bloggers were quick on their feet and as flexible, so we agreed that we would conduct the interview session in a round robin panel style hopefully allowing everyone to ask their priority questions.

My heart pounding in my ears due to, well nervousness and copious amounts of strong coffee I made my way into the plush, state of the art deco screening room of the Hotel – an suitable arena for a chat with Tom Hooper.

After setting up and some chit chat. Tom strode confidently into the room; tall, lanky, sharply dressed, and exuding an air of approachability he took his seat. He was exactly what you would expect of a man that draws incredibly engaging performances from some of the world’s finest talent - knowledgeable yet quietly authoritative.

It fell upon me to kick the session off and after a bumpy start, mainly due to my impromptu impression of Colin Firth’s stammering performance in The King’s Speech - we were away. It should be noted that due to time constraints and in order to get as many questions out as possible – we minimised banter and tried to keep discussion brief to hear Tom’s thoughts.

Firstly, congratulations on The King’s Speech, it’s a phenomenal success and an incredible achievement. Thank you for taking time out to day to chat with us.

Tom Hooper on the Done in 60 Seconds Competition
Craig Grobler: We are here today to talk about The Jameson and Empire Done in 60 Seconds Competition. Can you tell us a little bit about the competition itself?

Tom Hooper: The idea is anyone can enter, it is a competition for amateur filmmakers and on the Jameson Empire Awards Night it’s the only award for the non-professional film making community. [The film] is a maximum of 60 seconds and the idea is that you get to do a pastiche or homage to your favourite film. Last year the winner was a hilarious Top Gun 60 second spoof, which made a lot humour about the homo-erotic undertones of Top Gun. Which I think is a spoof that needed to be done.

Tom Hooper on the challenge in making short films
What I like about it is that - one of my backgrounds is in commercials directing, there is a great generation of filmmakers that come out of that like; Tony & Sir Ridley Scott, Adrian Lynne, Hugh Hudson.

I always enjoy making a commercial because the discipline of telling a story in 60 or 30 seconds is incredibly difficult for a filmmaker; it forces you to think about the clarity of idea of every shot. The shot has an economy in communicating it’s story, message or narrative beat in a way that in a couple of seconds you can read it.

Actually, it’s an incredibly good skill for film making generally - film making is so much about how you encode the story needs of a moment - through how you shoot, or you want to stage something.

Tom Hooper on the digital age
What’s great in judging this competition is that I have thought a lot about the extraordinary irony of this revolution that I have witnessed within my lifetime. I started at the age of 12 making films with a Clockwork Bolex Camera, the camera could only run for 30 seconds because the clockwork motor ran out - so the shot length was 30 seconds. I could only afford a 100 foot of Kodachrome reversal film which cost about £25 and you had to send it off for 2 weeks to be processed.

I could only make silent movies because sound was too expensive and complicated, so I would make silent movies and run the camera slow at 16 frames per second to squeeze out 4 mins, so I could make films about 2 minutes long.

Now, the mobile phone in my pocket has a 2K camera with sync sound. Every computer, I gather, is preloaded with editing software. So film making has had this extraordinary democratisation - where anyone can have a go. It’s no longer painfully complicated; you don’t have to understand light meters, film speeds and film stocks. You also don’t have the whole fear that you’ll send your 100 foot of Kodachrome [film] off to Germany and it will never come back because it’s lost in the post.

What’s great about the competition is that anyone can enter and I feel that almost anyone can have a go. Film making is no longer the preserve of only people that can get gear or figure it out. Since it’s become much more available and it’s great.

Tom Hooper on the state of current Done in 60 Seconds competition entries
Jack Kirby: I was wondering if you had seen many of the entries yet and whether you could tell us anything about the level of quality from them.

Tom Hooper: No, I get to see them a couple of days before the awards themselves. I think that people are still entering. But I hope that they are amazingly high quality. I hope that it will be easy to work out the best one because as a judge you always live in fear of having more than one equally good film.

Tom Hooper and Jameson on the Done in 60 Seconds Judging Panel
Alan Simmons: So who else is on the judging panel with you and what will you guys be looking for?

Jameson team: Mark Dinning from Empire Magazine, Tom will be leading and Mark will be there as a representative of Empire. Usually closer to the time he will brings along 1 or 2 extra people from within the film industry as we are a couple of months out they are still TBC.
Tom Hooper: Do I get a bigger vote than everyone else?

Jameson team: You get the casting vote if there is a split vote, you get to decide.

Tom Hooper: As a Director the idea of a democratic jury will be quite hard.

Tom Hooper on why he became involved in the Done in 60 Seconds Competition
Craig Grobler: I was curious to know how did Jameson – Empire get you involved in the Done in 60 Seconds judging; did it involve a case of whiskey?

Tom Hooper: I think I am going to be lucky enough to take home one bottle of whiskey.

I quite like the idea. When I was young making films I would enter any competition there was. I think with my third movie Bomber Man I was runner up in some BBC young filmmaker’s competition. I think the thing about competitions is that - it gives you a deadline. Sometimes it makes you focus - once people say there’s a competition and you have to do it by a date.

A tricky thing with film making is that it can always drift because it’s quite complicated to organise. Even in the world I live in now - the reason the King’s Speech came together when it did - is because Geoffrey Rush was doing a play and had to leave England on a certain date. We had to shoot it with-in a window. Without that, it would have been another 3 or 6 month, it just knocks on unless you have a deadline.

Another thing with competitions is that it inspires people to get on with it, by having something to aim at.

It’s clever because - if you say do a 60 second film on whatever, sometimes you can get a bit paralysed by too much choice, but once you say you give people an idea - say a pastiche or homage of your favourite film. Everyone has got a favourite film and it just makes it slightly more contained as an idea.

I remember the very first film I made; I think I was 13 when I shot it. I remember getting incredibly paralysed by “this is my first film, what should I do, what should I do?” In the end my mum gave me some really good advice “don’t get too caught up on the idea that you have to do your master work at 13, just pick something silly do something as an exercise”. I made a film about a dog that keeps running away called Runaway Dog, which is a comedy. It’s a totally silly, flippant movie but I was actually released by being told I don’t have to make the best movie of your life just do something to practise.

I think that is the spirit of this - it’s just saying you aren’t having to make a masterpiece in 60 seconds you are just having to go out and have fun with it.

Tom Hooper on how he would go about turning one of his films into a Done in 60 Seconds film
Jack Kirby: Well, clearly you have moved onto bigger and better things from shooting films as a child. But I was just wondering how would you go about making The Dammed United or The King’s Speech in 60 seconds now?

Tom Hooper: Well… I don’t know the lazy answer is if I was to cut them down I would probably take a minute out of the trailer. Which wouldn’t take very long as the trailer is only 2 minutes long.

I would have thought The King’s Speech is quite easily spoofable so I fully expect that at next years Jameson Empire Awards there is going to be someone that has spoofed The King’s Speech.

Tom Hooper on his choice of films to be Done in 60 Seconds
Alan Simmons: If you had to do one that isn’t your own film, what would you choose to do then?

Tom Hooper: Well I have in my life spoofed The Godfather. We were staying with some American friends when I was a teenager and I decided to do a quiet involved spoof of The Godfather involving cotton wool in the cheeks and everything I still think that’s a great one to spoof.

Alan Simmons: Is that on YouTube?

Tom Hooper: No, I haven’t put any of this on YouTube, maybe I should.

Tom Hooper on how the King’s Speech came into being and the Queen Mother’s reaction
Craig Grobler: Shifting gears slightly, is it true that the Queen Mother gave her blessing for The King’s Speech to be turned into a film but not in her lifetime?

Tom Hooper: Yea, the story is that, David Seidler the writer, actually had a severe stammer as a child. His interest in the story came from the fact that he used to listen to King George VI on the radio during the war and his parents used to say if the King of England can cope, maybe there is hope for you David. So when he grew up and became a writer, his dream was to write this story. I think after he wrote Tucker with Francis Ford Coppola he thought OK! Now maybe Hollywood loves me so I can write my story.

He researched it, tracked down Valentine Logue who’s the middle son, the second son of Lionel. Valentine who said “Yea, I’ve got some papers and stuff that belong to my father, but you have to get permission from the palace”. He wrote to the palace and the Queen Mother wrote back “Please not in my lifetime, the memories of these events are still to painful”. So David waited, little realising that the Queen Mother was going to live to 186. So it was some 25 years later from the time she wrote to him. It’s quite sweet.

Filmmakers often go this film is taking forever to make but for David this film really has taken forever to make. He’s in his 70s now it’s been a long time coming.

Tom Hooper on what draws him to certain characters
Jack Kirby: In the King’s Speech Colin Firth’s character obviously suffers from a huge lack of confidence and has difficulties in speaking. I thought it was quite interesting in your previous film The Damned United Brian Clough has the complete opposite problem he’s incredibly over confident and possibly speaks a little bit too much.

Tom Hooper: [Laughing] that’s very good.

Jack Kirby: What draws you to these flawed characters?

Tom Hooper: I just like people living on some kind of extreme edge; I think they are more interesting to direct, more interesting to play and they attract better actors. I’m very interested in character driven narrative.

I think you’re right I do keep returning to people battling with flaws. The classic Hollywood drama is all about externalised good & evil so it’s a person that represents good versus a person that represents evil, so it’s the Darth Vader, Star Wars film making of my childhood which I loved as an audience member but I’m most interested in those stories where there aren’t necessarily any bad guys and the conflict is internal to a character as opposed to external, like a dark lord trying to take over the world.

If you think about The Damned United even Leeds United, on one level is the enemy but on another it’s the enemy in Cloughs head. It’s the necessary enemy Clough needs to make in order to spur his ambition, to drive him on. You can clearly see in The Damned United that I as a filmmaker I’m not saying that Leeds are evil, it is as much about Clough’s desire to make them the enemy as them being an enemy.

In The King’s Speech yes, Cosmo Lang (Derek Jacobi) is a little tricky at times but really the enemy is the stammer, the enemy is the psychological block, the enemy is the ghosts of his childhood and I think I’m drawn to that because it’s much more interesting to watch actors fighting out internal conflict, or wrestling with themselves. When you are wrestling with other people it’s never as interesting as internal battle.

Tom Hooper delivers some advice for aspiring filmmakers
Alan Simmons: Before we run out of time have you got any specific tips for entrants, obviously?

Tom Hooper: I would say:
  1. When I started it was very expensive [to make films], shooting cost money because shooting was beta film and film was an expensive thing. Whereas, now in the digital age actual shooting is free. So I would say never be worried about shooting a lot, some of the best filmmakers in the world now shoot an immense amount sometimes to get the moment they want. And don’t feel you have to do it in one or two takes. I think that is one of the freedoms of the digital age.
  2. Know what you are trying to say, is it a spoof or is it a homage, are you trying to send up the character or are you trying to be serious.
  3. But most of all I would say - have a go. I think to know whether you are good at doing it, you can only find out if you are doing it. You can’t theoretically know whether you are good at directing or a good filmmaker. It’s only through trying that you will discover that. So that is the most important thing I think about if you want to be a director, get on and make films because there is no substitute for it you can read about it you can watch it but making it is profoundly different.

Tom Hooper on James Bond
Craig Grobler: One last question. There are so many other questions that are more pertinent or important, but I recently read that you expressed an interest in directing a James Bond film. What do you feel you would bring to James Bond, where would you aim to take it that’s slightly different?

Tom Hooper: I would like to bring the wit back to James Bond. I think that to reboot it inspired by the kind of edginess of the Bourne films has been brilliant for it.

I think what I’m good at as a filmmaker is that combination of humour and tension, emotion and suspense. I think there is a risk you could take James Bond too seriously

Craig Grobler: Thank you very much

This is exactly the kind of encounters that I enjoy participating in and Tom Hooper’s willingness in sharing his experience will make this encounter a highlight for a long time. During the chat I became (and I’m not just saying this because this was a Jameson backed initiative) but the importance of sponsored film initiatives. Many including Jameson & Empire are giving filmmakers an opportunity to test their mettle and try live their dreams with the help of some of the world’s top talent.

It’s always a pleasure to interact with talented and established individuals to discover that not only are they as talented as you hoped you were but they are real people and seemingly unaffected by the heaps of praise lifting them. Tom Hooper is no exception showing a willingness to talk openly and frankly on his thoughts (with lots of anecdotal banter to back it up) in order to inspire and give wings to some ones dreams. Really lifts him a cut above very much like his films. Hell after listening to him talk for awhile I couldn’t justify why I wasn’t entering into The Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds Competition.

The final date for entries to The Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds Competion is January 31, 2011. 5 nominees will be choosen on the 25 March, 2011 and the winners announced at the Jameson Empire Awards on 27 March, 2011.

For further help, hints or tips on making a Done in 60 Seconds film visit: http://www.jamesonwhiskey.com/Film/DISS.aspx

For more information, or to upload your entry to The Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds Competion visit http://www.empireonline.com/awards2011/donein60seconds/