Name: James Card
Title: Actor / Director
Actor Credits Include: Jack the Ripper in America,
Raptured, Queen of the Jubilee, Neil's House, The Syndicate
Director Credits Include: Scissors Paper Stone,
Help From the West, Shrinking Violet, Advice, A Quiet Courage,
Six 2nds to Die
Interview Date: January 2014
Q. Hi James,
give us a little background on yourself before you became an Actor
/ Director? (degree, relevant work experience, interests, etc)
A. Hi. I was one of those annoying kids that
knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and was determined
to be an actor from the age of about 7, I think. I honestly don’t
remember ever wanting to do anything else. Both my parents were
involved in amateur theatre, and my sister too, so I joined them
as soon as possible. I think I was maybe 10 or 12. Pretty much
my entire focus through school was more on auditioning for the
spring term plays than studying. It made me very popular with
the English teachers who directed them, but not so much with the
other kids, and as soon as I’d completed my A-Levels at
18, I moved from Oxford to London to study at drama college. Considering
I was so set on it for so long, it’s kind of strange to
find myself, now, shifting more and more towards the other side
of the camera.
Q. And how
did you first get into the film industry?
A. As an actor, the same way as most, I guess.
I just kept auditioning for screen roles until someone finally
gave me a part. In the meantime, I realised that if work wasn’t
going to come to me, I had to make it happen for myself, so I
started writing short films I could star in and shoot on a little
Mini-DV camcorder that I’d bought. I taught myself to cut
them together, since I couldn’t pay anyone else to do it,
and for a while I was even earning money editing other people’s
projects between my own…. I’m still not really sure
how that happened! By then, I was totally hooked on the whole
film making process, and having originally started directing just
to give myself acting work, ironically it was on a film I’d
already been cast in that my first true directing opportunity
popped up. The attached director dropped out of the shoot, and
I immediately threw my name in to the ring. It all kind of snowballed
from there, really.
Q. You act,
direct, write and edit – actors who also make films are
becoming more common these days however are often unfairly criticised
for this, what do you say to people who say ‘jack of all
trades, master of none’?
A. I just politely drop a few names in their
lap – Woody Allen, Kenneth Branagh, George Clooney, off
the top of my head. I think Ben Affleck’s film ‘Argo’
won the Best Picture Oscar last year… likewise [Kevin] Costner
and [Mel] Gibson. I’m not likening myself to any of those
guys, of course, but they’ve all made a great success of
it. Clint Eastwood also springs to mind, and I’m pretty
sure Charlie Chaplin directed most of his films, so it’s
not a new thing. Yeh, acting and directing are two different skills,
but they’re within the same field, and most good directors
work so closely with their actors that both have an intimate understanding
of what’s required of the other. It does become more difficult
if you’re acting in your own film, but if your preparation
is solid enough, it shouldn’t hinder either. It’s
strange the same criticism isn’t leveled at musicians who
play a handful of different instruments, or athletes that achieve
success in multiple events. They’re applauded for their
versatility, and rightly so. I’ve never really understood
why the opinion of actor / directors isn’t the same.
your acting background help you when you are directing and vice-versa?
If so how?
A. Definitely. On the set of ‘Shrinking
Violet’, one of the lead cast said to me he felt that I
was a real “actor’s director”, and I took it
to be a huge compliment from someone with his experience. Because
I understand the process an actor goes through, I’m able
to relate to them in a way that is respectful to their preparation
and ideas, and find both the performance that I’m looking
for, and also that the actor will find artistically rewarding.
It’s a collaboration, at the end of the day, and I think
that’s something a lot of directors forget, or don’t
understand. It’s helped my acting too. Watching other performers
through a directors monitor, you very quickly learn what works
and what doesn’t. It’s also taught me to be a lot
more aware of my own continuity, for example, since I’ve
no desire to be the actor who an editor is cursing when the glass
you’re holding shifts from hand to hand, depending on the
take. I’m much more technically conscious all round, which
I think less experienced actors can overlook the importance of.
Q. How important
is it for an actor to have an agent or some form of representation?
A. Oh, God, it’s crucial. I mean, you can
get work without, but it probably won’t be at the level
you want it to be, and a fair chunk of it won’t be paid.
You can put yourself forward for all manner of fringe theatre,
TIE [Theatre In Education], shorts, and perhaps the odd no-budget
feature, and maybe, eventually, you’ll start getting offered
jobs of that level without having to apply or audition…
but there’s only so far you can go without someone else
pushing you through the otherwise closed doors of the upper tier
jobs. There’s next to no chance of you getting seen for
a film or TV casting. Without representation, you mostly won’t
even know those auditions are taking place.
Q. How important
is it to promote yourself as an actor or and find your own roles
rather than rely solely on your agent?
A. Again, I think it’s an absolute must…
and as a filmmaker, too. You’re a product, at the end of
the day, that you’re trying to sell to others, so you need
to make sure people know you’re there, and what you can
do. I network with other industry folk through my Twitter
account and Facebook page, for example, trying to build up
as many contacts as possible… and I’ve been offered
jobs off the back of links to my acting show-reel I’ve posted
or to websites for a film I’ve directed. It’s so important
to have an online presence. You know, I once went to meet a very
successful actor to try and convince him to be in a short I was
directing, and one of the first things he did was look up my profile
on IMDb to check out the level of my previous work. Since
then, I’ve always made sure my IMDb page was up to date.
For film and TV work, at least, I think it’s an even more
crucial directory to be listed on than Spotlight, since it’s
international and can be accessed by anyone.
actors accept unpaid or below Equity minimum roles and why?
A. Hmmm…. this is a tricky one. In a perfect
world, the answer’s “No”… cos even actors
have to eat. But at the same time, when you first start out, at
least, I think you have to look at it in the same way as an apprenticeship
or internship in any other job… to land the big gigs, you
need to have some industry experience behind you, which you can’t
get unless you’re willing to work for expenses on jobs that
can’t afford to pay you. I’ve faced that exact problem
as a director too. I find myself having to ask actors to work
for next to nothing simply because, with such little funding available,
there just isn’t the money to cover wages for anyone…
cast or crew. It’s something I always feel guilty about,
cos I’ve been on both sides of it… but there’s
just no way around it. It’s either that, or the film doesn’t
get made at all. It’s unacceptable, really, to ask anyone
to work for free, but that’s just the way it is in the current
Q. You trained
as an actor at the Academy of Live & Recorded Arts, is it
important for actors to go to drama school or can they just ‘learn
on the job’?
A. Well, this is another tough one, you see,
cos I expect actors who did skip drama school will say it’s
not necessary… but for me, I think it’s an absolute
must. I will say, to some degree, I actually learned a heck of
a lot more on my first few jobs than I did in three years at ALRA,
but that was more about conduct on set, or a few tricks to deal
with first night nerves… things to do with the daily routine
of being an actor, rather than the disciplines and techniques
and skills that I think college is so good at teaching you. I
think it provides a wealth of foundations and experience that
you’re able to take with you on to your first job, that
you’d otherwise be fumbling your way through. Crucially,
for me, it was also time spent building up bonds and friendships
with other actors… friends that have been an important support
network ever since and that, 15 years later, I still try to work
with whenever I can.
Q. You also
trained at the British Academy of Dramatic Combat, can you tell
us a little of what this training involved?
A. Wow! You’ve really done your research…!
Yeh, the BADC syllabus is taught in a lot of drama schools, and
was another wonderful opportunity offered up to me while at ALRA.
We’d essentially spend hours on end learning choreographed
fight routines – in many ways, it’s a lot like a dance
– and mastering a variety of weapons and styles… and
then we would drill those routines with our fight partner over
and over and over… it was pretty brutal at times, and not
without it’s risks. We’re not using sharp weapons,
but they were still robust steel or aluminium and any mistake
earned you a cut, scrape, or dent. The real skill was to learn
how to act the scenes and the intensity of the violence, while
being technically safe and having utter trust in the person you
were performing with… and at the end of each year, we’d
have examinations, performing a selection of fight scenes - combining
script and combat - in a variety of styles. It was definitely
one of the courses I got most out of, and after completing my
advanced exam, it was my BADC training that got me most of my
first paid jobs out of college. I spent four glorious summer seasons
touring English Heritage sites, performing fight displays to tourists
in the grounds of some beautiful castles… and found myself
doing a lot of stunt work, too.
movie role do you wish you had played and why?
A. You know, I actually think this is impossible
to answer. I grew up loving Indiana Jones films and the Back to
the Future series, so I should say Indy [Indiana Jones] or Marty
McFly… but Harrison Ford and Michael J. Fox are so perfect
in those roles that I wouldn’t want to rob the world of
seeing them do it.
Q. Who are
your acting movie greats of all time?
A. Ask me tomorrow, and I’d probably have
a different list... but right now, I’d say that Jimmy Stewart
and Cary Grant are two of my favourite movie stars. Alec Guinness
should be on any list for ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets' alone,
and a bit more up to date, I’ll pretty much see anything
that Denzel Washington does. Ben Kingsley’s stupidly versatile...
and if I don’t mention Dirk Bogarde, my sister will never
forgive me – I sat through almost all of his films with
her when we were growing up, since she was absolutely obsessed.
I think he’s largely forgotten these days, and that’s
tragic. Oh God, I haven’t said any women…. Emma Thompson,
maybe..? Katharine Hepburn...?
advice would you give to someone looking to become an actor?
A. Crikey, where to start..? Look, it’s
an amazing profession, and can be so rewarding, but make sure
you’re going in to it for the right reasons. It’s
bloody hard to make a living out of it, and unless you’re
incredibly lucky, there’s gonna be times when you’ll
be working other part-time jobs to tide you over ‘til your
next gig. So if you’re trying to get into the business ‘cos
you wanna be famous, ‘cos you wanna be a movie star…
don’t. Only if you know that it’s something you absolutely
have to do, that your drive and passion and desire to perform
is greater than anything else. It’s gonna be about perseverance,
stubbornness, not taking it personally when you’re not cast
after an audition you think has gone brilliantly… and just
sticking with it. If you’re able to do that, trust me, every
time you do book a job, it’s gonna feel incredible. There’s
no feeling quite like winning your first TV role, or going to
the premiere of the first film you appear in. Every time you step
out on stage in the West End, you’ll remember why you put
yourself through that shitty bar job for the last eighteen months.
Q. As a
director, is it sensible to cast yourself as an actor in your
own films or does this complicate shooting and the end product
suffer as a consequence?
A. Well, like I said earlier, there’s lots
of actor / directors who’ve pulled it off very well…
but there’s no denying it complicates a shoot, and for that
reason, I tend not to do it myself. I’m happy to appear
in other people’s films, but I’ve only once acted
in one of my own, and I’m not in a great hurry to do it
again, if I’m honest… at least not in a major role.
If you’ve got a wonderful DoP that you trust, and a strong
1st AD, it certainly makes it easier, but you almost have to relinquish
the steering wheel over to them if you’re in the scene being
shot… and you might only shoot half of what you normally
would because you wanna review the footage after every take. Personally,
I found my performance suffered ‘cos I had half an eye on
what everyone else was doing, so if I’m directing a film
these days, I like to firmly plonk my director’s hat on,
focus on that, and capture the great work of other actors.
film do you wish you had directed and why?
A. Oh, wow! Again, this is probably a cop-out
answer, and it’d be so easy to list a bunch of films that
have inspired me… but they’re so good I wouldn’t
want to touch them. I’d be proud to have made pretty much
anything from Hitchcock’s back-catalogue, and more up-to-date,
Alexander Payne’s latest, “Nebraska”, absolutely
blew me away. Visually, the vistas were stunning, the camera observed
rather than intruded, and the mood and emotion it stirred-up…
well, I just felt an immediate need to call up my dad and go out
for a beer with him. It had everything in a movie that I would
want to make. Payne clearly understands that film is a visual
medium, but that story, characters, and the performances of your
actors is almost more important.
genres of films do you make / direct? Can you tell us a bit about
your current directing project?
A. I’m not sure I have a specific genre,
to be honest. I’ve directed comedies, emotional drama, music
video, crime thriller, horror…. whatever takes my fancy
at the time, really. Maybe I’ll settle on one eventually,
but for now, I like to challenge myself to try new things. I’m
currently in post-production on ‘For My Next Trick’,
which I guess is best described as a fantastical modern-day fairy
tale… so again, a different genre. Plus, we shot it on a
RED Epic, which was a new thing for me, too, and that has a whole
load of fresh challenges… particularly in post. It came
about really when my actor brother-in-law, Jon
Campling, told me about a young actress he’d worked
with several times that he thought was amazing…. ten-year-old
Holly Jacobson. I watched her show-reel, and was absolutely blown
away. I checked out more of her work, and before I knew it, the
seed of an idea was planted, and I wrote the film as a star vehicle
for her. If she’d turned it down, I probably wouldn’t
have made it.
Q. For your
short film ‘For My Next Trick’ you sought budget from
crowd funding on Kickstarter, reaching your £7,500 target,
how did you find this experience? Would you do it again?
A. Yeh, I’m still kind of in shock about
that! We were always quietly confident we’d reach our goal,
but you can never know for sure, so when we did…. well,
I mostly felt humbled by the incredible 43 people who had faith
and invested in us. I’ll never be able to thank those people
enough. It was a lot more work than we thought it might be, and
was a full time job to keep building awareness, but it became
quite addictive. I found myself logging on to Kickstarter three,
four, five times a day, checking if any more pledges had come
in. The excitement of seeing even another £10 added to the
total was immense, and on the days when we’d receive more
than a grand in contributions, the feeling was just off the chart!
Of course, when there were days that no new pledges came in, it
was utterly demoralizing, but it just made you push that little
bit harder the next day. It was a rollercoaster of emotion, but
I’d definitely do it again.
Q. Do you
have any advice for film makers sourcing funding via crowd funding?
A. Yeh. Absolutely go for it. You literally have
nothing to lose but the time you put in. Make sure you have a
brilliant pitch video that has something special about it, and
that the rewards you’re offering are so enticing that potential
backers are gonna lap them up… and keep at it. You can’t
just launch your campaign, and then leave it and hope for the
best. You’ve gotta get it seen over as many online platforms
as possible… get it shared on twitter, Facebook, Reddit…
if you know anyone who blogs, ask them to share it with their
audience… find out who the key demographic for your project
is and find a related website that will embed a link… and
then send an email to all your friends, and ask them to share
it with their friends, and so on. Post updates to your project
page too, as regularly as possible, so that there’s fresh
info and pics on the site every time someone new looks at it.
Backers want to see content, and what they’re contributing
to. Give them as much to look through as you can.
You’ve collaborated a lot with Thorny Devil Productions,
can you elaborate on how this relationship came about and you
involvement with the company?
A. Well, this goes right back to what I was saying
earlier. Thorny Devil is the brainchild of Jennifer Taylor Lawrence…
a wonderful actress, and dear friend, who I met during our time
at ALRA, who’s now based in LA. A few years ago, Jen told
me she was setting up a production company, and did I want to
be involved? She’d acquired the rights to some short stories
that she thought would make great films, and I read them all,
fell in love with one of them, and begged her to let me write
and direct it. It was as simple as that! Most of the team Jen
and I assembled for that first short have remained, and I’ve
since directed four other films for them. I really enjoy working
with them. It’s a wonderfully supportive, creative environment,
and the quality of the films the Devils are producing is attracting
some great names. Our recent short ‘A Quiet Courage’
stars Doctor Who and EastEnders alumni Louise Jameson and Annette
Badland, and we’re in pre-production on another that….
oooh, actually I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk about
that yet! Four fantastic women are Thorny Devil’s core producers
now, and they may collectively lynch me if I give that away…!
is the point of making shorts films as there is very little money
to be made if at all?
A. Like actors, I think filmmakers and production
companies have to prove their worth before anyone will throw any
sort of money at them to make a feature… but it’s
more than just creating show-reel material. With a short, you
can be a little more experimental, and hone your craft…
take a few risks. If it doesn’t quite work, you’ve
maybe only spent a couple of weeks on the shoot, and a hell of
a lot less money than you would’ve on a full-length. The
sheer number of short film festivals, too, means you’re
actually pretty likely to get it seen somewhere, and that opens
up all manner of networking opportunities. ‘Shrinking Violet’
for example, took me to Cannes and LA. I found myself in Hollywood,
taking part in a Q&A for a film that I’d directed, and
meeting all manner of industry bods… which I’m not
sure is something that would’ve come about quite so soon
if I’d dived straight into features. I still kinda feel
like that happened to someone else….!
Q. Who are
your directing movie greats of all time?
A. I’ve already mentioned Hitchcock, but
I’d add Howard Hawks and Frank Capra, I’ve got to
include Steven Spielberg, and I never miss a Wes Anderson or Coen
Brothers film…. God, I’m gonna skip someone amazing
and kick myself… I’m a massive fan of Patrice Leconte,
too. He’s a wonderful French director, responsible for some
truly fantastic films, like ‘The Girl on the Bridge’,
‘The Hairdressor’s Husband’, and ‘La Veuve
de Saint-Pierre’. I haven’t seen nearly enough of
his movies since half of them don’t get a UK or US release,
but he’s just made an English-language film for the first
time, I think, starring Alan Rickman, so I’ll be tracking
makes a good director?
A. Ha! If I knew that….! Someone once told
me that a film set isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship.
I understand what he meant, but I’m not sure I completely
agree. Yes, you have to have a very clear vision of what it is
you’re trying to achieve in each scene, with each shot,
and know exactly how all those many component parts are going
to come together in the film as a whole. You have to be resolute,
and determined, but I also think you have to be open to the ideas
of all your various heads of department, and your actors. It’s
about bringing together a team of people you admire and then giving
them the opportunity to do their best work. A good director sets
the tone of the shoot, I think, and creates the sort of atmosphere
that encourages the best out of everyone, and then steers that
creativity in the same direction.
do you look for in an actor when casting for your productions?
A. Hmmm… good question. I mostly have a
very set idea of what type of person I’m looking for for
each role, whether that be a certain characteristic, or as shallow
as the way they might look… but more often than not, an
actor the complete opposite of that is suggested, totally nails
it and gets the part. I don’t love auditioning actors, to
be honest, and mostly view show-reels first. If I like their work
and can see what they might bring to the role, then I’ll
meet them and chat. I’ll already know they’re talented
enough by then, so it’s more about their work ethic and
Q. How important
is the director / producer relationship in making films?
A. I think it’s hugely important. Seriously,
I can’t stress that enough. I’ve been so lucky to
collaborate with some wonderful producers, and that’s another
reason why I keep pitching projects to the Thorny Devil foursome.
If you’ve got a producer who’s excited by your project,
and believes in you as director, they’re absolutely the
best person to have by your side… and they’ll be there
throughout the entire process. If the relationship’s strong,
they’ll do all they can to facilitate you making the film
you have in your head, and if some things aren’t possible
– for financial reasons, or whatever – they might
offer up viable alternatives. They’re also the only person
who’ll reign you in, if need be, or buck you up if you’re
having a tough day on set. I think of it as a partnership, and
one can’t do without the other.
Q. As a
film maker you want audiences to see your films - is it preferred
to screen your films at film festivals first where smaller numbers
of people will see them or put them straight online for the world
A. Yeh, of course you want as many people as
possible to see your film, but I’d always choose screening
at a festival first. I can’t really explain why, but you’ll
always be able to put your film online after it’s festival
life, if you want to, so why not go on that festival journey first?
As well as the networking opportunities you’ll have meeting
other filmmakers and creatives, a lot of festivals offer seminars,
or Q&As, where you can learn so much from more experienced
professionals. If your film goes down well, you might get invited
to another festival, and if it starts picking up awards, even
more opportunities might open up to you… maybe your movie
will even get picked up. You’re unlikely to get a distribution
deal if your film’s already been seen for free by thousands
of people. There are online-based film festivals cropping up all
over the place, though, so maybe that’s the best of both
Q. How has
the internet changed film making?
A. It’s opened up distribution possibilities
and is a hugely important marketing tool, but I’m not sure
it’s actually changed the process of making a film…
other than in the introduction of crowd-funding websites, which
we already know I’m a fan of. Yeh, I suppose it has helped
us independent filmmakers get our projects off the ground.
CGI help or hinder the film making process and the audience experience?
A. I guess it depends on the level of CGI. No
doubt there’s a lot more planning to do during pre-production
if you’re shooting a lot of green-screen… but then
you’ve saved yourself a lot of prep on sourcing your locations,
or building your sets. If we’re talking CGI characters,
that’s a whole other story, but I think it just becomes
an alternate consideration when filming, rather than a hindrance.
Personally, I’m a big fan of practical effects and shooting
in-camera wherever possible, but I don’t think anyone who
went to see the first ‘Jurassic Park’ at the cinema
will tell you it made their enjoyment of the film worse.
Is 3D just a gimmick or a valuable film maker’s tool?
A. I think Alfonso Cuarón used it to great
effect in ‘Gravity’, but other than that, I’m
not a big 3D fan. I watched the first ‘Hobbit’ in
all three available formats, and for me, the 2D 24fps was by far
the best. I just found all the rest of it distracting.
has made it easier, quicker and more accessible to make and distribute
films - although this is a good thing is there a flipside too?
A. Of course. The biggest flip side is it means
a lot less quality control. You’re gonna see more great
independent films, but you’ll also get a lot more bad ones.
technology becoming more and more advanced is there a danger than
the skill and craft of movie making will be removed?
A. I don’t think so. Those skills and crafts
just evolve, is all. Every technological advancement has brought
new artistry with it. A lot of filmmakers will tell you that a
film lives or dies by it’s sound design and score, for example…
but those roles didn’t exist during the silent era. Cinematography
adapted with the introduction of colour, I don’t think you
can overlook the skill of a really good Steadycam op, and those
CGI artists are just that… it’s a real talent.
Q. The success
and footprint of independent cinema has risen rapidly over the
past 15 years, in part due to technology - do you forsee good
times ahead for independent cinema in the next decade or will
the big studios claw back some of the market?
A. I hope it’s good times ahead. I think
the studio system is always going to be there, and will still
be responsible for the big Summer franchises and blockbusters…
but that isn’t a bad thing, ‘cos they’re a lot
you James, we look forward to seeing more of you and your films
again on the big screen.
A. Thank you so much. Absolute pleasure.
James's Contact Details:
Contact: James Card
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3299707
Twitter name: @JamesCard77
Thorny Devil Productions Website: http://thornydevilproductions.com/
Acting Reel: https://vimeo.com/49259941
Shrinking Violet Teaser Trailer: https://vimeo.com/45456227
A Quiet Courage Trailer: https://vimeo.com/66466720