Tom Hooper is a very busy and popular man at the moment. With his latest film The King’s Speech imperially crushing all competition and heading towards accumulating more awards than you could squeeze onto all the mantelpieces in Buckingham Palace – everyone wants a piece of him. And it’s not hard to see why. Obviously his success is driving the heightened interest, but he is also an absolute pleasure to talk to.
I was fortunate enough to swipe twenty minutes of round table style interview action with him, in a swanky little bar in the depths of Sanctum Soho. Tom was there to principally talk about the Jameson Empire Done in 60 Seconds competition, of which he is head judge, but fear not – I also found out what his favorite Bond movie is. If you haven’t heard of JEDI 60 secs, as I have just christened it, it’s been going a few years now and basically… well I’ll let the loquacious Mr Hooper tell you.
“The idea is that anyone can enter, it’s for amateur film makers, it’s a maximum of sixty seconds and the idea is you get to do a pastiche or an homage to your favorite film. So, last year the winner was a hilarious Top Gun, sixty second spoof, which made a lot of humor about the homo-erotic undertones of Top Gun – which I think is a spoof that was needed to be done.”
Done in 60 Seconds
So why did he want to get involved?
TH – One of my backgrounds was in commercials directing. There’s a great generation of film makers that have come out of that, like Tony and Ridley Scott. Always I enjoy doing commercials because of the discipline, telling a story in sixty seconds, or in thirty seconds, is incredibly good for a film maker as it forces you to think about the clarity of every shot. That’s an incredibly important skill for any film maker.
How did he get started making short films?
TH – In judging this competition, I’ve thought a lot about the extraordinary irony of the evolution I’ve witnessed within my life time. I started at the age of twelve, making films with a clockwork, Bolex camera, where the clockwork would run out after thirty seconds, so the maximum shot length was thirty seconds. I could only afford a hundred feet of Kodachrome reversal film, which cost about twenty-five quid, and you had to send off for two 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, to try and squeeze out about four minutes. NOW, the phone in my pocket has a camera, with sync sound, every computer is pre-loaded with editing software and so film making has had this extraordinary democratization. Anyone can have a go – you don’t need to understand light meters or film speeds and stocks. So what’s great about the competition is anyone can have a go.
FilmShaft: So as head judge who else is on the panel with you and do you have final say?
TH – It’ll be announced closer to the time, but I get the casting vote. See, as a director the idea of a democratic jury is quite hard!
What’s so good about film competitions?
TH – When I was young, making films, I would enter any competition that there was. With my third film “Bomber Jacket” I was runner-up in some BBC young film makers competition. I think the thing about competitions is it gives you a deadline. The tricky thing with film making is it can drift. Even with The King’s Speech, that happened when it did because Geoffrey Rush was doing a play and we HAD to shoot it in a window, or it would have just knocked on and knocked on. Competitions inspire people to get on with it.
How should you decide on what to do?
TH – Everyone’s got a favorite film. Sometimes you can get paralyzed by having too much choice. But once you say do a pastiche of your favorite film, it makes it more contained as an idea. When I was making my first short film my mum gave me really good advice. She said “Don’t get caught up on the idea that you have to do your master work at thirteen. Do something silly, do something as an exercise”. So I made a film about a dog that keeps running away, called “Runaway Dog”. It was a silly, flippant movie but I was released by being told “just go out and have some fun with it”.
How would he do The Damned United or The King’s Speech in sixty seconds?
TH – I would take a minute of the trailer.
FilmShaft: You cheat!
TH – I would have thought The King’s Speech is quite easily spoof-able, so I fully expect someone spoofing it next year.
FilmShaft: If you were allowed to enter, but not to do one of your own films, what film you do?
TH – Well, I have in my life, spoofed The Godfather. We were staying with some American friends, when I was a teenager. I decided to do quite an involved spoof with, you know, cotton wool in the cheeks and everything. I still think that’s a great one to do.
FilmShaft: Is it on YouTube?
TH – Hahaha. Actually, I haven’t put any of this on YouTube. Maybe I should…
FilmShaft: What specifically directorial advice do you have for anyone that wants to enter?
TH – In the digital age shooting is free. So don’t be afraid to shoot a lot. Some of the best film makers in the world now shoot a tremendous amount to get the moment they want. Know what you’re trying to say, are you sending up a character or are you seriously purveying a character? Just have a go. You’ll only find out if you’re a good director by doing it. If you want to be a director, get on with it and make films.
On The King’s Speech
Is it true that the Queen Mother gave her blessing for The King’s Speech to be made, but not in her lifetime?
TH – The story is that the writer, who had a severe stammer as a child, used to listen to the King on the radio as a child, during the war. His parents used to say “if the King of England can cope, then there’s hope for you David”. So when he grew up he wrote the story. When it came time to make the film he wrote to the palace. The Queen wrote back and said “please, not in my lifetime. These events are still too painful. So David waited, little realizing she’d live to 186!
In The King’s Speech his main character has problems talking and in The Damned United, Clough perhaps talks too much. What draws you to these flawed characters?
TH – I like characters on the extreme edge. I think they are more interesting to play and direct. I think they attract better actors. I think traditional Hollywood films are about battling an external evil – the Darth Vader. But I’m more interested in stories where there aren’t necessarily any bad guys and the conflict is internal.
And finally… Bond, James Bond
Is it true that he has an interest in making a Bond film, and what does he think he’d bring to the franchise?
TH – I’d like to bring the wit back to James Bond. I think it’s… to reboot it inspired by the edginess of the Bourne films has been brilliant for it, but I think what I’m good at is that combination of humor, emotion and suspense. I think that there’s a risk of taking Bond too seriously. Thanks guys.
(We all get up to leave) FilmShaft: So what’s your favorite Bond movie?
TH – I think it’s the one where the big ship swallows submarines…
FilmShaft: The Spy Who Loved Me.
TH – Yeah, that’s the big one from my childhood. The weird thing about those films is the adult in me is like “I’m not sure it’s the right thing”. But the kid in me thinks there is no higher honor, what could be better?