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Actor Director James Card

James Card
Actor / Director


     
 

   
   

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.

Actor Director James Card

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.

Actor Director James Card

Q. Does 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.

Actor Director James Card

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.

Q. Should 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 climate.

Actor Director James Card

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.

Actor Director James Card

Q. Which 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...?

Q. What 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.

Q. Which 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.

Q. What 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.

Actor Director James Card

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.

Q. 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…!

Q. What 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….!

Actor Director James Card

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 that down.

Q. What 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.

Actor Director James Card

Q. What 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 attitude.

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 to see?
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 worlds.

Actor Director James Card

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.

Q. Does CGI help or hinder the film making process and the audience experience? Explain why?
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.

Q. 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.

Actor Director James Card

Q. Technology 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.

Q. With 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 of fun.

Q. Thank 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.

Actor Director James Card

James's Contact Details:
Contact: James Card
Contact email: james@thornydevilproductions.com
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

   
     
     

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