Simon Bland in Film & TV

18/09/2014

Interview: Crisps directors Jim and Joe Dethick

Sibling directors Jim and Joe Dethick are the brains behind Crisps, a quirky and distinctly British comedy short that’ll be receiving its big screen debut at Encounters Short Film Festival. Growing up in rural Derbyshire, Jim and Joe defied friend and family expectations to pursue their filmmaking passion, a route that eventually led them to our iShorts programme. 

As our flagship short film initiative, iShorts aims to fund and support the production of twenty projects with a regional flavor. Crisps is a hair-brain tale of whimsy and charm; chock full of oddball characters and a distinctive voice that’s refreshingly quirky. We caught up with the directing duo to discuss their background, the struggles of DIY filmmaking and working with Creative England...


Hi Guys. Tell us a bit about your background and what spurred your interest in film...

Jim: We grew up on a farm and were always making up little stories and characters and we were always outside,

Joe: It really started when our grandma bought us a very basic black and white camera and living in a rural community we didn't have that many friends within walking distance so we’d just spend our weekends doing these comedy sketches. It just evolved from there. We gradually started investing more money in it and it became apparent that we wanted to spend a lot of time doing it so that’s where it started.

Your first feature was The Fruits of Paradise Isle. How did that come about?

Jim: That took about three and a half years to make,

Joe: That was really a story that Jim needed to get off of his chest and it served as a rigorous apprenticeship. We took on all the jobs ourselves and that’s what we’ve carried into Crisps because we’ve done a lot of that ourselves as well. It’s all about a homemade way of doing things,

Could you talk me through how the idea for Crisps came about?

Jim: Well I wrote it and I wrote it in the time it took to write it if you can understand what I mean. It was written as a spontaneous short story and the actual story is a heck of a lot longer. From the original short story we then adapted that into a what we thought would be a workable script but it was always going to be narrated.

Joe: The story itself being quite eccentric meant that we could experiment a bit with narration rather than live sound because we wanted to maintain that sense of being told a story,

Crisps is reminiscent of a mix between Wes Anderson and Reeves and Mortimer. What were your main influences?

Joe: Well Reeves and Mortimer are definitely an influence…

Jim: Well they are but I wouldn’t say they’re an influence in any way shape or form on the story itself,

Joe: Characters perhaps...

Jim: Well, I personally think that our greatest influence from my mind is remembering what things looked like when I was little. Our house use to look like Al Crisps’ room. There was an old telephone and an old knackered piano. I remember going into pubs down Chesterfield that use to look like the set. There’d be this puff of smoke, these creepy weird characters, it looked like going back to 1933. It’s all nostalgia really,

Joe: We always thought of it as quite cartoon like. Anything can happen, It’s the kind of thing where somebody could run off a cliff and their legs could keep moving for a few seconds and then they’d fall..

Jim: It’s a bit like Last of the Summer Wine on drugs,

What would you say you’ve learned about writing comedy from your experiences so far?

Jim: The only thing I can say is that I wouldn’t have any idea how to do ‘owt else,

Joe: We like watching things of all different genres but doing this kind of eccentric comedy just comes really naturally. I think it stems from the childhood we had with a lot of eccentric characters around us. What we tend to do is apply a character to somebody’s personality. So in that way they don’t realise they are acting,

Jim: In truth, real acting should be just that anyway. Wouldn’t do to have Woody Allen play Terminator would it? It’s really an extension of your own character. But I don’t think we find writing comedy difficult. If anything it’s just forming daft ideas into a story that’s actually got some kind of a point to it and I think that has only happened really with Crisps,

Joe: Yeah because we mainly write sketches. Crisps is really the first film we’ve done that’s been properly tied up,

Jim: I’ve been using a camera for nearly 20 years so in a way it’s just like an extension of your eyeballs.

Joe: There is a fair bit of thought that goes into how we want things to look. Particularly in the set design because we build our own sets so we’re always thinking ‘What do we need to see?’ ‘Where can the camera go?’. So the way it’s shot goes hand in hand with the way the sets look

How did you hear about iShorts and what made you want to apply?

Joe: I noticed that it was based in Sheffield which is only about 20 minutes from where we are and as I started reading the guidelines it just sounded really different. I’ve never read a scheme that was quite like this one where they were willing to give money and be supportive of original experimental things and wanting people to take risks. You didn’t need any professional experience which was the main point for us,

Did you feel you had a lot of freedom and support?

Joe: We did yeah. When we first went for the interview before Crisps had been selected we just came out of the interview feeling really positive because it was really laid back. It was really interesting to have people in the industry interested in us,

Jim: It was laid back,

Joe: It was good from a producing point of view to learn about budgeting and scheduling properly because that had never really been a major concern before. It was a learning curve for both of us and being in a professional environment and getting people interested in the film by saying that it is supported by Creative England...

Jim: That was the big difference compared to everything else that we’ve ever done. You would go to people and say ‘Interested in being in a film?’ and suddenly everybody and their grandma wants to be in it because of the air of professionalism.

Joe: I think it was good for me and Jim as well because we really raised our game with it. We found that we could talk to people at Creative England very freely and honestly and we’d always get an objective opinion and they weren’t scared to tell us if they thought something wouldn’t work and at the same time they were very supportive if they thought something would work. It’s been a good introduction to making a film in more of a professional way. It’s been a good experience,

Your approach to filmmaking is very DIY. Do you think this is the best route for budding filmmakers?

Jim: Well it depends who they are and what they want to do and how they want to work. If you just want to make a film, you only need a camera and an idea, it’s as simple as that. You’ve got to be prepared to do a lot of hard physical work.

Joe: We tend to think of it as a craft. I’d say you do have to have a lot of get up and go and determination but that’s really born out of initially self-financing your own films and not having the money to hire equipment or pay somebody who’s knowledgeable about a camera. We couldn’t do that so we learnt a lot of the skills ourselves.

Jim: It’s a complete mistake to think that to get some sort of worldly knowledge of filmmaking all you need to do is sit and watch films. You’re not going to learn much from watching a film because you’re seeing the end product, it’s like trying to learn how to make a pork pie by staring at one. It’s not going to bloody happen. The way to do it is just basically hard work

Joe: I think it’s good advice to say to people who want to make films that there’s really nothing to stop you from doing that. Don’t feel that you can’t make a film because you don’t have a producer to organise things, you can do that yourself. Start off small. Don’t be too ambitious to begin with and don’t be disheartened if you make mistakes because that’s the only way you learn. 

iShorts Round 2 is now accepting applications. Click here to apply. 

Read our interview with fellow iShorts director and Pig Child helmer Lucy Campbell here

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