Published on November 29th, 2014 | by Allan Brown0
Interview: Director Jon S Baird
2013 not only saw the runaway success of Irvine Welsh’s gloriously dark and satirical novel Filth on the big screen, but also cemented Scottish writer/director Jon S. Barid as one of the most bold and exciting film-makers in the UK.
Recently Jon was kind enough to grant me the opportunity to interview him on his experience in the industry, what films inspired him to become a film-maker, his future plans and of course Filth (and possible follow-up Crime). Here is what he had to say;
You grew up in Aberdeen (a Scottish city more commonly associated with its oil and fishing trade than its film industry) and worked in telesales for a number of years, can you tell us how you got your big break in the film industry, and was it always something you were striving towards?
Jon S. Baird – I always wanted to work in performance but at first i thought that was in theatre as my parents used to like musicals and that rubbed off on me. Film came later but i feel i eventually found the correct medium. My first job was as a tea boy for a small production company and on my first day i had to go to the boss’ house and collect maggots off his kitchen floor to take to the environmental health! It took me a while to work my way up from there to directing films, but i figured if I could handle the maggots, I could handle the sharks.
Having directed Cass and being involved in a producing capacity on Green Street, football hooliganism and gang culture is a subject matter that has clearly inspired you as a filmmaker. Is this a subject that holds particular significance to you, and is it a theme you would like to return to and examine further in the future?
JSB – I saw a lot of it as a kid as i followed Aberdeen FC and they had a large casual / hooligan element. I was never involved in violence but the the spectacle and fear always fascinated me. Its not something I would return to as a film maker as i feel the subject has been covered now.
How did you first become involved in adapting Filth for the big screen, and did you feel a weight of pressure from Trainspotting’s success, lurking in the background, knowing that people would inevitably make comparisons?
JSB – I met Irvine through a mutual friend and we clicked immediately. He’s now one of my best friends. Irvine took the pressure off Trainspotting and just told me to go and make my own film as some of his other adaptations had failed because they were trying to replicate that movie. But after all, how can you follow Trainspotting?
Irvine Welsh’s novel is hilariously warped, unhinged and extremely dark, but film as we know, is a very different breed altogether. On the one side you want to reach as wide an audience as possible for commercial viability, and on the other, you want to stay as faithful to the source material as possibly, whilst allowing yourself the freedom to explore certain themes and nuances as a filmmaker and artist. How difficult was it to find that crucial balance?
JSB – The key was to understand Irvine as a person. People may think he’s some kind of dark brooding mad man, but he’s a teddy bear really. He’s got such a wicked sense of humour and is extremely generous and self deprecating. You just therefore need to find some humanity in the work because that’s where it comes from within him.
When it was first announced that James McAvoy was to play Bruce Robertson in the screen adaptation of Filth, there was some initial reservations from various media outlets, and even Irvine Welsh himself, if I recall. The worry was, McAvoy was too young and had not shown enough of a dark side (in previous roles) to play the character convincingly.
We can now all sit back and say it was an inspired choice of casting from yourself, and an electrifying, career defining performance from McAvoy. However, can you tell us if there anyone else up for the role before McAvoy was locked in, and did the reservations of others concern you at the time?
JSB – We had a list of a few names but didn’t offer anyone else the role. I suppose it was a gamble for both James and myself but we are similar non compromising characters and once we jumped off the cliff we knew we wouldn’t let each other down.
You have said previously that you would be interested in adapting Crime (Irvine Welsh’s sequel to Filth) for the screen. Can you tell us any information on the project, what stage it is at, who is involved and when we are likely to see it on the big screen?
JSB – Id love to do Crime and have discussed it with Jamie Bell who seems keen. We both feel we need a bit of distance from Filth though first and for Lennox’s character to mature in age. I’ve been to visit Irvine in Miami and we’ve already started looking at locations. it could be a few years down the line though.
You’ve just finished directing several episodes for the outstanding Channel 4 series, Babylon. Can you tell us how you got involved in the series, how you found the process of directing for Television in comparison to film, and did it present any unforeseen challenges?
JSB – The legend that is Danny Boyle approached me to do it so i bit his hand off with the opportunity to work with him. Television was not something i was looking to do or indeed is something id perhaps do again as its a totally different process where the director has less of a lead. It was still very interesting and a great experience which I’m really proud of.
What films inspired you to become a filmmaker yourself, and what was the last film you saw that left a lasting impression?
JSB – Stanley Kubrick, Sidney Lumet, Billy Wilder & John Hughes are the guys whose films have influenced me most. The last movie I saw that I really found interesting was Inside Llewyn Davis.
If you were offered an unlimited budget to direct a film with your choice of any actor/actress, is there a specific passion project tucked away that you have always wanted to tackle?
JSB – A remake of The Princess Bride. That book is one of the best I’ve ever read.
A question I often like to ask when interviewing filmmaker’s, is their opinion on the film industry of today. Do you think there is still an audience for smaller indie films in amongst the huge scale blockbusters that dominate the multiplexes? Is it becoming increasingly difficult to find finance for such films, and what do you think the future holds for the independent filmmaker?
JSB – I think Filth is a good example of a movie that was almost impossible to finance but eventually made the transition into the multi-plex. Apparently its now the 10th highest grossing UK 18 cert of all time. I just think the indie film maker has to work harder, but its no different from the indie coffee shop owner or the indie clothes shop owner. We’re all fighting against the toughest kind of branding and homogeneity.
Your next feature film is said to be a biopic following the twilight years of Lauren & Hardy on their 1953 farewell tour. Can you tell us anything more about the project, who’s is in the running to play the adored duo, and was it a conscience decision to move to a lighter tone as your direct follow up to Filth?
JSB – I can’t say much about the specifics as yet but i suppose it is a conscious shift to a different kind of material yes.
And finally, do you have any words of advice for would be filmmakers who want to break into the industry?
JSB – Don’t make films you think other people will like. Only make things you would want to go and see yourself.
Interview by: Allan Brown
To read Movie Review World’s thoughts on Jon S. Baird’s runaway smash hit FILTH, click here.