Going from Peep Show to Burning Men: A Conversation with Multi-talented Filmmaker Jeremy Wooding
When young musicians Ray (Ed Hayter) and Don (Aki Omoshaybi) are evicted from their South London squat, they decide to sell their precious vinyl collection and fly to Memphis in search of their destiny. Frustrated by the shortfall in funds, they steal an ‘uber-rare’ Black Metal record at a Camden record fair and head out of town to sell it. As they drive north in their beaten-up Volvo Amazon, picking up hitchhiker Susie (Elinor Crawley) en route, they find themselves stalked by dark forces apparently unleashed by the ‘devil disc’ they have stolen.
Jeremy Wooding was born in 1969 in Northampton, Northamptonshire, England. He is a director and producer, known for Bollywood Queen (2002), Blood Moon (2014) and Burning Men (2019).
In our interview, Jeremy tells The Fan Carpet’s Marc Jason Ali about working on TV and Film, his wishlist to work with and his ambitions…
So if we start at the beginning, was there a defining moment for you to get into the film industry?
Oh yes when I was 11 or 12 years old (laughs) messing around with Super 8 equipment and family films editing them together having a little editing machine and a camera and getting hooked on what it was to make a film and put bits together, splice them together. So at that point I thought “oh maybe this is what you do as a film-maker or a film director” and so yeah after that it was about “how do this and where do you to to learn how to do this”?
Brilliant. Sounds like a good place to start. What was the initial idea for Burning Men, because you obviously wrote it as well?
Yeah the original idea goes back ten years when I was walking across Hampstead Heath with my co-writer Neil Spencer and I said “I’d really like to make a road movie” being a big road movie fan and I got an idea of the two characters that I wanted in the car and the kind of mission that they might be on, but basically these two characters are wannabe musicians and they make a living by trying to sell vinyl records at record fairs.
So initially it was about two record dealers and wannabe musicians and the idea goes back to in the mid 90s when I used to have a stall at Camden Electric Ballroom which sold vinyl and CD’s and I got to talking to a lot of record dealers and realised that everyone was kind of after the big disc that would make them a lot of money, you know, the white label of Jimmy Hendrix that no body new existed that sort of thing.
So it was currency that you could say that young guys would want an original acid tape disc or something valuable that would get them to where they wanted to go to America.
You’re known primarily for your TV work like with Dani’s House and Dick and Dom and stuff like that, how’s the transition been for you going into more film directing now?
Well I worked in TV for about ten years and towards the end I kind of got stuck in children’s TV, I did three children’s TV series, but before that what I first got into telly my first job was directing Derren Brown, so the very first Derren Brown shows which was quite a radical way of presenting magic on TV and it was about 1999/2000 and then through that production company I was asked to direct a couple of pilots for this new show called Peep Show. So I directed two pilots every year for Peep Show and got totally interested in the way that you could present a story in this POV style, Peep Show was not my idea to do a POV style, it came from the writers they wanted to do a comedy through the eyes of these two central characters and certainly the original idea came from a documentary called Being Caprice which was a day in the life seen through her eyes, so they’d seen this and it was kind of like “oh this could be fun” and if we could hear their internal thoughts it could be quite funny and counterpoint what they think and what they’re doing.
So it was my job to actually make this work practically and to write the film grammar so that this would work and nobody had done this before so we did two pilots to get that into shape, so right from then I was thinking “this could work as a feature film” and there was talk at the time of doing a Peep Show feature film but people kind of thought it was just a TV sitcom and didn’t really have the legs.
Two comedy juggernauts though (laughs).
Now they are, at the time it was such an odd series and Channel 4 seemed like they where about to can it every week.
That’s unfortunate, but I’m glad it had a long life.
Yeah and Derren Brown as well, both the Mitchell and Webb and Peep Show and Derren Brown have gone onto greater things and not we’re not forgetting Olivia Colman was in Peep Show…
True and look at the success she’s had.
Some of my favourite scenes are those with Olivia and David which where the sort of on/off romance scenes.
Alright great. So do you find much of a difference between the mediums, like going from TV to Film?
No. Before I got into TV I was doing short films and I kind of see myself as a film-maker coming out of the short film-making scene of the late 90s, so I did a trilogy of short films, co-written with Neil Spencer, which we shot of 35mm, high production values but on very little money.
I produced them, co-wrote them and in a way, Burning Men is that approach written larger, what I learned, I sort of took away to feature films. Now, my first feature film Bollywood Queen which we shot in 2001/2002 starred James McAvay, Preeya Kalidas, Ian McShane, that was based on one of those short films that I made at the end of the 90s.
My second short film Sari and Trainers got me an agent and when I got an agent, a producer who was looking for interesting films saw Sari and Trainers and said “could you and Neil turn this into a feature film” and we went “when do you need to know?” and he said “within two weeks” (laughs) so we desperately sat down and thought “how can we expand this story?” and then we wrote and within a year we where filming it.
So that was doing a feature film before I was in TV but the feature film happened just after Derren and it sort of coincided with Peep Show, I was in the edit suite on the feature film at the same time I was shooting on Peep Show so it got quite hectic and I kind of thought that I would kind of go on to do another feature film immediately which I very nearly did but the feature fell apart so I was kind of thrown back into TV and then through my agents gradually got other work, reality shows, children’s shows etc.
Great. Are there any other aspects of the film industry that you’d like to pursue?
Well I am a Writer/ Producer/ Director, I’d like to do less of the writing, less of the producing to be honest and just concentrate far more on directing and there’s a joy to be had being the outside observer, the outside reader of somebody else’s script and getting interesting and excited in something that you’ve been given and thinking “ah I can do something with this, I can really go somewhere with it”. The other way round when you’re generating your own scripts and it takes a long long time and also you get so drawn into it it’s sometimes quite hard to see the woods for the trees. So in answer to your question I’d like to do more directing on bigger projects, bigger budgets, which I have not written or need to produce (laughs).
Okay, more variety because obviously your last feature was Blood Moon which is a horror western, so making the jump to something more dramatic how is that for you?
Yeah it was fine. I mean my background is in theatre drama so I studied German and drama at college and I’ve directed theatre companies and done theatre tours, so in the early years before I got into actually film-making it was mostly drama and theatre.
So I suppose when I started making short films I got excited and obsessed with cinema genre and how films can be horror movies, film noirs, detective, crime and how they have certain rules to be obeyed and be broken and so I thought, to make cinema you need to understand genre, but also you need to understand the rules so you can break them and so basically that’s kind of led me into doing a Bollywood musical, a British/Asian Bollywood musical and also to doing a football comedy Magnificent Eleven and then a werewolf Western and now, I suppose, a supernatural road movie. Yeah, but it originated in my time making short films when I got obsessed with genre and I thought “I’m going to make a trilogy of films set in London in different genres”.
Great. It’s a wonderful way of doing it, well there is no right or wrong way is there? You’ve worked with a great crop of talent over the years, do you have a wishlist of who you’d like to work with?
Ah well that’s interesting, yes. I’d like to work with Jessica Chastain, I think she’s a fantastic actress, I’d like to work with Willem Dafoe. I would say Tom Hardy but strangely enough before James McAvoy did Bollywood Queen we had offered it to Tom Hardy back in 2001 unfortunately he couldn’t get out of boot camp that he had to do for a Foreign Legion movie, so (laughs) he was out of the picture and James was still available so we went with James, but I really liked Tom at the time and yeah he’d be great to work with again. But I’m kind of open, I like to work with new talent, with rising talent and I worked with various casting directors and I love it when the bring up some new names and say “oh you should check this young guy out or this woman out that’s right for this or that role” and so I like to discover new talent and I’m not someone whose particularly says “oh I always wanted to work with, you know, Dustin Hoffman” or whatever.
Okay. So obviously fandoms are a huge part of the industry with your Harry Potters, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and stuff like that, who or what are you a fan of?
What am I a fan of? Well of cinema (laughs) I, as far as genres go or strands, yeah I was a big fan of Lord of the Rings and also The Hobbit movies, watched them all. Superheroes, I like the odd X-Men but I wouldn’t say I was a total X-Men addict, I tend to like separate films, stand alone films because of what they do within the genre and where they take me rather than just following a strand. If anything I’m a fan of directors and my favourite directors would be Francis Ford Coppolla, Billy Wilder, Scorsese, a lot of the directors from the 1970s America, if I was a fan of anything it would be that era of The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, Badlands, of all those amazing indie movies that came out of nowhere in America and changed the shape of American cinema.
Also going back into the 60s I’m also a huge fan of the French New Wave particularly François Truffaut and the way that, from the 50s into the 60s, actually the way that changed the ideas of how you make films, the fact that you can just pick up a camera and run with it and anyone can do it, you don’t need to have gone to film school, you don’t even need to have a tracking vehicle or a tripod, you can make emotional and exciting stories on the hoof guerilla style. So I’ve always found great inspiration from both the French New Wave and American Indies.
Great. Is there a book that you’re a fan of that hasn’t been adapted to film or TV or Netflix that you’d love to be a part of?
Ah you know what, every-time I come across something I look it up and somebody says “oh yeah that’s (gone or done?)” The WASP Factory I would love to make, which I’ve loved for years and still nobody’s made it. And yeah, a couple more recent books but nothing that I’d particularly like to say I’d like to bag because somebody else might bag it if I mention any names (laughs) and titles.
Fair enough. And just finally, with the popularity of streaming services like Netflix, what do you think the future of cinema is?
Well I’m a big consumer of Netflix and Amazon and I binge watch with the best of viewers. I love the opportunity and the scope that a Netflix series gives you, we just finished the Medici series and that was, as far as ambition goes, I’d love to be lead director on a series with that sort of scope where you can actually follow huge narrative stands and just that art of hooking people in, making them want another episode and another episode, it’s something which you can’t do really in a one off hour and a half or whatever, you can keep people involved and gripped on, I think there’s something great about an expanded narrative and, you know, I’ve been a big fan of Daredevil, Bloodline, Netflix drama wise. The one that I really liked recently was Ozark, I thought it was fantastic, obviously Breaking Bad, you know, all these things that you watch and go “oh I would have loved to have directed that”. Yeah, so you asked me about ambitions and what do I want to do, I suppose I want to direct some big Netflix series or direct on them because obviously they’ve got multiple directors.
Yeah absolutely. Well thank you so much for your time this has been incredible and yeah good luck with everything.