We caught up with the award-winning writer, producer and director, Jim Eaves, who chats to us about his short film Passing, supporting new filmmakers with Sun Rocket Films, why horror films are so much fun to make, and dogs stealing the limelight on set.
Hello Jim! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. First of all, congratulations on your short film, Passing, screening at both the Bath Film Festival and Southampton Film Week recently. Can you tell us a bit about the film and your involvement in it?
The film was made purely for fun. I had an idea about two dead bodies having a chat in the woods before they were buried, and so I started writing. Without the pressure of a feature length screenplay I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve been working on various projects with Chris R. Wright and so I know he’s a great performer and writer. We did a couple of drafts and then roped in Aussie actor Dean Coach to play opposite Chris.
How did you go about putting the film together and what was your biggest challenge during the production process?
Ha! Believe it or not, the biggest challenge came from dogs! We filmed it in the woods in one day; we used a two-camera set up to save time so that Chris and Dean could act long sections of the script without pause. But every 30 mins or so a dog would come over and sniff everything, go for the bag of lunch and ruin the take. We had one dog appear from nowhere and stay with us for over 40 mins (with no owner). I feel like I’m hating on the dogs but when you’re trying to shoot the whole thing in one day and you are mid-way through a great take, dogs don’t look so lovable. I imagine there’s a lot of sound takes interrupted by me saying ‘for f***s sake’.
Passing screened before Joaquin Phoenix’s You Were Never Really Here at the Bath Film Festival. Do you think it’s crucial for a short to get that kind of slot?
It’s great to put a short in front of a feature - a little cinematic aperitif before the main event. Festival audiences are always really receptive. If the programmers get it right (and those at Bath Film Fest absolutely did) the themes in the short can really complement the feature. Also it doesn’t hurt being in the same screening slot as an academy award nominated actor!
You’re a producer, director and writer with a host of horror treats under your belt, including Bane, Hellbreeder, Sanitarium and The Witches Hammer - starring the legendary Stephanie Beacham! How did you get started in the industry? Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a filmmaker?
I left university in 1998, got a post-graduate loan and made a feature film. It was a very different time; if you wanted to get something released you had to shoot on film, so my first three movies were on 16mm and 35mm. It’s a really good way of learning discipline with the camera and knowing your scene inside out. You can’t waste time when the camera is rolling so you absolutely have to plan everything. The cameras are bulky and heavy and make lots of noise. It was a baptism of fire but I think it made me super focused with what I shoot.
We hear you’re a huge Star Wars fan. Was it that that inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I do love Star Wars! It’s awesome and I spend a fortune on it. There’s photographic evidence of me having a nerdgasm meeting George Lucas. But actually, I think the moment I knew I wanted to make films was while watching the opening credits to Tim Burton’s Batman in the cinema, then seeing some behind the scenes footage on a news show. Back then, you really didn’t get to see behind the camera footage very often and the thought that you could walk on to the set of a film like that blew my mind.
You’ve focused mainly on horror in your career so far. What is it about the genre that makes you tick?
I think it’s an easier cinematic language to start with (and also very easy to get wrong - see my early filmography for examples!). Horror gives you an emotional and physical reaction and it’s also a lot of fun to shoot. If you ever need some energy on a film set, crack open the fake blood.
Do you plan to stay within the genre, being as it’s so broad, or do you plan to work in other genres?
I’m not sure. At the moment, most of the projects I’m developing are horror. I have a thriller coming up but I can’t see myself working on a romantic comedy any time soon… but never say never!
Do you have a preference between working as a producer, director or writer, or do you relish each one?
Producing is the biggest challenge, it really encompasses every part of the filmmaking process. Directing is the most fun because you really see your ideas come to life. However, you do have to remember that there’s going to be an audience eventually (hopefully) watching the movie some day. Writing is hard, it can be an uphill struggle, but when it’s flowing it’s so much fun. You get to create your own world, fill it with anyone you want and take them anywhere.
When you’re not making your own films, you’re a dad, a husband and work full-time as a Video Producer. Do you feel your day job helps prepare you for your other filmmaking work? And how do you juggle it all?!
God knows. You have to juggle family, friends and a full-time job, so trying to fit writing a screenplay or shooting a feature is tough. I don’t think anyone ever gets the balance right.
Exit 6 is a short film festival and many of our readers and attendees are filmmakers. What advice would you give to those making their first short?
My advice is to make it as easy on yourself as possible. Look at what you have access to and utilise that. If you know an actor or someone you think would be great, then write a part for them. Shooting a feature is always going to be stressful so why not enjoy the short film first? Set it close to your house, near a toilet, shoot in the summer and most importantly, have fun. I naively started by making features, so yes, shorts would be a great way to get skilled up without the intense pressure.
You’ve been involved with a number of short films. Do you have a favourite that you’ve worked on and why?
I really enjoyed Passing. Being able to focus on two people in one location meant we could really work on performance and character and let the scene play out. It’s easy to get bogged down in camera moves and endless set ups - with Passing we had some very simple (but effective) set ups that let the story breathe. Also as both actors are laying down I was practically on the floor between them - they were in close up and I was able to talk to both of them at the same time. The challenge of this was that the performance needed to be right so it kept the audience engaged through the whole film.
What’s been your toughest challenge to date as a filmmaker and why?
Money. Finding money, getting the most from the money and making sure you don’t get screwed out of the money. All of that is often left out of the film course syllabus!
You’re involved with an exciting new project – Sun Rocket Films. What’s that all about?
Sun Rocket is about helping future filmmakers get practical work experience on feature films. We have a great team in place and hope to kick off with our pilot early next year. The basic premise is that film students work on Sun Rocket feature films and get real world experience behind the camera. They get a credit on a feature film production and see what it’s like to be part of a big crew.
This helpful video boils it down.
Finally, have you got anything else in the pipeline that you can tell us about or are you sworn to secrecy?
I have a couple of horrors in the works. My focus at the moment is getting my comedy horror, Neighbours From Hell, into pre-production. It’s got a fantastic cast, including Colin Baker and Suzanne Shaw, and it’s going to be a lot of fun!
You can follow Jim on Twitter: @Jim_Eaves
Learn more about Sun Rocket Films at their website