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Cinema Jam interviews Jammer of the Month Jamie Hooper, a writer, director, cinematographer, editor and producer known for his award-winning shorts “Plastic Love” and “Terry and Brenda”.

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Jamie Hooper is a filmmaker who writes, directs, shoots, produces and edits all of his own short films. Passionate about telling stories with his camera since childhood, Jamie has gone on to create 7 shorts, including the Cannes-selected Plastic Love and Terry and Brenda, which has recently been selected for the London Short Film Festival. We talk to Jamie about his versatile approach to filmmaking, his affinity for adult content, and his thoughts on the short film medium.

Your short “Terry and Brenda” has just been selected to show at LSFF! Congratulations.

Thanks, it’s very exciting. LSFF is one of the main festivals I was hoping it would screen at, so I’m really happy it’s been selected.

What is the premise of the film?

The premise of Terry and Brenda is: what do evil people get up to when they’re not being evil? I always say Terry and Brenda is about the banality of evil, which is something I find fascinating. Generally people who carry out awful, unspeakable crimes are usually fairly ordinary and boring people, which is terrifying to me. For Terry and Brenda, committing a terrible crime is exactly the same as making a cuppa: just another evening on an average week.

It’s heavily influenced by the case of Fred and Rose West. I find it interesting how two people can meet and ultimately decide that killing people is something they both want to do. Couple serial killers are very intriguing; I think it’s the dynamic in power between a couple that I find interesting and makes for good drama. I previously explored couple power dynamics in my short film, Plastic Love, which was a dark comedy/drama about various couples and how their fetishes influence their relationships.

Why should people see it?

The great performances by Tim Blackwell and Debra Baker. I’ve worked with them several times now and they blow me away each time.

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Tim Blackwell in “Terry and Brenda”

Terry and Brenda juxtaposes some pretty dark elements with some quite mundane and even funny ones. Were you aiming for laughs, or something deeper?

Everyday life is never just one thing, so I always try to make my films a bit of everything. Comedy is completely subjective, but the best comedies for me are ones that show the inherent ridiculousness of everyday life. I wanted to begin Terry and Brenda in a completely mundane way, but use seemingly boring dialogue to subtly hint at the true nature of the characters. The more we learn about them the more horrifying it becomes. I love dark comedy as a genre as you get to explore different emotions instead of just funny, scared, etc. Some of my favourite films are dark comedy such as American Psycho, Sightseers, Fargo, Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, Cheap Thrills, etc. I’m a big fan of gallows humour.

Your filmography is eclectic, but a lot of it seems to have a darker edge, “Terry and Brenda” of course included. Where does your penchant for twisted, edgy and sometimes erotic subject material come from?

To be honest I have no idea. Does anyone have a clue why they like what they like? I’ve always enjoyed films that explore the darker side of humanity but with a slight wink of the eye. My parents have a great sense of humour that has obviously influenced me a lot. I think of myself as an optimistic realist, so whilst I accept the world as it presents itself, I also tend to think everything will be ok in the end. Shit stuff happens, but you deal with it and carry on. I like to make films that challenge people in some way, so inevitably that involves exploring adult topics such as death, sexuality, and power.

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Debra Baker in “Terry and Brenda”

Is there a genre you haven’t tried that you’d like to?

I honestly think if I’d been born several decades earlier I’d probably be directing Carry On films, but ones with a twisted angle. Carry On Kidnapping, Carry On Decapitating, etc. Seeing as I’ll never get to direct a Carry On film, I’d like to have a go at making a sci-fi action film, but that’s pretty much impossible to do well without a decent budget. I’d also love to make a Gothic horror.

You seem to write, direct, operate the camera for, produce and edit most of your films. How do you manage to balance all of these responsibilities?

The only reason I do all of those things is because I don’t have any money to pay people to do them, so I have no choice but to take on multiple roles. As it happens I enjoy all of them except producing, so if I could find a like-minded producer to work with I think I’d be sorted. To be honest, though, I’m completely comfortable taking on all of those roles, as it’s what I do for a living. It’s better for me to be good at filming and editing as it enables me to get a wider variety of work than if I did one or the other.

There are certain aspects of filmmaking that I don’t get involved with, such as sound recording/design. I leave that to my talented friend Helen Miles, who is probably my closest collaborator. A lot of the time on my films it’s myself, Helen, and the actors – that’s it, which I actually love. I think having a massive crew would ruin the kind of atmosphere I like to create and work in. For Terry and Brenda I also worked with Frances Darvell White, a talented make-up artist, and Becky Brynolf, a script supervisor who really helped me out.

Are you self-taught in all those capacities?

I went to Bournemouth Arts Institute many years ago, but in all honesty I didn’t really learn anything. I found the tutors a bit snobby and therefore became quite disinterested in the course. I did however use it as an opportunity to borrow all the kit and work on my own stuff. I honestly think the best way to learn something is to go out and do it; there’s genuinely no reason for anyone not to make a film these days. Write stuff, shoot stuff, edit stuff, make mistakes, learn from them. Repeat. Easy.

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Jamie and crew on the set of “NAUGHTY NAUGHTY”

Do you have a favorite behind-the-camera role, or is your passion for filmmaking in general?

I call myself a filmmaker, as opposed to writer-director, because I take on multiple roles. For me it’s actually quite difficult to separate directing, cinematography, editing, as when I’m on set I’m doing all of them simultaneously, directing the actors whilst shooting the film and editing it in my head. I love all of them. Collaborating with other creative people is always a highlight, but my passion is editing, which I put down to my love of jigsaw puzzles. I think all directors should know how to and understand editing.

Beyond travelling around with Terry and Brenda, what other projects are you working on or do you have planned?

I recently finished my latest short film, NAUGHTY NAUGHTY, another dark comedy about our obsession with fame and how pop culture influences us, but in less pretentious terms it’s about pizza sex and hitting people with hammers. I’ll be releasing that online at some point in the near future.

I’m also writing several feature scripts, one that I’m particularly concentrating on, with a view to hopefully making it at some point.

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“NAUGHTY NAUGHTY”

This month The Spread is focusing on short film. When you’re making a short and are more limited by time, what are some of the strategies you use to make sure you can tell your story as completely as possible?

As all my films are self-funded and therefore ridiculously low budget, time is actually the one thing I have on my side. I don’t have anyone to answer to so can take as long as I want. Money, or lack of it, is my enemy. That being said, I don’t like taking longer than is needed to make my films and tend to shoot fairly quickly. I know what I want and when I’ve got it I move on; no point doing lots of extra takes. I shot the majority of Terry and Brenda in one weekend.

What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of short films as opposed to features?

In many ways I think making a good short is harder than making a good feature because you have a much shorter amount of running time to convey an interesting story with interesting characters. Conversely, the more difficult thing with features is obviously they are longer and therefore require more actual effort to complete. Short or feature, I’ll watch anything as long as it has interesting characters and story.

Any favorite short films you’d recommend? 

A short that I remember watching years ago that’s always stuck with me is called About a Girl. It’s very simple, but powerful.

One of my favourite shorts of all-time is actually a short documentary called Lift. It’s a great idea, and fascinating.

I tend to like films about everyday, real people. Two of my favourite films are Rita, Sue and Bob Too!, and Life Is Sweet.

Find out more about Jamie’s work on his website, jamhoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamHoopFilm

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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Posted on Nov 2, 2015

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