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This Week We 'Sit Down With' Director Joe Roberts of 2AM Films

18 February 2019

This week 'We Sit Down' with another exciting Director. We've shared some great films from Joe Roberts of 2AM Films in recent months. So, we were chuffed when he agreed to take some time out to chat with us.
Joe's work is full of detail and he's clearly a great observer of people. His work is imbued with wry humour, but it's his ability to capture natural and warm performances that stands out to us. You only have to watch a few of his films to see how effortlessly he brings to life stories. This guy is a true storyteller and we look forward to seeing his next project as it will not disappoint.

Anyway enough from us rambling on. Please take the stage Joe Roberts...

Click to view Joe's reelClick to view Joe's reel

You’ve been working on the latest campaign for Dunelm. Were they genuine Dunelm customers?

Hello, we first pitched on the Dunelm adverts in February 2018 and have just wrapped the fourth advert last week, so it’s been a whole year of meeting and talking to people in their front rooms on their couches. Everyone we cast was an actual Dunelm customer, discovered as they were shopping in Dunelm.

Click to view DunelmClick to view Dunelm

So how did the casting process work for this?

The wonderful Anna McAuley and her casting team spent several weekends in various stores around the country, sauntering up to people whilst they were buying cushions. It was then a long process of hundreds of self tapes, rounds of ‘the hat game’ on camera, long phone calls with the shortlisted families and then home visits to sit down and have a long chat over a cup of tea while Adam our soundman recorded the waffle. Based on these people’s personal stories, we then created scripts and pitched those. It was a really organic way to work which required more leg work in the front end but made the shoot days feel like sitting down with old friends and having a chat.

We were looking for warm, chatty, open people. People who made you feel welcome when you rocked up to their house and were cool when we asked to look around their bedroom. We were looking for the type of people who would happily talk to strangers on a train. Genuine fans of Dunelm and people who made a good cup of tea.

Click to view DunelmClick to view Dunelm

Most of your work features real people, what interests you about this style of directing over performance based projects with actors?

I really like meeting people. I’m a curious, (read: nosey) person. My partner tells me off for people watching & listening to other people’s conversations when we’re out and about but I find other people really interesting. So capturing a pure form of this candid conversation on camera is always something I’m striving for.
I really like directing actors. When working with good actors, the conversation is usually around trying to find the truth in the situation and giving them space to play that truth. When you’re directing real people, they tell you how they feel beforehand and it’s down to you to make sure that their truth isn’t lost in the inherent awkwardness of a film shoot. The pressure is more on you as a director to foster the right atmosphere.

I’ve heard you dabble in a bit of stand up from time to time, is that right?

I started doing stand up because it was something that’s always genuinely terrified me. I stopped doing it because it was genuinely terrifying. It was a strong, concentrated experience like drinking neat Ribena. Something everyone should do, but not on the regs. Unless you really like Ribena.

How does this differ from being behind the camera directing?

The similarities with directing is that everything turns out better if you’re fully prepared. Don’t wing it, but do look like you’re winging it, that’s the trick.

You’ve just finished writing and directing a short film, can you tell me more about the project?

I recently finished a short film called Bellmouth which is about Dads, Daughters and Camping. It was an idea I’ve had for a good couple of years, a short story around the shifting sands of the parent-child relationship and hidden homelessness.

Click to view BellmouthClick to view Bellmouth

We shot it down in Dartmoor last summer with a fantastic crew and awesome cast, crowdfunding the money and begging friends and friendly professionals for favours and their time. It was a humbling and strangely beautiful experience, an experiment of endurance, with the task to keep going with an idea and persevere until something was made. It was a fight to finish it but a huge learning experience and something I’m really proud of. I’m keen for people to see it and to start the whole process again.

We’re submitting it to the brutal short film festival circuit in 2019 so hopefully you’ll see it at a festival near you soon. It’ll then be released blinking and shaking into the vimeo daylight come 2020.

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Your EA film was a big hit online and you managed to merge your loves of comedy, real people and sport into one epic film. This looked like it must have been a lot of fun to work on?

It was massive amounts of fun, Lloyd Griffith was fantastic to work with under strenuous circumstances. All the memories I have of it feel like a fever dream. For example, I remember Judd Caraway, the Wieden+Kennedy Producer almost losing it when we made Lloyd walk blindfolded down Mount Etna lead by a Shamen who drove a Mercedes C-Class that broke down halfway up the mountain. It was a long, weird but hugely entertaining shoot.

Click to view EA SportsClick to view EA Sports

How was it shooting with Messi?

We shot with Messi on the final day of 18, so by then we were a well oiled mock-doc machine. Strangely enough the agency and crew doubled in size for that shoot day for a chance to meet the greatest football player of our generation, but in the end I made them all hide in a room away from the shooting area so the only people on set were Lloyd, the DOP, the 1st and myself, it kept things relaxed and more personal. Leo (as I call him now) was lovely and played along with our weirdness.

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fun fact: I re-tore my ACL in front of the Carles Rexach, the scout who discovered Messi so that was a low point for me on that shoot as I really felt that was my time to shine and be discovered football wise. However the operation and recovery on my knee gave me enough downtime on the couch to write the script for Bellmouth, so swings and roundabouts.

So you live in Amsterdam, that’s pretty cool. How did that come about and how does it work practically with your directing?

My girlfriend and I went to Amsterdam for a short holiday and really fell in love with the place, we got married and then moved to Amsterdam a month later. Alice and I both realised we didn’t need to live in London to work there so we moved to the Netherlands thinking we’d be back in the UK after 6 months. 6 years later we’re still here. Of course, we didn’t know about what was to come politically but we’re lucky we took advantage of the free movement within the EU when we did. Practically speaking, a lot of meetings and PPM’s still happen in London but I can leave my house in Amsterdam at 7am and be in central London by 9.30am local time so it’s a fairly straightforward commute.

Is there an ad out there you wish you’d made? Is there a brand you'd love to work with?

I’m a big fan of a jingle. Our toilet faces the washing machine in our lavatory so when I’m having my daily ablutions, I sing “Washing Machines Live Longer With Calgon!”. I’d would have love to have done that ad and written the jingle. I write a lot of jingles in my head. I have a great one about the chocolate bar Bounty that I think could win some awards.

What films, TV, boxsets are you watching at the moment?

I’m watching a lot of Mike Nichols movies at the moment. The Graduate has always been up in my top 10 films, but I’m working my way through his late 80’s / early 90’s output and really enjoying it. People should watch Wolf with Jack Nicholson again, it’s underrated. Boxset wise I really enjoyed Sex Education on Netflix for it’s performances and Succession on HBO for the hilariously brutal script.

What’s next for you? And what are your goals for 2019?

Well 2018 ended with birth of our little girl called Edie so the start of 2019 has been a sleep deprived blur so hopefully the rest of 2019 is about getting to know her more, getting Bellmouth seen by as many people as possible, making more good films with the lovely 2AM folk and trying to shoot my next short film, this time in Amsterdam around the theme of tourism. Oh and hopefully 2019 is the year I finally write that killer 10 second musical masterpiece that will let me retire with all that sweet, sweet jingle cash.