Jack Price - Studiofilm

Interview by Phil Simpson on 11th October 2013 | Photographs by Ben Taylor

Jack Price, film director and teacher of the Sanford Meisner acting technique, has spent his life on film sets and immersed in the film world. This, along with an early Star Wars experience, inspired him to follow in the footsteps of his father’s profession. Jack Price speaks to Localeyez about his political motivation, the importance of human connection and the potential of films to make waves of change.

Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up.
I grew up in a town house in Notting Hill Gate, London, and lived there until I was eight. My father was a filmmaker, and I grew up in his edit suites playing around with 35 millimetre film. My mother worked at The National Geographical Society. I went to quite a tough Notting Hill state Primary school, and still have many good and close friends from my school days.

Every weekend I would go away with my parents on a 72 foot Morton & Clayton narrow boat, and we would travel the whole country. In fact, I think we probably only stayed in London for two weekends of my entire time there! I also spent some of my childhood in the Midlands, but managed not to pick up any accent, unlike my two brothers!

How did you end up Bruton?
I was living and working as a filmmaker in London. I married very early on, and brought up two boys. After I divorced and remarried, I was looking for a different kind of education for my children, and was drawn to Bruton because of the Meadow Steiner School. The Meadow School has since closed following the opening of the Steiner Academy in Frome.

What makes Bruton and South East Somerset special for you?
There’s something magical about this part of Somerset. Bruton has quite a cosmopolitan attitude, and you can come here and not feel like an outsider. It doesn’t feel like you’re being judged by your accent or background, and this creates a sense of belonging. There are lots of open-minded people here, which is great. It’s also the landscape .You come over from Wiltshire and suddenly you enter into a totally different world!

Jack Price - the art of making film
Jack Price - the art of making film (photographed by Ben Taylor)

You’ve been a film maker for the last 19 years. What inspired that initial step into film making?
I remember when I was five, and watching Star Wars with my mates at the ABC cinema at the bottom of Kensington High Street. That was the first feature film I saw and it blew me away. I suppose it was a mixed blessing, because after that I was hooked, and didn’t want to do anything else. Now there are very few things I can do apart from making a cup a coffee, painting a wall and making films!

When I was a teenager, I would spend time on my father’s film sets and in his edit suites. I was also really interested in acting. This was when film was still tangible, and you could pick up a roll of 35 millimetre film or magnetic track and chop it up with a pair of scissors. When I was eighteen, I started working as a runner at the Gate Theatre, when Stephen Daldry was the Artistic Director. He then went on to create The Reader, Billy Elliot and The Hours. Then I got another job as runner for a company called Creative Partnership , making feature film trailers. I remember cutting the first TV spots for Jurassic Park in the basements of Soho. I got to see all the big films before they came out. Because the pay was so crap I also had a night job as an usher at the Prince Charles Cinema. All of this was my film school! I then got picked up as new talent by Ridley Scott’s production company.

You’ve since become an award-winning Creative Director with a strong focus on political and environment issues. Was it always your aim to make films of that nature?
I didn’t have a vision to get involved in political and environmental films. However, I think there must have been something in the family blood. My family has a very strong polar-opposite political background. My father was always a member of the Labour Party, and was a Labour Agent for Kensington and Chelsea. My mother’s father, Rab Butler, was the Conservative Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. My uncle was an MP and served as Under Secretary for Northern Ireland, and my brother is a political artist. I was immersed in this political energy.

What I’ve witnessed in life has also influenced me. I got kicked out of school at a very young age. I then started selling Greenpeace membership door-to-door when I was sixteen in Australia, and then travelled the world. This created a very clear sense and belief in me of what we’re doing to our environment, and ultimately ourselves! So, that’s where a lot of the political work has come from, and also the projects with NGOs and corporations.

Jack Price - connecting people emotionally
Jack Price - connecting people emotionally (photographed by Ben Taylor)
"Film is a medium that can connect you emotionally with other people. When you see truth on screen, whether it’s a feature film or documentary, you make a connection with another person."

Advances in technology and the web are providing more and more people with possibility to self-produce films. What impact do you think this is having on the film industry?
In terms of making campaign films or films where you want to shout about something and make a difference, the impact of the web is extraordinary. The last two campaigns I did for Greenpeace achieved incredible reach, especially when you compare them to the films I was making for the Green Party in early 2000. At that time, we might have reached 40,000 people, but now with social media and all the other networks, you can achieve millions and millions of hits!

However, I do feel that self-publishing films on the web has changed the collective experience. Watching films online is often a solo experience. It doesn’t have the social and visual impact of cinema, and your films are not connecting with the audience in the same way. Although advances in technology have simplified our means of production, which were always very difficult, you still have to have great ideas.

You’re also teaching the Meisner technique at the Actors Centre London and The Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol. How did that come about, and what do you enjoy about teaching?
For me, teaching is another way of improving as a director, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to work with amazing actors every day. The teaching work I’m doing at the Actors Centre and the Tobacco Factory Theatre, are all about connecting with people. It’s about giving them the tools to dissect the really difficult art of acting. There’s often a lot of fluff being presented when it comes to teaching acting. I find that the Sanford Meisner technique I’m using is really specific, and cuts through all of that.

What does the future hold for the film industry?
The games industry has already taken over the film industry, and the future of film is most definitely linked to the internet. But who knows where it’s all going! The film industry is still in its infancy. It’s only a hundred years old, and so has really just begun.

Jack Price - working with the right people
Jack Price - working with the right people (photographed by Ben Taylor)

What’s the key to your success as a film maker and Creative Director?
I think the most powerful tool you have as a film maker is casting, and making sure you’re working with the right people; everything from the actors, the cinematographer and the editor. Once you’ve found the right people you don’t really have to do much more. It’s also about knowing when to push people through points of resistance in order to get the very best out of them, and make the film something special. That can sometimes be painful and challenging. I often feel like I’m just starting out as a filmmaker, and every opportunity I get to make a new film is such a gift! Film is a medium that can connect you emotionally with other people. When you see truth on screen, whether it’s a feature film or documentary, you make a connection with another person.

What has been the most inspirational moment in your film making career?
You know when you get that moment when you wonder ‘what do I stand for?’. Well, I made Tony Blair’s election broadcast in 2001. I also got to know Alistair Campbell and worked with Trevor Beattie on the campaign. When Tony Blair got back into power, I really felt he was neglecting his policies around environmental issues. So, I decided to join the Green Party, and started to work on their political broadcasts. In one of them, they issued a statement, which Alastair Campbell had to rebuke. And it just so happened that my kids were going to the same school as Alastair Campbell’s, and I saw him once in the playground during school pick up. He turned to me and said “green w*nker!” And I thought, yeah. I’ll gladly have that label, Alastair, because this is what I really believe in!

But hey, truly inspirational moments? It’s seeing the birth of my children. Meeting my wife. These are the things that I really find life changing and inspirational.

“It’s not about receiving the accolades and awards, but more about witnessing an entire audience taking a breath, because of something that’s moved them on screen. That’s magical!”

Who would you most like to work with?
I was watching Russell Brand after he received the GQ Oracle award on YouTube, and he got up and gave a speech. I thought, this man is getting smarter and funnier, and he doesn’t give a shit. I’d love to work with Russell Brand! You know, I’ve already got a very good crew working with me, and I’d really like to work with people who want to give a lot more of their money to film makers! [laughs]

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a film, which is about a group of teenagers who suffer what they believe is a possession, when spirits below the ground are disturbed by the drilling and explosions from a new gas fracking rig. Having lost faith in the adults from their community, who believe the children are suffering some form of contagious hysteria, they take matters into their own hands. I’ve been casting it in Bristol for the last 4 months and working with teenagers from Bristol. Its working title is Boomtown and it’s the first time I’ve decided to make a feature film. We’ve already secured some funding, and have now shot a test scene to help us to raise some more finance. We’ve also had government approval for SEIS, (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) allowing us to offer massive tax reliefs of up to 78% for UK investors.

What are your plans for the future?
I’ve got a number of projects at various stages of development at the moment. It looks like I’ll probably be going out to Los Angeles at the end of the year to shoot films for the Oscars. These films will be shown in about 500 screens around the USA prior to the Oscars.

What are you really passionate about?
Steiner education. I’m also absolutely passionate about addressing climate change. Another passion is art, and artists having the time and space to express themselves fully. I think this is something that is quite difficult for a lot of people. I know many artists in and around Bruton, who find it hard to make a living. We’re currently experiencing cuts in regular art grants right across Somerset and the Mendips. I can see why lots of people who graduate from schools and colleges, with student debt and tuition fees, choose to seek work in other sectors, over and above what they’re maybe passionate about. I think art is essential and deeply undervalued.

Have you watched any good films recently?
I recently saw a private screening of a film called A field in England. It’s set in the English Civil War, and is about a small party of men who abandon their Civil War confederates and escape through an overgrown field. It’s full of psychedelia, madness and chaotic forces. I love it! I also went to see A Great Beauty at the Bath Little Theatre, which I thought was terrific. I’ve also been watching a lot of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton recently. And every so often delve into some esoteric Eastern European cinema, which my wife has to put up with!

Jack Price camera lens close-up
Photographed by Ben Taylor

Bruton’s witnessing an exciting change with the opening of the Hauser & Wirth art centre next year. What opportunities and challenges do think the centre will provide for our community?
I think that having a major gallery and art centre in this part of the world will be fantastic, and will not only bring more people to Bruton, but also raise up every kind of art in the area. As far as I’m aware, there is no major gallery or art exhibition space between Bruton and Bristol, and even between Bruton and Exeter. So, I think something like the Hauser & Wirth project will really have a substantial impact on our community.

What do you like to do when you’re not making films or teaching?
I like to stay local and hang out with friends. Things I tend to do when I’m not working are mainly film related! [laughs] But I also love walking in the area, and going to the local festivals.

How do you relax and deal with what must be a fast-paced industry?
I meditate.

What advice would you give to someone looking to make it in the film making industry?
If you can do anything else, then do that! And if you can’t help yourself, and there’s absolutely nothing else you can find to do on the entire planet, then get into the film industry. However, if you’re prepared to face the hardships, rejections and challenges of the film industry, then it can be incredibly rewarding. And it’s not about receiving the accolades and awards, but more about witnessing an entire audience taking a breath, because of something that’s moved them on screen. That’s magical!

More information about Jack Price and his work can be found Studiofilm