An Interview with James G. Wall – By Kirsten Walsh

In 2010, James G. Wall graduated his alma mater in Leeds, UK and set out to bring his dreams to fruition- making a feature film. Over the course of three years, Wall conceived the idea of “The Truth About Romance”, set forth into pre-production, shot the film, and did the post production. Heading up a team of collaborators, he shot a handful of short films and kept everyone inspired along the way. After the completion of “The Truth About Romance”, he decided he would rather his story be viewable by everyone- and no one could have an excuse for not being able to check it out- by releasing it for free on YouTube. This decision has put him on the map as an up and coming filmmaker- not just in the UK, but internationally. At press time, “The Truth About Romance” has been viewed in over thirty four countries, and the number continues to go up.

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KW: First of all, James, awesome job on the film! Can you explain how you came up with the concept for "The Truth About Romance"? 

JGW: Thanks, really appreciate that. The idea came to me after seeing all these cliché "Hollywood" rom-coms, I worked in a Blockbuster and week after week you’d see the same film with different actors. All the truthful romance films, like Blue Valentine, are the polar opposite, sad and depressing. I wanted to write a mainstream film that was truthful to real life, but a film would be cherished and could be watch over and over again. By the way, I love Blue Valentine, great film.

KW: With "The Truth About Romance", the film falls into the genre of the emotional dialogue heavy films such as "Before Sunrise" and the Linklater films, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", and "Lost in Translation". What were some of your influences, visually and otherwise?

JGW: I love Lost in Translation, which was definitely an influence. I like it when a film can be very emotional in one scene and the next scene is making you laugh out loud. Whilst I was writing the film I went to see The Descendants at the cinema and that had a great balance between emotion and laughter. Also I like to play around with the audiences’ emotions too, have [a] very dramatic scene but with witty dialogue. The character Zoe has some hilarious lines, but Donna delivered them very straight and emotional. That’s real life though, if you listen to a couple arguing they come out with some hilarious things, it’s all in the heat of the moment when your brain is spitting out all the emotion.
I like Woody Allen’s writing style, but I believe as a writer you shouldn’t be influenced by anybody, just write what you want to write. It took me awhile to find myself within writing because like most film students I wanted to be Tarantino or Guy Ritchie and you find that you’re just a really bad version of them. Eventually I found my own style.

KW: With this being your first feature, did the end result mirror what you had imagined originally? Why or why not?

JGW: The story is pretty close to the original script, I had to drop a few scenes because we ran out of time, but I actually think the film turned out better for it. I would have liked more variety in the shots, most of the film is made up of mids and close ups, but again we had to blast through the scenes because of the tight schedule.

KW: Most of your short films and "The Truth About Romance" deal with love lost and love found and the awkwardness that comes with that (with the exception of your student film, "Fish Food", which was written by someone else). One can assume that this subject is somewhat personal, is that the case?

JGW: I love the idea of love and romance, couples and break ups. It’s the foundation of life, it’s what we are taught, find a partner settle down and have kids. I find it all fascinating. I’m a sucker for it. I don’t necessarily believe in it, but the idea of it is nice. I think I’d love to experience it and therefore I write about it. Some of it is from life experience, or a variation of my life. After posting a short film online I’ve had girls text me and ask if it’s about them, which is funny. I suppose that’s the danger of dating a filmmaker, in some shape or form they put their life on the screen. I once said to somebody that my own life is a rehearsal for my work, and I guess that’s still true. I’ll test out lines of dialogue in my own conversations, much like a comedy would test their stand-up routines. I think falling in love is the most exciting feeling you can ever experience, and losing somebody is the worst.

KW: Jordan Greenhough and your actors did a fabulous job, and for some of them, this was their first feature. How did you find them and get them interested in the film?

JGW: This was Jordan’s first leading role, but I think it was the first feature for Donna, Craig and Danielle. I had worked with Jordan when I was a film student and we’ve kept making short films together, he’s easy to work with and always enthusiastic. Danielle I got chatting to on Twitter and we made a bunch of short films together, again we hit it off. Sometimes I think that is more important, when I’m auditioning actors I don’t get them to perform I have a chat and see if we get along. When I told them I was writing a feature film with them in mind they were onboard straight away. Actually, I originally wrote it with myself in mind for the lead character, but then I decided against it and asked Jordan. 

KW: Can you talk about the locations and your experience with finding the right place for the scene? Also, you had to work quickly at some points due to locations backing out- a zoo, if I’m not mistaken?

JGW: There are a lot of locations in this film. I wanted to keep the background fresh so I tried to change the location on every scene. The house I was living in at the time acted as Emily’s Driveway, Kitchen, Living Room and Bathroom, plus it was Josh’s Bedroom and Zoe and Chris’s Bedroom. I looked at the locations around me and how I could maximize them, one house acted as three. Creative thinking. The hard ones were the Barge, Zoo, Pub and Beer garden. I sent the script around to my friends, one knew somebody that had a barge, the cinematographer knew somebody that had a pub and I contacted all of the local Zoo’s. I actually got permission for the zoo, but our schedules didn’t match up. Only one location dropped out the night before we began shooting, which acted as four locations, but it was easily switched and the new location gave us much more time, so I’m glad it did drop out.

KW: With a budget of £200/ $250 I’m assuming you had to beg, borrow, and steal to get the equipment and crew. How were you able to get what you needed for the 14 days and where did most of your budget go towards?

JGW: We already had most of the equipment. Over the years Mark (cinematographer) and I have purchased every [thing] we needed to shoot on a budget. This is what we want to do so we’ve invested our cash. We made some DIY equipment prior to the shoot for some short films. The crew was actually only Mark and myself, with help from my friend Dave who took notes, [did the] clapper, and [maintained] script continuity. I directed whilst sound recording and booming. Craig Asquith (co-producer) and I sat and worked out how we could make a feature film with no money. We initially set out begging for props, wardrobe, etc., but in the end a lot of it was things we already had. That’s why the budget was so low. We bought a new clapper board, a hard drive, water, [a] couple of props, nothing too exciting.

KW: With the creation of "crowdfunding" (i.e. kickstarter, indiegogo), international filmmakers are able to fund their projects up to thousands of dollars/ Euros. Is there a reason you chose to self-finance other than your statement about not spending any money you didn’t have to lose (which is awesome by the way)?

JGW: I did initially set out to do the crowd funding thing and have tried once before, but as I mentioned before nobody was really bothered. I don’t have any rich friends or family and we didn’t have a draw for the general public to want to invest. I think for crowd funding you need a gimmick or a "name" attached, or know somebody wealthy to start you off.

I’m really glad I didn’t have more money because I learnt so much more and it’s made me a better filmmaker.

KW: Can you give us a feel for the independent film scene in the UK?

JGW: I’m not sure there is one… It’s very cliquey. Nobody was interested in what I was doing and very few wanted to help. This is an industry where you have to gain respect by going out and doing, because there are a lot of people that talk the talk and very few that are actually making films.

The problem is there isn’t enough marketing for indie films. Indie films don’t sell mainstream magazines. I imagine there are loads of films being made but there isn’t a platform. Plus it’s every filmmakers dream to see their name on the big screen, so they take their films to festivals and spend a small fortune, the lucky ones that do get a distribution deal get a marketing budget, but the reality is very few people go see a film by a guy they don’t know with a cast they don’t care about, when they can see the latest superhero flick. So they don’t even make back the marketing budget. A filmmaker will be judge on how much money their film has made. My plan was to stay away from that. I didn’t spend any money so I didn’t have any money to lose. I wanted to show the world I could make a good film without a budget. Giving it away on YouTube is a great way to showcase my work and hopefully people will be interested in what I do next. At the same time I want to inspire other filmmakers to get their work out there, I imagine this will be the future of indie films.

KW: Since you have released "The Truth About Romance", it is viewable worldwide. Tell us about the responses and feedback you’ve been getting. 

JGW: So far I’ve been overwhelmed by the response, I was worried that nobody would sit and watch one film on YouTube for 90 minutes. However, the response has been amazing. It’s really encouraging. I can’t thank people enough for giving it a chance, but then to take further time out to leave a comment or email me is such a great feeling.

KW: Many filmmakers are viewing YouTube as changing the way they make movies. For instance- anyone can put a film on YouTube. With your film, you chose to do that instead of put it on a website you control and blast the link out there. Was there a particular reason you chose YouTube? Have you gotten any negative remarks for your choice to release your film for free?

JGW: I don’t think people take YouTube seriously yet, most think it’s a place you go to watch videos of cats. However, there is some great content on it. You tend to find Vimeo to be more serious and the content is of higher quality, but YouTube has a massive community, and there is a chance that people will stumble across your work whilst searching for something else.

There is negativity that comes with it, I got in touch with a national magazine to see if they’d be interested in featuring or reviewing the film and their response was they only cover "official releases," I explained that this is my official release, and they had the same notion as you, anybody can upload a film to YouTube that doesn’t make it official. I didn’t take offense to it; I did think it was ignorant. Music went through a similar phase years ago and now artists/bands don’t need to sign to a label to gain a fan base and make money. The tools are there, if you’re good and you work hard you’ve got a chance at success. Film is already going that way, and it’s naive to think otherwise. People are making a lot of money from putting videos on YouTube; the popular ones have made a career from it. Feature films will go that way too. I’m not saying I want my entire film career to be online; I’d love to see one of my films on the big screen breaking box office records. However, this is a starting point.

KW: What are your plans with the film now that is has been openly released?

JGW: To get it seen by as many people as possible. I reckon this could be a great statement to studios and distribution companies that a guy made a film with no money as given it away for free and made it a success. If I have to personally ask 100,000 people to watch it then I will.

KW: What is next for you and your company, "A Tiny Adventure"?

JGW: On with the next film, I guess. I’m not sure what it is yet, but everybody that worked on “The Truth About Romance” seems excited to make another film. I suppose it depends if it’s a success, because that might open up some more doors for us. Whatever happens I’ll be making another film with or without a budget. 

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You can view “The Truth About Romance” On YouTube here, and be sure to check out the Facebook page as well. James also has his own website, where he posts helpful tips for filmmakers and links for his short films!