DIRECTOR FOCUS – PRICE JAMES

If we learnt just one thing from Arnie and Danny in “Twins” it’s that a marked difference in height is a bottomless pit of comedy – a tall person and a short person doing something together is guaranteed hilarity. I like to think that when Price James and I walk into a room we bring that same myrth with us; Price is very tall and I am not. In fact, were he just one inch taller he could claim official giant status and get bumped up on NHS waiting lists. Fact.

As a director and producer pairing we first shared this gleeful difference in stature with the world (“the world” being Soho of course) 5 years ago when we were selling groceries to the Brits (Asda) and milk to the Turks (Sek Milk). Producing him was great and once the crick in my neck had subsided I’ve been looking for an excuse to do it again, which is why we’re particularly excited to showcase his directorial brilliance in Maker’s shop window.

Here’s a 5 minute Q&A with the director behind commercials ranging from ESSO to Paypal via Kellogg’s and Mr. Kipling – the man, the myth, the legend… Price James.

LT: Like many of your peers you cut your teeth on music vids. Beth Ditto is one of your repeat partners in crime but who stole your directorial cherry?

PJ: My first directing job was a £111 music video for a band called Lost Penguin. I got drunk at a barbecue and told them I would do it but I’d never made one before. Great memories. From that I shot a video for Simian Mobile Disco which then got me Shit Disco which went viral. I got signed by RSA Films because they found me on Myspace – wow that dates me immediately! 

LT: If you go to a New Business seminar they’ll tell you it’s all about the “thirty second elevator pitch”. All these years on from that first time you called “action” what is the 30 second Price James elevator pitch?

PJ: If you wanna get it done and have some fun I’m your man. 

LT: A director’s character can really flavour their work. You bring a huge bundle of positivity, energy and enthusiasm to the table – have you ever been asked to rein it in?

PJ: Ha! Only by American agents on calls. They’ve said things like ‘we love the positivity and energy but maybe hold back some of the slightly risqué jokes!’… Obviously i didn’t. 

LT: Speaking of our cousins from across the Pond, we’ve produced a few shoots in Washington State and LA recently. Proper adventures. You’ve lived and worked on both sides of the Atlantic, any stories to share from your time Stateside?

PJ: Getting gout when I was 31 from eating too many Chinese pork buns. And singing karaoke with Mike Myers and Beth Ditto was a highlight. Harvey Weinstein bowling into the RSA New York office wasn’t. 

LT: You spoke at ASFF a year before me. What advice do you give those looking to follow in your footsteps?

PJ: There are so many directors now doing equally great work so I guess it’s all about carving out your niche that makes you happy. 

LT: The director producer pairing is the cornerstone to every branded content project. Every director is different and approaches their craft in their own way. What do you look for in a producer?

PJ: Being able to get stuck in, be in the trenches and never be pessimistic no matter how problematic situation is. It also helps if they’re a foodie arsehole like myself. We march on our stomachs. 

LT: When I’m bigging you up to potential clients I always mention your skill at getting brilliant performances – especially comedy. Not all directors have a knack with this, especially from non-actors, is this something you’ve developed or a God-given talent?

PJ: I guess the ability to manipulate stems from having 3 younger siblings and betting them against each other to make me sandwiches and cups of tea quicker than the other one. Also, I don’t take myself seriously so I think just having a natural persona really helps rather than the cliché angry shouty director. 

LT: I also plug your extensive experience in in-camera craft and effects – often requiring complex set-ups. But then, you’re also a VFX guru with an impressive back-catalogue of post-heavy projects under your belt. In fact, I think the first time we met you were ruling the roost in a Flame suite… Apart from when an effect can only be achieved in VFX, how do you weigh up the two approaches?

PJ: It usually comes down to time on set. Ideally I would choose to do everything in-camera but we know that this can drastically extend the shoot time. Overly storyboarding and planning out a VFX shot can sometimes kill the energy but thankfully can save your ass when something doesn’t quite work or timings are off.

LT: Never work with… Well, the saying is children and animals but you excel with both. Is there anything / anyone Price James won’t direct?

PJ: I’m a commercials director, there’s nothing I won’t do. 

LT: My favourite work of yours is Veterans for Peace / Battlefield Casualties. While it isn’t a large–scale production in a big studio it is a quintessential Price James production in many ways – a trinity of your off-centre comedy; great children’s performances and ace in-camera effects – Action Man bleeding to death a personal fave. It doesn’t play it safe. How much of that was down to the brief and how much came through your development of their idea?

PJ: The films are based on a series of toys created by an artist called Darren Cullen, he’s a good friend of mine. I approached him and suggested we make the commercials. He wrote a killer VO script and I plotted out the mechanics and structure of the scenes. Matt Berry got involved and it turned out great. Myself and Darren work really well together. We have complimentary creative processes and some more collabs coming out soon. 

LT: They rightfully earned many accolades, reaching the APA “Ad of the Year” list 2015 and in 2016 it won Gold at Creative Circle, 2 Bronze Kinsale Sharks and LIA Winner – Best Charity. What other awards jostle for pride of place on Price James’ chimneypiece?

PJ: D&AD pencil for Shit Disco ‘OK’ and I came first in a go-kart Grand Prix against serious racers – but I don’t drive or have a license. My technique was to bash everyone like I was Bowza in Mario kart.

LT: Your latest ad to hit the airwaves was for Made.com. Tell us a bit about your approach for that.

PJ: That was a lot of fun. We wanted to get some energy into the performance and making the brand’s products shine. There was a lot of planning and testing as 20 seconds flies by. 

LT: They say you learn at least one thing on every job you do – what was your “take-away” from that job?

PJ: Keep the client and creatives close to you. I personally feel the shoot goes smoother as long as you can communicate quickly. The days of having a private roped off camera area are totally over. We need to streamline shoots but with keeping expectations realistic. Fast and honest relationships work best. That’s where I feel I am strongest. 

LT: And finally: The future. The future’s bright, the future’s… what colour?

PJ: Black. I only wear black. But that’s because it’s slimming and I hate gyms but love patê.