The TDF Interview: Rupert Jones
This Friday sees the release of Rupert Jones’ debut feature film, Kaleidoscope, a dense psychological thriller that tells the story of a man trapped in his own mind and lost inside the confines of his sparse council flat. It’s an impressive debut that features his brother Toby in the lead role, along with strong turns from Anne Reid and Sinead Matthews.
Rupert spent the early part of his career directing music videos, working with the likes of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Gomez and Charlotte Church, before short films like The Sickie (which also featured Toby) and Think saw him move into TV on shows such as The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle and Beehive. While Kaleidoscope is his first solo feature outing, the 2013 musical, The Answer to Everything, also saw him co-direct with Emma Bernard.
In the lead up to the film’s 10th November release, we talked to Rupert about working with Toby, the challenges he faced on set and his career so far.
Thanks for taking the time out to speak with us Rupert.
No problem at all.
Where did the genesis of such a complex story come from?
Having written two or three scripts, which were a bit ambitious for a debut feature film, I kicked around an idea I had for a while which was about a guy who wakes up to find a dead body in his bathroom and he doesn’t know how it got there. That rattled around for quite a while and the two main questions I had to solve were, what were the events leading up to the body being found in the bathroom and what happens after? And it's mostly cutting between those two questions. The big breakthrough was establishing his mother as some sort of quasi-detective. Then I started to think about what his relationship would be with her, how she could be hostile etc.
Not every director has a brother as talented as Toby to potentially work with, how did he get involved in the film?
I got to a stage where I realised that the character on the page – and this was a comment that a couple of people had made – wasn’t particularly sympathetic. Although, I could see a certain vulnerability in him and I know that Toby is very good at that; he’s great at conveying vulnerability in his characters. Obviously it’s useful that he’s my brother but from the moment it evolved into a psychological thriller, rather than a thriller, he really came to the forefront of my thinking for the main role.
The film is a fascinating mix of genres – did you want to channel any specific influences in the film?
I don’t really think of influences consciously, they exist more in the background, inside you somewhere, rather than specifically. Although, I had watched some Hitchcock and I was interested in the rigour of trying to engineer a suspense story. I’m quite interested in how one does that, figuring out the level of craft involved. I think I was interested in the challenge of writing that. Stylistically there was a point at which the producer asked if I was interested in building a flat, and I love building sets. Immediately you can bring something a little more heightened to it. There’s an aesthetic that has become associated with ‘estate dramas’ and I wanted to be a bit more formal. As for the psychological structure, I think the moment the mother became internal, rather than external, that dictated the narrative. It was more interesting that she would be someone that was sabotaging him from the inside, rather than the outside.
The sound design and score is used very effectively . Was this something you left entirely to composer Mike Prestwood Smith, or did you already have your own ideas?
Mike is a very old friend of mine and this is his first score – you probably know he’s quite an imminent sound mixer, Oscar nominated and all that. There’s a bit of music I played a lot during the writing, which is used at the top and tail of the film, which is a small piece of classical harp. I gave that to Mike and told him I’m very interested in developing a theme. A great exponent of that is someone like Ennio Morricone who allows the film to bury into you, his scores give the film a sort of history of sorts, usually with a very simple musical hook. Mike found a piece of software called The Mangle. He literally threw in that bit of music, which literally mangled and distorted the sound, and from there he found various phrases that came out. We started working even before pre-production where he generated a few phrases, and it was the editor who put one of those over a kaleidoscope shot, and it all suddenly came alive in the edit, so that became our theme.
You’ve been doing pop promos, shorts and TV work for quite a while but what have you taken away from your first feature film?
I learnt how much I like it and how much it feels like the right place for me. I always felt like a bit of an imposter doing pop promos. I started in that world because I made a short and I managed to work with some quite glamorous people. I got into that world at a young age and I enjoyed it but it never quite felt like the right fit. Television seems to me to be very much a producers medium. When I got the chance to make a feature, it’s just a huge project you have to embark on and it’s a great journey, especially if you’re writing as well. You get to think in every creative dimension; language, performance, colour, actors, music – the list goes on. You have to think about everything. Basically, the moment I got off the ride, I wanted to get back on again.
Have you got anything else coming up next in TV or film, or any projects you have germinating in your mind?
I have several projects I'm working on, I think you have to these days. You always need to have irons in the fire. Until you’re well established you just go one-by-one, so hopefully I get to make another one in the near future.