‘The Little Warped Worlds’ of Jake Sleet
Jake Sleet, 24, is a Director and Writer who has attracted the attention of the National Youth Film Academy and Channel 4. After his return from directing a Croatian Film in Zagreb, Youth Arts Online finds out how Jake Sleet escapes ‘gritty realism’ to create his short films.
When did you discover that Directing and Writing was your passion? What do you think stimulated this realisation?
My original career goal was to be a football physiotherapist, but as I had done fairly well at GCSE I was made to take an initial subject at A-Level on top of those already selected to aide that career choice, I chose Media Studies, as I thought I could have a fall back career as a football journalist if all else should fail!
Things obviously changed, and it was when I started on coursework for said subject (a opening 2 minutes for a Thriller and then a music video) and found that to be absolutely the only thing I wanted to do. I went on to study Film Production Technology at Staffordshire University, and from the very start I was aware that writing/directing was for me.
Are you inspired by any Director in particular?
From my application stage to uni onwards, Christopher Nolan has been my favourite director (he had just released The Prestige). His career and trajectory, plus the fact that he was a London boy, is inspiring.
Saying that, my work is in no way like his! My work is closer to that of Edgar Wright, Michel Gondry and Terry Gilliam, those that create their own little warped-worlds, with comedic touches (even if it isn’t an out-and-out comedy), and don’t base the story in gritty realism.
What skills do you need to be a Director?
You obviously need to know how to tell a story, that’s from pre-production right through to post. It’s something that’s perhaps best learned in the editing room, whereby you might have to cut something that visually looks amazing but it doesn’t serve the greater purpose of the piece and thus feels out of place.
Then there are your people skills and your problem solving. You’ve got to concentrate everyone’s efforts towards the greater picture and communicate it with them. No matter how well you prepare a shoot, there’s always going to be something that doesn’t go to plan, and it’s those situations whereby you’ve got to come up with a solution; convey it with confidence (regardless of whether or not you actually are!) and everyone will get on board.
Everything else, like your technical knowledge, or dealing with actors etc, can be picked up through constantly directing time and time again, even small pieces. I’m learning from every shoot.
You have range of genres you have won awards with. What inspires you to write your work? Does your script usually change during production, and if so what has been the most significant alteration you have made?
I tend to just come up with an idea at random, jot it down and if it’s something that I can see working feasibly and across a short film time-frame for me to direct, I’ll start to mould it into Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet to make sure it hits specific points that the audience expect. After I’ve got that structure, I’ll keep on redrafting and forget about the Beat Sheet, as I know that at its core it’s got a filmic skeleton.
It will change slightly in rehearsals and on set, when actors will feel that certain lines don’t work for them, and perhaps they should be rephrased; I’m happy to allow this to happen as long as it still fits with the character and helps to convey the meaning I wanted originally.
Your accolades are exceptionally impressive. What was your first award-winning piece that got you noticed?
To be honest, I think most people nowadays are ‘award-winning’ directors of some kind or another!
To me it’s more important as to what it represents to you personally as opposed to others. So instead of the one I actually won, two I didn’t are better examples of what they mean to me.
A zombie film I did in the second year of university got bronze in Student Filmmakers Magazine Summer Shorts behind someone from Israel and another from New York…. We had a cast of about 30/40 (obviously mostly extras!), and so it was nice to know that in one day (on set) I managed to direct something of a decent size that didn’t negate on the other stuff necessary to make a decent-enough film. It ultimately gave me the confidence to carry on along those lines.
Another, ‘In This Style’ (cast/crew of 50+, 7 locations and an 11 day shoot) was put forward by the university as its entry for the Royal Television Society student awards. It wasn’t selected, but as the film is one whereby I can only see the faults in it (of which there are a lot), it was nice to know that Staffordshire Uni could see it as a whole, and one worth putting their name to.
Working with the National Youth Film Academy and Channel 4 must have been an enlightening experience. What did you contribute to at each institution and what did you glean from these experiences?
Both were brilliant for putting me in a situation whereby the above requisite skills I mentioned were needed more than most. Meeting your crew and cast/presenter on day one of a one or two week period, and forming a script from that opening day, is obviously going to present plenty of challenges. As Director, you’re going to have to sort them out if you want anything resembling a good film, one that’s being shown no matter what to a series of top industry professionals, such as the head of Channel 4 commissioning.
It’s something that I also experienced in Zagreb with the Jewish Film Festival, who selected me to go and direct over there this Spring; the film was in Croatian with almost a solely Croatian cast and crew and again a two week period. All of them have helped to progress me to a point in which I can be confident in my abilities on set, and thus hopefully put everyone at ease, which is when they’ll perform best.
What do you believe the barriers are for young directors and film makers trying to crack the industry?
The biggest barrier is most probably ourselves; at least in my case it is. There are a ridiculous amount of people wanting to do the same role, and the danger is sometimes comparing yourselves to them, and, if they’re younger and have had more success, getting disheartened…there’s no time frame on making a solid living from directing and there’s no shame in doing another completely unrelated job to support that passion. If you’re confident enough and persistent enough, then you should be rewarded.
If you had an endless production budget what would you create and who would you collaborate with/hire as the cast?
Haha, it would be a violent, comic-book style adaptation of Batman (so not gothic like Burton, camp like Schumacher or realistic like Nolan). Roger Deakins would be my DOP, John Williams my composer, David Fincher my producer and Tarantino my writer.
To be fair, I’m trying to avoid all Christopher Nolan ‘choices’, Freeman, Caine, Bale, Oldman and editor Lee Smith are all favourites of mine but have already had their chance! But I would have to break that rule to get Tom Hardy in there, as well as Ryan Gosling, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently in a lengthy pre-production on a short called ‘Mop, Bucket and Cape’, a Superhero film with a big difference.
We’re currently having 8 origin-story comics drawn based on scripts that I wrote specifically for them, and these will be sold, as well as our posters, as part of our fundraising campaign, which will start around September. We shoot in December in a Victorian Wayne Manor-esque mansion and then post-production will take quite a lengthy period of time after that!
What is the ultimate achievement you aspire to?
Being able to live and survive solely off of what I hope is some kind of creative career directing works for me, everything on top of that would be a plus.