INTERVIEW: Mitch Jenkins

We talk to the filmmaker about The Show, his new collaboration with Alan Moore

Last month marked the debut of the first two short films to come out of luminary comic book writer Alan Moore and photographer Mitch Jenkins’s second collaborative project, a noirish film series inhabiting the world of The Show.

Following on from 2010’s Unearthing, which had Jenkins matching photographs to Moore’s essay on his friend and fellow comics man Steve Moore, the series, comprising five shorts leading up to a feature-length, also entitled The Show, marks Moore’s first writing specifically done for the screen and is set in their mutual hometown, Northampton, exploring the locality’s seedier underbelly.

So far, two films have been delivered: the first, ‘Act Of Faith’, follows Faith Harrington (Siobhan Hewlett), a single nymphomaniac living on her own who pursues increasingly insidious ways to fulfil her addiction. The second, ‘Jimmy’s End’, has James Mitchum (Darrell D’Silva) making his way into the bowls of St James End Working Men’s Club’s neo noir-tinged crypt of debauchery and hedonism. Have a watch of ‘Act Of Faith’ below, and scroll down for ‘Jimmy’s End’:

We met up with Jenkins at the film’s premiere screening, at the almost-namesake St James Working Men’s Club in Northampton, to talk about working with long-time friend Moore, the appeal of their home city and the transition from photography to film-making.

Did you and Alan learn anything on Unearthing that you applied to this project?

Mitch Jenkins: Yeah, I actually think we learnt a lot. The whole thing with Unearthing came around me wanting to visualise the original text and then I thought let’s put Alan into the studio and do a spoken word piece and then he did the live concerts. The book itself comes out next month I think and then we are doing a mash-up video which will be a combination of the images and the film from the live show.

When we sat down to work on ‘Jimmy’s End’ we thought let’s incorporate all of that organic growth that came from Unearthing from the beginning rather than starting from scratch. We thought let’s use all of these different elements, all of these different platforms in order to better tell the story. So with ‘Act Of Faith’ and ‘Jimmy’s End’, as a series of short films they kind of work along with the other two I’m just finishing up at the moment. But then we wanted to use annotation, which enables you to then click on different elements within the film and go to different websites and help you further understand the characters and the narrative. They are all done from the perspective as if they’re real, almost blurring the lines between imagination and the real world. But then within those different transmedia websites there will be even more links for you to find. If you’re prepared to dig deep there’s loads and loads of other stuff going on, but again that’s down to the viewer, if they want to engage with the film at that level, then all of the opportunity to do so is already there.

So Unearthing gave you ideas on the methods you could use to tell your story, but where did the actual idea for the current project spawn from?

MJ: Yeah, Unearthing definitely opened our eyes to what we could do. ‘Jimmy’s End’ came about after a photoshoot I had done for Alan’s fanzine called Dodgem Logic and I just really wanted to recreate that photo shoot as a short film. Alan then offered to do the screenplay, but it was only after that that we then thought, hang on, if we take everything we have learnt from Unearthing and put that into the short film then it will make for a much more diverse and cohesive kind of project, because every single element means something and furthers the narrative.

Fantastic – so you plan on making this project a full on multimedia journey of discovery, almost?

MJ: It already is, to be honest with you. Alan’s been writing loads of other stuff that will go into these hyperlinks through the YouTube annotations. We have also created a new band called False Awakening; I mean, there will be loads of different stuff. We aren’t just using digital media, we are also going to be using analogue and there’s some other stuff that’s quite funky but I don’t want to talk about that at the moment.

Basically we are trying to seed the future, so at the moment we have two films out, there’s two others in the pan and there’s a fifth one that were just about to start shooting early next year which ties up the ‘Jimmy’s End’ series but the big prize is the feature film called The Show.

So The Show‘s actually going to be a separate feature film?

MJ: Yeah, basically we have a series of short films that we call showpieces and they all fit together like a little jigsaw, building up to the feature film, The Show.

The films focus on regional British culture – would you say there any British directors who have influenced the way you made the films?

MJ: It’s a funny one, who we are inspired by. I think what me and Alan wanted to do from the very beginning was do this our way. Neither of us are trained in filmmaking, you know; Alan writes comics and I take photographs, so the development of our style, will hopefully be our style. A lot of people have already been saying “oh, it’s very David Lynch”. Alan and I discussed that from the very beginning, although we both really like Lynch, sometimes, from a storytelling point of view, he takes so many liberties in the sense that he doesn’t fully explain anything and you’re left thinking “what the hell was that about?” Whereas everything in our film means something, and the things that don’t will all be concluded and tied up, so regarding taking influence from British filmmakers, no, not really. I think once people get over the David Lynch similarities I think everyone’s going to see actually how different it is from Lynch.

What would you say is the unifying theme of all the films? Is there a message you want to communicate?

MJ: I suppose dreams have a lot to do with the film and the whole feeling of dreamtime and the relationship between the here and now and the dream world, that’s the kind of unifying thing. One of the things we are trying to do is blur the lines between the imagined world and the real world, so people never truly know what’s real and what’s not. But the penny will drop further into the story.

Do you think Alan’s interest in occultism has leaked into the film? And is it something you are conscious of?

MJ: Well Alan is obviously very interested in that world. However, it isn’t something I think too much about. I mean my job as a director is to bring his words on the page to life so that isn’t something that’s at the forefront of my mind. I mean the story is obviously full of occultist references and as the story progresses into the fifth film, ‘His Heavy Heart’, everyone will begin to understand the references.

Being good friends did the creative balance as writer and director come naturally or did you have to work on it?

MJ: We have a few ground rules between us, things that he was very keen that we wouldn’t be doing. One of them is that we didn’t want any non-deictic music, so all of the music in the film is music that the actual characters can hear. We didn’t put in a sweeping soundscape to create a mood, it’s all sounds that would be heard by the characters. We also made a pact that we don’t want to do any CGI or be overly reliant on special effects, because if we can’t do something with a camera then it just feels that that may be something we shouldn’t be doing.

What is it about Northampton that’s so special for you two?

MJ: Well Alan and I both live here. I love it here, it’s such a normal, nothingness-type of town but it’s such a lovely place to live, it’s strange and it’s the furthest point from the sea. Alan is of course completely bewitched by Northampton and enjoys living here and writing about it. It’s as good a place as any to set a film: this is where ‘Jimmy’s End’ exists, this is where the characters live, this is where we have taken so many references. The big thing me and Alan set out to do was to use Northampton as an actual character in a film, but unless you live here you can have no idea, it’s just a strange little place.

This was quite a departure from your previous photographic work, what would you say were the biggest challenges moving from that medium to this one?

MJ: I suppose the biggest challenge was allowing myself to take a step back. Because when I’m taking a photograph, I have these big productions sometimes costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and I’m controlling everything for one frame, for one moment in time. Whereas now I’m stepping back and empowering all these different people to bring out the best in them, sort of marshal these people to work as this big collaborating unit, so it was different in that sense. It wasn’t about focusing on a moment, it was about creating a mood, and letting the emotions run from there, as well as getting the actors into the zone. It was so different from taking photos, but it’s something I’m really enjoying.

Do you plan to continue your partnership with Alan as opposed to embarking on your own film projects?

MJ: We have been working together now for nearly six years with the Unearthing project and now this and we just enjoy each other’s company and we work very well together, so I think at the moment I’m not looking to start directing films with other people. I’m busy enough taking photographs and working with Alan, I don’t have any time to work on any other projects!

I guess when you find good creative chemistry with someone it’s better to focus on that rather than start something new?

MJ: I think so, I really do. Because we really trust each other to bring out the best in one another and we have got so much more to do with this project. I don’t have an appetite for anything else at the moment.

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