Being named a Star of Tomorrow seems like a lifetime ago for documentary director Jamie Jay Johnson, who was lucky to even be alive for the photoshoot.
When I got the call to say I’d been chosen as one of Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow in 2006, I was laid up with two broken legs after a near-fatal head-on collision between my bike and a white van. Screen kindly paid for my taxi to the photo shoot.
Being chosen as a Star of Tomorrow was amazing, but I didn’t realise how highly it’s regarded by the industry.
Before Stars, I had been doing a National Film and Television School documentary course.
Channel 4 had commissioned my 30-minute film Holiday Around My Bedroom, which sounds terrible but it led to TV Bafta and Broadcast nominations as best new director. However, most of my work was too comic and authored for TV docs.
Screen spotted me at the graduation screening of my short about owners of robot dogs, Man’s New Best Friend.
As soon as the issue came out, the calls and e-mails started to arrive. I went from being the only Star of Tomorrow with a hotmail contact address and no agent to being fought over by five agencies, including ICM and PFD.
In the end I chose Curtis Brown, because agents Nick Marston and Tally Garner told me I’d “never work in this town again” if I didn’t. I think they were joking, but I wasn’t going to take the chance.
That was when the meetings began: Working Title, BBC Films and Film4 all wanted to meet me, thanks to reading about my “warm, quirky, comic and crowd-pleasing” stuff in the Stars piece.
Part of being a Star involved my interviewing legendary doc director Nick Broomfield. It was to be a pivotal moment, because he suggested: “Why don’t you make a cinema feature?” Screen’s Patricia Dobson also encouraged me, and I thought: “Why not? If I’m going to put so much work into these projects, at least it would be good if they had a longer life and reach.” And one of the first feature doc ideas I had was Sounds Like Teen Spirit, about the Junior Eurovision contest.
Directing it was amazing, exhausting and frustrating but I learnt a huge amount. We had BBC news coverage and the Evening Standard label it “the new Slumdog” While this turned out to be pretty far from the truth in terms of the box office, we had a phenomenal response from critics and audiences and played in more than 30 cinemas nationwide.
I’m now in development with Film4 on a comedy feature - an animal-buddy road movie, part live action and part animation, and am toying with a few straight comedy ideas.
It’s great to see what my fellow Stars have since done. I remember meeting Chris Waitt, who has made A Complete History Of My Sexual Failures, which has been optioned for a Hollywood remake, and Tom Harper, whose Film4 feature The Scouting Book For Boys is out soon. But I must admit, at the photo shoot I was a little distracted by the girl Stars, one of whom I took on a semi-disastrous date (that’s another story).
When I hobbled into the Stars photoshoot three years ago, I honestly didn’t expect to be where I am today. It has opened so many doors, and I am totally indebted.
I would be a Star of Tomorrow every year if I could. Instead, I look forward to seeing if any of this year’s Stars supply only a hotmail address as a contact.
Sounds Like Teen Spirit is released on DVD by Warner Music Entertainment this autumn.
Jamie is represented by Tally Garner at Curtis Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jamie’s tips for becoming a star of tomorrow:
- It is a super-tough industry to break into. Either become a runner and work your way up, or try to do your own thing. The problem with the first route is that you use up so much energy on someone else’s work that at the end of the day you have none left for your own. There is also a danger that you end up making slightly generic and stale films that try for a professional look but often don’t have much to say and have no real heart.
- My advice to young film-makers would be to get out there and do it yourself. The technology is available, so there’s no excuse. My showreel includes things I made years ago, just messing about with friends in my bedroom. That was my training. I recently rewatched Bad Taste, which Peter Jackson made on his weekends, and was really inspired by that.