Stephen Mayne interviewing Max Barron, one half of British Director Collective Jones.
The sun is shining through the window on a warm July day as I sit hunched over the phone. On the other end of the line is Max Barron, half of the film making duo Jones, who have just seen their debut feature, Everyone’s Going to Die, launch in the UK to much acclaim. Refreshingly, it’s a British film that avoids feeling like a stereotypical British film. Max is explaining this to me. “We didn’t set out with this massive agenda to have a film that doesn’t look like it was shot in Britain, but one of the things we both like about the cinema we’re into is it’s quite universal.” Max pauses a moment pondering this. “The film happens to be British and it’s set in Britain, and we’re both British, but you could take the story and relocate it anywhere and you wouldn’t lose anything.”
I explain that I was impressed it felt more like the Britain I live in than the one I see on film. He mulls this over as well. “I wonder if that’s because in Britain, there aren’t that many genres we make films in. You’ve got the social realist tradition, where, unless you’re from that world, it’s actually not how most of Britain lives. Then there’s period films which is not how most of Britain lives either, for obvious reasons, and there’s the Richard Curtis Working Title world, again, another demographic not that common.”
One thing’s for sure, Everyone’s Going to Die is a far way from any of these examples. Pinning a label on this dark, absurdist comedy/drama is difficult, something Max freely acknowledges. “We kind of knew we were taking on an ask by doing something that’s non-genre. As a first time filmmaker, no one knows who you are so it would have been easier if it had been a genre film in terms of the industry being able to peg it.”
When pushed, he does have his own categorisation. “I’d describe it as an indie-comedy, less in the way it’s funded than about the sensibility of trying to deal with something that has a serious element, but in a funny way. Rather than, say, being incredibly solemn or chasing laughs at every opportunity.”
’m only speaking to Max, but he’s representing his creative partner as well, and I get the strong impression that when he speaks, he really is speaking for both of them. The film is credited to Jones, the collective name under which Max and Michael Woodward work. They’ve known each other for a while, both professionally and personally. “We started working together at a production company and they put us together to direct an ad on the basis that it would just be easier to have two incompetent people rather than one incompetent person. We shot that and the plan was to go our separate ways, but we both really enjoyed it. That was a few years ago now. We had a conversation about it and realised we’re both really into movies and that’s where we saw our careers going.”
While not all that common, there are obvious examples of directing duos, the Coens’ for one, but I’m intrigued by how it works in practice. It’s clearly a question Max has heard a lot. “I do most of the writing and Mikey does most of the editing, and in those processes the other one will chip in, comment and then go away.” Although they might split duties outside of shooting, on set it’s different. “We direct together. It takes a while for people to realise they can come and ask one of us a question and get an answer that goes for both, but it does seem to work like that.”
As experienced as they might be together, this is still their first feature. Despite numerous ads and shorts, they planned for the worse. “We were kind of super prepared for this to be like going into war. But it wasn’t at all. It was really, really fun, weirdly quite relaxed as an atmosphere, even though we were up against the schedule.” I ask why he thinks it worked out so well. “I think partly the way the film came about, funded by a large number of small investors, none of whom are film people. They just left us to get on with it. Maybe it also helps when you’re making a comedy as well, as you’re laughing a lot as part of the process.”
We’ve already established that it’s a comedy, but not in the traditional sense. This all comes back to their desire to play around with genres. The film follows Rob Knighton’s jaded semi-gangster in Folkestone for a job, and Nora Tschirner’s German soon-to-be waitress, a woman stranded by the decision to follow her partner to the seaside. Their desire to turn everything on its head as the two gradually bond over increasingly bizarre adventures is evident in the characters. “I don’t think it was constructed exactly like that, but there’s an element that he’s a character from another movie, but with reality applied to his predicament. In gangster movies, he’d be super cool and everything would be working out for him. In actual life it’s all a bit shit.” The same goes for Nora. “She’s maybe a character from a romantic comedy that’s run off with the person at the end after they met and hardly know each other. When they’ve got there, she’s realised she doesn’t know anyone and he’s not the person she thought he was. It’s all gone a bit wrong.”
From this starting point, they send the two of them through misadventures with pets, problems with hotel televisions switched to dirty channels, and an incredibly odd family play. It’s all summed up in the title, Max tells me. “Thematically, it’s what the films about. I thought wouldn’t it be nice to have a stark title that sets out what the film is about in the most fundamental way possible. The title’s a joke really.”
Then there’s Folkestone, not the first place that jumps to mind when film locations are discussed. Yet it turned out to be exactly what they were looking for. “The objective at the start was to find somewhere by the seaside that hopefully didn’t look like Britain. When the British seaside is represented on film today. It tends to be very bleak. We wanted somewhere a bit romantic, and with a bit of magic to it visually.” The way Max talks about the place, it appears he succeeded. “It’s actually really picturesque, but not in the classic Broadstairs/Whitstable way. It has a cinematic feel to it. It’s not small, it’s kind of widescreen. We totally loved it.”
So we have a film they loved making, in a place they loved, that’s been receiving a great response on the international festival circuit. Everything’s perfect right? Well it took a long time, something Max isn’t keen to repeat. After finishing the film in 2012, we are only now sat discussing the UK release. “The reason it’s been like that is the way we raised the money. We had no real idea what we were doing other than the creative part. The filmmaking side we got, the industry side and how you get it out there, we had no idea. This manifested itself in the approach they took. “We went about it backwards, which is why it came out in Latin America and France before it came out here, and we went to the wrong festivals in the wrong order, but had an amazing time doing it. With the release now, we have a second wind of excitement ourselves, but I certainly wouldn’t want to do it that way again.”
Just where does an exciting young filmmaking duo go next? Max is crystal clear. “We definitely want to work together and make more movies. We have a couple of projects in the pipeline, one coming out of development at the BFI, and a TV idea.” There’s one final pause. “Creating something and having people connect with it, you never get tired of it, and we’ve got the bug for that now.”
The London Economic would like to thank Max for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone’s Going to Die was released theatrically on 26th Jun, it’s out on most major VoD platforms now. Our full review of the film here.