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Q&A with Alec Bowman-Clarke

Alec Bowman-Clarke. Credit: Andrew Washington

Let's start with the burning question- what is it like to work with your wife on the set? Is it different than working with other professionals?

Haha that's a good question! It is different, yes. We both have our processes & our requirements - everyone does, right? - and we understand each other pretty well, plus we have lots of time to prepare for things that other clients might not get, so it can almost feel like cheating. We both do our jobs the same as if we were working with anyone else, no special treatment, no punches pulled is the plan. We learned early on that there has to be a separation of church and state otherwise things can get messy. Staying focussed on your role. No distractions. Remembering all the things you have to do. What's the goal? Why am I doing this? What's it for? What should it mean? Why would I do it like this, not like that? Tie everything back to the brief. These things get lost in the excitement & stress of a set, so being able to keep them in your mind is, for me, incredibly important and even harder to do when you're on set with family or friends - but that just makes it even more important to do it right. So it's inspiring & can get a little testy, but I enjoy it & I think she does, too.

The music video for the song Anyone But Me is reminiscent of Hitchcock's films, not only because of the choice of black and white and the knife that pops up every now and then. You chose many elements of horror, although, unlike Hitchcock, you didn't show violence at all. Can you take us through the construction process of the story, step by step?

Thank you. I'm very proud of that video. Of course, Hitchcock (Rebecca & Suspicion) was an inspiration, as was Noel Coward's 'Brief Encounter'. This song has been a millstone around Josienne's neck since she wrote it - she's not actually a "psychotic bunny boiler" like the narrator; it's a rare example of a lyric of hers that isn't autobiographical, but folks identify with it and it's likely her most requested song, so she knew when she reworked it like this it would likely get even more popular and then she'd feel even worse! It would have been easy to make a video about a crazy jealous wronged woman, there would have been all sorts of opportunities for striking visuals in that video but I wanted to swerve the obvious route and land a glancing blow. My concept - and it arrived within 30 seconds of the initial 'please make a video for 'Anyone But Me' request - was to focus in on the ambiguity. The narrator is all intent and no action - she would do things, if she could, not that she has done anything at all. So I thought, what if I can string together threatening scenarios but never actually commit to violence, exactly like in the song? This is just a happy couple, eating a sandwich, having a bath, reading a book! Where's the problem? Like a passive aggressive reading of this narrator, entirely defensible. Does everyone die in a gas explosion at the end? Or do they just end up eating a tasty dinner? That's what I wanted to do. Walk the line. So the lack of violence in the video mirrors the lack of violence in the song. Involving Chris Newman (a recurring character from Bob Gallagher's wonderful video for 'Chicago') was the idea that came next - what if this video was a sequel to 'Chicago'? I like to build a reference language, recur elements from previous projects in new ones and that seemed to make particular sense here. Shot in two days, edited in less and then I had to sit on it for 4 months until it could be released, which was torture.

How does your varied and rich experience as a musician, photographer, screenwriter, and director help you in building a script for a song, and in general, in production?

It's all the same to me. Looking for that oblique reference, the reflection that tells the story, the natural frame, trying to show something meaningful through a dirty window, a sad little something through broken glass. I try to find tension, release, emotional content in every decision. Meticulous. Planned. Careful. Unless you see something in which case, grab it, take the moment and think later. I’m unhinged, unpredictable, you just never know in a session with me, whatever the discipline, what’s coming next! Apart from that you do, precisely because it’s likely listed, documented, explained, captured. I dunno. I have a process. I don’t always care to explain it. I'm a paranoid little dichotomy, an immoveable object & an unstoppable force all in one go. Haha. I'm just messing. I enjoy making things & I enjoy working with people, but not everyone can do that & I can't do that with everyone, so you have to be careful who you work with. I know how to get that right, these days.

"Anyone But Me", by Alec Bowman_Clarke

What made you choose to be a director? Do you remember that moment, when you knew this was what you wanted to do in life?

I do remember - necessity. I wasted a lot of time in my life. I tried on different outfits and none felt right. I got to the end of lots of journeys where I ended up in strange places that I dont remember choosing. Then, one day, I started a trip that felt different to the rest, and imposter syndrome kicks in. I found myself in a waking dream, a place I'd dared hope I could be, without a role. A nobody in the corner, a coffee boy. Now, I’m happy to make everyone a coffee, I’ll happily do it all day long, but I got inspired during a week long session to make a video. I used what I had, which wasn’t much, and made “If I Didn’t Mind”. I was new to all that, then; I was still just a naive kid who’d never operated at that level and I learned a lot of hard lessons real quick about how people in the industry treated each other and I didn’t love all of it. I knew I had to track my own course through it and I sit here today with an award winning music video and that feels good, like five years of learning & a lifetime of standing by bearing fruit. I also just played bass live on stage at Union Chapel in London and Lady Nade put my portrait of her in The Guardian. They say I have an eye. I’m not the best of anything, but what I am and what I do, it’s mine, it counts for something and some people like it, which makes me proud. I couldn’t have said that 6 years ago. I’m not doing it to be famous. Or for money. I’m doing it to feel something, to feel like a person who has a right to exist, who has something to give, who has a reason to get out of bed. The thrill of creation, for the excitement of plucking nothing out of thin air and moulding it into a shape that has an effect on the world. Nothing does that better than cinema, so here we are.

What's your dream project?

Always my next one. I'm restless, I waited a long time to do this, so I don’t feel like I have time to waste. I'm loving the cinematic journey of learning and growing, and the things I do one day being impossible to imagine the day before. There is so much to know, so many skills to master. Every shoot is a cruel lesson. I’m filming a short film I wrote in August but I’m already writing my next script, which is a feature that doesn’t have a title yet. It’s a cross between ‘Best In Show’ & ‘Primer’, which is a film I know I’d want to watch. Seeing it appear from nowhere, that's never getting boring.

Where do you see yourself, as an artist, 10 years from now?

'Never Again' will have made a few laurels on the circuit, hopefully persuaded some film types that I'm worth a second look, I'll have secured funding to make my first feature, which will have been a success and i'll have written whatever's next - I'll be more ambitious, still growing, still with artistic control over my own ideas with a trusted team of beautiful people who help me bring them to life, a process that will bear fruit for everyone involved, and we'll keep pushing & keep telling beautiful stories that make our audiences feel things. Standing on the shoulders of giants.

What are you currently working on?

I'm currently in pre-production, gearing up for principle photography on a short film called #NeverAgain - a story I wrote in the weeks after finishing 'Anyone But Me' video. The script is a heartfelt little coming-of-age tale that I hope resonates with people. Here's the crowdfunder all about it, although this is finished soon - I better update the link!

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