A director’s journey is not always a clear-cut one. Do you need to pick a niche? Go as broad as possible? Stick to one genre?
Sitting down with Great Guns
’ latest director addition, Jesse Vile
, it’s clear there is not one single path within either a director’s trajectory, or perhaps film as a whole. He tells LBB how he got his start in the film world, as an intern and then a producer for Raindance Film Festival, before pivoting with a single realisation: “I’ve been devoting my time and life to providing a platform for other people’s films. I need to start making my own.”
As an acclaimed documentary maker and director more than ten years on, Jesse Vile’s move to Great Guns is one that will see him taking on more commercial work, marking a new stage in his career. Since his debut feature documentary film, ‘Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet’ in 2012, which told the story of American musician Jason Becker and his battle with Lou Gehrig's disease, Jesse has gone on to director work on a range of topics, from Netflix’s ‘The Ripper’ to ‘This is Football’ for Amazon Studios; his latest project, ‘Curse of the Chippendales’ was released last month.
It’s quite a change to go from multi-hour long projects where you can set the stage with detail and background to spots that can be 30 seconds long, where succinctness and clear messaging is key, but as Jesse says: “You could argue that any story that’s ever been told, could be told in 30 seconds, right?”
It’s about people and the message
“It’s really about the message you’re trying to convey and how you deliver that message as effectively as possible,” he adds. “And it could be more difficult to tell a story in a short period, and really it’s about boiling it down to three things: What is this about? What are you trying to do? And what are you trying to say?”
“I was really attracted to Great Guns because of their focus on storytelling,” says Jesse. “Many ads are flashy and glamorous, and then you move on. When I was looking through their work, they had really powerful ads, commercials, branded content, and short films that really touched me.”
LBB was eager to find out what kind of work in the commercial space Jesse is drawn to. “I’m drawn to people. The stories I tell often have a dark side, and they’re about people and the human experience.”
“For me, it’s about the inventor, not the invention,” says Jesse.
Providing audiences with the unexpected
When approaching any story, Jesse says his aim is to try and find a way of doing something different: “I want people to walk about saying ‘I wasn’t expecting that’.”
Released in 2020, Jesse co-directed Netflix’s ‘The Ripper’ with Ellena Wood. Taking the unconventional route when it comes to true crime, the series focused on the victims, rather than on Peter Sutcliffe, the perpetrator. “On paper, you’d expect a story about the serial killer, trying to get into his mind and find out what made him do it,” says Jesse on what audiences might have traditionally expected. “We didn’t mention his name until the last episode. It was really about the way a country responded to a crisis.”
“What story is it and what are you trying to say? And you have to be hyper-focused on that because if you’re not, you’ll get lost. You’ll end up with a directionless film, series, ad, or story.”
When working on productions of any length, Jesse says the parameters can change, and as a director, you realise what’s essential. Particularly when working on a series, “Especially with a four-part series, in the beginning, you tend to get carried about with how much you can do, how many stories you can tell, and how much you can have because four hours feels like a lot,” he says. “But you’d be surprised at how quickly those four hours can fill up.”
“You could tell one story a million ways, but I liken it to a jigsaw puzzle: you’re choosing the right pieces and trying to fit it into the image you have in your head and you could make a million different jigsaw puzzles. But this is the one you’re trying to make and sometimes the pieces might not fit, even when you hammer them in. So it’s about making your own jigsaw.”
Telling as many stories as possible
While Jesse’s documentaries and series have been successful, the director notes the limitations such lengthy projects have.
“In the last five or six years, it’s been a minimum year-long run for each project,” he tells LBB. “That’s why I wanted to work with Great Guns: there’s the opportunity to tell amazing stories and connect with people, and it doesn’t take a year each time.”
“I love telling stories, and I want to tell as many of them as possible.”
His most recent work on Curse of the Chippendales began in August 2020 and finished in August 2021, and as Jesse says, a year is the norm for his work in recent years. However, this time the direction took place from the seat in which he’s sat today.
“We did it all in lockdown, which was incredibly difficult and challenging, frustrating - but one thing it was great to see is how this industry finds a way to keep telling stories and creating.” Although he does add that he felt he ``lost a bit of the connection with the person not in front of me,” but despite that, remote working allowed a way to keep going ‘no matter what.’
From festival producer to director
While studying at film school in Philadelphia, Jesse took a semester abroad in London where he interned at Raindance Film Festival, before going on to produce it “I watched a bazillion short films - anywhere from15 seconds to 45 minutes- and I thought, okay, I’ve been devoting my time and life to providing a platform for other people’s films. I need to start making my own.”
But how? “There isn’t one answer,” says Jesse. “Most people don’t know how to make that jump; the most common route is to start as a runner, work up to a researcher, maybe a production coordinator and producer. I dove in with my feature doc.”
The feature, Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet, was crowdfunded: “You have to really understand your audience. Luckily mine was a very passionate, very niche one - most people haven’t heard of Jason Becker, but within the world of guitar players he’s like Jesus Christ. I’d been obsessed with the story since I was 15.”
Jesse is eager to translate his documentary skills into commercials. “The reason I knew being a documentary maker and also directing commercials can work is because arguably the greatest documentary maker of all time, Errol Morris, made ads too. That’s the kind of career I’d love to emulate. He’s a legend and if he can do it, I’d love to try.”
Jesse is represented globally by Great Guns, for more information contact Oliver Fuselier for USA and Laura Gregory for Rest of World.