Darling Films’ newest signing talks to LBB’s Alex Reeves about mockumentaries, courting controversy and his time as a professional snowboarder
Last month saw the release of a raw three-minute film delving into the roots of the mysterious underground figure known as ‘Recorda Boi’ (AKA Oli Frost). Documenting his rise as an artist, his premature career peak (the school assembly) and the dark period after his school recorder club fell apart, the film goes on to tell Recorda Boi’s story of self-reinvention, combining his love of hip hop with his gold recorder. Now Recorda Boi is well and truly back on top, having played gigs from London to New York, amassed a loyal following on social media and even performed on Britain's Got Talent 2018.
Disappointingly, he’s not real. The film is the third instalment in mockumentary series It's Niche That, directed by Darling Films’ Chris Goulder in collaboration with Oli, who is real and works as a creative at AMV BBDO by day.
It's Niche That began around 2017 between a group of friends who’d met on the famous Watford advertising course. The idea was originally to parody the type of video content Vice makes. “The characters with absurd ideas and ‘side hustles’,” says Chris. “The style of content that Vice created really lent itself to mockumentary style. It kind of meant that we were able to explore characters and their daft, often absurd, ideas. And then deliver that comedy in a very deadpan way.”
Originally a team of four, Chris says they’d work on the ideas almost like they were making an ad. He would direct the films, but all the writers would be on set contributing ideas. “It’s a total shoestring project, but something that’s so great, to have that other outlet,” says Chris. “It’s our side project which is about other people’s side projects. Which is in itself a rather ironic twist, I guess.”
So far the team have made three films: ‘Hate Crimes And Clothes Moths: Inside The UK's Clothes Moth Sanctuary’, ‘Real Virtual Reality: Could this replace your life?’ and now ‘Recorda Boi’. All are brilliantly dry works of comedy. “There are a lot of serious short films,” admits Chris. “I wish there were more comedy ones.”
Recorda Boi is Chris’ first film release since he joined the Darling Films roster early this year. After a stint at Rogue he’s now reunited with many of the team he’d worked with previously at Bare, the production company that first repped him. “It feels like the right fit,” he says. Plus, Darling's status as part of the Ridley Scott Creative Group is a bonus. When I meet him it’s in a room filled with props from Alien, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. “You can’t skirt around the fact that being part of the Ridley Scott Creative Group has got so many attractive aspects to it,” laughs Chris, who’s still slightly daunted by the film history the company’s steeped in. “It’s its own company but there is inevitably some cross-over, which is super exciting for me.”
Chris’ own relationship with filmmaking started when he was about eight and a film crew came to the village he grew up in to make a Ruth Rendell mystery for TV called ‘Vanity Dies Hard’. Chris and two of his friends managed to get into a scene as extras, playing shoplifters getting thrown out of a shop. All they had to do was run out of the shop past the camera and out of shot, but that proved surprisingly difficult.
“My best friend Becky was duck-footed, so she couldn’t really run well,” he explains. “So this scene of us getting chased down the pavement wasn’t really working.”
After trying to persevere, when the episode eventually aired, the scene had been cut. “I was devastated,” says Chris. He blamed it on Becky’s duck feet. “With hindsight I realise that I was so interested in filmmaking that I was constantly looking behind the camera at what was going on. So the person fucking up those shots was probably me.”
His curiosity about film persisted but when he saw ‘How to Get Ahead in Advertising’ starring Richard E. Grant - it soon became a firm favourite and ignited a passion for advertising in him. At 15 he did a week’s work experience at AMV BBDO. “I oscillated between being a creative and being a director,” he says.
At college he tried to combine the two, making a couple of ads he describes as “horrible” for his media studies course (“16-year-olds running around with big VHS cameras”). Then his third great passion pulled him in another direction. He became a professional snowboarder. And that’s where his first real experience of making films for any kind of audience came in.
Chris lived in France for four years, filming his friends building jumps and riding kickers. On his down days, when the lifts were shut, he’d be back in his tiny apartment cutting together the footage. He even started to experiment with stop-frame animation, making lots of little shorts, usually about some inanimate object coming to life and taking over the world.
His filmmaking talents grew in parallel to his snowboarding skill and he even ended up as the cover star of Snowboarder UK magazine. He’s still got it framed in his toilet at home.
Eventually his snowboarding career came to an end and he returned to his other passions, studying at St Martin’s and then on the Watford advertising course. He ended up writing ads for a living for a few years.
Then he made ‘Deliveries Before Dawn’ - a mockumentary-style ad for London’s Parker Dairies, unearthing the untold story of London’s vampire milkmen - and everything changed again. The film won big at the British Arrows and Kinsale, and its observational charm and wry humour helped him to land a Christmas campaign for Cadburys, creating 24 films one for every day of advent. Suddenly he found he was a commercials director.
Work for The Sunday Times followed and soon he found himself with a unique brief for Rowse Honey - directing a series of cookery videos inspired by the fairytale of The Three Bears, but using the gay community’s definition of the word ‘bear’ (a larger or hairier gay man who projects an image of rugged masculinity).
“I’m gay myself and I felt like it was an interesting challenge to execute this idea,” says Chris. “When I saw the scripts I thought the only way you can do this is to do it as truthfully as possible. The bear community is such a tight-knit one and the way they talk is so unique and specific to them. Anyone from the outside trying to recreate it, it just does not work at all. It was quite nerve wracking as a junior director to put yourself in that position.”
Eventually, the campaign came out and as Chris remembers “everyone had an opinion on it. “I’d never done a job that had divided opinion like that.”
Thankfully, he was vindicated in the end. "We got loads of great responses from bears all over the world which was the biggest compliment,” he says. “When wrote my treatment it was with them solely in mind. It wasn’t for the ad industry, certainly not for awards. You can’t make a film about the bear community and not write it for them.”
With a solid reel of commercial work under his belt, Chris is poised to continue on a good trajectory in advertising. But he isn’t planning on giving up his side project. He and Oli are speaking to a producer at the BBC about expanding It's Niche That into a sketch show. “it’s an extension of the work we've already created really. The tone is similar but the targets we satirise are broadening.”
The pair’s advertising experience inevitably feeds into it. “Are trending stories actually trending because people are watching them or because the algorithm is being paid for by Pringles and they want you to watch this content?” asks Chris. “We know how things work with clients and ad agencies. There’s an element of unmasking that which is going to be quite fun. It’s finding the absurdity within these situations that we all find ourselves in sometimes. And making light of it. It’s in no way a slight on the industry we both love. It’s a gentle punch up.”