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Debut director Craig Roberts offers his tips to budding filmmakers

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You’ll recognise Craig Roberts’ face. And, chances are, you’ll be seeing more of it. Five years on from making his major screen debut in Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, Roberts’ latest film is due to hit cinemas. But the 24-year-old isn’t just the star of coming-of-age tale Just Jim – he’s its director and writer. Here, he tells us what he learned as a first-time filmmaker.

What’s it like going behind the camera and yelling “action” for the first time?
Stressful. But it’s a good stress. It was strange talking to cameramen about shots when you’re used to having someone else talk. But I became more worried about my heart.

What did you have to learn?
That you have to appear unbreakable. If the costume department asks, “What do you think of this dress, red or blue?” you have to know what you want. I’m not a decisive guy, but if you’re a director you have to act confident.

Did you pick any tips off Richard Ayoade from Submarine? He doesn’t seem the shouting type.
Yeah, I had a similar approach to him, being very quiet. But a lot of being a director is about keeping morale up.

Any team-bonding sessions?
I was like David Brent. Haha.

Emile Hirsch is your co-star in Just Jim. What’s it like bossing around an experienced actor?
I thought nobody would listen to me. Then they did. Everyone’s there to create something you think is good – it’s strange.

Were these things taught to you at film school?
I never went to film school. I just watched movies. You can learn so much from watching Kubrick or Hitchcock films. That’s my advice for starting out – watch a bunch of films. I still play with a Super 8 camera at home, shooting stuff to get used to the look and sound.

Were there horror stories on set with equipment not working?
I stayed away from all of that. We didn’t have much money and it was just a 16-day shoot – if I’d messed anything up it would’ve been all over.

Which films directly influenced Just Jim?
I like David Lynch, but you can’t just copy him, otherwise you end up with [Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut flop] Lost River. My movie’s definitely not a Lynch rip. Otherwise it’d be f*cking awesome [laughs].

Just Jim’s credits read: written by Craig Roberts, directed by Craig Roberts, starring Craig Roberts...
...soundtrack by Craig Roberts. Not really.

Roberts

That’s a lot to take on for your first film. Is that something you’d recommend?
It depends how well you know the areas. I’ve been acting for 14 years. Directing yourself is such a schizophrenic process, though. I’d say my line, watch it back and go, “That’s OK, you’re OK.” By no means do I think I’m Woody Allen.

The film’s shot in your south Wales hometown. Is it good to stick to what you know?
Definitely write what you know. It makes it easier. Just Jim’s story is roughly based on my childhood. I knew what I wanted, even with costumes. I filmed at my old school, and at my nan’s house.

Did she get a credit?
She didn’t get a credit.

What’s your advice for a first-time director?
The film you’re making is a statement on how you see the world, so don’t let too many people get involved in writing, through to filming and editing. The more people come in, the more you change it, the less it’s yours. And be confident; if you question yourself from the outset, that’s not good. But don’t walk around like you’re Kanye West with a camera, thinking you’re God. I’d love to see a film directed by Kanye, though.

How much of directing is just looking like you know what you’re doing?
A lot of it. It’s funny that coming-of-age stories are associated with kids, because humans are always coming of age, always developing.

Based on that, can anyone go into filmmaking?
If you love film, yeah.

And film school’s not essential?
It’s wise to go to film school, but you don’t have to. You could just watch Kubrick and Scorsese films.

Just Jim is at selected cinemas from 25 September

(Photography: Matt Holyoak)

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