This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my favourite directors, Jamie Hooper (A.K.A JamHoop). Jamie came to the big smoke a little over a decade ago, to pursue his dream of becoming a fully self-taught filmmaker. He feels the best way to learn is by “just doing it” and making mistakes, in order to develop his techniques.
He has created an array of fascinating and macabre pieces, some of which focus on the darker side of human behaviour. Ultimately, Jamie’s forte is horror, and with his short film Unto Death out this week, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a candid interview with the brains behind the bizarre.
Unto Death is a gothic horror which tells the story of a priest named Thomas, who is played by Tim Blackwell. Thomas questions his faith after a seemingly impossible event occurs involving his partner Luke, played by Nathan Dean Williams. The production explores the conflict between religion and love
Emily: What inspired you to make horror films?
Jamie: I enjoy making films in all genres but I particularly love horror and dark comedies. I grew up watching horror and think as a genre it offers many possibilities for interesting stories. Even within sub-genres of horror, such as slasher or ghost films, there are numerous ways of exploring the themes.
Emily: Is there a specific director you admire?
Jamie: I admire a lot of directors, from Kubrick to Spielberg, Fincher, Nolan, Hitchcock, Scorcese, Paul Thomas Anderson, James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Peter Jackson, Steven Soderbergh, Danny Boyle, Andrea Arnold, Guillermo del Toro, Lynne Ramsay, the list goes on. That’s the great thing about filmmaking, everyone has their own style and way of telling a story.
Jamie Hooper with crew on set
Emily: What do you feel your biggest challenges are as an independent film maker?
Jamie: The biggest challenge for me is money, and not having any. All my films are self financed as I can only afford to spend so much money on them. Without money, it can be difficult to put things on screen that you might want to, so it can be somewhat limiting. Limits are good though, as they make you more creative. Having no money means my films concentrate more on characters and story rather than trying to put ‘flashy’ visuals on screen. Not that there’s anything working with that – I just can’t afford to do it, haha.
Emily: Do you have a favourite film you have made?
Jamie: It’s too difficult to choose a favourite of my own films. Hopefully each film I make is different than the last otherwise I’ll end up repeating myself, but each of them contain things I love. A big shout out to all the actors I’ve ever worked with as all my films contain amazing performances.
Emily: Tell me your biggest achievement in the world of film – is there anything you had to overcome to get where you are?
Jamie: Making any film, even a bad one, takes a lot of effort, so the fact there are some truly great films is pretty incredible. Honestly, the fact anyone makes films is kind of a miracle. I’d say my biggest achievement is actually making a living as a filmmaker – even if it includes filming/editing boring corporate videos, people pay me to do it and I consider that pretty cool.
On the set of Unto Death
Emily: Do you have a preferred method of filming?
Jamie: I try not to have a style; I’m actually very anti-style. I think if a filmmaker has a style then they’re not progressing, they’re just making the same film over and over and I find that boring. I try to approach each script I write from a different perspective, so the cinematography, sound design, etc., will be unique to that film. For instance, with Unto Death, I felt that a retro 70s horror vibe would suit it best, so I chose to film with vintage zoom lenses and light it very dramatically.
[Now, I hate to interrupt the interview here for a second folks, but the next bit isn’t something I was expecting. Throughout the interview, Jamie had been honest, clear and candid in his thoughts – something his fans love him for. However, it seems that Jamie took this opportunity to play a little prank on me, which I shamefully fell for. Take a look below.]
Emily: What made you choose London?
Jamie: In third grade, I cheated on my history exam. In fourth grade, I stole my uncle Max’s toupee and I glued it on my face when I was Moses in my Hebrew School play. In fifth grade, I knocked my sister Lucy down the stairs and I blamed it on the dog! But the worst thing I ever did, I mixed up all this fake puke at home and then I went to this movie theatre, hid the puke in my jacket, climbed up to the balcony and then, I made a noise like this: hua-hua-hua-huaaaaaaa – then I dumped it over the side, all over the people in the audience. And then, this was horrible, all the people started getting sick and throwing up all over each other. I never felt so bad in my entire life! After that I moved to London.
[After rapidly blinking in silence for roughly 3 minutes, I eventually called him out on it – he had just been quoting The Goonies at me and I hadn’t noticed.]
Jamie: Unto Death actually began life as another film which I began shooting but never completed due to events out of my control. I did, however, film a key scene with a vicar in a church and I always wanted to do something with the footage. That reason, combined with my desire to work with great actors Tim Blackwell and Nathan Dean Williams again, and a long-held urge to make a vampire film, resulted in me writing a script that incorporated the already filmed church footage. The irony is I ended up reshooting the church scenes anyway as the tone wasn’t quite right for Unto Death. It was a good lesson as it taught me that even if a film falls apart something better can come from it, as Unto Death is undoubtedly a better film than the original would’ve been.
I’m also a massive fan of Gothic horror and have always wanted to make something ambitious and dark with grandiose emotions. Finally, I wanted to try telling a concise story in a non-linear way, so rather than beginning, middle, end, I wanted to try exploring a more fractured timeline with scenes playing out like memories.
We’d like to say a big thank you to Jamie Hooper for his interview! You can now watch Unto Death online – what better way for horror fans to enjoy Valentine’s Day 2018? ♥