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New Directors’ Showcase: James W. Griffiths

Dazed went to Cannes for a chat with the British filmmaker whose mobile phone-filmed short, 'Splitscreen: A Love Story', was a viral success

One of the new filmmakers recently selected for the prestigious Saatchi and Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase is London-based filmmaker James W. Griffiths. His heartfelt short, 'Splitscreen: A Love Story' is about a serendipitous encounter that brings two strangers together from different parts of the world. The 28-year-old filmmaker director made the film on a mobile phone for a Nokia competition with a $5,000 budget– it became a viral hit and unsurprisingly Griffiths won the competition and then landed Time’s 9th most creative video along the way. Griffiths spoke to Dazed about how to make a short film on a mobile phone and how 90s MTV influenced his aesthetic.

Dazed Digital: How did you come up with the idea for 'Splitscreen: A Love Story'?
James W. Griffiths: It's one of those things where I don't know where the exact idea came from but I think a more general influence is from the music videos of the 90s/2000s by directors like Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham where image manipulation in post production was a big thing.

DD: What was it like making the film using only a phone?
James W. Griffiths: I found it liberating! By using a phone we could instantly start shooting, there were no lighting setups, no lens changes. It also allowed us to shoot discreetly, everyone in the film is just the general public going about their business.

DD: Were you pleased to have “Splitscreen: A Love Story” in this year’s New Directors Showcase?
James W. Griffiths:
Very pleased! It's a huge honour for me as so many of my favourite directors have been selected for past showcases. The reactions to the film have been incredible and very unexpected.

DD: Did you want to be a filmmaker from an early age?
James W. Griffiths: I grew up in the countryside in Herefordshire, UK, miles from anywhere. I was given a second hand camcorder when I was around 10 years old and I would make little animations staring Action Man. The first proper film I made was when I was around 15. It was a black and white silent film with myself acting alongside a superimposed, animated image of the vampire from Nosferatu. I eventually attended the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield.

DD: What are some of your creative influences?
James W. Griffiths: There was a really strong music video scene, particularly during my teenage years. I'd switch on MTV2 and watch videos from Jonathan Glazer, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham all day. There was a lot of very clever visuals around that time that still have a strong influence on me today.

DD: What’s essential to making a good short film?
James W. Griffiths: Short films always need a good story, something that people can relate to, usually the simpler the better. But equally it needs strong visuals, whether it's incredible cinematography or something really unusual.

DD: You’ve made a few great travel films, what appeals to you about the genre?
James W. Griffiths: Filmmaking and travel are the two big passions in my life. My first venture into travel filmmaking was in 2006 when I went to Japan. As a filmmaker I've been to places I would never have gone as a tourist. I've just come back from India where I spent time on a fishing vessel out in the Indian Ocean.

DD: Are there any recurring themes in your work?
James W. Griffiths:
I always try to instill a certain emotional quality into my films, something that allows the audience to connect in a real heartfelt way. Also, my films always tend to have a visually unusual element, whether it's a split screen, animation, CGI, the use of colour, etc. As for themes. it seems the films always come back to love in its broadest sense.

DD: What motivates you to keep making films?
James W. Griffiths:
What really makes a difference to me is the very kind and encouraging comments from people all around the world. It’s a sign that I'm doing something right.

Look out for more updates from the New Directors’ Showcase on Dazed Digital this week.