Combining The Real With Fantasy! Meet Brighton-Based Film-Maker Jess Dadds!

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A guy sitting in an armchair, a beer can in his hand and a designated look in his eyes. Rats are crawling over him while he looks straight at the camera talking about his real life problems. That’s the scenario of Jess Dadds’ short film ‘The Rat King’.

The 24-year-old film-maker who graduated from Brighton University two years ago likes to combine fiction with documentary, a mixture that often also contains a touch of criticism. We met him for an interview and talked to him about his way into film-making, his future plans and of course, his films.

Having never really paid much attention to the way films are made before, Jess first got introduced to the making-of side of moving images by his film teacher at school. Once he had discovered this new interest, the 16-year-old started to watch late movies which made him realise that there was a different way of making films than the typical Hollywood approach.

Jess during the production of "The Goose Hunter". Image courtesy of the film-maker.
Jess during the production of “The Goose Hunter”. Image courtesy of the film-maker.

“Seeing films like Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” really took my breath away. These films were so beautifully choreographed and so visual. I sort of became aware that there were people telling more interesting stories and that there were different ways of making films apart from mainstream Hollywood movies”, Jess describes how watching late night movies changed his conception of films.

Originally from Canterbury, he moved to Brighton six years ago to do a moving image degree at Brighton University. The loose and art-inspired approach to film making he was introduced to in the classes was perfect for the young film-maker who owes a lot of his personal style to the course.

“When I came out of art college, I just wanted to experiment, so it was pretty awesome to have all this freedom. The course was like a mixture of a narrative film and an experimental art course which is pretty awesome when it comes to film making. You really got the chance to be in control of everything and were free to experiment, which is great. I guess that is where my style of film making is rooted”, the young film-maker remembers his first film experiments at uni.

At the film set of "The Goose Hunter". Image courtesy of the film-maker.
At the film set of “The Goose Hunter”. Image courtesy of the film-maker.

When it comes to other film-makers whose works have inspired him and influenced his style along the way, the 24-year-old struggles to name all of them but Terry Gilliam, Alex Cox and British realism directors such as Ken Loach or Alan Clarke are definitely top of the list although he also draws inspiration from the American independent film movement and the French New Wave.

Although he says that he hasn’t fully developed his personal style yet, there is one genre he is particularly interested in: “I am a massive fan of magic realism because it allows you to recreate that sort of realism and at the same time mix it with some fantasy. Your story can be set in a completely real universe but then there is the one odd thing that will stand out, for example, people having wings. I like stories where people operate in their own universe with their own rules that are different to this world”, he says.

The idea of putting documentary elements in his short films originates in his first experiments with the camera. When he was younger, he used to film his friends whenever they would go out and do stuff.

“We would go out spray painting, drinking,… basically doing what teenagers do and I just always had a camera with me at that time. Experiencing everything through a lens and then being able to watch it back and edit it, so that it maybe meant something completely different to what the experience was, definitely had a fascination for me”, Jess describes his attraction to filming.

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Working with a small team means the film´-maker has to take over different tasks from script-writing to producing to carrying equipment over fields... Image courtesy of the film-maker.
Working with a small team means the film´-maker has to take over different tasks from script-writing to producing to carrying equipment over fields… Image courtesy of the film-maker.

Constantly looking at the world through a camera lens has definitely left his mark on the young man who says he has turned into a “workaholic” when it comes to filming. “I am always thinking about films. As soon as I see something interesting like for example, something hits the light right, I start to think of ideas. I am always daydreaming and imagining things; I can’t imagine what it is like to not do this all the time anymore”, the young man says with a little laughter.

The first complete film he has ever made was his final project for uni called “Castle Invaders”. The short comedy about two youngsters on their way to invade the castles along England’s South coast was chosen to play at the Brighton Film Festival, a great and slightly embarrassing experience at the same time.

“Initially, I was really excited about it but when I went to see it on the big screen, I started seeing all sorts of mistakes. For my friends who were in the film, it wasn’t any better. They were sitting there watching themselves perform and tried to hide their faces. We walked out thinking ‘Maybe we won’t make a film for a little while now’. It was horrible watching all your mistakes”, Jess remembers the first time one of his films was shown on a big screen.

Luckily, the same night, he got an email proposing him to produce a short film for Channel 4 Random Acts that changed his mind. Although he was quite busy at that time working part-time in a cafe, producing a documentary on young asylum seekers in Britain, and doing film workshops, he knew that he would have to jump on every occasion if he wanted to make it as a film-maker. After putting some thoughts into the project, he managed to come up with a final idea for a script thanks to one of his friends.

“The idea came about with a friend of mine who worked as a delivery driver. He had only just recently graduated as a 3D designer, sculptor, and illustrator and then he was delivering toilet paper to restaurants. We thought it was quite funny in a dark humour way. We had a lot of conversations about it and ended up working it into a script. In a way it’s all true”. Jess tells us about the story behind the short film.

“The Rat King” is a perfect illustration of how Jess usually combines reality and fiction. A documentary-style interview which has his friend as a protagonist discuss his real life problems is placed in a Big Brother-inspired studio set up with a big screen in front of him and a surreal voice questioning him. The issues the interviewee is discussing in front of the camera are also reflected by the writings on his t-shirts, a hidden homage to one of Jess’ big role models.

The writings on the t-shirts match the issues discussed in the short film. Image courtesy of the film-maker.
The writings on the t-shirts match the issues discussed in the short film. Image courtesy of the film-maker.

“Those t-shirts made by artist called David OReilly. During the script writing process, I realised that they had a very similar dark humour as the one we were trying to bring across and that they related to each part of the dialogue perfectly, so I decided to integrate them into the film. It is an homage to Alex Cox’ film “Repo Man” where he does something similar”, Jess explains.

Raising the issue of underpaid and undervalued workers, the film-maker obviously has a criticism to voice but Jess is far from making films that are purely politically motivated. For him, the criticism comes more from his personal view on a topic:

“I like to keep my films quite emotive and organic, that’s why I try not to think too much about the politics involved. If I wanted to make a film with a purely political message, then I would make a documentary. Of course, part of it is bringing up an issue which is important but I try not to go too political.”

His most recent project is a short fictional satire entitled “The Goose Hunter”. Based on a short poem, the short film deals with the current hot topics of immigration and Brexit. Having put the cap on this project, Jess is loooking forward to start working on a new personal film project soon, a short about a kidnapping gone wrong and parallel universes.

The Big Brother-inspired set-up of "The Rat King". Image courtesy of the film-maker.
The Big Brother-inspired set-up of “The Rat King”. Image courtesy of the film-maker.

He also has another commission coming up for a film producer in Kent. Micro-managing several projects at the same time to keep busy, that’s how it has been for him ever since his graduation. Making films and working part-time as a film technician at uni, showing students how to use camera equipment, his entire life is about film.

The dedicated producer, writer, director and illustrator wouldn’t want to have it any other way and looks to the future with an optimistic attitude although his future plans aren’t quite clear yet.

“My plans change all the time. I don’t have a specific project I want to realise like making a film with Steven Spielberg, although I would definitely love to do that. Just keep making films and continue working with my friends, that’s all I want”, Jess says modestly. “At the moment, I am still learning to understand short stories but in the future, I want to get into producing feature films.”

To find out more about Jess and his film projects, visit his website.

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