By Rich Simmons
When I got an email through from Joe in September 2018, I didn't realise what it would turn into. Joe approached me with an idea to make a short film about Art Is The Cure and just over a year later, after a lot of work, shoots and reshoots, editing, colour balancing and animations, we emerged with the finished film and a great friendship as a bonus.
Joe is a talented director and storyteller and had a distinct vision for the film that has gone on to win and be nominated for a host of awards around the world. I wanted to delve into Joe's story and give this talented filmmaker a chance to share his vision, ideas and thoughts behind the making of the film and more.
Before reading the interview, please take a few moments to watch the film again and then read the interview about how this all came to be.
So before we get into the making of the film, how did you first hear about Art Is The Cure and what about it inspired you to want to make the short film about it?
I am very passionate about art and love going to exhibitions in my spare time. I discovered Rich Simmons’ artwork when I visited a Mayfair gallery during a work lunch break. His artwork immediately resonated with me and that evening I decided to research his story further and that is when I came across Art Is The Cure.
I was fascinated with his journey to becoming an internationally renowned artist and the way he used art as a form of therapy. I thought his story and what he achieved with Art Is The Cure would make for a great film so I approached him with my ideas in the form of a film treatment and he was onboard with my ideas.
Did you have a strong image in your mind of how you wanted the film to look before you got started?
I wanted the film to be really strong visually to compliment Rich's stunning artwork. Rich uses a bold colour palette with his artwork and I wanted the way the film was shot and graded to reflect this.
I am a big fan of work crafted in an abstract manner and this filters through in terms of my style. Whilst working on a documentary in Spain, I received a great piece of advice by a Director of Photography. He said that when composing shots to always fill the frame with your subject and make it look interesting.
With Art is The Cure I applied this technique to the sections where Rich is working on his art. I wanted the camera to be up close, so it felt like the viewer was part of his journey. I applied this technique at the beginning of the film in the sequence of Rich walking through the streets of Croydon to his studio. The camera drifts slowly past Rich, and then we see Rich in his studio as he sprays the screen blue with paint and the credits come up.
A big part of my style is capturing subjects in their natural environment. In this film, it was Rich working in his studio and on his artwork. In the sections where Rich was talking about the past, I used his archive photos and worked with an animator to bring these images to life with a 2D Parallax movement. I chose this method, as I wanted the photos to come to life and come across in a more interesting way than static photos.
Through working closely with Rich, I could see that butterflies feature heavily in his imagery, and I wanted to incorporate this in a visual manner that related directly back to his art. Rich has a series of paintings that feature a Skullifly (a butterfly filled with skulls). The significance of these images is that artists sometimes need to go to a place of darkness to be able to produce something beautiful, which directly relates back to the message of the film. I decided to film Rich at the Horniman Butterfly Garden closely interacting with the butterflies and then used these images to highlight his creativity and thought process.
I worked with an animator to bring Rich's work to life in a sequence where he spray-painted a butterfly image onto his canvas. Through my animation, the butterfly literally comes to life and flies off the screen, which links back to the themes and imagery of his artwork.
Throughout the film a lot of the material was shot handheld, which helped to bring the viewer closer to the subject, as the camera would often pan and track his movements.
What message did you want to convey through the film?
I wanted the film to have a really strong message throughout whilst telling Rich's incredible story of how he became an internationally renowned artist.
It was important to me that the film carried the strong message that art can have a huge impact on people, particularly people who struggle with mental health issues and that art can be used as a form of therapy. I was pleased with the message of the film and the way it resonated with so many people.
As a director and filmmaker, what are some important things you have to consider when telling someone’s story?
I think it is really important to build a rapport with the subject of your film and also research them throughly so you know their story and how to tell it.
In terms of approaching the story, I heavily researched Rich's journey to becoming an artist so that I got an understanding of who he was as a person. I read all the interviews with him that I could get my hands on and watched videos on his artwork. I love telling the story of subjects directly through their own narrative and experiences.
Rich's story was very personal to him and featured periods of his life that he initially found extremely difficult to talk about. I managed to spend a lot of time with him, discussing his past and my thoughts for the film, and he was able to trust me completely and became excited by our collaboration. When it came to the interviews, I approached the questions in a conversational way so that Rich could open up about his experiences and journey. This was key, as I wanted Rich to be as natural as possible.
What were your favourite moments in the film?
I really like the sequence where Rich is working in his studio and the rays of sunlight are coming through the window. I thought that worked really well and visually looked great.
My favourite moment in the film was the sequence with the butterflies and Rich interacting with them, it then cuts to Rich working in his studio and his skullerfly comes to life and flies off the page. What I loved about this moment in th