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 the film was how the butterflies tied in with his artwork and how we were able to bring Rich's art to life through animation.
Did the finished thing match your initial vision or did things change and evolve as the production was happening? Is it an organic process or does it try and fit a set storyboard?
I was really pleased with how the film came out and was received, it exceeded my expectations.
During the filmmaking process I interviewed Rich and then created a script which was the foundation for the film. I then collaborated closely with Rich on the ideas he had for the film and any feedback on things he thought would work well.
Through scripting the film I was quite strict in keeping the film to my initial vision. During the edit the film changed slightly as the editor and I were seeing what worked well and didn't in terms of sequences. It was very much a collaborative and organic process.
Was the film created with a budget and a production team?
At the time of making the film I was working for an advertising content team and they allowed me to work on the film during quiet periods. I worked closely with a very small team who all did an amazing job.
In terms of budget it was small and I part funded the film along with the support of my content team which I was really grateful for as it allowed me to get the butterfly garden footage I needed for the film.
Has filmmaking helped you through any difficult moments in life?
Filmmaking is such a passion of mine that when I am making a film or working on a creative project I forget about any problems I might have on that day and purely focus on being creative.
Has your thoughts on creative therapy and mental health changed after making the Art Is The Cure film?
Through researching and producing the film I gained a stronger understanding on creative therapy and mental health. I learnt the importance and huge positive impact being creative through art and other avenues can have on a person.
I believe what Rich is doing with Art is The Cure is so important and needed in the world today. Creating a community and a movement around art, creativity and positivity which will help people who are struggling with mental health issues to discover the natural positive release art and creative projects can give them.
How does it feel to know the film was nominated for so many film festivals and won two awards?
I was really touched to hear that the film won two awards and was nominated in film festivals around the world.
What I loved the most was hearing from different people who had watched the film and resonated with Rich's story and the films message that art can be used as a form of therapy.
The film premiered in Croydon in 2019 to a fantastic audience, it was amazing the way the film was received and the reception it got after the screening.
It was a night I will never forget and I am so pleased that people are still watching the film and giving positive feedback. If it can have a positive impact on one persons life who may be struggling with mental health issues, then the film has succeed.
Outside of filmmaking, do you have any other creative releases or passions?
During the first lockdown I discovered collaging. What started out as a hobby to keep me entertained during lockdown, whilst at the same time still being creative, has now spawned into something I love doing and brings me a lot of joy by creating new complex and engaging collages.
I love going to art galleries and exhibitions in my spare time.I think looking at someone's artwork is a real window into their soul and I find it relaxing wondering around a gallery at the weekend.
For anyone who is interested in filmmaking but doesn’t know where to begin, can you please give some advice on how you approach things and some advice for how to get started?
My advice would be to pick up a camera and go out and shoot. See what works and doesn't work, make mistakes, but most importantly you'll learn so much through doing this.
Camera phones are getting so good in terms of image now that you can shoot projects on them.
Find something you are passionate about and make a short film on it. You could make a short film on a relative who has an interesting story or something interesting in your neighbourhood.
Depending on which direction you want to go in I would recommend approaching production and post production companies for runner jobs. You'll be making cups of tea at the start, but will soon move up and get to see all the different aspects and roles in filmmaking.
If you could create a film about any artist or creative, living or dead, who would you pick?
I would love to make a film about Yayoi Kusama, she is an artist from Japan that specialises in sculpture and installation, but also paints.
Her artwork is incredible and visually appealing, she is known for her bold colours and exciting light mirror room installations. Kusama has an interesting story in that for the past 41 years she has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric hospital, whilst having shows around the world and drawing in huge crowds and critical admiration for her work.
I think her story would make for a great film and the way in which the film could be produced could be done in a really creative and interesting manner.