13 min read

Interview With Director James Cleave

James Cleave
Anubhav Chakraborty

January 31, 2022 13 min read

Movie: Sometime Else

Director: James Cleave


James Cleave is a writer-director based in London, United Kingdom and has worked in the British film industry since 2010. He has worked on over 70 film, television and commercial productions, for major companies and organisations such as the BBC, Disney, BFI, Pathé, Hattrick and Zeppotron as an assistant director in various capacities. Notable projects include Disney’s Cinderella, RED 2, Black Mirror (Season 2) and BAFTA-winning Pride. He has also produced over 50 training videos for an international maritime training production company, amassing 24 international awards for his work.


James Cleave (Director)

The movie is an impeccable thriller told in the most astute way. Could you tell us something about your love for thrillers? 


Firstly, thank you very much for the compliment and secondly, for this interview. As for your question, I have always enjoyed the thriller genre, but I didn’t think I would ever end up writing one. My main writing tends to lean more to drama, so it was very refreshing to try something new for this project, especially as it was developed rather organically. I think the reason I enjoy consuming thrillers, is that they combine the suspense of drama and add a very real level horror or tension not always found in traditional horror slashers, for example; and it’s that realism that has the very real ability to get the heart pumping and adrenaline going as the plot unfolds, dragging you along, whether you want to or not.


You definitely were inspired from a few directors I believe. Could you tell us about them?


I’ve had the privilege of working with some incredibly talented directors in my early career in the Assistant Directors department. Watching each of them work on set, helped me form a set of skills that I’d mentally put away in my memory, as I knew it would come in useful once I finally took the leap into directing. It would be unfair to single out anyone in particular that I’ve worked with, as they all had their unique perspectives and skills on directing; whether it be camera, performance or blocking. I will instead, name other directors who have inspired me culturally, for this film.

I feel the suspense aspect could be attributed to the late Jonathan Demme, particularly for his work on ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ between Clarise and Dr. Lecter. The conversations between a criminal and a therapist were inspired in part by ‘The Sopranos,’ which, when added to the toxic behaviours and manipulations of Yorgos Lanthimos’ film ‘Dogtooth,’ is a particularly disturbing blend. From a dystopian, sci-fi perspective, writer, Charlie Brooker has also been a major influence in making a realistic future, scary. Having worked on a few episodes on season 2 of his Black Mirror series, I’ve always had a keen interest in this theme; one that Ridley Scott and David Fincher have also mastered for their respective library of movies and in turn, directly inspired me through their work. By revealing hints as the film progresses, I’m hoping it is a film that would be worth revisiting once watched, so that the viewer can spot all the clues; something Christopher Nolan does extremely well.


The movie also suggests your love for stories. How important do you think stories are in a world of transience?


Absolutely. Stories are constantly with us, every single day, throughout our lives and collectively make up what is ultimately ‘the human experience.’ It could be argued that every story that ever existed has been told before, but I like to think that when you’re exposed to even the shortest snapshot of someone else’s worldview that you would not usually be able to experience in everyday life, it has the power to enrich your own. Stories hold that power.


Could you generally suggest us a few movies ? Movies you would generally suggest to a friend, like your favourite ones?


This is a challenging question and one I never find easy to answer. Instead of talking about niche, lesser-known productions, perhaps I could give examples of very accessible films that people may have heard of and watched, so that the audience may be able to pick up on certain influences in our film and how they helped mould my taste?


For example (and without sounding like I’m straight out of film school), 2001: A Space Odyssey, was my first experience of Stanley Kubrick and the power of production design. I often find that this film has influenced not only my eye in what’s possible to make a sci-fi feel believable, but many others including Duncan Jones’ incredible film ‘Moon.’ It was realism that I wanted to emulate in our film with the headset and numerous visual effects, orchestrated by our Producer, Nino Oz. 2001’s rotating movie stages wowed me when I first saw them as I wondered how they achieved the effect in camera. It was these same techniques that were used in future movies such as Christopher Nolan’s ‘Inception.’. Hans Zimmer’s stunning score accompanying Hoyte van Hoytema’s beautiful cinematography, using actual science to depict a ‘black hole’ filled me with a sense of wonder, something I last experienced whilst watching Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ in IMAX.


The incredibly unsettling, yet genius script and production of Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘Dogtooth’ is something that has lived with me for years. It’s a perfect example of oppression, control and manipulation in a way that I think everyone should see, even just once. It’s these similar moments of toxic control that I wanted to appear in our film. Lanthimos uses camera movement sparingly and similarly, our film is very static on the whole, intentionally designed to give the feeling of claustrophobia; the ending of which, should explain why.


The Coen Brothers’ ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ is one of my favourites from an overall filmmaking perspective. On top of a fantastic cast, hilarious script and fantastic soundtrack, Roger Deakins’ cinematographic genius made this the first movie to use all-digital colour grading, paving the way to our everyday productions. Colour grading was a huge influence on Sometime Else as the memories needed to be differentiated from the therapy office, without being too jarring. Our colourist Jax Harney did a wonderful job at achieving this. As for the soundtrack, the brilliant original score by John Elliott, aims to guide the audiences’ feelings in a memory world absent of sound.


Most recently, a film that impacted me heavily was ‘The Father’ by Florian Zellar, starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman. In a way there are certain parallels to Sometime Else insofar as memory loss, memory changes and dealing with grief. I thought it was the performance of a lifetime for Hopkins and together with Coleman, I thought they were a terrific pairing. I think it’s a film that will live with me for a long time.


Tell us something more about the title of the movie. We get to hear it near the end of the movie but it would be naive of me to believe that the title had nothing to do with the concept of time or an occurrence concealed within the inner conduit of the human psyche.

The title of ‘Sometime Else’ was something that was born out of the script development process and appeared rather naturally, thankfully. I wanted the title to sound like a common English phrase, such as ‘someplace else’ or ‘somewhere else;’ yet it had to work with the sci-fi elements of the script. As we concentrate on the management of time within Josh’s memory, in my mind, ‘Sometime Else’ stuck out as a uniquely perfect fit for every time we visit a new memory. Translating it into other languages however, can be more complex; the French equivalent for example, most closely being ‘Une Autre Fois’ (Another Time).


In the movie it is evident that the objective is to locate the whereabouts of a missing person. How differently did you have to construct the structure of the narrative in order to reveal this extremely crucial information towards the end of the movie? 


It was always my intention to write a story that makes the audience think they have already figured out the ending of what they are watching, only for it all to change at the crucial moment. It was important to make the audience believe that Gemma (played brilliantly by Leila Mimmack) was the sole victim in this story, when in actual fact, she was the psychological tool being used by the Therapist to discover not only what happened to her but also the whereabouts of her missing boyfriend, Bradley. The method of filming was also very strict in not showing too much of Josh within the Therapist’s office, as any hint of his prison clothing would immediately give the plot and story away. 


There are scenes that would take one back to movies like The Interview by Craig Monahan. How important was the concept of an interaction, in this case between a doctor and her client in order to drive your story forward? 

That’s a very astute observation. Yes, it was incredibly important, as this story could not have been told in the way it was, without the Therapist in her office. Her character was the individual responsible for driving the story forward and Nia Roberts’ performance as the Therapist was crucial in moulding and dictating the tone and feelings of Sean Joseph Young’s character, Josh. By starting the conversation friendly and in a comforting way, the Therapist is able to slowly ‘turn on the gas’ and start asking more challenging questions to the point where his memory would either change through misremembering or through his choice, leading to suppressed thoughts and feelings he may not want to reveal. All memories, however new, will fade with the passage of time and in the case of wild or fabricated recollections being potentially utilised by a patient, it is the job of a therapist to provide a safe space to allow the healing to begin, and for the truth to come to light.


The concept of memory plays perhaps the most important role in the movie. It is noted that the doctor is jotting down the points inferred from the revelations made by her client. These points include unreliability, possible confession, wishes, suppressed thoughts etc. What would your two bits about the mystery that is memory? 


If I understand the question correctly, the human mind is complex; memories even more so. They say that every time you remember something, it is a copy of the last time you remembered it, so overtime what once would have been a vivid recollection can become diluted down, quite significantly. On the topic of Josh’s memory clarity, his first memory is impeccable and clear as the day he lived it, but as time moves on and he revisits the second memory, what he says and what he sees are starting to become unstuck. By the third memory, everything the therapist can see on the tablet from his memory’s point of view, is vastly different to what he’s describing. I feel that the notes written down by the Therapist were a visual aid into what she was thinking was happening. Ultimately, it’s the audience’s choice as to whether or not he is intentionally changing his memory, if he is mis-remembering, or if he’s unable to see reality clearly due to a genuine medical condition. Whatever the case, it is the job of the Therapist to really decide the truth. The ending of the film hints as to why her notes were more negative than positive, but at the end of the day, she can only be professional and note what she sees, in order for the Detectives to obtain the information they want. It is up to the audience to determine what they feel is correct based on the information put before them.


The reason the movie works perfectly involves an accurately placed climax. The presence of the gaze of a couple of police officers through a camera suggests the ominous revelation about some sinister act. How did you balance the plot between an interaction that must act as liberating as well as a confession that would eventually lead to her client’s arrest for a possible double homicide? 

It’s a good question and one I had to think quite carefully about. Psychiatry as a profession, is mainly confidential, and relies on therapist-patient relationship in order to help the effectiveness of any treatment applied by the professional. In general (and depending on your country and jurisdiction), a client can confess anything and the therapist would not be able to disclose this information to the authorities due to patient privilege. This confidentiality however, could be waived if the patient poses a risk of serious harm to others, or confesses to planning a future crime. I took these particular rules and added some imagination, by referencing ‘The State’ as a fictitious, possibly authoritarian, near-future world, where the usual regulations might not apply. If someone in custody, for example, could be recorded without their consent and it meant the preservation and wellbeing of others, then they could be continuously probed and questioned using the technology available to force a confession. The ethics of this practice in reality however, is of course questionable in our world, but not out of the realms of possibility if the right circumstances existed. In any case, it was imperative that the timing of the detectives’ reveal was not until the very end of the film, in order to add maximum impact to the audience.


The movie ended on a perfect note. As suggested by many eminent authors, short stories deliberately come to an abrupt end. It perhaps enhances the quality of storytelling, leaving the viewers wanting more. There is also an element of shock . Could you comment on this.


Thank you for saying so; that’s lovely to hear. The old saying is ‘leave the audience wanting more’ and its very comforting to know that people may want to know what happens to Josh, Bradley and in a few cases, even Gemma. Some have asked if it was all in Josh’s mind after all. I think it’s important to retain parts of the mystery so that people can use their imaginations as to what may or may not have happened to each respective character. I personally don’t think short storytelling should have to reveal everything about a story, as it’s only ever meant to be a snapshot of a moment in time for the characters involved. In most cases, their day will have gone on before and will go on, after our visit. I think these deeper explorations and answers should be saved for feature films.

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