Jack Eve: “All we have is our imagination and our heart, that’s where most of our material comes from”

Remember the Academy Award-winning screen classic “All About Eve” (1950)? Well, the title seemed very appropriate to me, because after I had attended a screening of “Bees Make Honey” recently at the BIFFF (short for Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival), I also wanted to know ‘all about Eve’ – more specifically about the film’s screenwriter, director and producer, Jack Eve (b. 1985).

“Bees Make Honey” turned out to be a very inventive feature made by this young, bright and talented filmmaker, the son of British actors Trevor Eve and Sharon Maughan. His film is a stylish whodunit comedy, with a touch of Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby-esque approach, set in the 1930s at a high society Halloween costume party. Without giving away too much, the party is hosted by a widow, a character named Honey, who wants to solve the death of her husband, murdered during the Halloween party the previous year. She puts on the same party as she did the year before, and invites the very same guests in order to solve the crime herself by using bees, all of this set against the background of the political pre-War II turmoil that was rumbling in Europe.

Time to sit down with Mr. Eve in a salon at the Brussels Bozar to talk about his film and about filmmaking (and why not click here to check out his own website).

Mr. Eve, how would you describe “Bees Make Honey”? Would it be correct to say that it’s a murder mystery comedy?

In Great Britain, we have a genre of movies called spoofs. The film is obviously period which is significant in terms of what you’re going to watch and what you can expect, and it’s certainly comedy. That’s something we always tried to bring to life at every stage of the production, every stage of the writing, shooting and editing, trying to turn up the comedy and ensure that placed through. And the murder mystery element is an inevitable aspect of the narrative, it’s inherent to everything that happens, in every action that takes place.

Alice Eve as Honey in “Bees Make Honey”

There were scenes when the character of Honey, in a close-up, holding a cigarette, reminded me of Veronica Lake, Lana Turner or Lizabeth Scott during the film noir era. Did you intend to pay homage to the film noir?

One of the stylistic elements that we wanted to show is film noir. To my knowledge, the origin of film noir is essentially that there wasn’t enough money for the production, so what they would do is sneak into the studios and rather than being able to light the whole set, they would shoot in corners of rooms or sets that were perhaps not being used because it was late in the day or it was a weekend. The whole concept of film noir was to make it look incredibly impressive and moody, but without the money to be able to light the whole thing. We had a modest budget too, so in the absence of being able to splash the cash on more expensive sort of stylistic qualities, we kept it kind of film noir and tried to refer to these great films of the 1930s and the period cinema. Richard Stoddard, my DP [director of photography], was really fantastic and he was very excited to do it. And as you say, in one of the scenes with the character of Honey, she’s lit just across the eyes and everything else was put into shadow. Richard really enjoyed doing that. We talked about that right when he came on board to try and achieve things like that with a very beautiful kind of stylistic quality, even despite a tight budget. But I enjoyed having to use our imagination to figure out how to achieve what we wanted to achieve within the financial restrictions we had. That’s something we knew from the beginning, and it was really fun. If ever we came to a financial obstacle, we just had to use our imagination to get around it or to get over it. For me that was one of the funnest elements of making the film.

You shot the film at Pinewood. That’s still a pretty mythical place, isn’t it?

Pinewood is a legendary studio, it’s the home of the Bond films, and we actually shot the film alongside “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” We obviously were an incredibly tiny production while they were huge. One of the reasons why we went to Pinewood in the first place, is because historically – a hundred and twenty years ago or so – it was a manor house. When we were exploring options for shooting, whether we would build things, whether we would go to a country estate somewhere in the middle of the countryside or do it in London, we stumbled upon Pinewood and we realized they had everything right there, and we didn’t have to build anything. The staff of Pinewood were incredibly kind and allowed us to use the entrance hall of the actual office block as our entrance hall. That was a wonderful experience in such a magical place and renowned studio. They allowed us to do whatever it was that we needed to do to get it done. My production designer Russell De Rozario didn’t have to build too much, it was really just a case of us sort of seeing and choosing the right places that were already in existence in Pinewood, in the manor house. That was very exciting. And we did everything at Pinewood: the pre-production, the production and the post-production.

Joking after a hard day’s work at Pinewood studios, a mekka of filmmaking in Great Britain, where “Bees Make Honey” was shot. Photograph: Russell De Rozario

The musical score is very important too, isn’t it? It’s all through the film and almost a character on its own.

There are really two elements to the music. I wanted to get an original score done, and [composer] Ryan Beveridge was amazing. He used his imagination as much as he liked, he had fun and immersed himself to create the most emotive and lush score that he felt comfortable doing, and I’m very grateful and very proud of the work he did. The other side of it was the really integral part of the whole movie, the kind of punk element, and try and take a period genre to just twist it on its head and give it a little bit of debauchery and hedonism, because the 1930s actually was a particularly debauched and hedonistic time across Europe, particularly in Britain. I just wanted a modern injection of using some rock and roll music, and for this I brought in my younger brother George. He’s a musician in this band [Joy Room], we used one of their songs [‘Late at Night’] for one of the sequences. I enjoyed it, and Ryan and George were really communicating how they could feed and support each other.

What is in your opinion the most difficult thing about making a film?

If you write and direct a film, the strangest thing about it is that it takes such different emotional and social qualities. The writing is ultimately an isolated job, because you can be alone in your room for a long time. I think “Rocky”[1976] was written in five days, while other films take eight or nine years to finish the script. If you get to collaborate with somebody, that would be fantastic, but most of the time writing is a reasonably lonely experience. Although there’s also a real joy in that: you get to explore not only yourself, but most importantly the story you’re trying to tell. And then, you come onto the set to make the film. On “Bees Make Honey” we had days with more than sixty background extras, that means ninety to a hundred people on the set. That’s quite a lot, so then you have to be very social, open and communicative. Once the shooting is over, you then return to a more isolated experience again when Adam Gough, who’s a fantastic editor [now editing Alfonso Cuarón’s latest feature “Roma”], he spent about two, three weeks doing his own assembly before I first entered into the editing room. Right from the beginning when we chose to work together, we were very open and communicative about what kind of professional relationship we wanted to have, it was important that he had some time on his own with the movie, and once I stepped in, it was a very interesting collaboration. We spent many hours in the room working together and he subsequently became a good friend of mine. So I enjoy all the very different aspects of filmmaking, but you certainly have to pull upon different qualities and traits of your character.

Actors and extras taking a break on the set of Jack Eve’s “Bees Make Honey.” Photograph: Francisco Rodriguez-Weil

Did you use storyboards for those sequences with those extras?

Yes. We had a great executive producer, Steve Clark-Hall. He was the first person I went to when I wanted to make the film, d he’s a big fan of British filmmakers from the 1990s and 2000s like Guy Ritchie. Steve produced several of Guy Ritchie’s films, the last one was “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” [2017]. So as soon as I brought Steve on board, we talked about what it takes to make a low-budget film. Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” [1998] was a big inspiration to me, and Steve had told me they had storyboarded that a lot, because there wasn’t much time on the set. Time is money, and if you don’t have a lot of money, you don’t have much time. So I knew I had to storyboard “Bees Make Honey” as much as I could, and one of the first people who came into the pre-production office was storyboard artist Graham Wyn Jones. We worked together for four weeks – six, seven, eight hours a day – to storyboard the entire movie. And I am really lucky now, because I got two movies: I got this beautiful comic book essentially that Graham drew, and also the one on film [laughs]. On the set, I had the storyboards put on a big piece of cardboard for each scene, and then we put the cardboard by the camera or the monitor. Obviously there’s always the inspiration on the day when someone comes up with something, but ultimately we knew that if we stuck to the storyboards, we’d get the film. That’s how we were progressing forward, and the storyboards were really helpful to get the film made on time, on schedule, and on budget. I would have felt very excited but also anxious without the storyboards for “Bees Make Honey,” so it was the right thing and the most responsible thing to do. But if I get the opportunity to make more films and keep learning, I’d love to feel like I’m standing on the edge by not having any storyboards at all.

It doesn’t happen every day that siblings are working on the same set, also along with their father. Was it an advantage to you that your sister Alice played the leading role?

It’s an advantage to the film because she’s a fantastic actress and she elevated her performance in advantage to everybody. She’s brilliant, and she’s an incredibly successful actress, so she brings a lot of extra attention to the film. That’s a very fortunate position for me to be in, for the film to be in, for all of us in the film to be in. This certain amount of attention that the film attracted, would also be a standard that we had to achieve – according to Alice’s standard which is very high. As far as Alice and me working together on the set was concerned, it was fantastic to have that emotional connection, that was priceless. It did nothing but increase the workflow and every element of the filmmaking process, so it was a wonderful thing for us to share together.

Filmmaker Jack Eve, hair and makeup designer Charlotte Hayward, and leading lady Alice Eve on the Pinewood set of “Bees Make Honey.” Photograph: Amelia Eve

Not only your sister, but both your parents are actors too. Is that maybe the reason why you decided to become a filmmaker?

Well, I’ve always loved films. And when I was young, on days when my grandmother or my mother wasn’t able to look after me in the evening when my dad was doing a play, I’d often sit there quietly, watch him at work or wait for the play to end. So I’ve always been exposed to acting, drama and storytelling. It’s been a major part of my life and it’s been around me for… forever. I grew up with actors, my whole family are actors so I feel very comfortable with actors. A lot of my friends and a lot of the people who I care for, are actors or storytellers in some capacity. I also went to drama school, I am trained as an actor at RADA, but I always had the intention of making films as a writer and director. Because I have a good understanding of actors, I wanted to really immerse myself in that world and understand it, so that I could be a better film director for them. Ultimately a film set belongs to the actors because they are the most exposed. The camera is on them. If I make a mistake writing or directing, maybe I can do something in the editing room that will save me, but actors are handing themselves and their art over to the film set. When I graduated as an actor, I felt pretty informed and encouraged by what I had learned, and now, when I do work with actors, I really get along with them well socially as a result of having this experience, this emotional relationship with actors by speaking and understanding their language. It put me on the right track to keep learning as a filmmaker and keep understanding how I can best serve every element of the job.

With your background and training in theater, do you rehearse a lot on your film set?

In the theater, it’s all about rehearsing. So I would love the opportunity to rehearse with the actors as much as possible, but on “Bees Make Honey” we didn’t have the luxury of rehearsing before a shooting day. There’s always obviously that rehearsal before you start rolling, that bit of time to play the scene out, experiment with the blocking and the movement, but the possibility of throwing the dialogue out the window… “Bees Make Honey” was very dialogue-driven and dialogue-heavy, so I’m very happy the actors did a fantastic job in learning the lines and sticking to the dialogue. Learning the lines for “Bees Make Honey” was an absolute necessity, you can’t really improvise that kind of period language. It was really important that first and foremost the actors knew their lines when they arrived on the set.

Wilf Scolding and Alice Eve, trying to solve the murder of her husband at a Halloween costume party in “Bees Make Honey”

I read that the budget of “Bees Make Honey” was something like half a million pounds. Is that so? Because if that’s true, you did a great job considering the tremendous production value of the film.

Thank you [laughs], I’ll pass it on to all the heads of the departments who worked their socks off to achieve as much as we could with the money we had, and they all did a fantastic job. And yes, it was around that much in cash that we spent to make the film. It’s not much, but on the other hand, it’s still a lot of money, it’s a big chunk of change. It’s the first time I really raised money for a film. In the grand scheme of things, and compared to the Hollywood budgets, it may look like peanuts, but to me it certainly wasn’t. I was looking at that amount on paper and I thought, ‘Okay, we can do a lot with this.’ I held that positivity throughout the production, I spread it to everyone working on the film, and they really received it. Every time we’d look at a particular department’s budget, we knew this was what we got for this film, so we treated it with respect and we did the best we could do with it.

When you first set out to make “Bees Make Honey,” when and how did you realize you would get the film made?

When I started working on the script, I wrote it for Alice, knowing I’d be able to get her to read the script. She really liked it and when she agreed to do it, that was my first big step in really being able to consider making the film, because I had my script, and I had my lead actor. I then had to build a presentation around those two elements, and that’s when I brought [executive producer] Steve Clark-Hall on board. He provided me with the basic elements that were required to create that presentation which you can present to financiers. So with the script, with Alice, Steve and me – I was a completely unknown entity but nonetheless I had the passion to do it – I had all the key elements to go and meet people who would be interested in investing in the film. That was kind of how I got going and fortunately after eight to ten months of fundraising, I was able to close the finance. Once I had the money in place and with the help of Steve, I started bringing on my producer Andrew Riach who was fantastic in assembling the troops and putting the whole production together. It was his idea to shoot in Pinewood studios, and it kind of snowballed from there. We went into production six weeks after I had closed the finance.

Cinematographer Richard Stoddard, film director Jack Eve, third assistant director Emyr Glyn Rees, and Alice Eve on the set of “Bees Make Honey.” Photograph: Amelia Eve

Going back to your formative years now, do you remember when you first fell in love with the magic of movies?

There was an animated film “Tubby the Tuba” [1975] which was the first one that I remember watching. I used to watch it three times a day when I was a child of four or five years old. Entertainment is something my family has always been around, and movies, television and theater have always been a part of my life. So I fell in love with the whole concept of drama. In movies everything comes together, you have the chance to use a lot of different artistic mediums, like the music, the language, the visual,… I’ve always loved that about movies. I’ve moved around a lot, from Los Angeles to England, I went to different schools because my parents had to relocate many times for work. And I’ve always felt that movies were my best friend: I had to say goodbye to some schools and some friends, but movies have always been a consistent thing for me, they’ve always been there for me.

You already mentioned Guy Ritchie. Are there maybe other filmmakers as well who have influenced or inspired you?

I’m a major fan of Stanley Kubrick. When I first discovered his films in my late teens – this may be quite late, but his films deal with reasonably mature themes and some of them are quite graphic – watching his films was a real experience. He’s the master, I think. He stands above a lot of filmmakers. He has an incredibly wonderful way of presenting a story to his audience. As far as more modern filmmakers are concerned, having spent a lot of time of my life in Great Britain, I’m obviously influenced a lot by British filmmakers and I really appreciate the commercial aspects of a lot of their films and the ability to kind of merge an incredibly artistic style like Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” which is a very accomplished film in so many ways, as I mentioned earlier. I also like Baz Luhrmann, he’s a big hero of mine. And Wes Anderson, you can recognize a Wes Anderson film from one frame. You put it on and you know it’s a Wes Anderson film, I really appreciate a filmmaker who’s able to achieve that. There are many different filmmakers out there who are always surprising, and I’m always discovering new ones. It’s always exciting to watch something from a new filmmaker or rediscover an old master.

Suppose someone comes up to you and asks you what you do for a living, what would your answer be? You’re an actor, a screenwriter, a film director, a producer,…?

I would love to say filmmaker, and everything that entails. Any way I can be involved in film is absolutely the best thing ever, and doing any of the above to make a living makes a very lucky man.

Screenwriter and filmmaker Jack Eve on the set of “Bees Make Honey.” Photograph: Amelia Eve

When you’re writing a screenplay and you feel the emotions of a scene or a character as you’re writing, do you also hope to feel those emotions when you’re watching the film?

Well, I’m starting out now, I’m learning, and I hope I’ll forever be learning. What I’ve learned thus far, the most exciting thing is to have a very strong idea about what it is you want when you’re writing and when you’re researching, and when it comes to sharing that material with the creative people you work with – the crew, the heads of departments, the actors in front of the camera – it’s really exciting to see what their interpretation is. When you get to the point of pre-production, and certainly shooting, and definitely editing, I always hear  opinions that are far more interesting than my own from the people I’m working with. Their instincts, their imagination, their creative interpretation of what they’re gonna say, or edit, or design, that is really what I am interested in. When you write, you spend a lot of time in your own head, you imagine it through your own imagination and you see it through your own eyes, so after a while it’s a natural progression to then be far more interested in what other people can add to it, as they can elevate it to a greater level.

Brian Wilson, the legendary genius and singer-composer-producer of the Beach Boys, once said, ‘When I’m writing a song, it always comes from the heart.’ Do you recognize that, can writing a song be compared to writing a screenplay? Or is it something entirely different?

Well, Brian Wilson is one of the best and greatest songwriters of all time. If I recall correctly, I think it was Paul McCartney who said that ‘God Only Knows’ [1966] is his favorite song ever written. I mean, if I can even consider myself zero point zero zero zero one percent similar to Brian Wilson, that would obviously be a major comparison. But yes, I certainly aspire to be able to write from the heart as much as Brian Wilson can and did. All we have is our imagination and our heart, that’s where most of our material comes from. So writing from the heart is something I hope to continue to learn how to do, and be able to open up and be as vulnerable as an artist needs to be.

A highly popular leading lady for several years now, Alice Eve as Honey in “Bees Make Honey”

Can you work on more than one screenplay at the same time?

The key to make this profession into a living, is to try and keep as many balls in the air as possible. So certainly it’s a very strange profession because while it takes absolute dedication and determination to get one project going, you also need to work on different projects at the same time. It’s the best way to increase your chances of having one going into production. Also, as far as writing is concerned, recently I listened to a Q&A Paul Thomas Anderson did for “Phantom Thread” [2017], and he said along the lines that when he’s scriptwriting, most of his good work comes before lunch. I can understand what he means by that. It’s incredibly draining, and once you get to lunch, you’re reasonably exhausted. There are so many things happening throughout the day that have a certain element of distraction. But if I haven’t been able to do something because of other commitments, then I quite like working during the night-time when you can ease into your creative world while everybody else is relaxing and decompressing from the day.

And when you watch a film, do you look at it through the eyes of a filmmaker or as a member of the audience?

Always as a spectator. Also when I’m on the set in the process of making my own film, I consider myself the first audience member, the first person who’s watching the film. What a great place to be, how lucky is this! And I also think, ‘Suppose I’m in a movie theater with other ticket buyers, what would I like to see? What would my friends like to see?’ When I have seen a good film once, I try to watch it again from a professional standpoint to understand how they did every shot, how they achieved certain aspects creatively or narratively, and I think the reason why I really appreciate Stanley Kubrick as a filmmaker, is because his films are so wonderfully made that you can learn to make a film by watching his films, or at least you can learn the basics about what it takes to make a film. They are so beautifully presented, so simple and so confident in their presentation of narratives. But basically I always watch a film as an audience member, because that’s ultimately what we are here for: to be entertained by the magic of cinema. And what I’m learning about cinema, is that it’s very much a genre based medium. What’s really interesting about a filmmaker like Stanley Kubrick compared to for example Alfred Hitchcock, a lot of Kubrick’s movies are very mystical in what genre they actually are. Even “The Shining” [1980], which is a horror novel, has elements of a thriller, it’s also a drama – an intensively character driven drama – supernatural, there are a lot of genres mixed together and it’s very difficult to define what genre Stanley Kubrick’s films actually are, while Alfred Hitchcock is the master of genre. “Bees Make Honey” has a few different genres that come together, so I hope that in the future I’ll be able to focus on a genre and feel what it means to be in that genre.

British character actor Trevor Eve and his daughter Alice Eve appearing together in Jack Eve’s “Bees Make Honey”

You often say you have to learn a lot, but when watching “Bees Make Honey,” it doesn’t show.

I just think the joy of being creative is to wake up every day and try and learn. I have a background in sports. I really love playing golf. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I wanted to be a professional golfer. When you have a background in sports, you know that you’re not just good at sports, you also have to practice, you have to keep going, and every day is different, so you’re always learning. You’re always approaching it as a lesson every day when you’re practicing on the golf course. From that point of view, my training at RADA taught me a lot. I was very young when I started there, and I went in, kind of thinking, ‘I’m here for three years, I learn all my lessons in those three years, and when I come out, I’ll be the finished package. I’ll understand drama, I’ll understand acting and everything that comes with it.’ But it really took me those three years to learn that the whole point about life and about being creative is that you’re always gonna be learning. The learning is the joy of it. I’d hate to be in a position where I turn up writing or I turn up shooting one day and I consider myself completely knowledgeable, completely learned. That’s not the case. There’s always something or somebody that will educate you every day. I think I have that approach because it’s most exciting and most rewarding to try and be open, and it’s also most attractive and most fun to other creative people to be an open book.

Have you been working on a new screenplay in the meantime?

Yes, I finished a new script a few weeks ago. One of the frustrating things about establishing yourself as a filmmaker is that – understandably – it takes a lot of time for doors to open, to bang down walls and keep knocking on doors. So during that time, when you’re trying to establish yourself, it can take years. And as a creative person, you want to express yourself every day because that’s where you find your happiness and you get a sense of satisfaction. I have many scripts that I have written over the years that I would love to make myself or present to other directors. But, again, it’s a case of perseverance and hoping that with hard work and dedication you’ll get a chance to either make them yourself or someone will come to you. I got close to making some of them, and other ones I haven’t shared with anyone yet.

When you are writing, do you also need some kind of feedback?

Again, Stanley Kubrick had a saying, ‘There’s no such thing as a bad idea.’ So anyone who’s willing to read my scripts, I’ll listen to what he has to say. Everyone’s idea is of value. The first people I’m able to access and who are dedicated enough to spend the time to read my scripts are obviously my friends and my family. Their opinions are really important to me, because they also share their work with me, and we watch films together, we talk about cinema, television, theater, commercials, radio. You listen to what they say and try to improve your script.

From left to right: Wilf Scolding, Alice Eve, George Eve, music advisor Milo Clare, film director Jack Eve, Joséphine de la Baume, Hermione Corfield. Photograph: Russell De Rozario

To what extent are the new digital platforms important to you, because they have a huge impact on the cinematic landscape?

“Bees Make Honey” actually has been acquired by Hulu, a subscription VOD service in North America. It’s very established and does very well. They have a lot of television shows that have been incredibly successful. Hulu just presented some material that won Golden Globes, and it’s very much a kind of a rival to Netflix. I’m very fortunate to be part of them, and the license on “Bees Make Honey” starts sometime around October. I see a lot of movies through VOD and SVOD and I’m a major fan of any way you can get your material out there. It’s a big advantage. The only understandable disadvantage to VOD / SVOD is that you kind of lose the whole cinema-going experience which is really magical: it’s wonderful to share film with an audience, with a bunch of strangers in a dark room, and also to see it on a biggest screen possible, with the best sound system possible. You don’t have that when watching movies on a platform. So I think ultimately the most important thing is always the story. Any director will tell you that. I listened to another Q&A from Paul Thomas Anderson, and he said he was walking along Third Street in Santa Monica, there are a lot of movie theaters there. I don’t remember how long it was after “Boogie Nights” [1997] came out, but he noticed there was a presentation of the film in one of the theaters, and he crept in to look at it. It was an old 35mm print, it had been used for years, touring around the world I’m sure, it was all scratched up, the visual and the audio were worn out. When the movie first came out, he was a perfectionist and wanted the film to be presented properly and to the best standards, but he also found real joy in watching it in this kind of worn-out state, because it was the story that really still came through. The audience was still connecting with it because it was so great. That’s why these modern platforms are doing really well. People care about stories: if they can watch it on their laptops or in a local IMAX cinema, they’re always hoping to connect with a story. It will only make filmmakers better, because you have to present and tell a really good story really well. That’s what it all comes down to, to keep the audience immersed and involved in the story you’re telling.

Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, Brussels (Belgium)
April 15, 2018

SHORTS

GORDON VS. PROUST (2014) DIR – SCR – ED Jack Eve CAM Jorge Luengas CAST Trevor Eve

LITHGOW SAINT (2015) DIR – SCR Jack Eve PROD Jack Eve, Dalton Deverell CAM Matt Shaw ED Reese Howard CAST Alice Eve, Jason Isaacs

FILMS

DEATH OF A FARMER (2014) DIR – SCR – ED Jack Eve PROD Jack Eve, Alice Eve, Dalton Deverell CAM Andrei Austin MUS George Eve CAST Trevor Eve, Terry Hanlon, Sharon Maughan, Pierro Niel-Mee, George Eve, Luca Mantero, Anthony Head

BEES MAKE HONEY (2017) DIR – SCR Jack Eve PROD Jack Eve, Andrew Riach CAM Richard Stoddard ED Adam Gough MUS Ryan Beveridge CAST Alice Eve, Hermione Corfield, Joséphine de la Baume, Trevor Eve, Joshua McGuire, Anatole Taubman, Wilf Scolding, Ivanno Jeremiah