It’s not so much the answers that Seb Edwards gives to the questions he’s asked that tell you – though those answers certainly help – it’s the pauses between the questions. If it’s possible to gain any true insight into someone over an hour-long conversation then the 35-year-old Edwards is not a man who speaks unless he knows what he is going to say.
Most people understandably pepper their conversation with ‘ums’ and ‘ers’, working out what they’re saying as they talk, but Edwards carefully considers each question before relaying his answer. He is thoughtful and erudite and passionate about his job, but also quite quiet. Not in a ‘can I push the tape recorder a bit closer?’ way, but in a controlled, calm manner that makes you listen all the more intently.
Unlikely child star It is this characteristic that could be blamed for Edwards’ eventual career behind a camera, one that has seen him direct work including HTC’s Detour Warsaw, Emirates’ Anthem and Hovis’ Farmer’s Lad.
Before all that though, at the age of eight, the young Edwards was plucked from obscurity to feature as the lead in John Boorman’s 1987, semi-autobiographical film, Hope and Glory. As a child Boorman was quiet and a bit shy and as it was a film based, in part, on his own life, he wanted someone who reflected that. Numerous stage school auditions met with no success, so Boorman began street casting in schools, picking out kids from classrooms and, well, you can probably guess where this is going.
“I’d never acted before and I was chosen to be in this big movie,” he explains, as if still confused at the prospect. “I didn’t want to do it to be honest, but the more I didn’t want to do it, the more [Boorman] wanted me because, I suppose, that’s the sort of boy he was after.”
Eventually Edwards agreed to be in the film and describes it as an “amazing, extraordinary experience”, but not one that he wants to repeat. He didn’t really take to acting and Hope and Glory is his first and last time in front of the camera. What Edwards did love was being on set, around the crew and the cameras, “being a part of the filmmaking family”.
Years later, influenced by that film, Edwards found himself studying Fine Art at university with a view to becoming a production designer. “A friend of my parents was a really good production designer,” he says, “and I thought that sounded pretty cool, so I started building film sets in my studio at university, as a way of creating a portfolio of art direction work.”
In order to satisfy the needs of the course, Edwards was required to make performance pieces and video art inside his sets to justify having made them. “I soon realised that the building of the sets was a nightmare and actually the making of the things inside them, the films, was much more fun. That’s how I arrived at directing.”
Edwards describes this as his ‘lightbulb moment’, saying that before then he didn’t really have any clarity or conviction on what he wanted to do. After leaving university, now with a freshly minted student showreel, Edwards started, like many before him, as a runner. He knew that getting his foot in the door, making connections and learning from different people would be key.
His first break came on something you don’t see very often now, or in fact, ever; a wallpaper commercial. “There was a script that no one wanted to do,” he begins, “and it was a really low-budget one for wallpaper. It was a disgusting wallpaper, too; textured with bright colours, some sort of 70s monstrosity.
Anyway, it was a really weird script and no one wanted to touch it and out of sheer naivety I decided to rewrite it. I handed it back to the creatives and they were understandably insulted, but the creative director thought it was much better, so they agreed to let me do it. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just shot a load of stuff and cut together a film, but it ended up surpassing the expectations of what they were after.”
Edwards spent a few years learning the trade in dual roles, often as a runner, but sometimes as a director, something he considers to have been a healthy experience, moving from one level of responsibility and input to another and learning all the time. There were however, occasions when holding those two separate identities almost caused problems.
“I remember being a runner on a commercial for Zurich Insurance and I was working on the brand spot, the main ad of the campaign, which was being shot by Gerard de Thame,” Edwards says.
“Then about a month later I got a script for a spot in the same campaign, which I pitched on and won. So I went to meet the client at a pre-pro meeting and, of course, all of the agency and clients are the same people I had been on set with a month before while I was a runner. Luckily they didn’t recognise me. I put on a hat and disguised myself, but they were like, ‘I’m sure we’ve met before…’.”
Does he think it would have been a problem if they had have recognised him, even though they’d obviously thought he was the best man for the job? “I have no doubt I would have been fired,” he says succinctly.
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