Thomas James: A Few Of My Favourite Things
The award-winning music video director displays his keen sense of magical realism with some inspirational trinkets including Faith-gifted eyes and cursed cash.
That being said, with a body of work that includes a UKMVA Indie video of the year for HoneyBlood, as well as promos for the likes of Young Fathers, Bobby Gillespie, Jehnny Beth, Bring Me The Horizon, Fat White Family, Paloma Faith, Sam Fender, Nothing But Thieves and Ghostpoet, James' trinkets obviously fire up the synapses to create the surreal and mind-bending trips he is famous for.
Here we find anecdotes about items that have helped forge such a career. And a Cure picture disk, which is just cool.
I find the idea of ‘things’ quite odd, but I do tend to keep weird objects or items from people that they probably don’t know I have. Not in a serial killer, belt made of stolen snippets of hair kind of way; but small things that maybe remind me of moments. They are often first class tickets to nostalgia, rather than sparkly accoutrements to be proud I own (although I do have a few of those too). So do please forgive the saccharine tone this is to inevitably take.
This lighter sort of sums that up quite well. Sam Holmes (now EP at OB - but my producer at the time) and I, had just traversed the West Coast of America making an impromptu half documentary / half music video with a band. I think the job got signed off on the Friday morning, and by Saturday night I was in LA, with a camera on my shoulder. It was pure chaos. We filmed all sorts of weird and wonderful places that we stumbled upon; a personal favourite moment was being chased from a cult’s compound, by a one-armed man wielding a shotgun telling me I was beyond redemption. Sammy H didn’t even know I’d broken in there at the time, so was doubly surprised by the armed evangelical.
Anyway, Sam had recently discovered he was going to be a Father, and we both smoked rather heavily at the time. As we sat outside the airport at San Francisco awaiting our leave, he gave me this lighter, stating he was going to quit, due to him becoming a Papa, and didn’t need it anymore. It was quite a lovely moment after the carnage of the trip. A reminder, and a return, to things that are way more important. It makes me think of that amazing trip; and ultimately, that once the brief windows of sometimes soul destroying stress are over, you come back to what matters.
As his emails began dinging when we landed in London, he did however ask for it back.
Ok, cards on the table, I don’t own these anymore. They would now smell very bad, and I assume would have become some sort of occular leather balls. However, here’s a pretty horrific picture, which I do treasure. Also, this is name-droppy. For that, I refuse to apologise.
To put this fully into context, imagine opening a beautifully wrapped box, assuming you’d find some sort of congratulatory present, and these glistening beauties are staring up at you. Not quite fucking jewellery is it.
In a bid to perhaps explain, it was the first time Paloma Faith and I worked together. The first text she sent to me read “If this isn’t an amazing video, I want your eyes. I will remove them with a spoon.” As a younger director, I was pretty adamant I needed my eyes.
I endeavoured to avoid having my eyeballs stolen by a revered singer with blunt cutlery, and ploughed on with the promo. When she arrived to the edit to sign off the final cut, she handed me a gift-wrapped box. She simply said, “I don’t need your eyes, this is great. You can have these ones instead.”
I have never received such an on-point, perfect present in my life. It reminds me that no matter how weird you (or I) think you (or again me) are, there are people you will connect with in our fucking mad line of work. And that’s a nice thought to remind yourself of.
So, I have this horrendous picture framed next to my desk.
The Hell Money
My first ever shoot, was obviously a pretty lo-fi affair. Myself, a 5D, an actor, friends and loved ones performing absurd feats of help. At the time, I lived above a pub that was pretty raucous and hedonistic. I'd chosen to shoot in the function room, while the pub was open. An excellent choice at the time, a poor one in retrospect.
A strange, wily and Mephistolean man entered the room. He had wild curly hair, spoke like a Tom Waits song, and took a keen interest in what I was trying to do. He told me to send him the cut, and in return he’d give me a hell money note (China and parts of East Asia use this at funerals to pay for things in the afterlife). I took the note, and obliged. A pact at the crossroads in a beer-soaked function room of a South London boozer.
The crazy dude turned out to be Phil Tidy, and I signed to my first production company (his - Squire) pretty much that month. I’m still sure he may be a demon of sorts, so I keep this just in case I need to swap it back for my soul at some point.
Phil will not remember this.
The Taxidermied Bat
Again, another weird one. I’m essentially a walking cliche.
This was the first piece of taxidermy I bought, from my first half-decent job as a director.
It spawned a bit of an addiction.
I’ve cherished it ever since.
It usually occupies my bedroom, but he’s living in the studio for now.
Mainly because despite how cool I think he is, he can be a bit of a mood killer.
Granted, again, this is a weird thing to own.
Let alone work next to everyday.
On the other hand it’s pretty fucking metal, standing proud in my studio, and providing some of the best zoom conversations I’ve had over the last 12 months, by refusing to acknowledge it’s presence until it’s inevitably brought up.
It’s actually a prop from the second Ghostpoet video I made, which has about 30 solid anecdotes itself, coffin aside. We bought it new (the marketplace for second hand coffins is not great), and I actually had to get Obar to measure himself to make sure he’d fit. Which is probably the greatest text I’ll ever send “I need your measurements for the coffin please.”
I just sort of held onto it. It feels like a waste to ding it, and it’s a pretty bold reminder everyday to do something.
The Ukrainian Stranger’s Coin To Remind Me That Sometimes Shit Goes Weapons Grade Wrong And That’s OK
Knocking on three years ago, my life seemed to go into a tailspin. Everything went a bit crooked and took me with it. Amongst other issues, I hadn’t made a film in a few months, I’d split up with my then-girlfriend, and everything was just getting a bit grey, tiresome and tepid.
Just before having the said final conversation, with said girlfriend, I had found a coin on the floor (I’d say penny, but I have no idea on currency exchange at the time of writing). I toyed with it the entire time, and for some unknown reason kept it in my pocket for the next few weeks.
As life sometimes does, things improved. I won a dream job, met a producer I’d work with continually from that point who’d become a dear friend (shout out Vanessa McDonnell - recently appointed EP at LowKey films and dead to me), and everything took a bit of a turn in general.
I hid the coin in a particular shot of the film. No one else would know, but I know it’s there. I keep it to remind me everything is continually up and down. It’s all in flux, and that’s alright
The Books (Or The Library, If You’re Being Pedantic)
I don’t know if my entire book collection counts as a single object, but whatever, I’m having it. Let’s call it a library if that satisfies the editorial rules of the game. I’m sure this is bait and everyone chooses this too. But again, whatever, I’m taking it.
Some are gifts from my long-suffering but much-loved family who have to scour eBay annually at Christmas, some are from friends, some I’ve treated myself to. Either way, there are a hundred things I could say about each one.
But in terms of work and process - this is my most vital possession. I’ll let Lovecraft sum it up for me, “I couldn’t live a week without a private library – indeed, I’d part with all my furniture and squat and sleep on the floor before I’d let go of the 1500 or so books I possess.”
I don’t own 1500 books. I’d also keep my settee. But yeah, you get it.
The Cure Picture Disk
Just because it’s rad and I love it.