Case Study 11: Alex Gould

You can’t legitimately claim to have a working knowledge of the designer toy world without knowing who James Jarvis is. Certainly one of the pioneers within the recent boom in “the soft vinyl revolution,” his work has helped to inspire hundreds of other designers looking to break into this unique form of design. Director and illustrator Alex Gould was one person who received such inspiration from Jarvis, but also decided to return the favor by creating a documentary about the toy designing icon, appropriately entitled An Interview with James Jarvis. An extremely talented illustrator, designer, and filmmaker in his own right, we got a chance to talk to Alex about himself, his documentary, and what it was like to document Jarvis:

Can you tell us about yourself? Your background?

Born in North Wales. I’m a filmmaker and photographer. I studied Multimedia Arts in University. Currently living in Liverpool.

How would you describe your work?

My work is, as I see it, a way of moving forward with directing films, every project I’ve worked on is connected in small details, the thinking, how it is put together and the end vision. All add to enhancing my skills as a director, be it through the medium of film, photography, illustration, or design.

What’s the origin of the name Ika Zcha?

Ah, it has something to do with watching a lot of Takashi Kitano films as a teenager…

Can you tell us about An Interview with James Jarvis?

The film looks at his drawing and the thought processes that go into his work. This spans across the two comics that he published through Silas and then Amos as well as his commercial & personal illustration work. It also has a short interview with Aiden Onn the owner of Playlounge a vinyl toy shop in London, that gives a perspective on the toys he produces under Amos and who buys them. It’s mainly aimed at fans of his work and illustrators.

How did the project come about? Did you know Jarvis? A longtime fan and decided to make a film about him?

I was already a huge fan of his work, however this film started out with a personal obsession I have about Hergé the creator of Tintin. I had been planning what to do for my dissertation and wanted to get in touch with James Jarvis to ask a few questions about the influence of Hergé on his work. Initially I asked one of my tutors who knew Jarvis to break the ice, about me contacting him. I then e-mailed James a rough outline of the questions I wanted to ask him and he responded positively to the line of questioning and me coming to London to film him.

What was the production like? You’ve said on the site that you spent two days with Jarvis at his office? Were you always by his side, asking questions, or did you get the questions you were after and then try to disappear as much as possible and try to capture things as they played out normally?

The production was filmed during a slightly quieter than usual period for James, so the office was not too hectic. I was trying to avoid being obtrusive, but I was very curious and fascinated so there were a lot of questions I asked even when the camera was off. The first day lasted longer than planned originally it was only an hour or two but it stretched into the majority of the day. On the second day of filming the office was busier so our time was slightly less than the day before. My approach was filming all the questions that I had in a straight interview, then work in a much more flexible approach around the office and ask ad-hoc questions and film it as it happened, it was good combining these two methods as when it came to edit the film there was a nice variety of shots and situations to edit with.

Specific details about the production? What you shot it on, how much footage you had at the end of those two days, how long it took to edit?

It was shot on HDV. After the two days filming I had just under four hours of raw footage. With so much footage to choose from editing took a lot longer than usual, it was around a month to pull together the final cut, then another couple of days colouring it in Magic Bullet suite.

Did you have a background in filmmaking or did you decide that you absolutely had to make a film about James Jarvis, picked up a camera, and went with it?

I already had a background in filmmaking. With any film I make the story or person has to be something I’m fascinated in. Being a big fan of his work and not really finding the answers to questions that I had in other interviews, it seemed natural to go out there and make a film about him and ask those questions.

Has the film played at festivals, or design/illustration events, etc? What was your plan with the film after it was completed?

I had initially wanted to push it for television channels, I put up an online version of it that James Jarvis put on his blog and subsequently streetwear blogs like Hypebeast put it up, more recently Kanye West put a post about James Jarvis on his blog along with my film, which was a bit weird. I’d like to see the film play in a few documentary festivals and definitely some illustration events.

What was Jarvis’ reaction to the film?

James thought that the film worked well, he especially enjoyed the speeded up section with him drawing out an A4 illustration especially to camera.

I think that the time spent filming the interview was the most important part for James as it was a rare chance to look retrospectively at all his previous work. As a professional illustrator he is constantly moving forward and doing new work it was a chance to stop and look back over the work and think about it in more detail.

You’re a very talented illustrator yourself. Do you see Jarvis as a big influence?

Ha ha. I’d say I was mediocre at best. Yes definitely, especially after meeting and talking to him about the level of thinking that goes into each illustration, listening to his advice and the fact that someone as talented as James Jarvis would say yes to me coming to where he works asking loads of questions and filming him was an incredible experience.

Any other illustrators you greatly admire? If so, any plans to make films about them and start a series?

I’m a big fan of Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, and Gary Panter. I love TADO’s work it’s been on my mind to do a series of shorts on talented illustrators, but I’m currently working on other projects at the moment.

You packaged the film using one of our Jewelboxing King cases and they’re just fantastic. Any details on the process of putting it all together?

I had already bookmarked the Jewelboxing site a few months before I had started filming looking for some high quality packaging that had the right finish and looked professional. Initially I was more concerned with the typeface for the cover, whilst filming in Amos offices I’d taken a lot of photographs in the breaks between filming, these were used full bleed throughout the packaging, the type was slightly transparent allowing the lines of the drawings to show through.

What’s next for you?

Currently I’m writing a feature film. In pre-production for a short film about a local organist who plays whilst a cinema screen rises out of the floor and another short film about the darker side of dog walking. Also start shooting a music video in a few weeks time for an interesting band.