Jamie Jay Johnson Interview: Sounds Like Teen Spirit

When our chief film reviewer Sally McIlhone gushes over a heart-warming movie, it’s not really that uncommon a thing.

“Oh it was wonderful,” she’ll weep as she tucks into her lunch. “It touched me…. but not in the soiling way that Terminator Salvation did,” she’ll argue.

Yet her frenzied and passionate adulation for Sounds Like Teen Spirit (on general DVD release from Monday 14th September) took it to a new level. A film of which she said: “If I could roll this film out like a blanket and wrap myself up in it for eternity, I’d do it in an instant.” You can also grab that quote on the DVD box, by the way.

So when we got an opportunity to interview the Director of the movie, Mr Jamie Jay Johnson himself we knew there was only one person who could take the reigns on quizzing the man on a movie that tackles the teenage Eurovision Song Contest with surprising sincerity and warmth.

But our Editor was busy, so Sally had to do……

OTB: They say that, in the movie biz, you should never work with children or animals – but the youngsters in your movie seemed to be incredibly well-behaved – was the filming process as easy as you made it look?

JJJ: That phrase did haunt my brain on a few occasions but they were pretty well behaved. Filming was fun but the crew was me shooting and a sound recordist and lugging that equipment all round Europe was pretty backbreaking at times.

The movie is incredibly moving and relationship-focused, was it difficult to remain objective whilst filming?

There were definitely a few tears shed behind the camera on a couple of occasions… but mostly the kids were so grown up they’d just be like… “on come on Jamie… stop crying… it’s fine.”

The best thing about Sounds Like… is this infectious sense of joy the audience experience, through the eyes of both you and the children, did you worry about the film becoming too sickly sweet? How did you keep it from becoming twee and over-the-top?

We did have a previous edit with more of Giorgos’ little sister in who’s just like the sweetest and most innocent and sincere 8 year old you could ever meet. That cut was too sweet though so we took lots of her out but some of it’s in the DVD extras.

You’ve been nominated for several awards but always come away empty handed – why do you think that is?

I think that within documentaries people don’t give awards to films which have humour or make you feel good… they give awards to films about serious and generally more worthy subjects and I can’t really argue with that.

On your Shooting People profile it says you respect J Lo as an actress, please tell us this is a joke!

I cried during Maid In Manhattan… but I was in hospital on a morphine drip at the time.

People have compared your visual skills to that of Michel Gondry – how does that make you feel? Is this something you have done intentionally?

I’ve never heard that comparison but it’s very flattering… I love his music videos and think they’re brilliantly inventive.

Your website is very open and welcoming, do you ever worry about the consequences of showing too much of yourself in your art or whether someone may take advantage of your positivity and innocence?

I don’t consciously try and put myself in but I think if a film is ‘my take’ on something then it’s good to be honest about that and I personally like to feel that something has a certain sensibility rather than something which could have been made by a robot. In terms of being welcoming I guess if you work really hard on something you want people who might enjoy it to see it if that makes sense.

We heard that you asked Jarvis Cocker to do the voice over on Sounds Like… are you good mates?

No, I’ve never met him but I really loved a brilliant series he made about outsider art called “Journeys into the Outside” and I think he’s a great lyricist and song writer.

What are you planning to do next?

I’ve got a comedy feature I’m developing with Film4 which I’m really excited about and always playing with a few other (mainly terrible) ideas.

P.S – Sally cheekily asked Jamie’s PR representatives if he’d marry her. Unbeknown to her, they asked him. He said yes.

Sally McIlhone

Catch our review of Sounds Like Teen Spirit here. For other heart-warming movie goodness, why not check out (500) Days Of Summer, Adventureland or Sam Mendes’ latest Away We Go…..