This fantastic short documentary by Danny Cooke pays homage to the extraordinary work of David A Smith who plies his trade in Torquay on the Devon coast. David’s website refers to him as a “traditional ornamental glass artist”but it is clear from this film that his talents extend far beyond glass work.I caught up with the director to ask him about making this film and his his wider interest in lettering and craftsmanship.
Sam Roberts (SR): How did you get into film making?
Danny Cooke (DC): When I was about 15, I started creating Machinima films (set in a virtual space). I learnt most of my film-making techniques this way! I later decided to break free of the restraints of the computer and purchased my first camera. From there, my hobby slowly built into a profession.
SR: How do you decide on the subjects for your films?
DC: Most of my films have come through chance and being in the right place at the right time. David saw some of my earlier film work and asked me to come and check out his workshop. I immediately saw potential for a short film. His work is inspirational and I would have been silly not to document it.
SR: I’ve seen two lettering and type based films of yours. What is your interest in this area and how did you come across the two very talented men that play the starring roles?
DC: As mentioned earlier, the Dave Smith film came by chance. ‘Upside Down, Left To Right’ came to me as I was eating a sandwich opposite the Plymouth University Letterpress workshop. It was a process I wasn’t familiar with and, as I glared in through the window, I was immediately drawn into the studio and approached Paul Collier to ask if he would let me make a film about him and his workshop.
SR: What was the process for creating these mini documentary profiles and how long did they take to make?
DC: This type of film tends to take roughly 3-4 weeks (spread out) to complete. It starts with several meetings with the subject/person that I am filming so I can visually take in the surroundings and build various ideas in my head. Based on the subject matter I create micro chapters and film each part in small chunks and, if possible, draft edit these the same day.
SR: Did you get to try your hands at any of the skills showcased in the films?
DC: Unfortunately not. It’s something I wouldn’t mind having a go at, but I tend to leave it to the artists!
SR: What was the most interesting thing you learned in making each of these two lettering films?
DC: Probably the fact that, although these techniques are older than digital, I found the results to be far superior compared to their digital replacements.
SR: I love the way that you use the techniques covered in the films as inspiration for the end credits. How did that come about?
DC: Both these films use techniques that pre-date computers and it would have been a shame to stick digital credits on the end. I first had to convince both artists that this was the way to go and I think it really paid off on both films!
SR: I agree. Can you recommend any other films or film makers in this area that I should also be checking out?
DC: There are definitely quite a few films about. But one that really stood out for me is called ‘Up There’ by Malcolm Murray. It’s a fantastic portrait of traditional memorial painters in New York. I also like this one about the oldest piano shop in Paris.
SR: What is your next project and how can people keep in touch with your work?
DC: I have a number of projects on the pipeline, but the most recent one might be a making of film for Dave A Smith, who designed and created John Mayer’s new album cover ‘Born and Raised’.
I was talking to Danny Cooke, film maker. His website is here and he can be followed on Twitter here. The website for David A Smith is here and he can be found on Facebook here. If you have any ideas for interviews that would be relevant for this blog then please get in touch.