THE 'CLOCKWORK' MAN;THREE FEATURES IN THREE YEARS AND NOW WITH A PROMISING COMMERCIALS RUN UNDERWAY-IT WOULD SEEM THAT VADIM JEAN HAS MADE THE MOST OF A BACKGROUND IN CORPORATE VIDEO
VADIM JEAN IS A BUSY YOUNG MAN. AT AGE 30, HE'S making his third British-financed movie in three years, and this at a time when the British film industry is reckoned to be moribund. He is also moving seriously into commercials, working through the London-and New York-based Beechurst Film Productions (which also reps Michael Apted).
How does he do it? "Apart from some talent, you need determination and persistence," he says. "Most filmmakers give up too easily or fall into the trap of never making a second movie after their first effort. I'm determined to make a feature a year."
When he's not directing for the silver screen, Jean, who was born in Bristol of a French father and English mother, intends to devote all his considerable energy to advertising. Now that he's completed his third feature, "Clockwork Mice," he plans to spend around six months in the advertising arena "getting a solid reel of commercials under my belt." Inspired mainly by Alan Parker and Paul Weiland, what he wants to make, for both the big and small screens, is "comedy dialogue that looks amazing," he says. His first Beechurst advertising efforts, however, are neither comedy nor dialogue. His debut, a brawny, 60-second b&w study of steel workers for a beer called Stones Bitter and London agency Bates Dorland, is actually a touch grim. His second job, a pair of :20s for a British lite-music radio station called Melody FM and London agency Mustoe Merriman Herring Levy, is far more lighthearted, as pop songs are contrasted with vignettes (for example, the Elton John song "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart" plays while we see a businessman pleading for leniency with a meter maid).
While "comedy dialogue that looks amazing" may be a singularly ambitious goal, Jean's career to date underlines his tenacity. He developed and refined his film taste at Warwick University, where he studied history, but his favorite films were on the order of "Blade Runner" and "The Blues Brothers." "I realized that mainstreamish films were what I wanted to do."
In his final year at Warwick he made a spoof documentary that won first prize in a student film competition whose judges included former Paramount head David Puttnam. Confident that his success would open British media doors, he applied to the BBC and got rejected-10 times. He now seems almost proud of his failure record.
Instead of networking in the Beeb's corridors of power, he found himself a job as a runner on Mike Figgis' thriller, "Stormy Monday," and then set up a production company to shoot corporate videos, weddings "and anything you could put a camera in front of." He sees video as the great liberator. "It's video that has made possible the whole hands-on, teach-yourself route of learning how to make films," he believes. "You can actually borrow your parents' camcorder and produce your own little films, which is how I learned, with video. And that's one of the things that has made this whole low-budget, no-budget thing possible for filmmakers like me, who couldn't get into film school."
Jean knows all about low budgets. After becoming disenchanted with shooting everything that moved for the corporate field, he decided at the end of 1991 to make a short film. "A friend said to me: 'Why a short? Why not go the whole hog?' I'd read the script for a film called 'Leon the Pig Farmer' in the summer, liked it, and now came up with the harebrained scheme of making it for nothing. In fact, I eventually raised $250,000, and I'm pleased to say that investors are getting their money back."
"Leon," a cult success, is the kind of movie Woody Allen might have made had he been born in Britain. Briefly, it's a wry comedy about a nice Jewish boy who, while delivering lunches to a sex clinic, discovers that his natural father is a pig farmer. The Daily Express opined: "Thank God for persistence. Without it, this marvelous film would never have been made." The film was originally budgeted at $4.5 million, but even drastically pared down, as it was, it won Jean The Evening Standard Best Newcomer of the Year award.
For his next excursion, Jean directed "Beyond Bedlam," which, far from being a comedy, is a visceral saga about a maverick detective trailing a serial killer who has been given psychic powers by a misfired scientific experiment involving mind-altering drugs. He took on the project at the last minute, not because he liked the script-which he hastily rewrote-but because he felt an intense desire to make another movie. "I think it looks phenomenal, and, funnily enough, there are comic moments in it, but, overall, I don't think it's that good," says the candid Jean. Like "Reservoir Dogs," the film has failed to secure a British video certificate, effectively banning it from the shelves and giving it an additional allure.
Now that Jean has put the finishing touches to "Clockwork Mice," which had a comparatively large budget of around $1.5 million, and was previewed in Los Angeles recently, he's preparing, with some relish, to shoot his next commercial. "Vadim's very good at bridging the gap between creative vision and the client's requirements," says Beechurst executive producer Ian Reid. "I think his background in corporate video has made him mindful of who's paying."