Exclusive: Simon Bird on his move into directing moves

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The Inbetweeners star Simon Bird tells us how his directorial debut – Days Of The Bagnold Summer – came to be.

Playing at the London Film Festival is a British film by the name of Days Of The Bagnold Summer. It’s a terrific movie, that we reviewed here, and it’s the feature directorial debut of Simon Bird.

Bird is best known for his lead role in The Inbetweeners, but he’s long harboured ambitions to direct. “Since birth”, he laughs over a warm beverage in London. “I’ve always liked to create stuff, and have some control over how it ends up”, although the move to acting diluted that a little.

Yet the desire to direct remained, and in 2016, he made a short film by the name of Ernestine & Kit, “to check whether I could do it, and check whether I enjoyed it”.

He could, and he did.

Thus, it was time to push towards a feature, and he picked up a copy of Joff Winterhart’s graphic novel, Days Of The Bagnold Summer. A book that Lisa Owens adapted into a screenplay.

“I knew I wanted to adapt a book. I felt like it would be a bonus to be working on a story that I already loved. Something I already knew worked. And went through my library of books, and Days Of The Bagnold Summer jumped out”.

It sounds like quite a library, too. Bird is a big reader. His wife is a novelist. Their house is not short of books. But this particular story stood out. “It’s small, British and manageable. I knew I wasn’t going to have a big budget to play with. But also I found the book sad, funny and character-led. All the things I like”.

The visual style of the graphical novel – black and white, no backgrounds – is very different from the film. “My original thought, maybe because I’m a total geek, was to do it black and white, make it very indie and very grungy. For various reasons, we went against that! I wanted to celebrate the characters, and where they lived. For that, we needed music and colour”.

Yet there’s little getting away from the fact that Bird the actor’s highest profile role have been comedies. Didn’t people, when they heard he was making a film, want him to do some form of younger-skewing The Inbetweeners-style film? “Totally. That’s absolutely right. This one does meet them half-way. There’s stuff in there where the people I had to convince to give us the money probably latched onto. There’s a teenager, a coming of age element. Belle & Sebastian do the music”.

The final film is a real balance between a mother, Sue, and her teenage son Daniel. And unusually, it’s a coming of age story for both. But again, there was pressure to make it more about the teenager. “That was something we fought against. We wanted to be as true to the book as possible, and a big part of why it’s so brilliant is that it’s about the family as a whole. It’s as much a film about Sue as it is Daniel”.

“This phrase ‘coming of age film’ has haunted me”, Bird admits. “It sort of is, but it’s as much hers and his. That was something we were very on top of, and strict about. When we had a draft, we’d read it through and do a page count. How much of this is Sue’s story, and how much is Daniel’s?”.

Bird has ambitions to direct more films, but at the moment, he’s clearly proud of this one. It debuted to a huge crowd at the Locarno Film Festival in August, and makes its London bow this weekend. Then, it’s a case of locking down a UK release in 2020, with Altitude already signed up for distribution.

“It’s the sort of film I like to watch”, he muses of his debut, “and I hope to make more films like it”. There’s another project he tells me he’s juggling that’s a little way down the line – but it’s early days at the moment. Based on his debut, whatever it turns out to be, it should be worth the wait…

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