ABOVE: SIMON ABOUD. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARY MCCARTNEY.
Comes a Bright Day is British writer-director Simon Aboud’s first feature film, or first feature film to make it past production. Aboud’s first script, The Beautiful Fantastic, brought him to the attention of the British filmmaking world: Everybody loved it, everybody wanted to work on it, but somehow it is still languishing in preproduction limbo. But things are looking up for Aboud, who began his career as a writer for an ad agency. Comes a Bright Day premieres in Berlin this week and has a very promising cast. Craig Roberts, who just won the BAFTA award for “Young British Performer,” plays a hotel page who falls for jewelry store worker Mary, played by fashion darling Imogen Poots, and tries to ask her on a simple date. Alas for Smith, what seems like a simple love story turns into a romance-heist-coming of age film.
We caught up with Simon while we were in London to discuss preciousness (a much less Gollum-centered conversation than it sounds), whether filmmaking lived up to his childhood expectations, and what he’s up to next.
EMMA BROWN: You’ve said that you consider yourself a storyteller, both in terms of your advertising campaigns and as a filmmaker. How do you start a story?
SIMON ABOUD: It very much depends. If it’s a film story, a feature film, then it tends to be a very simple idea that I build on and very quickly try and find a character. There’s time where it’s sort of fermentation, it appears that you are not doing very much, but internally I think you’re just testing something to see if it will actually work. Like the film I’m making at the moment, where I haven’t actually written a word, I said to someone the other day, “I’ve done so much work on it.” And they were like, “Where?” I try and add characters and work the arc of the character and the antagonist and all of that to see if it works. We kind of do the same thing for clients at [my advertising firm], but obviously it’s different because it’s a corporate world, so there has to be a more regimented structure than me walking away and saying “I’ll come back when it’s all scripted and shot.”
BROWN: When did you first become interested in storytelling?
ABOUD: It’s taken me 46 years to do what I’ve always wanted to do, which is to direct movies. That’s what I wanted to do when I was nine. Making a film is not an easy club to get into; people don’t let you drive the car unless there’s a degree of confidence that you’re going to drive the car. My history is advertising, I was a writer, and then I directed television commercials. I’ve been very lucky because I’ve gotten to do things—like advertising and [my advertising company,] Make Believe—that are about storytelling. In a way they’ve all been practice for ultimately what I would like to be doing everyday, directing feature films.
BROWN: How long has Comes a Bright Day been in the making?
ABOUD: That’s kind of the odd thing. I wrote a script called The Beautiful Fantastic and it had one set of producers attached to it, and then another, and then it was in the Brit List [the British version of the Black List]. People really like it, [but this pre-production] it seemed to go on for years. So when people [would] says, “You can write a film, but it’s not going to happen in a few minutes.” I was like, “Yeah, yeah. I know that.” But with Comes a Bright Day, I met with the producer and we made the film eight months later. The film I ended up making was set-up very, very quickly. I’m now in completely unchartered territory, you know what you’re doing when you make the film, but then you hand it over to other people. I can’t really do anything to affect anything anymore.
BROWN: Comes a Bright Day seems like a very British film; Paul Smith designed the costumes, it takes place in Westminster. How do you feel the movie will translate to an international audience?
ABOUD: I think the themes are universal. In a sense, the film is about preciousness and what the definition of preciousness really is. I don’t think many of us know; preciousness is so one-dimensional now. It seemed like a very apt story to tell at the moment, because there has become something very garish about brands, it is very much about the price and how you wear it. We live in this world of this kind of super, super luxury—add more zeros to it and make it more desirable, desirable right down to [the point where] even people who haven’t got any money at all want it. This sounds all preachy. I think the Britishness is just a stylistic thing because I just fell in love with this little bit of London: there is less than a square mile that fascinates me, down in St. James’, where there are no big multinational corporate brands, [just] galleries and individual places. It is kind of forgotten in the scheme of things. People go [there to] buy these great artifacts and pieces of art. Where we shot, where we invented the jewelry shop, is the most extraordinary porcelain shop. Who buys antique porcelain? Someone does. I like the fact that someone does. Customers have to know where they are going; it’s not like buying a ring at Tiffany’s, [it’s a] generational thing; you buy it so you can keep it, so someone else can get it.
BROWN: So you don’t feel like the address of this square in St. James’ is, in it’s own way, a brand? That area in London is quite famous for luxury goods; and in the same way that you might go to Tiffany or Cartier for the name, you might wander down to Bond Street.
ABOUD: I see what you mean. Yeah. If I was really specific, I would say that it doesn’t include Old Bond Street. A big theme is value versus price, it’s not about the price tag, it’s about the value of things, it’s about the story, it’s about where it comes from. Their pricelessness is much more to do with what they’re about why they’re here in the first place, their history. It just seemed a very apt place to create a love story, somewhere where you are surrounded by these kind of mementos of extraordinary acts of love. In that sense I think [the film] is incredibly universal.
BROWN: How did you cast Craig Roberts and Imogen Poots?
ABOUD: Imogen was in a list, if I had to write a list of all the girls, all the women that I wanted to play Mary, she was pretty much top of that list. Craig came for a reading and just killed it; I hadn’t seen Submarine. A minute in, it was like, “That’s him.” He’s fantastic. The thing about Craig is, and I’m not even sure Craig gets it, he just has this amazing ability when the cameras on.
BROWN: Did you have Imogen in mind when you were writing?
ABOUD: Yeah, absolutely. I liked what she’d done, and I thought she had a real spirit. On a lower-budget film, if you’ve got a great cast you’ve got a really great advantage, because it means you can get a momentum and you don’t need as many takes.
BROWN: What surprised you about directing a feature film? Or did it go as you expected?
ABOUD: I’m not sure it would ever go as you expected. I don’t think I had an expectation, I was like, “I wonder what today is going to bring.” I loved doing it, I was so glad because all those years I’ve wanted to do it and I thought, “What if I don’t like it?” I really enjoyed it. Every day is completely different, it’s a series of problems that you’re solving and there are an infinite number of ways that you can do that and you don’t know what those problems are going to be.
BROWN: Sounds stressful!
ABOUD: I think it must be an eye of the storm thing; I was actually very calm. Calmness is good, especially on a low-budget film.
BROWN: What’s up next?
ABOUD: I’m working on another script at the moment, which is based in LA. I’ve done all the fermentation so I’m now starting to put it together. It would be a step up for me, so it’s exciting. That’s where my heart is at the moment. LA kind of grows on me the more I go there. I always loved New York, and New York always felt like a second home to me, but I’m completely directionless, so New York is the perfect city for me. Even in the Financial District, just head north and you’ll come out somewhere. But LA doesn’t work like that. [In LA] you go to meet people, and they’re pretty serious about it, they make films, so if they like what you do there’s a chance that they’re going to do it. Unfortunately, it’s more difficult [in the UK], there’s a lot more talk.