Director Jonny Campbell Talks The Casual Vacancy, Vincent and the Doctor

Director Jonny Campbell Talks The Casual Vacancy, Vincent and the Doctor

May 6, 2015 0 By Jeff Fountain

Recently I had the chance to talk to director Jonny Campbell about life behind the camera in the world of television, his past successes, current projects and what he hopes to do in the future. Campbell has recently been hard at work adapting J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy for a TV mini-series and is perhaps most well known for directing the Doctor Who episode, Vincent and the Doctor.

What is it that attracted you to directing? Was it something you always wanted to do or did you fall into it, sort of like a happy accident?

The_Casual_VacancyFell into it really. I, like many, gorged on copious amounts of film and television as a teenager, enjoyed acting at school and university (as well as directing the odd play), but never dared to think it could be a potential career so left university with an understanding and love of literature and drama, but without a clue how I might use it.

Why is television your chosen medium to work in? Are there more opportunities and creative freedom in this field?

I love television, but I follow and chase after stories and scripts, which intrigue and affect me them rather a medium. There are inevitably more opportunities, especially during this renaissance period for TV drama, but while traditionally film is seen as the auteurs medium I have rarely felt creatively curtailed in TV. There are some stories, which are best suited to film and am actively chasing some of those great scripts (along with hundreds of other directors no doubt).

Do you find there is more pressure on yourself when involved with projects like Dr. Who and J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy?

Yes and no. It’s like extreme climbing – it’s best to concentrate on the job and not look down. Equally, you do feel a great sense of responsibility to do justice to the work and the fan-bases alike and it is even more rewarding when they approve of your efforts.

Now that you have begun to build up a nice resume, do you actively seek out certain jobs and if so, what is it that you are looking for in a project?

Glad you think so, thanks. A good back catalogue of projects is helpful in terms of being sent lots of scripts, which I then read before settling on what I feel compelled to do. Sometimes I will hear about a project and actively go after it. Like many I find I’m looking for something original or refreshing to me at least and while I always endeavour to work on something diametrically different from each previous project (last one being IN THE FLESH), when I look back I can see patterns: stories which deal with emotive issues and have string character-driven narratives. I want to feel moved more than I desire to shoot a car chase.

Can you describe what a typical day is like for you, for example, directing and episode of a TV series or miniseries?

The schedule tends to dictate to you what happens – depends which phase you are in. The pre-production period gets progressively busier the closer you get to the shoot – mainly answering thousands of questions and making hundreds of decisions about all sorts of elements – from location selection to costume to whether an actor should shave their moustache. Those questions don’t stop during the shooting period, if anything they intensify, but everything is framed by a desire to get the best value out of all the elements and scenes which come together each day.


Who were your biggest influences growing up and present day?

I really loved the Merchant Ivory films for their beautiful character-driven stories full of humour and humanity. Today – Vince Gilligan.

What do you think of the average show in television today and do you think the quality is getting better or worse?

I think the quality and production values are getting better and better, as well as the ambition and the variety of storytelling. However, the ability to surprise or discover new or unknown writers feels like a rare commodity.

Both ERIC AND ERNIE and IN THE FLESH won BAFTA awards. How rewarding was that and professionally did it open any doors for you, or at the very least allow you access to projects that really interested you?

Very. It’s always nice to be recognized by your peers and a BAFTA award does help to get you noticed, especially if you walk round clutching it all day.

What are the best and/or worst parts about directing? Why?

The best: eliciting amazing and moving reactions from the audience especially after IN THE FLESH and VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR.

The worst: being away from my family.

What projects do you have coming up in the future?

Busy reading and developing, trying to expand my horizons and find something out of my comfort zone.