Joseph Pierce is an animator/filmmaker with a background in film, theatre and experimental art. He graduated with an MA in Animation Direction from the UK’s National Film and Television School (NFTS). His micro-short films have been in international festivals and his graduation film Stand Up has already won awards in UK and internationally.
Since graduating he has produced animated visuals in theatre for the Royal Opera House, National Theatre and the New York Met Opera. Joseph was selected as one of Screen International’s Stars of Tomorrow 2008 and a featured director in the Shots Magazine animation special issue.
Joseph’s newest project Family Portrait is now in competition in film festivals around the world and has just won the prestigious Grand Prix Award at Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film.
Your connection to the British Council?
The British Council have promoted my last two shorts to international festivals. With my first, Stand Up, they helped with travel to Zagreb Animation Festival. This was my first real festival experience after almost a year locked in a small room animating, so I have very fond memories of it. They also part funded my trip to Chicago International Festival, the city and festival really blew me away. Not literally.
Your current project?
I'm very much in the middle of promoting my latest short, A Family Portrait which is currently touring the festival circuit. It's had a really positive response in Europe so far and we're excited about having it travel further afield. Pipeline-wise, I'm generating ideas with my producer Mark Grimmer, for a follow-up, longer-short which will expand on the drawn, rotoscoped technique. I'm also co-writing a feature script with fellow NFTS graduate Aneil Karia, in development with the BBC and endlessly trying to improve my spanking new website (www.josephpierce.co.uk).
What originally turned you on to film?
I have very early memories of seeing Saturday matinees at the Ipswich Film Theatre as a child and being really enamoured of the whole experience. It was very much an independent cinema, with a tiny sweet shop, curtains and torch-waving ushers who sit through the entire film. That sounds like I'm 68 rather than 28 but the place had an old feel even for the time. Seeing films from Kes to Jason and the Argonauts to The Rocketeer gave me a really diverse cinema experience. I also wanted to be an actor for a while but realised I'm a bit of a repressed, control-freak so animation seemed like the perfect expression for me.
Career high so far?
Um, there's been lots in the last 2 years but the graduation show from the NFTS was a highlight. After working so intensely on a 6 minute film (Stand Up) then releasing it on an audience without any idea how it'll be received was quite an experience. I really put blood and sweat into it and to get film industry folk and members of the public connecting with it was overwhelming. More recently, flying out to Stuttgart to collect the Grand Prize (narrowly avoiding major volcanic-ash related setbacks) for A Family Portrait was a massive honour.
Your first job in the film industry?
My first job was as a boom operator, age 17. It was my first time on a professional set and I was a nervous wreck. I remember the first set-up was an exterior wide shot so I had to extend my boom to full length in ultra-windy conditions. It was so heavy I ended up resting it on my head, not recommended unless you want to bruise the hell out of your skull. But once I got the hang of it I was fine, and it's an excellent job for getting to see the workings of a director and crew.
If I knew then what I know now…
I'd be a little more fearless about the whole thing. When you're younger, film seems like this intangible object that you know is made but you don't quite know how. But eventually I realised it's just another job that takes a whole load of passion and hard graft like many others and if someone has to make them why not me?
Your favourite British film?
Tough one, as a kid I loved the morose humour and heart of Kes and that still stays with me. Monty Python's The Life of Brian still stands up as funniest British film ever whilst being effortlessly provocative. Recently I was amazed by Fish Tank, the performances and atmosphere really hooked me. But I'd say my favourite British film of all time is Don't Look Now for it's harrowing opening sequence, beautiful sex scene and all round cracking performances, editing and cinematography.
If you could have directed any film ever made…
Festen. It's a Danish film by Thomas Vinterberg which was part of the Dogma movement in the '90s. It has some of the most uncomfortable moments in any film and is tinged with the blackest of humour. When I saw it I thought, if I can make an audience feel as awkward as I did when I watched Festen I could die happy. I've been trying ever since.
The first film you ever saw?
At the cinema, probably Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Rick Moranis is probably the best actor of his or any generation.
Favourite line or scene from a film?
I'm not very good at favourites as my brain is quite messy and disorganised but my favourite break-up movie (hence seeing it quite often) is Swingers so I'd say the scene where Jon Favreau's character plucks up the courage to call a girl whose number he scored, only to get her answer phone. After getting cut off repeatedly by the beeps he calls back again and again. After a series of increasingly weird messages the girl picks up having been there all along, and just says 'don't ever call again'. Two words, Hil-arious.
Favourite screen kiss?
Aside from the sex scene mentioned above (which I think has some kissing?) I love Dustin Hoffman kissing Ann Bancroft in The Graduate, right in between her inhaling and exhaling her cigarette. Sexy.
Favourite screen villain?
I guess as an animator I should a least quote one...so I'll say General Woundwort from Watership Down. I know it's a cliché to say it's a terrifying film but it is and the General's Pink Eye and menacing teeth is enough to prolong bed-wetting well in to anyone's mid-teens. Er, except mine, obviously.
Who would play you in the film about your life?
If I was going to wildly flatter myself and my life was like a serious, pschological drama I'd say Adrian Brody. But as it's more like an 'amusing' British sit-com I'd say Ralf Little from 4 Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps fame. But I don't think there'll be a film about my life. Yet.