Interview with Jay Clarke, Wes Anderson’s go-to Storyboarder

This week at NYFA we caught up with extremely talented storyboarder, Jay Clarke. He’s worked as the Lead Storyboarder on Wes Anderson’s latest two films – Isle of Dogs and Grand Budapest Hotel.  He’s now currently working on Anderson’s upcoming live-action film. Clarke has also worked on the Shaun the Sheep Movie, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Early Man and The Pirates! Band of Misfits.

If you’ve ever watched a Wes Anderson film, you’ll know that detail is everything. From the placing of each perfect prop to the close-up or wide-angle shot of a certain character – each shot aims to tell a story. Well, that’s where the storyboarder comes into play. Storyboarders help these visions become a reality by meticulously drawing the perfect shot. Clarke describes this as “acting as the director’s pen” – you’ve got to help them find what they’re looking for and make sure it looks just right.

Now that you know what it is that Jay Clarke does, let’s find out how it all began…

How did your career start out?

Whilst we were chatting, it was clear that film is more than just a career to Clarke –  It’s a passion.

“I’ve always known I wanted to get into film and pursue drawing”

When Clarke was starting out, and even now, there isn’t exactly a ‘storyboard industry’ or a particular path one should take. But, Clarke advises anyone wanting to follow in his footsteps to look to your heroes for inspiration. And, that’s exactly what Clarke did.

Animation pioneer, Nick Park (creator of Wallace & Gromit & Chicken Run), was Clarke’s hero. Both from the North West of England (with Nick Park hailing from Lancashire and Clarke from Yorkshire) – he made the dream of getting into film seem more believable, more real. Sometimes Hollywood can feel like a million miles away, Clarke explains, but if a Preston lad can make it – it feels that bit closer!

Eager to replicate Park’s journey into film, he decided to attend his alma mater – Sheffield Hallam. Clarke actually ended up winning the Nick Park Bursary of £500 at the University by entering a Short Film.

“I’m not quite sure where that £500 went but it helped me gain contact with Aardman Animations”

Clarke got his foot in the door at Aardman by doing work experience in the art department of Curse of the Wererabbit – up until this day it remains one of his fondest memories of his career.

Although it took a long time for Clarke to get people in the industry to put their trust in him. He eventually built up his portfolio by working hard and nurturing his connections. And now, he’s one of the most trusted storyboarders in the business.

How long does the creative process of storyboarding take?

“Each time is different, each director is different”

It’s difficult to pin down a timeframe, Clarke tells us, as sometimes you can end up going back to work on one shot and the order and timings become confusing.

“It’s a constantly evolving process, you’ve just got to make a good plan of war.”

Clarke explained that if you spend a long amount of time on getting one shot perfect it could very easily be cut down the line. So, it’s important to balance out your time  – make sure everything looks great, but don’t get too hung up on one particular thing.

Do you prefer working in TV or Film?

Having dabbled in both, Clarke found the question rather difficult to answer. TV has a quicker turnaround and therefore “gets the juices flowing a bit more”. But, then again, film can allow you more time to focus on detail and work more independently, which can often lead to feeling prouder of your work.

“Basically, TV is like a sprint, and film is like a marathon”

When Clarke was working on Shaun the Sheep he was working with around 4 to 5 people. Whereas, when he was working on Isle of Dogs he was by himself.

“Although it was massively challenging, when you’re working on a shot by yourself you get more gratification. Whereas, when you bring someone in, you lose identification. And, when you’re part of big team don’t feel the pressure as much.”

Were you a fan of Wes Anderson before working with him?

Clarke has been a fan of Wes Anderson for a while, after watching The Royal Tenenbaums at an impressional age. His unique filmmaking struck a chord with him.

“I don’t think anyone is doing the filmmaking the way he’s doing. He really takes you into that world.  He’s found what works for him and he sticks with his style. He’s also got so much ambition – he always wants to create. It’s really inspiring for me.”

Do you have any personal projects on the go?

Clarke has a short film/book idea on the go but he’s often busy working on other people’s projects.

“Sometimes what I’m doing for myself gets pushed to the side. But, it’s all about asking yourself what am I gonna learn from this? Whether I’m working on a commercial or a TV show, i’m still learning. I’ll work on something for a few weeks and then I’ll get a chance to carve out a day for myself.” 

Do you have any takeaway tips?

“Get a notepad and sketch different things that you see, characters people out. Imagination is nothing compared to what’s really out there so if you look theres so much interesting things that you can draw – you can begin to make a library.”

“My main tip for people storyboarding is to think about the films that you get inspiration from, get the DVDs watch the film without the dialogue or music. Try to figure out why its been put together that way in a surgical way. Film language like ‘Close-Up’/’Wide Angle’ is the bread and butter of storyboarding. Each scene should have its iown natural rhythm. You should be able to understand what’s going on without a line of dialogue – that means its actually going in visually.”

 

Written by Phoebe Griffiths

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