James has a powerful cinematic visual style and a great knack for filmic storytelling. His work has a fresh intensity which works brilliantly across a range of genres – whether he’s shooting a beautiful car commercial or a bobsleigh racing a rally car for Top Gear; whether filming a gun battle in the jungle for a drama documentary or a gritty car chase for The Sweeney feature film. Also, after a decade as a style-setting director and editor on Top Gear and numerous car commercials, it’s safe to say that there are few people who can film cars as well as James.
James has always dreamed of being a film director, from around the age of seven. He used to write and draw his own comic books. He didn’t realise it at the time but he was learning skills he would later use to visualise and storyboard films and commercials. But James’ other passions were found in the stories and characters of the written word and he went on to study English Literature at Oxford University.
James went on to complete the Postgraduate Diploma in Film & TV at Bristol University, then started his professional career as an offline editor at MTV, quickly moving on to become a freelance music video and commercials editor. Editing is the best training for directing and James’ directing break came from the BBC who employed him on a variety of shows, eventually leading up to Top Gear. This despite the fact James knew very little about cars and hadn’t driven since he passed his test 12 years earlier.
After a refresher driving lesson and a crash course in what a spoiler was, James has worked, on and off, as a director/editor on Top Gear since Series 2 and is credited on 70 episodes of the show. As such he has been instrumental in creating the style and success of a TV programme which is now, officially, the most watched show in the world. Top Gear is three times BAFTA nominated, has won The National Television Award four times and James found himself wearing a tuxedo in New York to receive the 2005 International Emmy for Best Non-Scripted Entertainment.
James’ films for Top Gear are mini action movies with Hollywood scale and ambition: a Porsche races a skydiver or a Challenger 2 tank chases a Range Rover; or they’re epic road movies such as the 1-hour America Special (where the crew were chased out of Alabama by rednecks) or the 1-hour Botswana Special (voted the best Top Gear film of all time); or they’re comedy pieces where cars play football or Jeremy drives the smallest car in the world through the BBC offices. James edits all of his own TV work, which gives him a very efficient, precise and versatile shooting method.
Over the last 5 years James has directed drama documentaries where he has elicited powerful and moving performances from actors and has staged action sequences such as big SFX heavy gun battles in the Philippine jungle (Kidnapped Abroad – Fatal Mission) or car chases and shoot-outs in the Bronx (The Fugitive Chronicles). The New York Post said: “Very good re-enactments…a terrific package” and The Times said “the best edition of what has proved to be a strong series.”
Recently, James was asked to Second Unit direct the finale car chase for the feature film remake of The Sweeney starring Ray Winstone and Plan B (released end of 2012).
James joined RSA 5 years ago and has worked with clients such as Nissan, COI/Army and Chevrolet in America. James is a particularly versatile commercials director as he has mastered a huge variety of shooting styles, whether aiming for stunning beauty, documentary actuality, comedy or cinematic drama – or any combination of the above.
He’s currently developing an original feature film script in which it seems pretty likely that there will be a car chase.