James’s work has a powerful cinematic style and a fresh intensity which fits a range of genres, whether he’s shooting a beautiful car commercial or a bobsleigh racing a rally car for Top Gear; whether he’s filming a gun battle in the jungle for a drama-documentary or a gritty car chase for The Sweeney feature film. And after a decade as a style-setting director/editor on Top Gear, it’s safe to say not many people can film cars as well as James. But regardless of genre, James is first and foremost a storyteller and he knows that style and visuals need to serve the story or the idea at the heart of any film.
After a degree in 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. He quickly moved on to become a freelance music video and commercials editor. Editing is the best training for directing and James’s directing break came from the BBC, who employed him on a variety of shows leading up to Top Gear. This despite the fact James knew very little about cars and couldn’t technically drive.
After a hasty refresher driving lesson and a crash course in what a spoiler was, James has intermittently worked on Top Gear since Series 2 and is credited on over 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 (Jeremy couldn’t attend because he was ‘writing the script’).
James’s films for Top Gear can be mini action-movies with Hollywood scale and ambition: a Porsche races a Red Devil skydiver or a Challenger 2 tank chases a Range Rover. Sometimes they’re comedy pieces where cars play football or Jeremy drives the smallest car in the world through the BBC offices. Or they’re epic road movies like the 1-hour America Special (the one where we were chased out of a petrol station in Alabama by rednecks); or the 1-hour Botswana Special (voted the best Top Gear film of all time). James edits most of his own TV work, which gives him a very efficient, precise and versatile shooting method.
Over the last 7 years James has also written and directed high-end drama-documentaries, where he has elicited powerful and moving performances from actors and has staged big action sequences, such as gun battles in the Philippine jungle (Kidnapped Abroad – Fatal Mission) or car chases and shoot-outs in the Bronx (The Fugitive Chronicles). About James’s work, 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.” Recent work includes the series Paranormal Witness -“Easily the most terrifying supernatural series on TV” (Huffington Post).
Recently, James was asked to direct the finale car chase for the feature film remake of The Sweeney, starring Ray Winstone. Some caravans may have been harmed in the making of this film. Gordon Smart of The Sun said: “The car chase is epic...the dramatic finale through a caravan park is one of the best I’ve seen.”
James joined RSA 9 years ago and has worked with clients such as Audi, Ford, Nissan, COI/Army and Chevrolet in America. James is a particularly versatile commercials director as he has mastered a huge variety of shooting and storytelling techniques, whether he’s capturing stunning beauty, documentary actuality, cinematic drama or comedy – 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.