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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

May Fest Director’s Cut: Making Movies with Jon S. Baird

by Dillan-James Carter

Courtesy of The University of Aberdeen

Friday night saw the return of acclaimed director Jon S. Baird to the Aberdeen University Campus after his graduation in 1996. Although the ‘Film and Visual culture’ course was not on offer during his time here, he was honoured to be back on campus after so long; and a tad shocked to be invited,  admitting he wasn’t exactly an ‘A’ plus student. The evening began with a talk about the effect of his upbringing on his desire to work in the film industry; his father’s love of musical theatre and his supportive family network helped him in his ambition to follow his dream in a field very distant from his family’s fishing background. 

Baird directed his first short film It’s a Casual Life in 2003, a film which focused on the football subculture, a combination of fashion and hooliganism. This feature led to him being an associate producer on Green Street in 2005 and director, writer and producer of Cass in 2008, both movies with central themes of violence and identity.  An important point he makes about his early filmography is that he was not drawn to the violence of the pieces, but the stories they tell. While the story of Cass has a violent overtone, the struggle for identity was what drew him to the film.

The film that really brought Baird to the forefront was Filth,  an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name which follows the bipolar alcoholic Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson. His mastery of making a tragic tale so devilishly funny, can be attributed, according to him,  to his Calvinist sense of humour resulting from his upbringing in Peterhead; as a bluemogganner myself I can concur. 

His most recent work Stan & Ollie in 2018 - a biographical tale of Laurel and Hardy’s last hurrah - saw a complete departure from the Edinburgh beat towards  the heights of Hollywood. Nominated for three BAFTAs, Stan and Ollie is a heart warming, though not schmaltzy, tale of a broken comedic couple trying to work through their issues. Baird was attracted to the script due to his love for the duo and the complexity of their off-screen relationship which he compares to a married couple due to the love and pain they both feel for each other. Baird highlighted his love of working with actors over every other job he has, the engagement with them being something he thoroughly enjoys. So when it came to Stan and Ollie, he was in his element as Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly worked in very different ways bringing about various interactions.

Jon S. Baird is a wonderful credit to the North East of Scotland and to the University of Aberdeen, highlighting the diverse range of careers graduates enter and the determination of a dream. His lasting message for those how want to follow in his footsteps, it to immerse yourself within the field and to never be half-hearted in your goals; a quality I’m sure comes from his ‘Bloo Toon’ upbringing.


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