Under the Influence: Chris Goulder

February 14, 2017 /

By Alex Reeves

This ex-pro-snowboarder lays his directing inspirations Bare.

One of six kids in a rowdy Catholic family, Chris Goulder’s influences were different from day one. While most of his friends were watching Star Wars he was watching things like Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon and directing his siblings in plays he’d written.

After the hugely successful branded content spot Deliveries Before Dawn Chris Goulder and the Bare Films team travelled across the country making 24 films over 8 weeks with Fallon. These films made up the 2016 Christmas campaign for Cadbury’s #Cadvent - an online advent calendar with the concept involving bringing children’s Christmas wishes to life, with one film being released each day in the run up to Christmas.

At the end of last year Chris was named best new director at the British Arrows Craft Awards. With that in mind, we asked the Bare Films director to talk us through five of his biggest influences.

The Robot Food Trilogy

I always knew I wanted to work in the creative industries, but at 13 I discovered snowboarding and became completely obsessed with it. At the end of my first year at Central St. Martins - when I felt like I was running out of time to do the snowboarding thing - I deferred and went to live in France for four years to snowboard.

The Robot Food films came out during my first season in France. It’s a trilogy by a group of snowboarders, headed up by a guy called David Benedek. They revolutionised what snowboarding films could be. They just stopped taking themselves so seriously and showed that snowboarding was about having fun with your friends. Before that snowboarding films had just been about showing the ‘gnarliest’ clips of people snowboarding to a backdrop of thrash metal. There wasn’t much stylisation or tone of voice, they all followed a pretty similar formula. Robot Food’s irreverence to a pretty generic formula felt so new at the time and it really struck a chord with me.

By the third film in the trilogy they had a playful, ironic take on the whole scene. And they managed to capture what it was really to live that snowboarding life, rather than just showing the best tricks of the season.

At the same time we started making our own British snowboard films. I was involved in this film called Hungerpain. I had a video camera at the time so we’d go out and film ourselves building jumps and riding kickers.

With snowboarding there are so many down days that you don’t see. When the lifts were shut I would be back in my tiny little apartment with time to mess around with footage. I was also stating to experiment with stop-frame animation and making lots of little shorts, usually about some inanimate object coming to life and taking over the world.


Jan Svankmajer

After I’d done everything I could with snowboarding, and taken as much time as possible from St Martins, I went back to finish my degree. By this point I’d formed in my mind the idea that there was an opportunity for me to be in this industry that I loved – filmmaking. I hadn’t worked out exactly what it was, but I already had advertising in my sights having done work experience at AMV and having studied design.

I went back to CSM and was introduced to a load of filmmakers. Two that stand out are Jacques Tati, in particular Playtime and his surreal physical comedy, which also tied in with films I’d loved as a kid by Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin etc.

But the director that I was most interested in was Jan Svankmajer and particularly his film Food. It was something I hadn’t seen before – black comedy, the grotesque, surrealism and stop-frame animation combined.

Having already started playing with stop-frame his work showed me the huge possibilities that animation gives you. Like his mix of animating inanimate objects and humans. It was his work that showed me the importance of sound design to bring meaning to an action, and that re-recording sounds using alternative objects can add another layer of humour or depth to a scene.


My First Job

I graduated from CSM and got my first job as a runner at Partizan. I’d seen Michel Gondry’s work and was aware of a few other directors, so getting a job in 2007 felt like an incredible time to be there.

The energy was phenomenal. The directors, the work they were doing. Michel Gondry, Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, Traktor, Michael Gracey, Chris Cairns, Saam Farahmand, Nima Nourizadeh and a whole load more. It was an amazing place to be for your first job and I learnt tonnes from everyone there.

One video that encapsulates this was Gondry’s video for Let Forever Be by The Chemical Brothers. When I saw it, I remember just thinking how? How much planning must have gone into creating those intricate transitions?` It just showed me how technical filmmaking could be.

Antoine Bardou-Jacquet did a load of ads that I found super inspiring; Visa - Life Flows, which I loved for the editing. There’s this other really lovely ad for Orange - Open, which was so simple and poetic. And of course there Honda - Cog.

There were a whole host of us runners, who are still some of my best friends. We were a really tight group who worked incredibly hard but did anything that was required. I loved it. No request was too outrageous. And it was in a period where directors would make some pretty unexpected requests. (People could be slightly more diva-ish than they are today.)


Dark British Comedy

On the down days – if I wasn’t making stop-frame films – I would watch hours of The League of Gentlemen. Their use of simple prosthetics to give their characters an identity and create visual gags is something I’ve drawn on, especially in my film Deliveries Before Dawn. The subtlety of a few prosthetic teeth in someone’s mouth can have a huge effect when you place them in the real world.

I’m also a massive fan of Nighty Night by Julia Davis. The comedy is less visual but the characters that she manages to write are brilliantly sick. Whereas The League of Gentlemen is absurd and the characters are much bigger, in Nighty Night the performances are much more naturalistic, which I love. Julia Davis and the cast would often improvise allowing foibles and unscripted moments that occur to remain in the final edit. When I work with actors I’m often trying to get that from them. It gives that subtlety in a performance that makes you wonder, “Fuck, should I be laughing at this?”


A lot of my favourite directors had been creative directors first so after spending a few years in production companies I went and did the Watford Ad course. While I was there I got turned onto podcasts. A podcast lives or dies by the strength of its narrative, so listening to them is a wonderful way of understanding what makes a really good story. And since they are so cheap to make, they have opened the door to a whole raft of storytellers to bring more unusual stories to a wider audience.  

I really love this one called Heavyweight. It’s hysterical. The host Jonathan Goldstein goes back into the lives of people that he’s connected to and tries to right certain wrongs of the past. It’s a brilliant premise for a series and it’s delivered with such dry wit. He’s got a really wry sense of humour and sometimes you can doubt whether the whole series is set-up or not. It’s brilliant.

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