Set to the music of the eponymous Warp Records trip-hop album by Nightmares on Wax, Smokers Delight is more reminiscent of 90s stoner movies such as Friday and How High than anything that has come out of England. Utilising expressionistic colours and production design, heightened angles, animated sequences and metafictional tricks, it plays around with genre form, allowing the power of pot to dictate the story. We caught up with Director Jamie Whitby (last seen on DN here) to discuss inspiration, collaboration and sourcing tens of ounces of fake weed.
How did you get in touch with George Evelyn, aka. Nightmares on Wax?
His manager had seen a couple of my music videos and really liked them but in the beginning they didn’t know what they wanted to do. Around then Ninian Doff’s film Get Duked had just come out – it’s about the Duke of Edinburgh award, and is very similar tonally, with lots of drug references and acid trips. I think he had seen that and was keen to do something in a similar vein.
This film is inspired by American stoner movies. Which ones had the biggest influence?
I’d like to say Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. I don’t think it came out that way. I think it’s closer to Dude, Where’s My Car?, which I still have a lot of love for. But like Dazed and Confused, we shot a lot of it heavily improvised. We were also inspired by Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye, which is like a stoned take on noir. I was really just trying to find a way to do something like Dude, Where’s My Car? that isn’t The Inbetweeners.
I wanted to take an American approach and see how it could be applied in a British sense.
What’s it like taking a quintessentially American genre and giving it that British sensibility?
Lots of other directors I talk to have a problem with British genre filmmaking, in the sense that we don’t really have it. There are lots of films that are very successful in channelling a socially realistic side of things, but apart from Ben Wheatley, we don’t have any filmmakers championing some sort of genre filmmaking that’s more heightened than your standard fare. I wanted to take an American approach and see how it could be applied in a British sense. That was just about being confident in presenting a story that’s not completely realist, and allowing it to go places that aren’t what you’d necessarily expect. The dream set up helped with that, and gave me that safety net to play around with genre and the way we light stuff.
Yet the music itself, which has a classic trip-hop sound, is that classic post-night out London sound where everyone starts smoking weed. Why do you think no one tried to make a British type of weed movie?
I guess it has been done in Human Traffic. In the latter half of that film you have Howard Marks popping up discussing weed politics. It’s a really interesting film because no one really watched it, but everyone who has seen it loved it. It’s kind of like a cult film in the techniques and shooting style, which is very heightened. That was a big inspiration because that’s the only film I can think of that channels that.
There’s one guy in all of the UK who essentially exists to provide fake weed props for film and TV.
How did you procure so much weed paraphernalia for the film?
That’s actually super interesting. There’s one guy in all of the UK who essentially exists to provide fake weed props for film and TV. He’s this amazing German guy called Marko Waschke, who moved to the UK and is completely obsessed with it, to the point where I was having arguments with him about how real my dreamworld weed farm would look. He was also getting very cross that we were using the wrong humidifier or whatever for the hydroponic system. We got in touch with him and he happened to be a big fan of Nightmares on Wax. He did us a massive favour and literally had everything, like this vast warehouse of all these fake plants made out of silk. Then he also has a CBD license. So most of the cast was smoking CBD, which is legal.
At one point Ty walks out of the frame in a delightful metafictional effect. It reminded me of 1940s Disney movies which mixed animation with live action. How did you achieve it?
That was inspired by the French New Wave. It’s not something I’m hugely fond of, but I love the way they play around with form and deconstruct the rules around filmmaking. That was actually really simple. We just chucked in a flat board that we painted black and lined our camera up with the frame lines.
The dialogue is great, capturing these loopy, semi-philosophical ramblings that occasionally have some truth to them. Were you inspired by real conversations you had, and how did you try and make them entertaining without them becoming nonsensical?
I stopped smoking weed when I was like 22, about eight years ago. I was just drawing off those experiences I had at that age when I got really high and had those kinds of discussions. I think a lot for me is that kind of thing when you lose where you’re going but get quite excited about it at the same time. Often it’s this idea of having this incredibly meaningful epiphany that doesn’t really get you anywhere. Especially with the scene with the dealer, I was keen to have two characters really trying to find this meaningful moment but just failing because it’s not really there.
We wanted it to feel super colourful and stylised.
The film features an animated sequence, which really adds to the trippy vibe. How did you work on it?
There’s this American guy called Chris Cornwell. He had a Vimeo Staff Pick that I always loved. And he worked on this film called Pitch Black Panacea by Tom Hardiman. He specialises in this style, kind of like early 40s Disney. We went into it trying to emulate the cartoons of that era. But ultimately, colour makes the biggest difference with that. The first animations we got were white with a few colourful elements, so we had to play around with the palette to get it feeling like it existed in the trippy space I wanted it to.
What’s the intention of building most of the interiors yourself?
Largely to give it that fake feeling. I think the dreamscape is somewhere where you want that set-buildiness to it. It also gives you a chance to play around with colour palettes and get them in a place that feels a bit more cohesive than if you’re just working with locations. That was a big part of the appeal because we wanted it to feel super colourful and stylised. In the bathroom scene, for instance, you have this lurid green wallpaper, which has been matched with the bars in the sink and the plant he’s holding in the frame.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently battling to get an option on a book to adapt into a TV series. I can’t name it but it’s on a similar drug trip.
Smokers Delight is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.