From Holyhead to Hollywood – the journey of Graham Wyn Jones : Storyboard Artist
Graham began our interview by explaining what a Storyboard Artist does.
‘’I am the first to bring the Director’s vision to life from my rough thumb-nails to detailed drawings. The script slowly gets realised. To begin, the Storyboard Artist is given the script. My job is to visualise the written word; explore the narrative which includes technical obstacles, visual effects and continuity.
This gift of the Imagination was there from a very early age. I liked telling stories. I would sit down in front of the televisions, draw the story, try to mimic the action. My Dad often watched me; a creative man himself, he carved and sculpted …always making things. My Dad, Jack Fawr, read me books like Treasure Island and Moby Dick. He shared his love of cinema by showing Roy Rogers and Trigger on his 8 mm projector. From my mind’s images of the books and watching my Dad’s films I began to connect the dots …to see the potential of films …where my imagination could go next. I saw images, I saw pictures. I started isolating those pictures as my form of narrative story-telling. So my Imagination evolved from childhood experiments into my teens through the next chapter of my life’s journey.
When I was 15 my parents divorced. I became the man of the family. Couldn’t go to Arts school as planned. Had to keep Mum, Brian and Gaynor my younger brother and sister fed and clothed.
For the next 12 years I joined the Merchant Navy sailing from Holyhead, near to home.’’
(Hilarious stories at this point of our interview, about Graham’s ‘Marx Brothers’ trading genius. He’s a great raconteur, this man … And actor … suddenly leaps up and acts the incident!!)
Graham said “I set aside toys and childish endeavours. Became an adult very quickly. All my experiences were put into the mixing pot, adding artistic skills honed by practice. Being a Seaman in different countries, different climes, I visualised different emotions. I wanted to capture that moment as a film director so it could serve as a story in film … sense of mimicking Hollywood films. Using drawings to fuel my imagination, I picked up a 35 mm camera that would encapsulate all the elements, with a click. When I had a holiday I went to Europe backpacking, staying in caravan sites taking my 35mm Olympus. I was being self-resourceful, being clever, keeping safe, taking photographs.”
This self- sustaining way of life included being creative in whatever ways offered themselves to him. So … commissions for portraits and painting decorative plates for kitchens. Determinedly holding on to his ambition to be an artist through photography. Graham joined the Holyhead film club where, at members’ requests he made miniature films using 35mm cameras.
Next challenge … redundancy.
“My wife Mary saw that I wasn’t a Seaman like my father. She thought it a good time to begin my artistic journey. Relying on the merits of what I had already done I applied to the Technical College in Bangor as a mature student, with the backing of the redundancy money. There was no place available … had to wait a year. During which time I built up a collection of notebooks and designs. In 1993 I was accepted on the Welsh Education Joint Committee on Art & Design: a Foundation course.
It was a pressurised environment; thrust into many different art forms … design graphics, costume, a variety of photography. You had to learn about film history. All of this was difficult since I hadn’t read nor written since leaving school at 15. I had now to understand the function of writing essays. I had no idea what a dissertation was… how to take down notes and write an analytic dissertation.
Such academic work seemed a far-cry from my ‘artist’ vision. But I realised that it was informing me of the world and in a much clearer, concise way. I felt myself as a sponge, just soaking in information every day. Taking in, taking in, like a snowball of experiences … Looking back this sense of accumulation was like life as a Seaman …many jobs on board ship …making quick decisions, reacting to situations, cause and effect ever present; thinking on my feet. I applied these world-skills at college in a way younger kids could not.”
At the year’s end all students mounted an exhibition of their work which was assessed for entry to a degree or higher National Diploma. Graham passed with Distinction.
“They said it was a Degree for me”.
BA in film design & photography which Graham completed 4 years on, aged 42.
The next stage saw Graham hone his array of skills into becoming a Storyboard Artist
Graham’s Hero’s Journey moves from Wales to London after his graduation from Film and Art school. From Holyhead to Hollywood.
In his Story Graham travelled a path from the safety and encouragement of childhood to earning a living on board ship, to a different sort of slog, at College. All the while taking it in, taking in whatever he experienced …rolling the snowball; ever enlarging experiences for his imaginative reproduction of life. What emerged as he recounted his Journey to me, is persistence; an obsessive focus to teach himself how to get the effect on film that he was imagining. This drive is Graham’s expansive vision. He aimed (and does so now) for the wide picture; an incident set in life …a film- makers intention.
“I would study films and film-makers like Bernardo Bertolucci, Orson Wells, Robert Capra. Study their films and why they were using certain angles. I looked at some Marxist films and Russian”.
Watching. Studying films. He was learning how he wanted to be seen, as an artist.
“I wanted people to say I took authentic realistic photographs as a photographer and that as a film- maker, that I presented images that told a story through the drama. …I learnt how to break down films into cuts, what the cuts meant and hence how to go about filming the scenes. Lecturing at college taught me how break down a script into Storyboards. And then in 1991, I found a book of colour photographs about Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.’’
Before he went to art school, the films that Graham made on a 35m camera, gained him a place at college where he majored in film studies.
During the course film directors (including Francis Ford Coppola) came in, talking about their latest film; also documentary and wildlife film- makers.
Graham and fellow students were gradually working out which aspect of film- making was for them … ‘’I wanted to be a Director.”
That said, it was Story- boarding which became Graham’s forte … telling stories with drawings.
He read avidly about the craft. Heard that Spielberg was now story boarding all of his films because they explained to his crew exactly what he wanted.
At this stage of his journey Graham and his wife Mary had to face their divided paths. Apart for much of the time, what next ? Mary continued to encourage her husband. His redundancy money already invested in Graham’s career hopes, she thought he should go to London.
“I felt I had been offered this wonderful world of film. I had learnt so much. I wanted to put it into practice. It all lead me down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole “
No job. Little money. Off he went. Straightway Graham was offered a contract and a month’s wages by Carlton Television to work on a drama ‘Soldier, Soldier’. The production designer was Terry Ackland- Snow.
“Terry became my mentor. The month’s salary was to prove myself as a department runner…in a car running around London picking up costumes and whatever the production needed. I did research to ensure actors had correct back ground information and props. Multitasking …making birthday banners, blowing up balloons, building props…After a month they offered me a year’s contract”
Our Hero has now passed the threshold. He’s finding allies and enemies.
Graham next noted that “most of the Directors I worked with said I should be a Storyboard Artist.”
From this confirmation, he made a lot of commercials, commercial games, tv dramas, animation. In 2009 he had his first feature film about the life and death of Princess Diana, based on the book written by Andrew Morton.
By this time Graham had been in the film industry 20 years, had worked on the Storyboards of 20 feature films. A volume of credits which led to his nomination by Darren Tubby and Terry Ackland-Snow for membership of the British Film Designer Guild. Membership of the Guild opened the way to inclusion in prestigious films.
“What I hope to bring to the table is a psychological as well as a visual interpretation of the Director’s vision. I bring animation ideas to life. I work with green screens which is visual effects. It creates fantasy characters like The Beast, in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I study postures and attitudes – a Desmond Morris influence and apply that understanding into the Storyboard. For example, how children sometimes sleep upside down, in funny positions.; incorporate them into the Storyboards reflecting real life postures. So viewers think …that’s what my child does …I’m replicating life … the audience identifies with the film on a personal level not just entertainment”
Graham at BFDG Awards 2018
In the past weeks, Graham and his partner have had invitations to the British Film Designer Guild awards ceremony. In that ceremony the Oscars were announced. Graham’s Storyboards are amongst the Designs included in the Fantasy Films category for ‘Beauty & the Beast’.
And for the future, Graham has been working on a Holocaust film script. Graham has returned home, to quote Joseph Campbell, “with the Elixir, to transform life”
Graham Wyn Jones
The Hero’s Journey: are you following your bliss?
Joseph Campbell studied myths and stories from many cultures. He saw the similar pattern in all of them …SEPARATION, INITIATION, RETURN.
All of us humans, in any time and situation, travel The Hero’s Journey. It is a circular path. We start in the Ordinary World
Call to Adventure
Refuse the Call
Meet a Mentor
Cross the Threshold
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Approach the Innermost Cave
The Reward, the Sword
The Road Back
Resurrection: final moment of death to rebirth.
The Ordinary World
Return with the Elixir to inform the ordinary world
JOSEPH CAMPBELL’S ADVICE WAS “to follow your bliss”…whatever calls to you, deeply.