“Your reading of the film depends on what your view of humanity is,” Jimmy Hay points out, referring to his fourth directorial short film; one that is all about identity, relationships and what it means to be human. Set on an alien pod, thousands of miles away from earth, you are introduced to the lead protagonist Ruth before several seconds later you are then introduced to a different, yet a very similar looking Ruth: a clone. It is a tale of morals but “it is also a film about grief, loss and suffering,” Hay points out.
Although the setting and storyline puts the short film in the sci-fi genre, Hay believes there’s more to it than that; “Many of our films have been dramas about people which is what I find more interesting. The story almost comes as an afterthought after the characters. We start with a kind of issue or problem then we build the story with that; it is more to do with the characters and the relationships.” This is evident through the two characters in Zero Sum; Ruth and Ruth. It is a dialogue between the two as they attempt to come to terms with what is going on.
Zero Sum was one of Hay’s biggest projects, with it taking over a year and a half to create; “we had quite a big pre-production, we had the set built which took quite a while, and there was quite a lot of CGI involved with it so post-production took longer than any of our other films.” Hay points out that in terms of scale this is probably his biggest project so far; “we had a big crew and some high-tech cameras.” It was all worth it though as the final product was one that was flawless, poignant and visually stunning.
Although this was not Hay’s first directorial film, it was his first time studio shooting; “We shot it at Eyelight studio in Portishead, just outside of Bristol. It was the first time we had done studio shooting, all of our other films were shot on location.” This was part of the appeal of doing a sci-fi film for Hay, it was a chance to try something new.
However, despite it being easier for him and the crew to film in a studio, he still prefers the opportunity of location shooting; “I prefer the fun of being on location; studio shooting is great as you can control a lot more, but it felt a bit fake. I quite like being in the space. There’s a certain level of excitement when there is the possibility that everything could go wrong when you’re on location.”
Not only is Zero Sum visually beautiful and wonderfully created, you might even recognise some familiar faces as well. “We have a casting director which helps. She has been working with us since our first feature film, and I think people tend to take offers more seriously when they’re coming from a casting director as opposed to just cold-calling them, so we sent Phil Davis the script and he said yes,” Hay remembers. Credited for his work in Alien 3 and Whitechapel, the 2010 remake of Brighton Rock, Phil Davis is a well-known actor that was more than happy to take part in the project.
However, Jimmy Hay cannot be the only one credited for making this project as brilliant as it is. He praises James Gillingham, his creative partner; “he writes and I direct. We both have an influence on what goes into the story but he tends to write and then when we get to the point where we are both happy with it, I then direct on set.” This co-partnership on set is what makes it work so well, however Hay is quick to remind me that it was not always this way; “we tried co-directing but it doesn’t really work. The actors and crew tend to only want one person to turn to, it’s not really a democracy on a film set, it’s more of a dictatorship… a lovely dictatorship!”
Not only is filmmaking on Hay’s CV, but teaching is as well. “Academia came first, I had just started my PhD, when I made my first film with James,” Hay recalls. He is currently a lecturer at Bristol University and, despite his rising career in filmmaking, he points out that it will always be “academia first and foremost.”
So, what is next for Jimmy Hay after the success of Zero Sum? “We’re trying to get Zero Sum as a feature; we’re in discussions with a couple of different organizations about getting that off the ground and into development. We are also planning on shooting another short film later this year, in the Autumn, but it is about getting the money together.”