Back in 2000 : Hammer and Tongs on space and Vietnam movie plans
"There was a great bit in Eastenders when Ricky said, "we were goin' at it 'ammer 'n tongs!" so we pinched that and put it at the beginning of our showreel! "
I remember Tom Fogg coming back from the interview with Hammer and Tongs, a music video trio (then unknown to us) in 2000. He was both bitter and excited for they seemed just like us, except they'd focussed only on making films and had made 50. And what's more they had two features in the pipeline, a big 'space movie' they couldn't talk about, and a film set in the 80s with a bunch of kids interested in Vietnam films, a film, Tom was told, they wanted to make so they could get where Michel Gondry was. Sweet ironies.
Tell us about the movie.
N. - Well it will open with "A Hammer & Tongs Production", perhaps said by James Earl Jones but he's really expensive.
Well he did The Simpsons for free.
G. - Well everyone does them for free, they are under their agent's orders! (laughter)
N. - W are working on a couple of films at the moment and Garth is directing both of them. The first is a really big, exciting film set in Space in the near future and, as crap as it sounds, that's all we can say about it. We are developing it ourselves from a draft that we are pretty happy with but that's been going on for about three years. We went to America and our agent over there set us up with 6 meetings, really exciting but when we came home we just decided to carry on doing it our selves for the time being. After a while we were having lunch below our office and Garth has this incredible idea for a film, he pitched it to me and I thought, "Brilliant! Let's go to someone now and pitch it, do a development deal, stop doing videos and someone can pay us to focus on it." That's always been the problem, you've got to survive. We then pitched it to Jim Wilson and Paul Webster at Film Four, Jim's always been interested in music video directors, they both loved it and agreed to do a deal on the spot.
G. - We smiled for a solid week after that! (laughter)
N. - We are about to finish the fourth draft and it just needs tweaking. Its based on a group of 13 year old kids in the 1980's who discover the big Vietnam films and decide to make their own one. It's really exciting.
Has it got a working title yet and is it a comedy? Give me a scoop!
N. - We've got the wrong title so I can't tell you, because it's the wrong title! (laughter) It's a coming of age action adventure! (more laughter) From our videos, we tend to make quite accessible films and we want this to work on a few different levels, kids can go and watch it and enjoy it. We can't wait. Spike Jonze did, Being John Malkovich, which I loved and Michel Gondry is doing his Human Nature which is being edited now and is being produced by Jonze.
Who's work do you prefer?
N. - Both!
G. - On a technical level - Gondry; but for making us laugh, like, Sabotage, it would be Jonze's stuff. They are both great.
N. - I want to be where they are by making this film. We were at an awards ceremony where Garth won best director and Michel won best video for The Chemical Brothers which was the last award after Garth's. He went up on stage and said that he thought Hammer & Tongs work is really good. We met with Michel and Spike afterwards and talked and it was really, really nice.
G. - The nicest aspect of the work is that you get to meet your heroes, its not that they are particularly famous but for us it’s a real privilege.
[The Latest BT GetOutThere compo is being judged by Dominic Leung, Nick Goldsmith and Garth Jennings. They are the creative trio behind Hammer & Tongs, the far too energetic music video production company that brought us Blur's Coffee & TV, Fatboy Slim's Right Here, Right Now and Pulp's Help The Aged videos. The brief involves the making a music video for the track that won the June upload prize on the GetOutThere site. Its called, The Stalkers Song by The King of Woolworths, its 5mins and 9secs long and you can download it from, again, the GetOutThere site, so get to work! The prize is….yes, the milk carton from the Blur video! THIS COMPETITOIN CLOSED IN 2000]
With a hangover that felt like penance for all my sins in this life and the last, I met them over stale (but oh so welcome!) filter coffee somewhere in London's Mortimer Street. Sadly Dominic wasn't there but the other two wasted no time in laughing full in my face as I endeavoured to raise a brimming cup of the tan molten pep to my cracked lips. My hands, who had obviously forgotten who commands them, shamed me in the middle of my line of work, and those present MUST have felt it odd being asked questions by a being that carried himself like last night's chips 'n gravy. Never mind.Lucky, lucky buggers I say, this lot have life on a china plate with extra fries and dessert to follow. They left Central St Martins and proceeded to make 50 music videos over 3 years, without getting their hands dirty and (bastards!) they clearly enjoy life. Where do these people get off?Still, it was a laugh I suppose.Lastly, many thanks to the exceedingly helpful and quite lovely Katie Abbotts from iJack, she helped organise the interview and made me laugh when it seemed that I'd had my last. Katie, you are catharsis made flesh and I love you.
What did you specialise in at Central St Martins?
Nick Goldsmith - Graphic design.
Garth Jennings - Yeah, the BA graphic design course had a little film and animation department.
How good were the facilities?
G. - The college wasn't so great and it was always going to be a let down when you first turn up. There were a few good teachers as I suppose there would be at ant art school but the first thing you realise is that there isn't this special thing that you thought there would be. After a while you realise that you can do one of 2 things. We could either, go and sit in the coffee bar for three years or we could use the facilities and make short films and little pieces of animation.
N. - I never thought they were that good but that turned into a good thing because you had to think for yourself a bit more. We had a Hi-8 video edit suite, why? Since we left we've never, ever seen one being used.
G. - And there was such competition between the students. I remember people that I'd got on with on one level but who I was fighting with to get hold of this crap equipment. They would stay in the college overnight, they knew where the sensors were so they wouldn't set off the alarms, and it was the only way to get work done. You'd go in these rooms in the morning and it smelt rotten, after some awful student had lived in there all night! On reflection and it’s a bit corny to say so but it made us more resourceful.
N. - And the three of us met there. Being in Covent Garden was good for access and we made our first two music videos there, edited on a really posh machine through a friend who was a runner at a post production house. So our first two, which were shot for nothing, were edited on high-end machines but they weren't offline machines but they were all we could get my hands on. It was a combination of all those things that made it a good place to study.
Where are you based now?
N. - We're in Chinatown.
Have you stayed in touch with anyone on the course?
G. - Yeah, quite a few have gone on to do music videos, Tom Napper, Ben and Joe Dempsey.
N. - And there's a very good commercials director called Rupert Saunders and Mark Adcock.
G. - He's just finished a Dogma film…
N. - Well, It's not a Dogma film it’s a fuck me film! (laughter) I suppose everyone's doing well from the course but there isn't much contact.
G. - We are really bad at that in general. Its really tricky because there were 120 people in the year and you bump into them every now and then, you have those chats in the street when you are both trying to get away really fast. "Yeah, things are going really well, listen, I'm in a bit of a rush…" that sort of conversation! (laughter)
N. - We haven't had our big St Martins pop star yet, yet to come perhaps.
What sort of budgets did you have when you started out and what are they now?
N. - The first video was £500, which is quite big really. The second video was £400 and the third was £30.G. - Recently we did a video for a band called The Wannadies, who we are really big fans of, and the song was called Big Fan too. We'd worked with them before and they were in the position where they were about to leave their record company, no one was interested in making their video. We just went out into a park and it was one of the best things we've done I reckon, the £30 went on ice cream, it was a very sunny day!
N. - That's a lot of ice cream! (laughter)
G. - 2 or 3 months on it's still getting a lot of air play.
What's it about?
G. - It's a one shot of a man running along happily in a park and he's waving at the world but when you pull back you see that he's mimicking the runner in front, it turns into a bit of a cat and mouse affair. I was hanging off the back of a bicycle with a video camera and it worked out really well, it’s the closest we'll ever get to Dogma but there you go.
What's the largest budget you've had?
G. - It was Blur's 'Coffee and TV', probably, the happy milk carton one. I don't know how much that was, Nick does the production stuff.
N. - It was between £90,000 and £100,000 over about 4 days.
G. - That was the most time we've spent shooting a video, just because of the effects involved.N. - That was really tough, One of the days we couldn't afford to hire the whole crew so it was just Garth, my self and the DP.
G. - It's terrible because with a large budget your idea expands and, it sounds corny, but we try to put as much of the budget on the screen. Also, because we are a company we don't take a freelance cut from the actual budget. We are paid by the company itself, which means that we aren't dependent on that job. As much as possible goes into making the video, that isn't always the best way to run a business but there is a knock on effect that gets you further work that makes up for the previous loss.
How did you manage to do 50 odd videos in 3 years?
N. - Well, when we started out the three of us were a directing team of sorts. On one day there would three Hammer & Tongs videos being made, say one in America and two in London.
G. - It was a great time and no one really knew which of us they were going to get, there was a much higher turnover of videos because it was all under the Hammer & Tongs name.
N. - We would tend to decide who would do which job on their style or who had the original idea but it was such an exciting, experimental and an enthusiastic time. It was a great way to build up the showreel. I've stopped directing now and Dominic and Garth are directing under their own names and have been for two years now.
G. - It ended up that way after we'd defined our roles within Hammer & Tongs, I realised that I was a hopeless editor and that mine and Dom's styles were so different that we couldn't direct together.
N. - We are now developing a film together.
Did you get one big break that sparked off other contacts?
N. - We left St. Martins, like a fool I set up my own production company from my house, through my own bank account - bigger fool. I had a lot of directors from college and we had a video for Omar that had a big budget - something like £20,000, we were very excited, the whole crew and all the equipment was at my house. Filmmakers! (roars!) The phone rings, it’s the record company telling me that they are pulling the job but it was OK because we still had the first 50% in the bank. It was fine because the costs were covered so I went back in the room to tell them the bad news. The next day the bank phones me and says that I've a small problem: the record company had bounced the cheque and hadn't told me! (laughter) This chap called Gavin Piggott who runs Red Star films came in to help me out, he got me the money back and told me that I was crazy because he had a production company to do the shoot through. After that we did a job, then became Hammer & Tongs and we were with Red Star for three years.
G. - It was having someone to take the risk for us that allowed us to do so many.
N. - Doing those 50 videos was schooling for us, we learnt a lot.
G. - And meeting crew members and caterers that you click with and you begin to build up this extended family.
N. - We always wanted our own company. After we did the Pulp video, Help The Aged, we felt confidant enough to run things our selves, Gavin knew from day one that we'd want to set up on our own.
How did you come up with the name, Hammer & Tongs?
G. - The whole point was to have a name for all three of us and from our experiences of the video commissioners offices with wall filled with videos, we needed a name that would stand out among those tapes. We had pages and pages of stupid names.
N. - Anabolic Whippet. (laughter)
G. - One word names like, Biscuit or Wafer! (laughter)
N. - Hammer & Tongs was the only name we didn't all hate.
G. - I sounded like a firm of stupid accountants and its connotations seem to fit as well.
N. - There was a great bit in Eastenders when Ricky said, "we were goin' at it 'ammer 'n tongs!" so we pinched that and put it at the beginning of our showreel! (laughter). And it looks good in a logo.
Quick fire time now. Ready?Easiest band you've worked with?
G. - Pulp.
N. - We've been lucky, haven't had one.
N. - The Coen Brothers.
Favourite film score?
N. - Beetlejuice by Danny Eltman.
Best thing about your work?
G. - It's entertaining.
N. - It’s a bit stupid! (laughter)
Are you religious?
N & G. - No.
Do you play cricket?
N & G. - No.
What's your favourite restaurant?
N. - Little Italy. I was going to say The Ivy but that's naff!
G. - Everyone says that but its true! No, C&R restaurant , the Malaysian one below our office.