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How TV Director Ben Palmer Went From Blagging Jobs To Directing One Of The UK’s Biggest Comedy Films

Ben Palmer, 39, Film and TV director of The Inbetweeners tells us how he managed to go from wannabe journalist to director of new British romcom Man Up...

 

I wanted to be a journalist in my teens. I dreamed of doing music reviews for Q Magazine, but I realised I was a dreadful writer. So I decided to be a film director instead.

I was a passionate prankster as a kid. I went through a long phase of hiding in my baby sister’s bedroom cupboard and waiting until she fell asleep before jumping out to scare her, sometimes in a makeshift costume. I once even climbed onto the roof so I could jump through her skylight. It was incredibly childish but I like to think it showed “commitment to the joke” from an early age. She gave as good as she got, though; on a family holiday she filled my bed with dead prawns.

A life without laughter is a life not worth living. I’ve always been a big laugher and I’m lucky it’s something I’m now paid to make people do. We don’t laugh enough in today’s world – people take life too seriously. Comedy is the only medicine.

Never be afraid to blag into your first job. Just make up for it with hard work. Before my first interview, I wrote the names of different cameras on my hand and told the producer that I knew how to use them. I didn’t. After he gave me the job, I convinced him to lend me a camera for a weekend job I didn’t have, to make me look in demand.

I nearly turned down the offer to direct my new film, Man Up. It’s a British romantic comedy which has almost become a swear word in the business these days. They carry a lot of baggage because of a wave of UK romcoms that have bombed recently.

British romcoms have become too slushy and predictable. I sometimes feel that they patronise viewers with too many clichés. I take inspiration from American films such as When Harry Met Sally and Bridesmaids. There’s a honesty to American romcoms that I like.

There’s nothing worse than an actor who thinks he is funny. With comedy, actors either have it in their bones or they don’t – it’s not something you can teach. I have directed people and thought, “Damn, they don’t know the rhythm of this sort of dialogue… they can’t see the joke.” That is a comedy director’s nightmare.

_ The Inbetweeners _ ’ secret is the “shit-I-remember-that!” factor. No matter what age you are, everyone can relate to the comedy of embarrassment and naivety that punctuates that period of everyone’s life. I think the show’s writers (Damon Beesley and Iain Morris) captured that perfectly.

In directing, you flirt with disaster on a daily basis. The only way of surviving is to embrace the chaos. Everything will work against you, so you just have to enjoy it.

Malia, in Crete, is the most horrendous place I’ve ever been. We were filming a scene for The Inbetweeners Movie where the boys just walk along the strip. I’ve never seen such carnage. Everyone but us was off their face wearing next to nothing. There were people climbing up the crane, trying to rip down the cameras and at one point, I remember seeing my producer being hoisted in the air and carried off by a group of drunken lads.

I’ll never forget the day James Buckley [Jay, The Inbetweeners] nearly blew his face off with a flare gun. He was supposed to shoot it in the air when the boys get stranded in a boat on a school trip. When nothing happened he looked down the barrel to see what was wrong and it fired, missing his face by millimetres.

Don’t be afraid to mess things up. It happens. If you assume it’s bound to happen at some point, then you’ll be prepared when it does. You’ll learn from your mistakes.

I’m incredibly superstitious for a practical person. Call me crazy, but I have to listen to the same piece of music three times in my car before every shoot. I first listened to it as a kid before an exam, aced it and have listened to it before every job since. I can’t say what the song is in case it loses its power.

Family is everything. I have a five-year-old who, every time I walk through the door, thinks I’m the Beatles. There is no greater stress reliever than your child’s smiling face when you come home from a busy day.

_ Ben Palmer’s new film, _ Man Up _ , starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell, is out on 29 May _