Interview: Director Simon Aboud Talks Life, Film and Having a Famous Father in Law

Back in October, as the closing credits rolled at a Busan International Film Festival screening of the film Comes a Bright Day, my friends and I gave each other strong, slow nods of approval. For a first-time feature director, Simon Aboud had delivered a masterfully told story with a polished look and killer soundtrack.

Enter Aboud, whose laid-back demeanor and insightful answers to the post-screening Q&A had me wondering, What makes this guy tick? When the Q&A finished, I made a beeline for Aboud, who eagerly agreed to a sit down over lunch.

After almost 20 years in advertising, where he oversaw high profile campaigns for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Bacardi and MTV, Aboud walked away from his lucrative job at McCann-Erickson to pursue filmmaking. As our waiter collects our menus, I ask Simon about the impetus for his career shift.

I’ve always wanted, since the age of about eight, to be a film director. Advertising was just a way of getting to direct feature films. If you want to make films, you have to find your way into it somehow. You know, when I got into advertising, some of the biggest film directors were coming out of advertising. It seemed like a good training ground.

Comes a Bright Day has had an interesting journey from script to screen. Originally, Aboud was set to direct a different script of his, called This Beautiful Fantastic. Despite the fact that he had heavy hitters such as Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy attached, he failed to get it financed.

Basically, I thought, ‘€˜I just gotta get a film made,’ and so I wrote Comes a Bright Day. I’d always had this story in my head. I like the idea of this kid who has nothing and kind of wants everything. My dad had this saying, which I guess has always stuck with me—You know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

He offers up Shinsegae (which he comically mispronounced) as an example.

There’s a wine cellar downstairs and they’re selling this wine. It’s not a spectacularly good year and its not a spectacularly good wine, but they’re selling it for, like, two thousand dollars a bottle, and someone’s going to buy it. People wear these things as badges.

Comes a Bright Day explores the idea of value, both in obvious ways and in subtleties contained in the character arcs. The film tells the story of a blossoming romance set against the backdrop of a robbery gone wrong in an antique jewelry store. Despite the fact that the price tags on his wares are exorbitant, Charlie, the shop’s owner (magnificently portrayed by Timothy Spall), is quite disdainful of money.

He then muses about the difference between value and price tag.

I love the idea of jewelry that has stories attached to it. You walk down Bond Street in London, and you can walk into somewhere like Moussaieff or Chaumet or any of those places where someone has designed a ring and it costs a million pounds because it’s got eight carats of blah-di-blah. Then you can go into S.J.Phillips and the guy will sit you down and say, ‘In 1845, this was commissioned by Lord Blah-Blah-Blah on his return from India for his wife who he hadn’t seen for four years and he commissioned it by letter, and he sent them drawings.’ It’s extraordinary, the real kind of thought that went into these things, real detail and love an affection rather than just flash.

I wonder aloud how a first-time director was able to secure such a stellar cast, from indie darlings Craig Roberts and Imogen Poots to Grey’s Anatomy’s Kevin McKidd to screen veteran Timothy Spall. Simon makes the casting process sound like a no-brainer.

I knew Imogen’s agent, so I sent the script, we did a Skype call, and that was done. Then Craig came to the readings, and he nailed it, and that was done. Kevin came up on a list of people, and I thought he’d be perfect to play Cameron, and we did that one via Skype.

Simon leans forward, and any air of nonchalance vanishes from his voice.

And then there was Tim. The problem is that if you’re shooting an English independent film, and you have someone that age in it, then you will have a list that has these quite heavyweight guys and none of them need to work and all of them get every script. So you just get, ‘No, no, no, haven’t read, can’t be bothered,’ whatever. And then I just got the most lovely phone call from Tim. He was very sweet, he said, ‘I’ve read your script, I’d love to do it.’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ The first time I met him, he said, ‘You know, I’m very nervous about playing this character,’ and I was like, ‘Get out of here,’ and he was like, ‘No, I still get very, very nervous about getting into characters.’ Then on the first day of filming he turned up and I was like, ‘Action,’ and bang, he was on it.

Our food arrives and our conversation turns to New York. We compare notes on favorite neighborhoods, chat about the city’s constant state of flux, pontificate about the intimacy of New York and the warmth of its people.

New York is one of those places… When you meet someone who doesn’t like New York, you literally have to question what’s wrong with them.

As we share a laugh, I think, ‘€˜Okay – €”here’s my chance.’ Just before our meeting, I did a Google search to prepare. The first results page turned up a host of articles about Aboud, and most were all tagged with a familiar name… McCartney. Turns out, Aboud married Paul and Linda McCartney’s oldest daughter, photographer Mary McCartney, in 2010. I know I have to ask him about this, but I am tentative about how to frame the question.

Is it okay to ask you a question related to your personal life?

Simon smiles and nods. He knew it was coming. I mean, it’s Paul friggin’ McCartney, he’s gotta know it’s always coming.

Here is this truly talented man trying to make a name for himself as a filmmaker, and he has married the daughter of someone who’s incredibly famous.

Simon laughs. He’s quite famous, yeah.

Okay, like the most famous person possible. I know that this has garnered a lot of attention towards him, and I’m curious if this has influenced his career path at all.

The short answer is no, he said. I mean, I wonder if it would have if I’d been a lot younger. I’m very aware that what I need to do is what I need to do—it has nothing to do with him. But, Paul and I will go out and have coffee and we’re talking normal stuff, and as we say our goodbyes he’ll turn around and this whole heap of people are like, caught in the headlights. And suddenly you realize just who this is. He’s so famous and the light is so bright—it’s just easier for me to go my own way. I don’t see it creating anything other than expectation.

What about doors being opened for him?

The thing its, it hasn’t opened any doors in filmmaking. The people that Paul would know in Hollywood are not the people who I’d have any conversation with at this stage in my career. Maybe somewhere down the line, but they’re the kind of people who’d only talk to me if they’d seen the body of work I’d done and it would be purely on merit.

His relationship with Sir Paul did open one very special door.

The coolest thing is that he let me use his music for the film. I never asked him for it. We got well into the production process and he came up to me one day and he handed me a CD and said, ‘€˜See if you like anything on this.’ It wasn’t The Beatles’ music or Wings music, but there was this track – track 22…

The second it comes out of his mouth, I know exactly which track he is referring to—the funky, piano-fueled song that opened and closed Comes A Bright Day. In fact, while watching the film, my friend and I had leaned in at the same moment and whispered, Wow, what is this music?

We had done as much damage as we could on the three curries we had ordered. Simon eyes a nearby TV screen playing Indian music videos.

I could watch Bollywood all day. It’s mesmerizing.

He shrugs and lets a kid-like smirk creep across his lips.

It is pretty cool. I mean, I reckon there are few directors that Paul McCartney would walk up to and say, ‘Hey, do you like any of these songs?’

Lead photo by Mary McCartney

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