Q&A with Andy Tuohy & Matt Glasby on The A-Z Of Great Film Directors

New hardback publication The A-Z Of Great Film Directors by designer Andy Tuohy and writer Matt Glasby features 52 detailed profiles of some of the leading and most significant film directors from the last century. This easy-to-follow guide offers readers a vibrant and comprehensive survey of key names in filmmaking history including Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Darren Aronofsky, Orson Welles, Wong Kar-Wai, Akira Kurosawa, Fritz Lang, and David Lynch, to name a few. We speak to Tuohy, whose previous projects are comprised of commissions for Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool, and Turner Contemporary, and Glasby, an international film journalist, author and member of the London Critics’ Circle, about their collaboration on this unique and accessible resource.

ASFF: First of all, please tell us how the collaboration between the two of you came about, and how the idea to create an illustrated guide to the world’s most significant film directors developed?
AT: I’ve been a designer and illustrator for too many years to mention and I was lucky enough to be approached by Hannah, my editor at Octopus, to develop my A-Z of Great Modern Artists poster into a book. Christopher Masters wrote the profiles on each artist and I illustrated their portraits and designed the layout. This worked so well that Hannah and I decided Film Directors would make a great next book in the series. For the text, we wanted someone with an in-depth, serious, but approachable style and Matt Glasby, who writes for Total Film and GQ, among others, fitted the bill perfectly. Anything else would have been at odds with the style of illustration. You are naturally concerned if the match up will work out and, fortunately, we hit it off immediately.
MG: I was honoured to be asked and I loved the collaborative process. We were both masters of our own domain, and I think they dovetailed perfectly.

ASFF: What kind of readership do you hope The A-Z Great Film Directors will attract?
AT: I would say film buffs and students, novices needing a starter of 52 directors and those who love cool graphics; to be honest, anyone who loves film. I really didn’t want it to feel exclusive – after all, film is a universal medium that most people can relate to. Everyone has a favourite film, director or genre. Apologies to all those who have since decried Wes Anderson’s omission from the book. Everyone has an opinion on a film. I do know from feedback, that it is a very wide range of people, ages and interests who have already bought the book: from your dad, who feels there is a real gap in his film knowledge; all the way through to teenagers just getting interested in movies and the people who made them.

ASFF: In your opinion, what is the effect of combining illustration and text in a book such as this is?
MG: Well, film is a visual medium. Andy’s pictures tell a thousand words, easy, but the films, they relate to tell 1000 words 24 times a second. How do you put that on paper? Most academic film studies are dry; they miss the joy of looking. Equally, lots of coffee-table film books are only looking – there’s no analysis. We figured that, by combining the two, we’d get to the heart of each director and their work.

ASFF: How did you approach capturing each director’s idiosyncrasies and their distinct cinematic personalities in your illustrations?
AT: My predominant technique was to encapsulate each director in one of their trademark character’s images, for example David Lynch in Nicholas Cage’s snakeskin jacket from Wild At Heart; Stanley Kubrick in a 2001-style spacesuit; and Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane on a campaign poster. Other methods were to convey a sense of nationality, such as Satyajit Ray in his Nehru shirt, or a theme that runs through the work, so you get Almodóvar as a matador. All the illustrations had their own challenges in capturing the director’s essence: I found David Cronenberg particularly tricky, trying to stretch his face into a contorted Scanners scream, while retaining recognisability. The easiest was Chaplin, purely and simply because he is a gift visually with his hat, eyes and moustache. I couldn’t really go wrong. If I had a favourite, I would have to say Sergio Leone, because I am massive Spaghetti Western fan and also because I feel I nailed the combination of expression with the cheroot.

ASFF: When writing about each director’s career of films, did you apply any specific structure or style to your writing that distinguishes The A-Z Great Film Directors from any other similar guides?
MG: I write a lot of film reviews, and it can be tough distilling 90 minutes into a few hundred words. Particularly on the films themselves. This book required us to distil entire lives into a similar space. But then, these directors’ lives are written in bold across their work. So the trick was to find telling details from their biographies, then immerse myself in the films, until patterns emerged that helped to tell their stories. As for distinguishing ourselves from the competition, I hope so. The A-Z aspect makes it sound like a dictionary, but ours is full of colour, full of life.

ASFF: What does film mean to you?
AT: The best way I can describe it is to recall my earliest memories of a film and its enduring effect on me. I won’t let a small detail like the fact it was on black-and-white TV and serialised get in the way, but The Singing, Ringing Tree made a huge impression that has stayed with me to this day. I was probably only six or seven at the time, and it was part of a series of spooky films shown in the 70s called Tales From Europe, but this one really stood out. I’d say my love of the darker films stems from this, albeit in a more adult context, as I am instinctively drawn to anything with a reflective European sensibility, such as Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, Let the Right One In, and The Ice Palace.
MG: Film is my job, my obsession, it changed the way I see the world. I studied film at university, and have made my living writing about it. The first film I remember seeing at the cinema was Back To The Future. Last month, some 30 years later, I interviewed Robert Zemeckis. I’m in this for life, one way or another, and I think Andy is too. But working on this book reminded me of something that’s easy to forget. The vaults of fascinating films are endless, like Charles Foster Kane’s to-burn pile – you will literally never catch every one worth seeing. But I’m trying. We both are. I hope it comes across when you flick thorough the book.

The A-Z Of Great Film Directors is out now. For more, visit www.octopusbooks.co.uk.

Follow us on Twitter @asffest for the latest news in film in the UK and internationally.

1. Illustration of Charlie Chaplin by Andy Tuohy (detail), featured in The A-Z Of Great Film Directors. Courtesy of the designer and Octopus Books.