6 Lessons In Filmmaking From “The Double” Director Richard Ayoade

Richard Ayoade has earned rave reviews for his second feature, The Double. Here, the actor, comic, writer and director discusses the film and how to make it work behind the camera.

6 Lessons In Filmmaking From “The Double” Director Richard Ayoade
Jesse Eisenberg in THE DOUBLE [Photos by Dean Rodgers, Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures]

We all like to moan about our jobs, but if you think your office is bad, British director Richard Ayoade’s latest film, The Double, should help you put things into perspective.

Richard Ayoade

Based on the eponymous novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the film follows the story of a meek office worker, played by Jesse Eisenberg, who is so crushed into insignificance by the stifling bureaucracy at his workplace that none of his colleagues notices when his life is usurped by a doppelgänger. The film also stars Sally Hawkins, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, and Chris O’Dowd.

Ayoade, who is also a comedian, actor, and writer, directed and co-wrote the film, which premieres in the U.S. May 9. He was drawn to the project because of the story’s unique take on the doppelgänger theme. “There is something very interesting about the main premise–that someone can be so unworthy of note that an exact replica of them could appear and no one would either notice or point it out to them. That seemed to me very funny,” he says.

The Double, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, is Ayoade’s second feature as a director, following the critically acclaimed Submarine in 2010. Here, he gives Co.Create some of his insights on filmmaking, the creative process and the humiliations of office life:

Anyone can be a director

Don’t be intimated by the job title–being a director doesn’t require a skillset that only a select few have, according to Ayoade. “Some people you’d say have a knack for directing but it’s not really a skill as such, “he says. “On some level it’s making a number of decisions, which everyone is able to do. Wanting to do it is a different matter. I don’t think it’s a mysterious or rarified profession.”

Draw from experience

The office in The Double is cramped, drab and designed to restrict its occupants’ every move–Jesse Eisenberg’s character is forced to duck every time he gets in and out of his tiny work cubicle. The set is partly inspired by an old sorting office that Ayoade visited in London, but the director was also able to draw from his own experiences of office life.

“There’s something slightly humiliating about your work area being too small for you,” Ayoade says. “When I’ve worked in offices in town I’ve been in the smallest of rooms where you couldn’t have more than three chairs and there’s something slightly funnily humiliating about it.”


Be open to outside influences on set

To see through any creative project you need a clear idea of what you want. But you must also remain open-minded in order to keep things interesting. “I think if you have a complete sense of exactly what it is the shoot could be, it’s a boring, non-creative process,” Ayoade says.

And Ayoade is not convinced by Alfred Hitchcock’s boast that he found the actual process of filming boring because he planned every shot beforehand to such an extent. “I think that became possibly a fun thing for [Hitchcock] to say, an affectation,” he says. “I don’t believe it for a second–that he wasn’t seeing things in James Stewart’s performance in Vertigo that he hadn’t previously envisioned. That would be ludicrous.”

Remember, it’s not about taking the credit

Collaboration is key in all aspects of filmmaking. You’re in the wrong game if your biggest concern is where your next credit is coming from. “If you have an approach whereby what you take away is how much you did versus how much the other person did, then filmmaking is probably not for you, because that shouldn’t be a thought,” Ayoade advises. “In many cases there are up to a hundred people all contributing ideas. A good idea can come from anywhere.”

Don’t worry

Age and experience often bring feelings of self-consciousness, which then, in turn, stifle creativity, he warns. “You’re probably at your least neurotic as a child and then you get more and more neurotic and self conscious and that’s a really terrible thing to have in terms of working. The worst thing you can do is worry about yourself.”

And take plenty of bathroom breaks

Even a trip to the bathroom can provide inspiration. For evidence of this, just watch some David Lynch movies. “I always notice that in David Lynch films, significant things happen when people go to the toilet. Partly it’s down to the fact that [Lynch] is a prodigious coffee drinker, but also, when you’re writing with people, it is always when you’ve had a break and you aren’t thinking about it directly that the idea pops in.”