Having one of the world’s greatest directors take your calls and offer advice is something even the most experienced Hollywood film-makers would give their right arm for.
But that’s exactly what Jon S Baird, from Peterhead, can do with Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese – and he calls it one of the greatest things to come out of his career.
Scorsese, director of classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas, was the man Jon called as he was preparing to shoot Stan & Ollie, which hits cinemas on Friday.
The film follows the legendary comedy double act as they set out on a variety hall tour of Britain in 1953, and starts with a long one-take shot following Steve Coogan and John C Reilly across the backlot of a Hollywood studio. It was a complicated sequence to film and Jon turned to Scorsese for advice on the best way to shoot it.
The pair first met when Jon was hired to direct an episode of US television series Vinyl, which Scorsese produced.
Jon – a huge fan of Scorsese’s 1982 film The King of Comedy – said: “The thing that really benefitted me in my career, and still is, is my relationship with Mr Scorsese. That’s been the greatest thing to come out of my work in television in the States and the doors that has opened for me.
“We spoke about the backlot shot and he advised on some of the lens choices and how to co-ordinate the background artists because he’s the master of that – the modern master anyway of those long shots.”
Scorsese’s admiration of Stan & Ollie is no secret – to the extent he hosted a special screening in New York just before Christmas with Jon and the cast.
“He’s seen Stan & Ollie and loves the film,” said Jon.
“He’s really supported it and helped it. He’s a very good mentor, probably the best mentor to have. I go and see him every time I’m in New York.
“It’s quite an unusual thing for somebody who comes from a small fishing town to end up having that. It’s a real dream come true.”
Jon says dreams of a life in showbiz were not something he contemplated growing up in Peterhead – or if he did he kept them to himself.
He said: “My mother was a nurse and was a stay-at-home mum and looked after us very well.
“My dad was in construction and neither of them went to university or had any particular interest in the arts.
“But we would go to London every year to visit my uncle and we’d go to see musical theatre and that was the highlight of the year for me.
“We watched things like Oliver! My Fair Lady and Cats, and I think that was what sparked my interest in this kind of world. Before film, really.
“If you told anyone in Peterhead you wanted to be a film director, they would have thought you were a bit mad.
“I didn’t really tell anybody what I wanted to do until I moved away.”
Although he applied to film school, he didn’t get in, blaming his grades and the times he “messed about” at Peterhead Academy.
“My grades weren’t great at the academy,” said Jon.
“Education didn’t seem to be the most important thing.
“My career didn’t start until I moved down to London and started as a runner – basically a teaboy – and worked my way up.”
In 2002, he directed parts of the short-lived BBC satire The State We’re In, which featured an early appearance by John Oliver, now the star of award-winning HBO comedy Last Week Tonight.
Jon said: “John Oliver was a writer no one had heard of and I was directing his inserts. I wasn’t doing that well, he wasn’t doing that well.
“Cut to 10 years later, maybe more, and I switched on the TV and there was John on HBO with his own show. I was at the premiere of Vinyl, which was a show I did at HBO, and he was there too. I went up to him and we reminisced about the times we couldn’t get arrested for work.”
After making his directorial debut in 2003 with a short film called It’s A Casual Life, Jon made the biopic Cass in 2008, about the life of writer and football hooligan Cass Pennant, then adapted the Irvine Welsh novel Filth for the big screen in 2013.
But even as his films get bigger in scope – Stan & Ollie is his largest budget yet – Jon says the homegrown support is something he’s never taken for granted.
He said: “I’ve had a massive amount of support from people in the north-east towards my career.
“I get texts from people I haven’t seen in years saying we’ve seen what you’re doing and we’re really proud of you and that means more than anything.
“I still consider it my home and who I really am. So regardless of if I didn’t have the background in, or the family connections in film, I still feel as though, weirdly enough, if I hadn’t grown up in the north-east, I might not have ended up with this career.
“I might have ended up in something else purely because it was foreign from what I was used to, it was the big draw to go into the unknown.”