By Vaughan Willmore
Vaughan Willmore speaks to Olhão based film director and producer Chris Springhall.
How many of us can lay claim to having worked on one of the most iconic films of all time and with the likes of Rod Stewart, Sean Bean, Richard Lester, and Spandau Ballet? British born Chris Springhall, now living in Olhão, has done all these things and more, including winning an international award for directing The Best TV Commercial in the World.
By his own admission, Chris was “fortunate to have grown up in London in the early sixties when the emergence of John F Kennedy and The Beatles made anything seem possible”. Seeing the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton live at a local pub and making the most of the Swinging Sixties was a teenager’s dream. From an early age, Chris was captivated by the arts and especially the movies. A life in film and behind the camera lens beckoned.
As a young man employed by MGM, Chris worked as a publicist on the iconic film 2001: Space Odyssey when he was tasked with replying to correspondence asking the meaning of the film’s ending, a difficult job given that Chris was never told its meaning!
In the seventies, Chris directed a young Sean Bean in a beer advert and recorded a music promo for Rod Stewart and The Faces who were due to start filming at 8 am but in typical ‘Rock n Roll’ fashion didn’t arrive until 3 pm, insisting their room be furnished with a Bechstein piano, Liebfraumilch (it was the seventies!) and Jack Daniels. That said, as Chris recounted, “their performance was so good it drew applause from the crew, something which rarely happens”.
In 1978, in Los Angeles, Chris won a prestigious World’s Best award for a public service film showing the perils of drink driving, beating off the likes of Alan Parker and Ridley Scott to win the award. Chris describes directing such films as being “almost God for a day, albeit one where your best accessory is comfortable shoes”. He recounted tales of “causing a massive tailback on Sunset Boulevard” and of “insisting when filming with the British Army, that a barren hill be re-turfed”.
Chris worked as a producer with Richard Lester, who he calls “very professional”, for one of the famous Lux soap adverts. He also co-created a film with director Milivoj Ilic for Surfers Against Sewage, shortlisted for an international award. It was banned in Britain, something which seems incredible in these eco-friendlier days.
While directing the video for ‘Communication’ by Spandau Ballet, he drew on influences from ‘The French Connection’ and ‘You are in my System’ by Robert Palmer. He recalls the band as “impressive hard-working guys”. I asked Chris what budget he was working to and he amusingly replied, “There was no budget. It was the eighties. You just spent what you needed.”
Chris has long-standing connections with Portugal and was supported by the Lisbon-based Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation when he again collaborated with Milivoj Ilic to create a show called ‘Living Portraits’ which was exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
Chris has had such a colourful career. He’s directed Russian supermodels in the Maasai Mara; he was encouraged to bribe a mayor in California, and he declined the chance to work with U2 in favour of filming a British Rail promo with Jimmy Savile, which he remembers as being “very strange”. There are so many stories to tell, but these are for another day.
As for his life today, Chris describes Olhão as “an extraordinary and fascinating place to live with an edgy and authentic vibe”. In the future, there’s the possibility of a movie about a UK-based boxing trainer and, as can be seen on his website, more of his outstanding photography. Chris is also working on a Netflix series set in the Algarve, more details of which will be available shortly.
It was a pleasure speaking with Chris. Whatever direction his career takes next, it will be fascinating and enjoyable, just as talking to Chris always is.
Photo © Chris Springhall