Jon Spira makes films and writes books.
Hello there, I'm Jon.
I'm a documentary filmmaker and a writer, mainly about film.
I've always loved film and I've always made films - since I was 5 years old, when my dad would help me make little Super 8 animations. I graduated from the Scottish Film School in Edinburgh in 1999 and have followed a strange but wonderful career ever since. I worked for a while as a screenwriter - most of my stuff went unproduced but I did write some episodes of the Canadian sci-fi series LEXX and I wrote the screenplay for the bestselling video game TOCA: Pro Race Driver for Codemasters. Not really enjoying my experiences in screenwriting, I walked away and opened a couple of indie video stores in my hometown of Oxford, England. For almost a decade, I was very happy behind the counter watching free movies and talking film with the people who'd drift in. In this time, I did film work on the side - I directed corporate videos and music videos, mainly.
In 2007, I started making a little documentary about the music scene in Oxford. Specifically, I was trying to capture the turmoil in the community surrounding the closing down of Oxford's biggest indie music venue which was to re-open as a Carling (now O2) Academy. This project ended up, 4 years later, being my first feature-length documentary Anyone Can Play Guitar. Narrated by Stewart Lee and featuring exclusive interviews and never-before-seen archival material from Radiohead, Foals, Supergrass, Ride, Swervedriver and many more bands, the film did really well. The NME described it as a 'Must-watch' film.
After Anyone Can Play Guitar, I found myself intrigued by an entirely different community and, with my producer Hank Starrs, embarked on the next feature doc. Elstree 1976 explored the bizarre community of extras and bit-part actors who padded out the screen in the first Star Wars films. We interviewed people - some of whom were on screen for less than a second - whose faces were obscured by masks or helmets and found out how, 40 years later this seemingly insignificant moment had gone on to shape their lives 40 years later. Elstree 1976 got a global release and was named Critics Pick of the week by the New York Times.
Between 2013 and 2016, I was the in-house documentary filmmaker for the British Film Institute. This meant I had creative freedom to make documentaries about films and film culture in support of their various seasons and initiatives. I interviewed and directed pieces with film legends from Jackie Chan to Mel Brooks. Hollywood celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, Geena Davis and Peter Fonda to cult heroes such as George Romero and Dario Argento, along with homegrown heroes including Mike Hodges, Robin Hardy and Daniel Radcliffe.
I left the BFI in 2017 and am now working freelance, I'm midway through making the follow-up to Elstree 1976, a documentary about British stuntmen of the 1960s/70s/80s. I've also made video essays for the blu ray releases of An American Werewolf in London (Arrow) and Der Golem (Eureka)
In 2017, I published my first two books. Videosyncratic has been described as the 'Kitchen Confidential of video stores' - part memoir, part overview of a huge, beloved industry which came and went in our lifetime. The Forgotten Film Club is the first book in a series which appraises films which have been somehow forgotten and overlooked since their release. It reassesses the work through interviews with the people involved and new critical appraisal from current film critics. It's a fun journey.
I'm about to release my third book - The Long Lost Autobiography of Georges Méliès. This has been a passion project of mine for a couple of years, finally bringing to publication this weird and incredible document written by Méliès not long before he died. I have written a whole book around this autobiography which annotates and contextualizes it and also elaborates on the world Méliés inhabited as cinema was being born around him.
I'm available commercially for filming work or writing, so feel free to contact me.