Office Song - Why we make short films
I think we are onto something with Office Song. The short has been selected in five out of the first seven festivals we submitted to in January - including Idlewild in California, Short to the Point in Bucharest and Taos Shortz in New Mexico.
At Taos, it's only one of two British films selected. According to Film Festival Life, Taos screen 44 films from over 2,200 submissions.
This has to be a good sign. Even if we don't make it to any more festivals. The thing works. It works!
If I am honest, I had no idea what we were making until we had made it. On set, I was whispering to Producer Muireann Price, my colleague at arms, (out of earshot of everyone involved): "I have no idea if this will work..." and then occasionally I'd get excited and say, "You know, I think this is going to work..." and then back to... "Ah! It might be one of those that reads well as a screenplay but cannot be realised as well on screen..."
But maybe that's how you need to think in order to pull anything off - relationships, business startups, experimental short films.
Film making is mostly vehicle permits, catering and thinking about all the things that can go wrong (making a plan for those things) and making an assumption that most things on a page will be difficult to realise (and making a plan for those things). Yes, it really is that exciting.
I talked about the challenges of this short at the introduction of our cast and crew screening last week. Big mistake. Don't do that. You could feel the "Oh shit... what are we about to see?" energy descend.
"There isn't anything else like this - I don't think" in the context of a film, you're about to screen, isn't always a good thing.
Office Song is a mix of direct address poetry to camera mixed with tedious office dialogue.
You'd be lying if that didn't fill you with dread.
The poems act as songs do in a musical - they allow for an insight into the inner world of the character, that the character herself may not be aware of.
The story of Office Song is deliberately basic but clear. In this case, B walks into A's life. A fucks B. A then dumps B. B walks out of A's life. The delight is not in the twist and turns of the story (we all know a A fucks B storyline) but the surprises of how the story is told.
And yes, I did write the poetry. By my calculations so far, about 25% of people who see the film ask me who wrote the poems. I am taking this to mean that a quarter of the people I know don't believe I am capable of writing poetry - as they only see the hustler in me. That's one in four people. If you translate that to my Facebook life that is over 200 people think I'm a coarse two-bit pirate and spiv. Actually, on reflection, that isn't too bad.
But as my fellow poet and filmmaker Justin Trefgarne pointed out, "Some of the best hustlers are poets too." I have been writing poems on and off since I was a teenager. Half the poems in this short came from the bottom drawer. The other half were bespoke. The inspiration for making this film came through a rummage of the bottom drawer and among the half finished scripts, short stories and beginnings of novels there was this pile of poetry gathering dust.
But what if this was a complete failure? And by failure, I mean that it bored people, didn't surprise people, didn't engage an audience. So what?
This was an experiment and an opportunity to push the boundaries of what film can do. Can poetry - which is often done in movies as a voice over - be made cinematic? Can poetry be cinema? Shorts allow for this kind of experiment. I am falling in love with making short films because of this.
Shorts are their own art form. They need to be mastered, curated, crafted and honed. Their boundaries need to be pushed. They allow for so much experimentation and thought and fun. And no one is really going to lose their shirt or their reputation.
If it doesn't work, the beauty of a short is that you're only wasting 15 minutes of someone's time. And investors won't be losing their millions. There are rarely any investors.
Short films represent true freedom of expression without being constrained by commercial or industry restrictions or even audience expectations.
The budget for this was £20,000. That was a two day shoot and everyone got paid. This included pre-production, post production, music, ADR, the lot.
On a studio movie, £20k might get you a couple of days of publicity photos. Or might pay for one of the cars for the actors for the duration of the shoot. It might pay for lunch, for a day.
I can hear people scream, "£20k! I could make a feature for that!" Sure, you could. But everyone got paid. And people left happy - regardless of the results. There are exceptions, but most £20k features are extremely painful for all involved AND no one gets paid.
One of the other reasons we make short films is because we want to see who we can work with again - maybe on another short or even a feature film. And that does require paying people and treating people well. And giving people a great experience on set. Giving people - whether they are actors or crew - ownership over the work they do. It's their craft. It's their love. Nurture them, pay them, encourage them and they will love you for it a way they cannot love the "£20k feature-in-a-can-man".
The cast and crew on Office Song were a joy to be with in pre-production, on set and afterwards. We've collectively made a gem of a short that we can all be proud of.
Let's do it again!