In September 2019, I wrote and directed the short film Office Song, produced by Muireann Price and featuring actors Terry Mynott, Georgia Maguire, Tim Plester, Farshid Rokey, Kelda Holmes, Seamus Dillane and Jonathan Scholley. Chris Fergusson was the DoP (I had worked with Chris on my previous short and we have a great working short hand).
Full IMDB here
Graeme Willetts recorded sound and we were lucky to have Jonathan Paul Green, who had just come off the back of Fleabag, oversee the production design on a virtually non-existent budget. The talented James Welland composed the music and Paulyne Antoniou edited. Sarah Buitelaar was our Hair and Makeup designer with Gabrielle "Gabbi" Edmunds providing costume.
The film was largely an experiment, interspersing poetry to camera alongside conventional dialogue. In truth, I simply didn't know if this was going to work or whether it could work. I looked for other examples but found that most poetry in film was spoken in the characters head. Rarely, was the poetry spoken directly to camera. But Muireann has good instincts and she felt from the start that the poetry was good enough (even if I didn't!). So we jumped in.
Office Song trailer here
The clue to making this work, as something cinematic, was understanding how musicals work. The song in a musical is the reveal of a character's inner world. When the song is sung, reality is suspended and anything goes. By simply substituting songs for poems the same rules, or lack of rules, apply. So in the case of the film, the fourth wall is broken, the background is faded out (we used a Cinefade motor on the camera) and we made a conscious creative choice of lip syncing the poems. Deciding to ADR the poems was an exciting creative choice and I believe this is what makes this film work. It helps create that shift from dreary day-to-day office life, to an inner mystical world of souls connecting or hidden thoughts being passionately expressed.
Completed in January 2020, we began submitting to film festivals, unbeknownst to us then the havoc that Covid-19 would wreak on festivals, the industry and life as we know it. Some of the early festivals managed to take place just in time, some were cancelled or postponed and many moved online. Whilst nothing can replace the collective, communal experience of watching a film in a cinema or gathering together to celebrate wins and achievements at awards ceremonies, it has nonetheless been interesting to see how festivals have operated under these difficult circumstances.
Participating in the festivals and seeing fellow filmmakers’ work has been much more accessible in some instances. Whilst ordinarily we would have attended some of the UK and European festivals, we wouldn’t have been able to go to the ones further afield. So being able to view so many of the films online, participating in Zoom Q & As and panel discussions and connecting with filmmakers and festival programmers across the world, online, has been a real joy. Especially in the isolated world we’ve recently been living in.
It will be interesting to see whether some of the online elements will remain when festivals are back up and running again. One festival programmer said they had always been vehemently against introducing any online strands. However, having been forced to move their entire festival online, they could actually see the benefits in some areas. For example, allowing the films to be viewed via an online link, as well as showing them in cinemas, moving forwards, would mean greater accessibility.
Although it’s a shame that Office Song hasn’t been able to have the full festival experience, it’s been an honour to have had our film accepted into so many festivals and to have been part of a new way-of-working.
Here’s a rundown of Office Song’s festival successes so far...
Short to the Point – Online
Short Sounds – Bournemouth, UK
Los Angeles Cinematography Awards –USA
Los Angeles Indie Film Festival - USA
Idyllwild International Film Festival – California, USA
London Independent Film Festival - UK
Toas Shortz - New Mexico
Maryland International Film Festival - USA
Oxford International Short Film Festival –UK
Beverley Hills Film Festival - USA
Tallahassee Film Festival – Florida, USA
Arizona International Film Festival – USA
Philadelphia Independent Film Festival – USA
Anatolia International Film Festival –Istanbul
Buenos Aires Film Festival - Argentina
Brighton Rocks Film Festival – UK
Penzance Literary Film Festival – UK
Romford Film Festival - UK
Rochester International Film Festival –New York, USA
Woods Hole Film Festival– Massachusetts, USA
Mindfield Film Festival– New Mexico
Canadian Independent Film Festival – Canada
Burbank International Film Festival – California, USA
Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival – Chicago, USA
The Royal Starr Film Festival –Michigan, USA
South Dakota Film Festival – USA
Los Angeles Cinematography Awards – Best Experimental Short Film
Mindfield Film Festival – Best Experimental Film
Idyllwild International Film Festival – Best Cinematography Short for Chris Fergusson (Juan Ruiz Anchia Award)
Beverley Hills Film Festival – Best Short Film
Brighton Rocks – Runner up for Best Drama
Oxford International Short Film Festival – Best Experimental Film and Best Screenplay