In 2020, six films incorporating the theme of “Freedom” were selected to go into production, shooting for two days each with a package of top-of-the-range ARRI camera equipment.
We spoke to directors Renzo Vasquez (Trigger), Emily Greenwood (Stop Dead), David Allain (Revelations), Carolyn Saunders (On Island West), Will Kenning (Tap Boy) and Lucy Campbell (For Heidi) ahead of a Leicester Square showcase screening of their Challenge ALEXA-winning films.
Read our interview below to find out how the Challenge ALEXA-winning filmmakers navigated covid disruptions, tricky weather conditions and tight timelines to create something special.
Can you tell us a little bit about your film? What is it about, and where did the idea come from?
Renzo Vasquez: Trigger touches on themes of truth, egoism and morality. On the surface we see two women finding a bag of cash in the back of a taxi and arguing about what to do with it, and the snowball effect of irresponsible actions resulting in a loss of control. However, on a deeper level this film explores the lengths some people are prepared to go in order to achieve their goal, ignoring the consequences of their actions along the way.
Some time ago a friend told me a story about finding a bag of cash in the back seat of a cab after a night out in London. I always thought this could be a fun short film to write, because of the possibilities for unlikely twists and an unpredictable conclusion.
Emily Greenwood: When a workaholic city detective and her laid-back partner try to stop a dishevelled girl staggering down the middle of a country road, they discover she’s being stalked by some unseen entity with a horrifying ultimatum: you stop moving, you die.
Stop Dead is a horror film about the fear of stopping. The feeling that we’re all trapped in a cycle that forces us to work, eat, sleep and keep going until the end — the very antithesis of the Freedom theme. Writer David Scullion told me about his idea of a character called The Still Man, an entity that will kill you when you stop moving. The idea of someone having to keep moving or else they die really resonated with me. It reminded me of a BAFTA Guru interview with Ridley Scott who said about directing: “Stress for me is being inactive. If I’m working and it’s coming in every direction I’m completely relaxed.” I get really excited about ideas that I can relate to on a personal level, so we teamed up to make the film.
David Allain: Our film explores the idea of freedom of choice. Revelations sees a young man, Drew, attend the funeral of his estranged mother and remember a few key moments that defined their relationship. Despite years of pain, Drew decides to see if his family’s differences can be reconciled before time runs out. It is inspired by real events: I was raised in a Christian cult, I left it as a teenager, and then my parents suddenly stopped speaking to me a couple of years later saying they would only resume contact if I returned to their cult. Jumping ahead, I heard from my parents for the first time in years when my mother became terminally ill. Revelations is a bittersweet film about acceptance — the choice we have to accept people as they are — and making it has informed a large part of my grief journey.
Carolyn Saunders: On Island West is about a young woman who has grown up as a racist on an isolated xenophobic island, when the arrival of a Canadian indigenous stranger forces her to face the monstrous truth about herself and her home. Arya longs for the freedom he offers her over the sea, but she isn’t ready to pay the price – renouncing her belief system and giving up her privileged life in the only home she’s ever known.
The idea came from seeing a Louis Theroux doc about two American pre-teen girls raised as white supremacists, totally brainwashed by their mother. I wondered what would happen to them and if they would ever be able to break free of the bonds of their toxic home. I created the dystopian, isolated Island West as a place to explore that, to explore how tightly we are all bound by home and whether it’s possible to ever break free.
Will Kenning: I’d been working on an all-singing all-dancing Disney TV series with my friend Keenan Munn-Francis. It was great fun, but we were ready to make something a little darker by the end of the process! We wanted to make a gritty street drama, but were keen to avoid stereotypes and not make something that had been made a thousand times before. We thought it might be interesting to combine the world of dance with the world of gang culture to provide a fresher take, so that’s where the idea for Tap Boy came from.
It seemed a crazy idea at first (boy trapped in a county lines drug gang learns to tap dance) but the more we researched the origins of tap it made perfect sense. Tap was born after slave owners took away percussive instruments and so slaves used their feet to create percussive music instead. The theme of the year’s contest is ‘Freedom’ so it all seemed to tie in perfectly; what do you do to escape your oppressors when you have nothing but the shoes on your feet? What would it be like if you had no knowledge of the tap history that had gone before you and you discovered it for yourself — on the streets of Milton Keynes for instance?
Lucy Campbell: I fell in love with the poem For Heidi With Blue Hair when my son brought it home from school for homework, and looked at me with teenage dismay/revulsion as I choked-up while reading it. It is a poem about a dad, a rebellious daughter and her best friend, and is really a story about family, love and loss. I could see it as a beautiful short film (it is very visual) so I tracked down the writer, Fleur Adcock, to ask for permission. Fleur said yes.
In the poem, Heidi dyes her hair blue and sprays it into a huge punk Mohawk and is sent home from school. At home, in the family kitchen, her father is supportive and takes her side. He phones the school, challenging their petty rules. About halfway through the poem we realise that the mother has died (this is the bit that brings a lump to my throat) and it all falls into place: Heidi’s angry rebellion and her father’s kindness. And there’s an amazingly great best friend who has a solution up her sleeve. Heidi may have lost the battle but together they can win the war.
What has the ALEXA shooting package allowed you to explore that you otherwise couldn’t have done, and what did being selected as a Challenge ALEXA filmmaker mean for you and your project?
EG: Being selected for Challenge ALEXA completely got the ball rolling towards making the proof-of-concept for our feature in development. We had been discussing the feature for a while, but with no concrete plan for making the short. When the news came through about Challenge ALEXA, suddenly things became serious and we realised we now HAD to make it!
The support of Directors UK and ARRI, and the incredible package the challenge provides, gave us and the project validation. We were able to approach other funding partners and confidently assure them that this was a professional project that would look amazing, and one by one investors started to come on board.
It was such an advantage to have had the chance to thoroughly test the camera before the shoot. It enabled us to have a clear idea of how we were going to achieve the Still Man’s walk in-camera, which saved us a huge amount of time on-set.
DA: Back in 2019, pre-covid, I originally entered Challenge ALEXA by pitching a proof-of-concept scene from a long form piece with the same title. It featured a protagonist who had a similar relationship with their parents, seeing their terminally ill mother for the first time in years (since being disowned). When the Challenge ALEXA judges realised that this fictional idea was inspired by my life experience, they asked if I would consider telling my actual story instead. I didn’t imagine people would be so interested in what’s happened in my life, but I really appreciate the judges’ encouragement to tell a story that was even closer to home. The shooting package provided everything we needed to capture incredible shots (along with the help of Trinity Operator Seb Joly), and I loved shooting with the Signature Prime lenses. Given the process took over two years to complete due to long pandemic delays, the support from the ARRI and Directors UK team meant so much: first suggesting I tell a more personal self-contained story, and then all their support when our shoot got postponed for over a year, and them making everything they could available for us to have the best chance of succeeding against some pretty extreme odds!
WK: As a new Directors UK member I came along to the previous Challenge ALEXA screening in 2019 and was really inspired; a great collection of films made in such a short period of time. I had my crazy idea for a script, so I thought why not write it up and submit it. When it got selected I did have a minor panic attack because I wasn’t really sure how to turn it into a reality - but that’s the magic of these things; the support and confidence I received from the team at ARRI and Directors UK made me step up and make something that we’re all so proud of.
Once we had that badge of honour and could call ourselves a ‘Challenge ALEXA’ short, crewing up and casting was so much easier. Sure the budget was tight, but people knew it was going to be a stellar project and was worth coming on board for. Knowing that you’re shooting on the best camera and glass the industry has to offer takes away a huge pressure, so you can really concentrate on the story you want to tell. I remember Milan Krsljanin at ARRI telling me to ‘be as bold as you can’ with the storytelling, and I love that he wanted his kit to embolden us like that. I like to think we took his advice.
CS: The camera was brilliant. We were able to shoot in places we couldn’t have otherwise reached. That was critical to telling this story, as the dystopian island is very much a character, whose cliffs and raging sea below keep our protagonist, Arya, safe from the outside world, but also a prisoner. To sell that visually on a small budget was the challenge, but the LF Mini was so portable and adaptable in whatever light conditions we had, that we were able to get into those nooks and crannies and go down goat tracks to unreachable places. We used mostly natural light and I can safely say the film looks epic, cinematic and truly gorgeous. My DoP Mary Farbrother took full advantage of everything the LF Mini offers. She also took full advantage of the Signature Prime lenses. We shot on a lot of clifftops but also in some deep woods, sheds, and one super-stinky farmyard, and the variety and quality of lenses allowed me to explore different looks for each, capturing everything from big sea/sky to sun-dappled woodsy ruins to ECUs in dark places. The Trinity rig was also an indispensable asset, because I wanted to have a very fluid camera to echo the movement of the sea that surrounds them, and the shifting nature of Arya’s consciousness.
Being selected for Challenge ALEXA also gave us credibility when we were recruiting crew. Everyone wants to work on a Challenge ALEXA film, and everyone wants the chance to see their film screen at Leicester Square. It also gave us currency when we approached sponsors for financial support.
LC: Having the ALEXA package encouraged me to approach cinematographer Felix Wiedemann, who I’d long wanted to work with. I was punching above my weight but at least I could offer him a great camera package, all the toys! Milan Krsljanin from ARRI was incredibly supportive and available, and has been throughout the process. It’s been like working with friends. Felix and I discussed my ideas of how to put the poem on screen. I wanted it to feel immersive, and to play out in real time. I wanted the audience to experience the film as if they are in the space with the characters, especially in the kitchen. I also wanted to film each scene in one long take, to push the real-time element, and see what effect this would have on the audience. We planned the film’s long takes, deciding on how the camera should move (dolly for the kitchen, tracking for the opening and closing scenes, and handheld for the flashback scene in the garden) and I shaped the choreography of each scene to achieve what we needed from cast and camera.
Having Directors UK and ARRI on board gave me the confidence to approach Fleur Adcock, the poet, and her publishers, BloodAxe, to ask for permission to adapt the poem into a short film. Fleur and I spoke on email about the true story behind the poem, which helped me navigate the parts that were more challenging to put on screen. The mother’s death is revealed during the poem in a minimal way, and the story makes sense in that moment. In the film I decided to present it as a memory, lightly told, and I think it packs a punch, as it reflects Fleur’s actual story about her friend — Heidi’s mother — who was dying of cancer and refusing to give up, even in her final days. Fleur remembers her coming into the garden to feel the rain, very frail and weak by now, wrapped in blankets. Her strength of spirit is key to the poem’s texture, and I hope this comes across in the film’s story.
RV: Shot inside a cab at night, the ARRI ALEXA Mini LF and Signature Primes allowed us to lift the story off the page into a cinematic short film. The large-format sensor in a small camera was the perfect combination for this project, allowing us to explore a variety of compositions inside the car.
Being a Challenge ALEXA film made it possible to approach and get top-level crew and companies interested in making this film. Once it became a solid project supported by ARRI and Directors UK, for an indie filmmaker that made a huge difference.
Trigger was my debut as a writer, so being selected was a great opportunity to bring my first script to screen and develop my voice as a filmmaker.
What were the main challenges of your shoot and how did you overcome them?
LC: The film was shut down once, at the start of the first lockdown, then restarted a number of months later, when other productions were just getting going again. I was keen to get the film back on track (and worried it might not get made, but I was determined) but this was a difficult process, and some of the original team were no longer available.
We used Zoom for a lot of the prep, due to covid restrictions. In fact, the film’s casting, performance prep with the actors, and much of the production design thought and discussion was all done on Zoom.
Shooting in long takes is a challenge for the actors and crew, the camera was always moving, and each scene had to be shot from start to finish every time. No one gets a rest. But we captured great, sensitive performances and beautiful cinematography.
DA: Covid, covid, and climate change. We were originally due to shoot on the last weekend of March 2020, but found ourselves in lockdown when the date came around. Our shoot was postponed until summer 2021: this meant we lost some funding I’d raised but allowed me time to raise some more. A brilliant new company, Niche on Demand, came aboard at the eleventh hour and have been great collaborators ever since. Finally, in July 2021, we were about to shoot: then less than 48 hours before filming, we lost our lead actor because of covid. We couldn’t postpone further - who knew if covid would strike again or who it might strike next time? We forged ahead, recast our lead, and everything worked out just as it ought to have done. Due to covid and other last-minute illnesses, on the first day of filming we still lost half our sound team and two members of our camera team. On the second day of filming, we began a unit move and got hit by a sudden storm which led to hospitals in East London being flooded: the extreme weather made newspaper front pages the following day. The biblical weather seemed apt and there’s no denying climate change when things like that happen on an otherwise sunny summer’s day. Making Revelations was all about adapting to whatever came our way and accepting that there are many things we cannot control — this also speaks to the film’s themes. I am eternally grateful to all of my collaborators (including Directors UK and ARRI) as it was a wild ride that I’ll never forget.
EG: Nothing could have prepared us for the disappointment we felt when our shoot got shut down because of covid. I was returning home from our rehearsal three days before the shoot when I got the call to say that production couldn’t go ahead. We had moved mountains to get everything ready, so to say we were devastated would be an understatement.
We had spent a lot of money on the location and accommodation, which was too late to get back, so we knew we couldn’t shoot again until we’d raised more money. Now that covid was part of the equation, we needed to budget for that too. The fact that we had to shoot at night meant that we had to shoot in winter to get the maximum true dark hours. So when the first winter came by, with covid numbers sky high, we were unable to go ahead again, knowing that we wouldn’t get another chance until the next winter!
The fear of stopping, which is at the core of our film, suddenly became the central theme of my life. We had to keep going. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass by. So we carried on talking and developing the feature, we kept the passion alive, persevered with the funding search and — to our delight — Other Brother Studios and Sensoria / Sheffield Film Fund came on board, and with the funding already in place from Linda Seifert Management and our own contributions, we were able to reschedule and finally go into production two years later!
CS: Our biggest challenge was that we were in the middle of our shoot when covid hit and the UK began to lock down. As we were in a remote location in Cornwall and had already formed our own bubble, the crew voted unanimously to keep shooting. But it meant we had to change a lot of things on the fly. Lunch became outdoor, socially-distanced picnics, even on wet days. One of the locations became more difficult. We had to readjust certain scenes. My editor couldn’t come down, which meant there was nobody but the DIT seeing the rushes, because I was already working on 3 hours of sleep a night and only had time to watch playback in the monitor (luckily we had a nice big monitor!) Without our editor, we had to trust that we were getting what we needed.
Covid also affected our ability to shoot some of our in-camera special effects, because we suddenly couldn’t always access the people or materials we’d counted on to make it happen. Production designer Rowena Zoro was a genius at alleviating at least some of that. Our stills and behind-the-scenes photographer couldn’t come down from London, so we had to make do. That was challenging on set, as we had to take a bit of time to get at least some pictures, but more of a challenge later, as people now ask us for pictures that we don’t have.
In post, we had to do the entire off-line remotely. Nina Annan and I were never in the same room, and that definitely made it harder. The same with the composer Hollie Buhagiar. But neither of them flinched, and both did a brilliant job. Also in post, I felt I needed to acknowledge the pandemic and had to find a way to write it in. Simon Shepherd graciously agreed to do VO to help with that, from his back shed at home. I’d say we overcame the covid challenge because everyone just mucked in and did it. The actors adjusted, the crew adjusted, and we all had each other’s backs.
The other big challenge was not having enough time or money to tell what was rather a big story. Maybe too big a story for a short, but I always say “go big or go home.” I didn’t want to go home. How did we overcome that? Honestly, I’m not sure we did. But isn’t that the story of short filmmaking everywhere?
RV: One of the main challenges was not having enough shooting time and budget. One of the questions was whether we would need a low loader, but this wasn’t something we could afford. By a stroke of luck we overcame this, because the actor who plays the driver had actually been a real cab driver.
The story happens at night, but we didn’t want to schedule a full night shoot. We designed it so both days had a call time at 6pm and wrap at midnight. In order to make the most of our time on set, rehearsals with the cast were done in advance of the shoot and there was a lot of planning.
Weather was a small but predictable challenge. We had rain on the first day so our art department had to create rain special effects on the cab, pavement and streets on the second shoot day.
WK: As one of the first projects to shoot (last weekend of February 2020), covid was just about to hit. So really that only became a problem for post-production when all the post houses became booked up with high-paying gigs because that was all anybody could do. It took about 8 months to get through post as a result, but I know other teams had it much worse than us.
Other than that, it was just the ambition of the piece versus the time and budget that we had to shoot it in. We had to work so fast, often in exterior locations at night in freezing temperatures. But by planning every shot meticulously we knew exactly what we wanted and our fabulous 1st AD Jonay Sevillano Regalado kept us in check. The location for the house was genuinely derelict and had no running water or toilets, so we had to constantly ferry people to the local pub. But the people of Milton Keynes were so supportive of our efforts and that made life much easier.
What did you learn from taking part in Challenge ALEXA that you will take forward in your career?
DA: I learned that having your shoot postponed can be a blessing. Having more time allowed us to find better locations, raise more money, and allowed for some great cast scheduling to fall into place. As a director, I’m often keen to shoot as soon as possible, but having the additional time for prep, patiently accepting that we would have to wait, and then finally shooting when the time was (kind of) right taught me some useful lessons.
WK: I think the biggest lesson from this short is that it doesn’t matter if you have some fancy scene you can imagine in your head. If you can’t translate that into cold hard reality that you can actually shoot, then it’s not going to happen. Sometimes there’s this disconnect between the ideas in your head and what you see on screen — and the only person responsible for making that translation seamless is you. If you can’t answer how a dance step will be filmed or a fight sequence will play out, then how do you expect your crew to understand that and make it a reality? Having said that, I always learn more on shoots about the value of collaboration and trusting the talent of those around you. Tap Boy is a genuine example of many different people bringing their A-game to the same place at the same time.
RV: I think every film we make requires us to be problem solvers, so resourcefulness is a muscle that we exercise regularly. Every film has its particular challenges but very little is insurmountable, a lot of the time it’s like solving a puzzle. I think that’s an ongoing lesson, and each film broadens your bank of experience.
EG: Directing a film is always a massive learning process and I have learned so much during this experience, from swinging a lens to get more framing options quickly, to moving the actors instead of the camera to save time (but still achieve interesting shots).
It may sound corny, but the biggest thing I have learned from taking part in Challenge ALEXA is that I’m ready more than ever to direct my feature debut. I worked hard in pre-production to build a solid ‘production bible’, containing detailed shot lists, set plans, visual references, coverage and performance notes, and I referred to it every step of the way.
You can never be over-prepared! However much things change on the day, the more you prepare, the easier it is to adapt to the new situation and problem solve on your feet.
CS: I learned a lot about cameras. My DoP was generous and happy to answer my dumb questions. I learned that I am in love with the ALEXA LF Mini and that having a truly great camera makes all the difference. I learned to surround myself with people I trust and to always work with a producer who protects you from all the awful stuff and the challenges that inevitably pop up, so you can focus on directing. I learned that the next time I write a short I will keep it smaller. I am incredibly proud of the scope of On Island West and I think we achieved something extraordinary, but I also recognize that short films are usually moments, not grand stories. And I can see now why that is. This was my first short. I learned a lot.
LC: So much. But the headlines are:
My producers Barrington Paul Robinson, Radha Bhandari and I were determined to keep our set happy, considerate and respectful at all times, and make sure everyone was well looked after. We kept this intention throughout the whole process, so that everyone could enjoy making the film. It was a truly collaborative and creative experience and I believe this comes across on screen. It is a beautiful film, and it was joyful to make.
I am crazily well organised, and with the year of delay due to covid I had even more time to plan and prep. So by the time we came to set, I had prepped every last detail that I needed to capture, and (insanely) we actually finished an hour early on the last shoot day.
Shooting each scene in one long take was something that I wanted to try with this film, and I loved it. Felix and I planned and choreographed it meticulously. It gave the actors space to live and breathe within their performances, and also gives a strange calmness to the film (and is probably the reason we finished on time).
Who were your collaborators on this project?
EG: Seven months before David Scullion told me about Stop Dead, I had met producers Jude Goldrei and Douglas Cox during the Edinburgh Talent Lab. Douglas was on the lab with me and Jude was attending the festival. I knew both of them were passionate about genre and they were both people I was keen to work with, so when David pitched Stop Dead I reached out to them with the short script and the idea to develop it into a feature, and they immediately came on board.
One of the best things about this project has been the ‘family’ we pulled together. It was important to all of us that we teamed up with people who were passionate about the project but above all, enjoyable to work with. So everyone who came on board had either worked with someone on the core team or was recommended by a reliable source.
It was such an enriching experience working with my direct team, DoP Mary Farbrother and 1st AD Jez Marshall, with champion lighting skills from Gaffer John Crooks. Actors Sarah Soetaert, David Ricardo-Pearce, Priya Blackburn and James Swanton made such a strong cast, and they all looked incredible with the help of costume designer Lucy Hallard, hair and makeup artist Zoe Tilston and SFX makeup team Dan Martin, Saffron Powell and Vienna MacMahon.
I took advantage of my post-production connections and arranged post with the ever-supportive Goldcrest Post Production. We were delighted to have Saint Maud composer Adam Janota Bzowksi come on board and sound designer Calum Sample to create the foreboding music and soundscape, with sound recordist Benjamin Foss providing impeccable sound from the shoot.
Every single person worked above and beyond to make the best possible version of the film, and we all had a great deal of fun doing it!
WK: I’ve already mentioned Keenan Munn-Francis who was supported by the most brilliant cast; Susan Scott, Spike Leighton, James Thackeray and Edwin de la Renta all brought together by the wonderful casting director Lucy Casson. Craig Foottit played our tap dancing homeless man and as an ex ‘Tap Dog’ he brought so much to the short with his incredible tapping ability and perfectly pitched performance. We knew we needed a brilliant tap choreographer and we were so lucky to get Lizzi Gee on board. Her wealth of experience (she taught all the Billy Elliots how to tap) meant that she totally understood what we were looking for; trying to show that transition from beginner to expert in just under 16 minutes. Our producer Brenda Newhouse was also the most perfect fit. She’s not only a former dancer but now a formidable producer, and specialises in films of this nature. Howard Mills was our superb DoP who brought such vision and energy to the look of the piece with intuitive colour grading from Alex Gregory. Michael Rouse provided the beautiful original score and the whole film was mixed by the very talented Antony Tsoukatos at Prime Sound. We were very fortunate to have support from executive producers Christian Parton and Michael Beddoes and the team at Genera Films who really got us over the line with our post production.
DA: Key collaborators include several people I’ve worked with before: renowned casting director Kharmel Cochrane, incredible cinematographer Amelia Hazlerigg, composer Alexandra Milne, and editor Max Windows. New collaborators included working with producer Laurelle Jones, funders Zena Tuitt and Sabrina Clarke (Niche on Demand), post-production house OnSight, and the cast including newcomer Joshua Riley alongside Kola Bokinni (Ted Lasso) and Wil Johnson (House of the Dragon).
CS: My crew were amazing, talented and wholly committed. I worked very closely with DoP Mary Farbrother and my camera team was truly brilliant, as you can see on the screen. My producer Victoria Thorson made sure that all I ever had to worry about was the shoot – she is honestly the best producer I’ve ever worked with, in terms of giving me all the support I needed to do my job. The actors were all in, they knew their characters inside and out and were a joy to direct. And they mucked in and did the dirty work along with everyone else. Production designer Rowena Zoro is a genius at creating gorgeous sets out of thin air and empty bank accounts. I have to give a shout out also to everyone at the Trewarthenick Estate, who helped us in a million ways, from accommodation to locations to creating a naval mine.
RV: In development I worked with Lucy Bradley, my script editor, to shape a winning script. Producers Paul Coward and Adriana Rouanet were key collaborators from the funding stage to the shoot and post-production. Cinematographer James Rhodes created a cinematic and stylistic look together with gaffer Bill-Rae Smith and colourist Jax Harney. Slick editing by Sarah Peczek, original score by Edward Farmer and sound design by Munzie Thind. Alex Jones Nash, our production designer, magically brought rain to the second shooting day to keep the continuity. Costume design was done by Lucille Acevedo-Jones. Sam Rumbelow, our casting director, pointed me in the right direction to find our amazing cast, Kit Reeve, Mia Lacostena and Jamie Hawes. Hai Le, our stunt coordinator, designed the fight and Bags Simmons provided the armoury. And finally, 1st AD Brett Thomas ran the set to schedule seamlessly.
LC: The exceptionally wonderful Barrington Paul Robinson (Redbag Pictures) produced the film, with the talented and vibrant (one to watch, she’s going to go right to the top — you read it here first) Radha Bhandari. They are both North-West based, as I am, and we shot in Manchester with mainly local cast and crew. Cinematography was by the gifted and skilful Felix Wiedemann BSC who brought on our wonderful grip Felix Milburn-Foster. Watching Felix glide around the kitchen on the dolly, with his close, sensitive connection to the actors, was a thing of beauty. As Barrington said, I’ve never seen a grip do ballet before. Sound recording was challenging in the opening scene with a roaring motorway below the bridge, but Craig Rihoy and Jamil Thomas recorded almost perfect sound for us. Heidi’s hair and make-up was created by Francesca Thurston and Mollie Carroll, costume by Lauren Reyhani, and production design was led (remotely) by Claire Molloy who had just had a new baby (Ziggy) and by Georgia Long on set, who designed and created the production.
Very little is spoken in the film, but the delicate and internal performances from the actors (Chloe Lea, Aliyah Soyinka, Delroy Brown, Charlotte Comer), captured on camera, along with the subtle sound design (Rob Walker) and exquisite score (Stefan Smith) bring us into the headspace of each character. The effect on the experience of time, by using the long takes and the camera’s dictation of rhythm, feels more meditative than I was expecting and feels right for the poem and for the story. Zeina Nasr and James Morgan wrote and performed the punk song Right Now which is perfect for Heidi in that moment.
Have you got any future plans for your Challenge ALEXA short?
EG: Stop Dead is a proof-of-concept for a feature called The Still Man, which David Scullion is now writing. Ideally Stop Dead will premiere at a top tier festival and pick up some awards and plenty of online buzz around the world next year. This will really help to promote me as a rising genre director and get the word out about The Still Man, which we hope to get funded and put into production by 2024.
RV: We are planning to release the film online when we finish the festival run. Festivals have been a lot of fun, but I also look forward to being able to share it online where it will be available to everyone.
DA: We have submitted Revelations to a bunch of festivals. One is scheduled later this year, and we are waiting to hear back from many others — you can see the film’s trailer and follow its news at revelationsfilm.com. After it has had some time on the festival circuit, we will make it available online. The film is supporting two mental health charities — The Good Grief Trust and CALM — so we hope to do some special screenings to help raise funds and awareness for them too.
WK: Tap Boy is just about to complete its festival journey with two Best Film awards and sixteen Official Selections to its name. We’ll now start the process of approaching short film distributors and looking for its home online where anyone can watch it.
CS: It’s been in a few festivals already, and I hope it gets into a few more. I’d like to get it on a streaming platform for shorts, and maybe one of the airlines. But I have also been using it as a proof-of-concept for a feature I wrote, Island West, and it is really making an impact, so that’s job done.
LC: For Heidi will be showing at the London Film Festival this year, and we’re also sending out to other film festivals.
What other projects have you got lined up next?
CS: My feature, Island West, based on this short, is in financing right now. We’re halfway there, and I hope we will get it to camera soon. The script has won a whole bunch of awards and the short has been a great proof-of-concept for it, so I’m optimistic. Meanwhile, I’m shooting a documentary feature called Starfighter Baby, produced by Canada’s Emmy-winning White Pine Pictures. I have a TV series pilot also called Starfighter Baby (same world, different angle) that is being read by AMC right now, and another pilot, Invisible, that I co-wrote with Directors UK member Shelagh McLeod, which we developed with The Writers Lab UK. I’ve also just come off shadowing Directors UK member Kate Cheeseman on Doc Martin. Women filmmakers over 45 are freaking brilliant, and I love collaborating with them. We’ve got all the best stories. More of that is definitely in my future.
WK: Through lockdown I concentrated on writing and building up my slate of scripts. I now have two features, a TV comedy pilot (co-written by Lewis Georgeson) which was shortlisted by BAFTA Rocliffe, and a handful of TV series treatments. I’m hoping I can turn one of them into reality in the not too distant future. Other than that, I’m directing a handful of shorts and some theatre productions before donning my wig and false boobs to play Dame in the Dunstable Grove Theatre Pantomime over Christmas, as you do.
EG: Other than The Still Man, I am attached to a number of other genre features with some exciting production companies. Hopefully some heat around Stop Dead and The Still Man will help get the ball rolling on one of these or bring in some new scripts. I also intend to put some time aside to continue writing my own ongoing thriller project.
RV: I’m working on a slate of short films. One of them is in pre-production and the working title is My Last Old Friend. Set today, this is the story of a long friendship between three men, who have been friends for over a half century. It’s a film about freedom, music, poker and love.
LC: My feature project Pig Child, developed with BFI/ Delaval Film/ Loran Dunn and written by playwright Dawn King, will (fingers crossed) finance and shoot in the next year or so. It’s a sci-fi drama set in the near future about a transplant surgeon who illegally creates a pig-human hybrid to provide a viable heart for a sick child, not expecting to have to confront her own growing love for this little pig-child who believes her to be his mother. I am also attached as director to writer Ted Wilkes’ feature Fulfilment (producer Manon Ardisson, Ardimages/God’s Own Country), which is a brutally funny horror set in a ‘fulfilment’ warehouse.
DA: I am currently directing a block on an ITV crime drama. We are shooting on the ARRI ALEXA Mini LF, which is superb. The Revelations short film began as a proof-of-concept idea, so I’ve returned to that initial concept and am developing it into a miniseries. The miniseries is very different from the short film, but comes from the same world and shares many of the same themes, so I’m excited to see where that goes!
Full and Associate Directors UK members can book to attend our showcase screening of all the Challenge ALEXA films above, taking place on 16 September. Find out more here.
Photos for Stop Dead by Willy Runte.
Photos for On Island West by TJ Hughes and Fern Leigh Albert.
Photos for Revelations, Trigger, For Heidi and Tap Boy by Christopher Andreou.