17th British Shorts, Berlin
"Collaboration between myself and James Bugg was key - especially since our film is a comedy, where the execution of pretty much everything has to be spot on."
January 22, 2024
Everybody is exhausted. Thankfully, a novel new wellness craze promises to help people vent their worldly frustrations. It's certainly worked for Alderbrook. For now, anyway.
Hi Toryn, thank you for talking to TNC. How does it feel to be at the 17th British Shorts with your latest short film Argh!?
It’s an honour to have our film ‘Argh!’ play at the British Shorts festival; not only because being accepted to any festival is a great privilege considering the stiff competition we see these days, but also because the festival is based in Berlin: a city I have much respect for.
What has it meant to you to see how well received Argh! has been?
Releasing a narrative short-film to the world and hoping the reaction is positive is nerve-wracking. Releasing a comedy and hoping the audience finds it funny seems to add an additional slice of anxiety on top! But we’ve seen the film screen with audiences a few times and - to our relief - the laughs have come in the right places.
How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films and filmmakers?
Short films have always had to fight to be seen - there’s never been quite the same market or platform for them that longer narrative films enjoy. In fact, they nowadays feel stranded somewhere between marketable feature films and the ultra-short-form content that TikTok and Instagram offer. Young people certainly don’t watch short films, and the reason is because they haven’t the platform or the popularity to be seen. In my opinion, without festivals, there wouldn’t be a short-film scene to speak of. It’s heartening to me to be able to attend a festival and immerse myself in other filmmakers’ projects, to be surrounded by like-minded people who are passionate about storytelling. It encourages me to believe that we can look forward to seeing new short films being made for years to come.
What more can be done to make short films more visible to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?
The key to this - outside of live events and festivals - would lie with the internet. There are some terrific websites dedicated to hosting and promoting short films, but I don’t believe many people outside of the industry are necessarily visiting them. Somehow the short-film format needs to be made increasingly visible to younger audiences and easier to find for older viewers.
When working on a film like Argh! how essential was the creative collaboration between you and your team?
Collaboration between myself and James Bugg was key - especially since our film is a comedy, where the execution of pretty much everything has to be spot on. Whilst James officially handled the writing, and I officially handled the directing, there were a thousand ways we collaborated in-between those two roles: to refine the nuance of each joke’s delivery, to discuss production design, plan our camera movements, to land upon a soundtrack etc.
Naturally, James had pictures in his head when he wrote the film and since it was he who invited me to be involved it wasn’t my place to trample over his ideas - to all intents and purposes we made this film together, in the truest sense of collaboration.
Can you tell me how Argh! came about?
I think James conceived of an idea that identified and spoke to the zeitgeist of our modern times. James is a terrific writer and has multiple ideas on the go at any one time, but I believe he chose this to produce because of its relative simplicity and short duration. He called me and asked if I’d join him in the adventure of making it, and I eagerly accepted. Who wouldn’t want to make a film about screaming in a field? It was cathartic enough going on the recce and trying it for myself, let alone making the film.
"Looking back, I was a kid, desperately trying to be taken seriously, when in fact, most youngsters know almost nothing about the world."
What was it about James Bugg’s script that connected with you as a director?
Speaking of that zeitgeist, I can directly relate to the feeling of needing to unload stress, the need to shout at the world, scream my head off in frustration, moan about my lot and seek an outlet for my anger. In fact, who can’t relate to that? James’ way with dialogue is so natural that I could see and hear it all unfolding in my head and couldn’t wait to make it.
I think it even came as a surprise to us that no-one had had this idea before. In fact, when we embarked upon it, it became apparent that the need to scream had become ubiquitous. We saw wellness articles in the paper about it and even a post on Reddit, where someone had asked the community where they could go to vocally unleash their inner anger… So James had really hit upon something, at the absolute right time.
When you started working on the film had you already had Tom Crowley in mind to play Alderbrook?
We had several options to look at, but James already knew Tom and was more than confident that he was the right choice. As soon as James showed me things he’d done before, I was sold. Tom is simply a brilliant actor. Natural, instinctive, funny. Simple as that.
What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing Argh! to the big screen?
Our biggest challenge - as is common - was lack of money. We elected to shoot on a farm belonging to another of James’ friends. The snag was that we had only one day to shoot.
That meant, between us, sorting a crew and finding all the actors and supporting artists to bring it to life. Plus there was a very real challenge of getting these performers to the location which was as remote as you’d expect a field in the countryside to be!
But by far the biggest challenge was shooting in that time-frame of one day. It just meant that we had little time to experiment, and compelled us to think four steps ahead all day long, the danger of which might be that you make a slight mistake somewhere in the process that only reveals itself when you’re in the edit.
Is there anything you would have done different on this film?
I would certainly have liked more time on set. A slower working tempo would have allowed us to experiment and find that nuance I mentioned. When you work at a furious pace, it feels as if you’re wildly dashing around and by the end of the day you can’t quite remember what you’ve done, and can only hope for the best!
Where did you passion for filmmaking come from?
My passion for filmmaking originated in my wanting to compose for film. I studied composition at a junior music school, but my interest in production started to take over. I fell in love with ‘making-of’ featurettes on the DVD’s I was buying in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and before long composition had taken a backseat to the dream of directing my own films.
How much has your approach to your film projects changed since your debut short?
I don’t feel that my approach has changed a great deal, but I suppose if I were to compare myself now with my much younger filmmaking-self, I’d hope that I bring a lot more life-experience and maturity to it all. That must, surely, inform and improve one’s decision-making when on location. Looking back, I was a kid, desperately trying to be taken seriously, when in fact, most youngsters know almost nothing about the world. But I’d hope that my manner of working with actors is just better informed now, and that I’m more at ease with the process. After all, like any craft, it’s a discipline that requires a great deal of practice.
What where some of the lessons you took away from making Argh!?
Every time I make a comedy I learn a huge amount: Lessons in timing, lessons in nuance, lessons in how jokes can fail, narrative beats and even - thanks to attending a few screenings with live audiences - how jokes can be lost underneath the laughter of the previous joke.
Who are some of the filmmakers that have/do inspire you?
I grew up adoring musicals so my initial heroes were filmmakers like Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. I then absorbed my older brother’s VHS collection, so I was introduced to Paul Verhoeven, John McTiernan and a raft of other action directors of the 80s. By my early teens, when I was avidly reading and learning about filmmaking, I’d discovered Kubrick, Spielberg, Cameron and Coppola, and Soderbergh greatly inspired me. Since then, I find that I’ve less of an adoration of one specific filmmaker, but rather an appreciation of good films in their own right. After all, some of my favourite filmmakers have made their share of turkeys through the years..
What does Argh! say about you as a filmmakers and the stories you want to tell?
I hope it doesn’t categorise me too much, as I like to think I’m versatile and interested in many facets of story-telling. But since it’s a comedy, I simply hope it shows that I can put something funny together (thanks to the sterling and inescapable talent of many other contributing filmmakers).
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone wanting to get into filmmaking?
To be honest, I’m still trying to figure this one out, myself. My plan is to keep making as much as possible. Network as much as possible. Put in as much hard work as possible. And hope for some good luck along the way. (If anyone else has a better idea, please forward it on to me).
And finally, what message would you like audiences to take away from Argh!?
Above all, I hope people laugh when watching it. But if there’s a takeaway, I suppose it would be: “Don’t worry. You’re not the only one who wants to go scream your lungs out in a field. We’re all as pissed off as each other.”