13th British Shorts, Berlin | 2020
"The theory was that if you emptied an entire can of deodorant on your nipple, it would freeze and you could flick it off. I will post the deleted scene one day soon."
The History of Nipples
Dir. Bailey Tom Bailey
Sat 18.1. 24:00 / Sputnik Kino 1
Festival Screening / Midnight Movies (only for 18s and older)
A dark comedy about a man who asks 'What are my nipples for?' and takes drastic action. Inspired by a Celtic fertility ritual.
Hi Bailey, thanks for talking to TNC, how is your 2020 going?
My pleasure. 2020 has seen me at the drawing board mostly; co-writing my feature Sharp End and making applications for short film and artist moving image funds.
Congratulations on having The History of Nipples selected to British Shorts, what does it mean to you to be part of such a great showcase for British Films?
It’s really exciting, the films’ first screening in Germany. It’s great to be put alongside such phenomenal films.
The History of Nipples is already having a great festival run, did you expect you'd get this type of reaction to your film?
We worked hard on it and designed it to be a fun ride so I always hoped it would do well. The film has been screened mostly in horror and ‘weird’ categories, which was a surprise but might be due to its Fright Fest premiere.
Winning Best Terror at Oaxaca Film Festival must have felt amazing, what has it meant to you to get this type of recognition for your film?
Oaxaca was an interesting experience, there is a big emphasis on pitching so I learnt a lot about that process while attending. The win was a nice cherry on top and very encouraging, though it was a surprise as the film is an outlier in that category.
What as the experience been like for you watching The History of Nipples with audiences?
Visceral. They chuckle, then squirm, which seems to loosen them up for some belly laughs near the end. It’s the first time I have made something that really plays the audience in that way and its so rewarding to watch it working.
I’m also pleased that part of the film doesn’t obscure the other tones in the film. People have told me the ending is touching and the ideas in the film leave them talking afterwards.
Can you talk about The History of Nipples, how did this project come about?
I had the idea for years but thought it was too silly. But over time I got more interested in comedy and people had such a good reaction to the title and idea. I met producers Aaron Z. Willson and Callum Harrison while working at Somesuch and they were interested in making a short. The film was self-funded with some budget contributed from the producers.
When did you first discover the Celtic fertility ritual?
The National Museum of Dublin has an exhibit of a man who had fallen to the bottom of a bog and become mummified. These particular Irish Celts believed that if you sucked on a kings’ nipple you could bring forth fertility to the land, but if the land didn’t produce they would cut off the kings nipples, kill him and throw him into a bog. As I walked away from the exhibit the title jumped into my head along with a majority of the story.
What was it about nipples that interested you so much?
I’m often drawn to stories about how our bodies affect our lives. It was not the nipple as much as how their roles in our societies have changed. Celts put divine value in a tiny part of male anatomy, which we now consider to be totally obsolete. Increasingly we live in a world we have rendered meaningless and turned our bodies into machines.
Have there been any strange or weird 'nipple facts' you discovered as you started making The History of Nipples?
In some ancient middle-eastern cultures, young shepherds would go up the mountain to tend a flock with the elder Shepherds, while they were away for long periods of time together they would suck on each others nipples as a form of male bonding.
There was a little vignette we shot but cut, illustrating an urban myth I heard when I was in school. The theory was that if you emptied an entire can of deodorant on your nipple, it would freeze and you could flick it off. I will post the deleted scene one day soon.
"Try to make writing a regular habit, it’s the cheapest way to practice telling stories and the first step in any project."
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
The hardest scene was a conversation in the bedroom, it was the first thing we shot and it took time to finally nail down the characters and find all the comedic nuances in blocking and conversation. Getting all that correct in a tight room was more time consuming than anticipated.
Looking back is there anything you would want to do differently on this film?
The last scene was a drastic tonal shift, it became too light hearted but we changed the music and got it to a good place in the edit. I would have loved more time on set to find more emotive moments with the actors. But it works and the punch line of that scene gets a big final laugh.
Some exterior locations could have been better but our original locations dropped out and had to be replaced last minute.
What would you say has been the most valuable lessons you've taken away from The History of Nipples?
A strong hook in your idea is really important; with this the pitch was the title. Playing an audience and being entertaining doesn’t mean you can’t say something. Really work on the idea to cut down the locations you need (even more than we did here!).
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes but it felt quite remote from me when I was a kid. I bought a video camera and started playing around with stop motion animation and other experiments in my early teens. Painting took over for a while because it seemed more accessible. I started making things properly when I went to university.
How much has your background in painting and the visual arts influenced the way you create your films?
It meant that I had spent years developing my voice before committing to filmmaking and made my influences broad. When you learn to draw you spend hours studying nude figures, you look at parts of their body and thinking about the anatomy that defines it. I believe this is partly why Illness and bodies are still central themes in my work.
Overall it’s a mindset thing. In art, you’re encouraged to be personal, conceptual and experimental. So when I started making films, the question of what a film could be was open and part of me resisted narrative because it seemed to come with a lot of rules. After making a few things I realised I was always trying to tell stories and that became my focus, now I love narrative and enjoy writing. The films I love fuse solid genre storytelling with a boundary-pushing approach and try to express something unusual.
If you could offer a fellow filmmaker some advice what would it be?
Try to make writing a regular habit, it’s the cheapest way to practice telling stories and the first step in any project.
Find a creative outlet outside filmmaking where you can make work all on your own and keep flexing your creative muscles.
Develop skills as a freelancer to support yourself because shorts will not make you money.
Try to keep short films as simple as possible
Find out what is unique and exciting about your work and become a specialist in that.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from The History of Nipples?
Intellectually, that value and meaning is fluid. It’s interesting to keep in mind that our beliefs about the world and ourselves have all been decided by someone and presented to us by our civilisation.
Emotionally, there is value in being yourself and being grateful for what you have.
But I’d also happily just take the laughs!