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15th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 
17-20 February 
Interview

Eilidh Nicoll 
Silvering

Section: In My Skin
eilidhnicoll.com

Upon discovering a grey hair, a woman becomes entangled in insecurity and fear of the future. The sanctuary of the bathroom takes a turn for the sinister as she spirals into a panic – and the hair becomes her tormentor.

Hey Eilidh, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

 

Thanks for having me! All things considered I'm doing well. It's been quite surreal trying to get a film out in the world at a time in which there hasn't been much face-to-face interaction. It's a nice problem to have, but at times quite isolating.

 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

 

I think all the time spent in isolation has provided a good opportunity to really consider what it is that I want to make. I've been lucky enough to have some free time to try my hand at some crafts, including making recycled paper from scraps and old letters etc, which I eventually included in backgrounds of the film as a nod to the texture of skin. Another symptom of being cooped up though is all the time I've had to dwell on less productive (and quite negative) thoughts. And I suppose these became an inspiration too. I've tried to convey some of these in my film in order to face up to my anxieties and almost poke fun at the futility and absurdity of them.

In terms of opportunities, I've appreciated the move towards online events in some cases - I've been able to work remotely and attend a lot of talks and seminars that I wouldn't have otherwise. It's definitely a positive that we've all had to become more conscious of accessibility and inclusivity. It's also been refreshing to hear a lot of discussion and criticism of the UK's very London-centric creative industry.

 

You had your World Premiere of Silvering at last year's EIFF, what was that experience like for you?

 

EIFF was my first experience showing my work at a film festival and I was chuffed to bits when I found out Silvering had been selected. As a local to Edinburgh for most of my life, it was really special to be involved in a festival I'd attended when I was just beginning to aspire to make films of my own. Most of the programme was online due to the pandemic and this presented a very different experience to what I might have expected a few years ago, but more than anything, being able to watch all the other films selected was a fantastic way to engage in the festival and I found them massively inspiring.

 

What does it mean to be screening Silvering at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival?

 

I watched last year's Future Film Festival from my bedroom during lockdown and was so impressed by the quality and range of the films included, so it's great to be a part of it this year. The BFI's commitment to nurturing new talent as well is brilliant, and I'm looking forward to attending the talks and events that are on as well as hopefully meeting some of the other filmmakers. It will also be the first time seeing Silvering on the big screen, which is very exciting (and nerve wracking) after all this time, especially given that it's on at BFI Southbank - which feels like a big deal!

Silvering is going to be in the In My Skin Section of the festival, will there be any nerves ahead of the festival?

 

For sure! It will be only the second or third time seeing Silvering with other people, let alone in a cinema. Because I made the entire thing from the comfort of my room and it was a very solitary process, there's still a part of me that feels it's quite private. So it'll be bizarre having it screened in person with me in attendance. Until now I've felt a bit detached from Silvering's festival run because it's mostly been online, and I imagine it might be a bit of a shock to the system.

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Can you tell me a little bit about how Silvering came about, how did your animation come about?

 

Before I landed on using stop-motion and 2D animation, I only had a sense that I wanted to make a film about growing old (mostly because it's something I spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about). The film was created in my final year of uni, and I'd had a while to ruminate on what I wanted to make. But as a procrastinator by nature I spent a lot of time frustrated by my lack of ideas and motivation. I had a bit of a turning point when I realised I didn't necessarily have to come to any conclusions within the narrative, and so the film became more about acknowledging anxieties than making sense of them. 

When it came to designing the visuals, there was definitely an element of managing my expectations, and I had to reign in my ambitions to ensure I'd get something finished; hence the naive drawing style and relative simplicity of the design. I ended up focusing on a single character and setting which meant I could go to town visually representing her thoughts, building tension and focusing on the sense of isolation and claustrophobia.

 

Excuse the pun but what drew you to 2D animation?

 

There's something very freeing about animation - you don't really need a crew or much in the way of equipment, just an idea and a bit of patience. It has virtually limitless potential, whatever story you want to tell can be translated to screen just through drawings. Even if it can be tedious! I think animation can be so expressive, sometimes even more evocative than live action. It's so interesting to me how emotion and tone can be conveyed through lines or smudges and scribbles. Sometimes watching animation is completely baffling, I'm always asking myself 'how did they construct that shot?' and I love that.

 

When working on a short animation like this are you able to allow yourself much flexibility?

 

I'm not generally very spontaneous so most of what I make is quite meticulously planned out. With animation much of the editing takes place in the pre-production stage rather than in post. Otherwise, I find it very difficult to cut shots when I've spent so long animating them frame by frame. But of course it's important to be ruthless and get rid of something if it doesn't work or feels unnecessary. I'm working on this.

I think the flexibility for me comes in the animation process itself. I'll usually storyboard everything quite thoroughly and have a clear idea of how a shot should play out in my head, but often the nuances of movement and form will come out as I'm drawing; something will just click into place and feel right. That doesn't always happen, but it's a good feeling when it does.

 

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Silvering to life?

 

Probably creating the whole thing from home, in and around periods of isolation thanks to COVID. With nothing much else to occupy me and being confined to working and living in the same space (something I know a lot of people will relate to), I struggled quite a bit and there were a few wobbles.

In some ways though, I don't know how I'd have been able to do it otherwise - it would've been a massive challenge to complete alongside a pre-pandemic life.

 

Since making Silvering what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from making this film?

 

I'd say that the most valuable lesson I've taken from making Silvering has been to trust my gut, which sounds a bit clichéd, but I think it helped to take a step back when I got wrapped up in indecision during writing and go with instinct rather than to overcomplicate things. It was important to have input from other people too, but at the end of the day it was down to me to make these decisions.

And on a less sentimental note, scheduling! Making a bunch of charts throughout production to keep track of my progress and what needed to be done was invaluable and probably the reason I finished on time.

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"I think we motivated and learnt from each other, and it's made me realise the importance of being around other artists."

Where did your passion for animation come from?

 

I grew up watching a lot of animation. The classic Disney/Pixar, Aardman and Ghibli were favourites, but I especially remember being awed by The Beatles' Yellow Submarine. I still love it, but at the time it was just the most insane and exciting thing to watch -  completely beyond belief but somehow people had actually come up with it and drawn it all! Mad.

I have my dad to thank for showing me a lot of film and animation. He also introduced me to stop-motion, we shot a couple of  'films' at home together when I was wee. One used dinosaur cutouts, another carrots with googly eyes. I was pretty taken by creating the illusion of motion and using it to tell stories. I still feel that excitement when I see my drawings move.

You’re a graduate of Edinburgh College of Art, how much did your time at the school help prepare you for your filmmaking journey?

 

One of the most valuable things for me at ECA was the encouragement to experiment with different methods and processes. I've been able to figure out what I enjoy; and would like to think I'll continue to experiment in my filmmaking. 

I also really appreciated being surrounded by talented classmates. Everyone had amazing things to show whenever we sat down for a crit and I always felt an element of jealousy (in the nicest way possible!) over their ideas. I think we motivated and learnt from each other, and it's made me realise the importance of being around other artists. So I'm itching to collaborate more and to be able to feed off other people's ideas.

 

Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?

 

I think it's important that people make films that they feel need to be seen - even if sometimes they can be difficult to watch. As long as everyone involved in the process is, I'm all for pushing boundaries. I guess that's how people continue to be moved and intrigued by film. I want to watch films that talk about different experiences and ideas in new, exciting ways. As long as there are stories to tell, cinema will play an important role in allowing people to connect and understand each other.

 

For anyone out there thinking about getting into animation do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?

 

I'd say animators have good observational skills; so pay attention to the world! It's crazy how when you start to take notice, things don't tend to move in the way you'd first think. It takes a lot of practice and getting things wrong to realise that. So get stuck in, if you've got paper and a pen you can animate, even just by making flip-books. Patience is key, don't expect things to be great from the get go, but you do learn from mistakes. I've still got a lot to learn, and get frustrated when a shot doesn't work out the first time round. That being said, enjoy the process and enjoy bringing things to life!

 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Silvering?

 

I suppose the main aim is for people to find some amusement in a subject often fraught with fear or shame, maybe even to derive some comfort from the universality and absurdity of ageing. I don't want to be preachy or tell anyone how to feel. After all, I'm just in my early 20s - what do I know about growing old? Silvering is intended as a portrait of a futile worry, a speculative journey into life's horrors and asking 'is it really that bad?'. I don't know the answer... but I do know that the alternative to getting old probably isn't any better!