17th British Shorts, Berlin
"There should be more funding for short film nights. Not festivals but just nights."
HELEN OF TROY'S
Helen of Troy's is an auto-biographical tale of frustrated ambition, broken dreams and magical fish.
Hi Nick, thank you for talking to TNC. Congratulations on Helen of Troy’s being selected for the 17th British Shorts in Berlin, how does it feel to have your film be part of such an amazing line-up of short films?
It IS an amazing line-up, and it’s just very cool that our film will be sitting alongside some awesome bits of filmmaking. I reckon if they put our film between two good films people will think ours is good too - kinda like subliminal messaging.
Helen of Troy’s has already had a pretty good festival run, what does it mean to you to see your film get such an amazing response?
It really means a lot. I met Lia onto of a tower in a housing estate in Shadwell while filming a different short about8 years ago and as soon as she told me she grew up in a fish and chip shop I knew we had to make something about it. Also I knew it wasn’t the most original concept for a comedy, as lots of things have been set in take-aways but because of the auto-biographical element I thought if we made it the authenticity would draw people to it. And it kinda has so far.
How important are festivals like British Shorts in creating a platform for short films?
Oh my god, so important. It’s quite a hard thing to explain to people too. When you explain you’re making a short film, people look at you like you’ve decided to grow a third ear. But if there wasn’t the ecosystem to share films, to learn how to make films, to collaborate with people, then what would you have? Just a load of people doing adverts Of course there’s nothing wrong with adverts (hire me!) But you need people doing other stuff if you want original, brilliant tv shows or feature films to pop out at some stage… Or just keep producing amazing shorts for the lovely people who track them down! What’s more for people like me who didn’t go to film school, making shorts is our film school.
What more can be done on a local/national level in the UK to offer short films more visibility to audiences outside of the festivals circuit?
Oooh great question. Put them before feature films in the cinemas - god knows there are enough adverts - I’ve usually finished my popcorn by the time the ads are finished. Also there should be more funding opportunities… I can count the non-BFI funding routes on one hand. Me and some friends have a comedy collective called Mr. Tibbs and we host a short film night at Close Up Cinema in Brick Lane… But we sell tickets for free and anyone can come or submit a film. There should be more funding for short film nights. Not festivals but just nights.
Can you tell me how Helen of Troy’s came about, what was the inspiration behind your film?
Ha ha Lia’s life with a bit of magic sprinkled in. As I said we’d been discussing making something years ago and every so often I would send a short film idea to Lia and it would never be quite right… Then a few years later she was writing a sitcom loosely based on her life growing up as a teenager, and we sort of smooshed bits of that together with a short film structure and something we could shoot in a day or so, with a small cast and single location. I think reading her sitcom pilot finally gave me the insights into her life growing up that hopefully allowed us to make a authentic feeling short.
"...it was clear that Lia is just the most helpful, enthusiastic, can do, person and was doing most of the organisation without actually being asked so it seemed unfair to get sole producers credit..."
When writing the screenplay did you have any flashbacks to some of your earlier jobs before venturing into the world of filmmaking? This has actually given me a very sore flashback as I used to work in a chip shop before going to uni…I wasn’t the best!
HA HA HA! Oh dear. Can you smell the chip fat? There’s some lines that we cut out of the final version that go something like “Go to school, smelling of chip fat, come home smelling of chip fat, head to the school disco, smelling of chip fat” - that really sort of summed up the “immersive” experience of working in a chip shop - you take it with you!
Personally and it doesn’t quite answer your question, but there’s a bit of theme in my life of trying to make inappropriate connections with strangers - nothing rude but kind of trying to make small talk and failing horribly. An combination of being socially awkward and then totally oversharing and landing myself in a totally available situation. I think I’ve done that in every job I’ve done.
Was it challenging to film on a real location?
Well, it was Lia’s dad’s shop and the actual job she grew up in, again one of the things we didn’t want to labour too strongly but hopefully there’s a clue when you see camera phone footage of her dad fixing one of the menu signs. So he was very accommodating - obviously he didn’t close the shop! There’s money to made! But we had two mornings completely free plus freeeeeee chiiiiiiips! (AND free chips vouchers for the extras!)
Had you always had Lia Hatzakis in mind when you started your screenplay and what was the experience like co-producing Helen of Troy’s with Lia?
The story definitely came out of both our minds. And at the beginning I was just producing it, which I normally do with my shorts, and then it was clear that Lia is just the most helpful, enthusiastic, can do, person and was doing most of the organisation without actually being asked so it seemed unfair to get sole producers credit, even though I could’ve probably got away with it, because she’s so nice (hope she’s reading this)
How important was the creative collaboration between you both?
Yeah as I said, this has been stewing for longer then her dad’s chip fat, so actually it was a relief to find something that we both believed in.
Now you can be reflective what would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from making Helen of Troy’s?
No more montages! Ha ha, I think I may have finally learned the lesson that montages are so easy to write and take so long to do. I bet DOPs hate them. Not my DOP though. Special shout out to Max Brill who shot this all without any crew, just a load of worrying large metal flight-cases. Just the most talent person I’ve ever met, although he did get hypnotised by the three spinning kebab wheels and we had to slap him out of his trance.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I have always had a passion for comedy and I think my film-making is finally catching up with it.
How much has your approach to your filmmaking and writing evolved since your debut short?
Or not? I”m just remembering that my first short had a guy randomly oversharing with someone on the street - not too far away from this one. No fish molesting in that one though. Also I would say that I’m finding funny people and trying to get out of their way. But in terms of progression, hopefully deepening my approach to story, and character development and leaning into the drama of a scene not just the laughs.
What do your films say about you as a filmmaker and the stories you want to tell?
Hmmmm. Harness the awkwardness… Embrace our failure to connect as humans… Exploring failure in general (and I’m not talking about my filmmaking!) And generally, you know, using and celebrating comedy as one of the most potent tools in the story-teller’s armoury.
And finally, what do you hope you audiences will take away from Helen of Troy’s?
Well, when we screened it at our film night, we put Free Chips vouchers under the audience’s seats - so they literally had something to take away. So unless British Shorts are going to print some out, figuratively I would like audience to laugh, be sad and at the end leave with a funny taste in their mouth… When you see the film you’ll know what I mean…