Straight-laced Michael moves into an apartment where his new neighbours appear to be living in their very own mumblecore film. Pollie Has The Keys is an affectionate send-up of mumblecore: the naval-gazing, mumble-fuelled, twenty-something indie genre that was never quite a genre.
Hi Liz thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Thank you for talking with me! I’ve held up just fine, thanks. I’m an only child, and I love alone time, and I work from home a lot anyway, so I’ve sort of been training for this my whole life. Also I got a puppy.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
It has not, but I feel oddly calm about that. When I think back on all the times I’ve been most creative, it’s usually when I’ve been way too busy, working crappy day jobs, and running to gigs. That’s when I do my best work. When I’m carrying ten bags around and doing my mascara on the tube in the reflection of a man’s eye. Maybe being tired reduces my judgement so I self-edit less. That’s quite profound actually, thank you for helping me reach that epiphany.
Congratulations on having Pollie Has The Keys selected for this year's Raindance Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?
Thank you! It’s very humbling. Can I use the word humbling? I’m humbled. Making short films is an inherently strange thing to do. So much work and care goes into them and then they just exist, as these cute little things that people have poured their hearts into. So there’s a lot of support and love and mutual respect in the film festival world, it’s really special to be a part of it.
Pollie Has The Keys is your directorial debut, are there any nerves ahead of Raindance?
Well, such a good question. Because the first time it screened at a cinema I was barely coping. When it finished I’d more or less slid off my seat from the nerves. But that’s the silver lining of this festival being online I guess. I can slide off my own seat in my own home. And you better believe I’ve been practicing.
Can you tell me a little bit about Pollie Has The Keys, how did this film come about? And what was it about Sophia Broido's screenplay that interested you so much?
I’ve known Sophia for years through the improv scene in London, and she came to me with this idea about a mumblecore film, where you can’t hear anything anyone’s saying. It really made me laugh, not only because I’ve watched a lot of mumblecore, but if you’d met Sophia you’d know why her playing that part is a funny idea. Then she said she wanted to do it with Shivani and it was a no brainer. I could watch those two play those parts for a year and not get bored. So we developed it into a longer idea, so it wasn’t a one-gag outfit. Sophia wrote a brilliantly well-observed script with the film’s structure, but we knew we were going to use improv heavily. I asked Andrew Rodger if he’d DP, because he’d shot a show I was in that was half-improvised, so I knew he was really good at shooting improv – which really is its own skillset. And then it was just a case of watching mumblecore films until I made myself sick.
"I know what I like from a director so I tried to emulate that."
What has the experience directing your debut short film like?
It’s been a relief more than anything. I’ve been wanting to direct for a very long time, longer than I’ve been wanting to act or write, so it’s felt oddly.. nostalgic? As a teenager my wall was covered in photos of directors pointing at things on set. And then once I started pursuing other areas of filmmaking it became a scarier prospect. So yes, nerve-wracking to put your first thing out into the world, but ultimately relieved that I’m finally scratching that itch.
How much has your background as an actor helped you direct Pollie Has The Keys?
Massively. Well I mean you’d have to ask the actors how I was, and they will be obliged to say positive things. I know what I like from a director so I tried to emulate that. I also know what I don’t like, so obviously I tried to avoid those areas. I’m not going to hone in on specifics, but let’s just say I didn’t yell “that was really bad acting” at anyone, because I know, from my experience as an actor, that rarely works.
What was the most challenging aspect of making Pollie Has The Keys, is there anything you would do differently?
I found the process of finding the music really challenging. Turns out my brain doesn’t work like that. We tried so many directions and I completely lacked the vocabulary to type into the internet what I wanted… ‘nice guitar?’. Thankfully, we ended up getting the most perfect track from artist Pat Dam Smyth - it’s such a unique sound, it feels like it has the same spirit as the film, which is not something I knew I was looking for. So if I could do one thing differently it would be time travel to when I was a child and learn more about music. But I can’t do that, so get in touch if you’re a music supervisor reading this.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Oooh, what a therapeutic question. I could wax lyrical about my love of the art form but it very specifically came from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition DVD Extras. I was obsessed with behind the scenes footage. Still am. It just looked like so much fun and I wanted to be in that world. The world of filmmaking, as opposed to the world of Middle Earth. Although I’d also like that.
Now you have your debut short in the can are there more plans for future films?
Yes, I’ve made another short called Non-Linear. It’s a homage to a different genre, as I decided that was a good way of learning the craft, as well as using my improv background. And then my next film will be a departure from that style. Comedy still, but tightly-scripted, and will hopefully be ready for festivals next year. If cinema is alive by then!? Sorry, too sad a note to end on.
Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Not necessarily. I like to see things I’ve never seen before, but I don’t think you need to push boundaries to make a good story. Sometimes a simple thing done very well is what lights your heart on fire. One of my favourite films is Little Miss Sunshine, which I don’t think is doing anything drastically ground-breaking, but it does all the right things in all the right places and it’s one of the five times in my life where the audience applauded in the middle of the film.
Are there any tips or pieces of wisdom you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
I’ve only just thought of this and it might be a game changer. Decide, maybe even prepare, your end-of-shoot Deliveroo order the night before so you don’t have to make any more decisions at the end of the day.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Pollie Has The Keys?
It’s too silly to leave a lingering feeling. I would like people to just have a lovely time watching it (please) and then crack on with the next film. Ideally smiling and complimenting it aloud.