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British Shorts Berlin 2019
Duncan Cowles
Taking Stock

Festival Screening / Documentary Special

Documentary / Experimental / Animation

Fri 18.1. 18:00 / Sputnik Kino 1 ​

A filmmaker reflects on the absurdity of being a self-employed freelancer.


Hi Duncan, thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for British Shorts 2019?


Yes, sad I’ll not be there, but very happy for the film to be screening. 


Any nerves ahead of the festival?


Not so much. I only get nervous if I’m in the audience, or doing a Q&A or something. So with not being there, I’m calm.


How does it feel to be at the festival with Taking Stock? 


Brilliant. The film has done really well, and this is the last confirmed festival screening of the film at the moment. British Shorts always has a great programme and so very proud to be in such good company.


Tell me a little bit about Taking Stock how did the film come about? 


I had a little gap in between work and got the idea to go out and film some stock footage and sell it online for money, maybe get a little side-income or pension on the go. After a few months of doing this though, I had only sold one clip… and so the idea came to possibly make a film about it. I’d been describing my failure to a friend and he found it funny, so I thought maybe others would too…


What as the inspiration behind your film?


I wanted to express myself and all my insecurities about filmmaking, freelancing and being stuck inside my own head. I just wanted to be honest and talk directly to an audience about it through a film and this just seemed to be the best way to do it.


What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing Taking Stock to life?


Probably just cutting down the footage and getting a structure in place. I tried to narrow down the stock footage into the stuff that not only visually looked the strongest, but that also told more of a story than what you could see. So what footage told more of a story, or that the context behind filming the footage could add more depth or humour. So for example, the footage filmed at my Mum & Dad’s house tells a story about how I’m stuck at home at 27 years old desperately searching for ways to survive financially by filming quite depressing stock footage in my back garden.


Have you always been interested in filmmaking?


Yip. I grew up watching films and started making them with friends and my brother at high school. Then the moment I left high school in 2008 I began my technical training in film production and have been doing it ever since. 


What feeds your creativity?


I often find that my best ideas come when I’m incredibly bored. I try to make things that are personal to me, but also universal and interesting to others. I suppose I’m just expressing myself through my films, whatever they may be about. 


As a filmmaker how important is the collaborative process for you?


Very. I work alone a lot, and indeed Taking Stock was quite a solitary process compared to other films I’ve made. I collaborated with composer/filmmaker Anthony Ing a lot with Taking Stock, and commissioner Catherine Bray. They were both a lot of help with the bouncing of cuts etc.. and getting some constructive feedback. I also show rough cuts of my films to friends as I’m working on them for feedback. 


Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow filmmaker?


Keep going.  It’s not easy, especially at first, but it can be very rewarding if you stick in there and make it work. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing right now than what I’m doing, but I think those choosing a freelance path should really consider whether it’s right for them, or if they might prefer a contracted position somewhere.


Half the battle is not being so isolated, as freelancing can be a lonely thing. I rent studio space at Hill Street Design House in Edinburgh, and it makes a huge difference to my general happiness and positive outlook. Just getting a bit of chat every day rather than working from home has made such a big improvement to not just my mental state but my work and rate of output have improved too I think.

What are you currently working on?


Trying to distribute a new short film I made last year with Ross Hogg called ‘Just Agree Then’. Also making a feature documentary about male mental health which is a long way off being completed, and a new short film I’m trying to get off the ground too about ‘change’. I’ll leave it as vague as that for now… Any new work will be posted about on my twitter/website ( /


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


On a very simple level, I hope that it might give them a bit of a laugh, or cheer them up. My aim was to create something that other freelancers and creatives can relate to, and explore that feeling of isolation, loneliness or being stuck inside your own head wondering what on earth you’re doing with your life. I hope that people can recognise bits of themselves in that feeling and feel a little less alone and daft about it. Filmmaking and other creative jobs are a bit weird and not always very straightforward, and a lot of the work we do doesn’t always feel like traditional ‘work’ so we feel guilty or a little lost at times trying to justify ourselves to others. I suppose I wanted to take a step back and have a laugh at the absurdity of it all.

I tried to be reasonably honest about that tormenting inner dialogue that we have inside our heads and the spirals and anxieties that come from that, and then kind of take a step back and go, “Aye we could do with chilling out a bit”. I hope non-filmmakers or people less connected to the creative industries also have a bit of a laugh when watching the film, and maybe get a little insight into the world of a freelancer. At the very least there’s a decent sunset shot in there that should keep some viewers happy enough.

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