Cannes
Short Film Corner 2022 
 
Interview

Liam Abbott (director)
& Erin Stevenson (Producer)

The Last Union 
ardvale.co.uk/the-last-union
May 10th, 2022

In a world where marriage and religion are forbidden a couple seek to cement their relationship in order to topple the totalitarian dictatorship which threatens to exterminate any show of rebellion.

Hello Liam & Erin, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening, have you been able to remain positive and creative at least?

We have been very well. We are both working full time in the industry, learning at every opportunity and applying our experience to new and exciting projects. Liam is currently working as production assistant on a Netflix feature film and Erin is part of the Film Fixer team, an agency that assists location departments organise filming in London based locations.

On the creative side of things, we have been compiling a number of film ideas that span a variety of genres. Our most prominent project is an anthology of horror and thriller short film ideas, similar to the format of ‘Love, Death + Robots’, but with an emphasis on using UK creative talent.

What does it mean for you to be in the Cannes Short Film Corner with The Last Union and what do you hope to take away from this experience?

It’s a huge achievement for us to have been selected for the short film corner. It represents the hours, days, months and years we have put into our filmmaking journey to get us to this point and it gives us some encouragement that we are going in the right direction.

From this experience, we hope to make as many new connections as possible! We see this as an opportunity to widen our creative network and develop contacts on an international level. We are excited to touch base with the global film community and meet so many new, talented people.

How important are platforms like Cannes SFC in being a showcase and opportunity for filmmakers to showcase their films?

Platforms like the SFC are invaluable to filmmakers such as ourselves. The opportunity to present your work to a global audience is truly incredible and a sure-fire way to make some fantastic connections and open up possibilities that may not have been immediately available without the SFC.

The Last Union won multiple awards at the 48 Hour Film Challenge, what has winning these awards, and getting this type of comment on your work, mean to you and for your film?

It means a great deal. It’s always reassuring to have people enjoy your work when you have put so much time and effort into a project. We don’t make film specifically to gain awards, we simply want to tell our stories, but it is does give us some encouragement that we have a voice and a way of telling stories that appeals to an audience.

It also indicates areas that we might need to work on, what does work and what doesn’t and ultimately what we need to do to take our films to the next level.

What was it about this screenplay that interested you as a producer?

Erin: For the 48 hour project, I was looking for simple but effective ideas that utilised the beautiful church location. Our team had discussed a number of ideas that didn’t quite work, that you couldn’t sum up in one sentence.
 

When the idea for ‘The Last Union’ came up, I immediately identified it as the story that would make for a great film. It used concepts that people were familiar with, the world it was set in was interesting & achievable to create and the characters goals & arcs were clear.

I am also a massive fan of the dystopian genre, so I was super excited when we were given it for our challenge.

How did The Last Union come about, what inspired your screenplay?

We were really inspired by our church location and the genre that we had been given; Dystopian/ Action-Adventure. With our previous challenge experience, we knew that less can be more; a simple, well told story can be just as engaging as something a little more intricate and high-concept. The important thing was that the concept had to be easy to understand and the setting require little explanation.

With that in mind, we knew that the concept of forbidden love mandated by a dystopian government was something very established in pop-culture, ‘1984’ and ‘A Handmaids Tale’ being very good examples of this.

After a while, the core idea for the film naturally developed.

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When co-writing a script for a short film how vital is the collaborative nature between writers?

Collaboration is key to the success of a co-written script. There will be more ideas than the writers will know what to do with and it is important that everyone involved is open to discussion,  compromise and the fact that not all concepts will make it into the final draft.
 

However, the thing with the ideas that don’t get used is the writers now have a backlog of many, many ideas that could turn into a completely new project. The reason that there is a floor in the cutting room is because you can always pick things up from it.

As long as everyone involved agrees to respect each others creativity and thought process, you are guaranteed a fantastic and rewarding writing experience.

Once a film is shooting how flexible do you allow yourself and your cast with the screenplay?

For ‘The Last Union’, we made sure that we had a solid story structure in place, where the story starts, where It ended and the journey in between. However, with such a tight deadline, we had to quickly identify what parts of the script worked and what parts didn’t on the day and adapt the screenplay. 

At that point, we relied heavily on collaboration and the experience of the creative team, the cast and the cinematographer, allowing them the creative freedom to add their input into the scenes.

As filmmakers, myself and Erin always ensure to allow time for creative freedom in our films. If an actor wants to try a different line or action or if the cinematographer wants to try a different angle or lighting, we will listen to their ideas and, if time permits, try them out. Some of the best moments in film have come from the director allowing creativity room to breathe.

What would you say have been the biggest challenge you faced making The Last Union?

The biggest challenge with ‘The Last Union’ was definitely the time constrains of making the whole film in under 48 hours.

Although we had prepped as much as possible for this project, sourcing locations, talent and crew in the months leading up to the shoot day, we could not avoid the fact we did not have a script until the challenge officially started.

Once it had kicked off, it truly was a race against time to come up with a suitable story and, once that had been achieved, to actually shoot everything we needed in around 10 hours. At a certain point it was really a race against the sun, making sure we used every second of natural light that we could to avoid problems during post production.

Ultimately, due to the professionalism and dedication of the cast and crew, we pulled through and finished the shoot with few hiccups both on set and in the edit, submitting the film with a few hours left on the clock the very next day.

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

We’ve had a love for filmmaking for over 8 years, creating our first official film together back in 2015, ‘Fired’, which went on to be screened at the BFI Future Film Festival. Since then our pas- sion for storytelling and film has grown exponentially and we are constantly pushing ourselves to create bigger and better content, as well as working on establishing ourselves as a more professional production company.


We rebranded ourselves to Ardvale Productions over the last couple of years, with ‘The Last Union’ being our first official film to be produced under the new branding.

Has your style and the way you approach your films changed since your debut short?

Definitely. It would be fair to say that our style and the way we approach filmmaking has matured since our debut film ‘Post-Apocalyptic Job Centre’, produced in 2018.

The level of confidence and technique in our films has evolved as we have learnt more about the craft, from our jobs in the film industry and from our network of talented peers. When you compare ‘The Last Union’ to ‘Post-Apocalyptic Job Centre’, you can definitely see this progression.

Are there any themes you looking forward to exploring with future films?

We would love to have the opportunity to explore films and stories that take genre tropes and concepts and flip the perspective. We are very interested in producing more horror, sci-fi and dark comedy content, especially for a planned anthology that will take inspiration of the formats seen in ‘Love, Death + Robots’ and ‘Black Mirror’.

"You don’t have the budget of a production company sitting in your bank account and you may not receive the funding you need."

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Do you have any tips you can offer an up and coming writer/director or producer?

Liam: My advice to up and coming writer/directors and producers is to give yourself a break from time to time. Getting into the industry can take a very long time. Not everyone is destined to be a generational defining, youngest in the industry, next Spielberg-Scorsese-Tarantino type, and that’s ok.

Don’t get caught up with comparing where you are in your career to where others are. Just keep going, taking each project as it comes and remember to have fun with the people you chose to make films with. Above all else, remain humble.

 

Erin: Don’t ask, don’t get.

Sometimes you simply won’t have the money to pay everyone what they’re worth to make a project work. You don’t have the budget of a production company sitting in your bank account and you may not receive the funding you need. You’d be surprised if you are genuine and ask people for help how much talent and equipment you might be able to get a hold of.

Just remember; Treat everyone with respect, don’t trick people with fake promises and, above all else, feed your team well.

 

Not pizza. Never give a crew pizza. A proper hot or cold meal, or even a decent sandwich is preferable to a few slices of pizza.

And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from The Last Union?

Time doesn’t have to be the enemy when it comes to filmmaking. You could have a week to film a project or just over an hour, it’s what you do with that time that counts.

With the 48 hour film project, although 2 days was definitely a challenge, it forced us to think out- side the box and approach filmmaking in ways we hadn’t considered before.

Anyone interested in getting into filmmaking, any budding directors or producers, should definitely have a go at similar style of challenge. It could be part of the 48 hour film project or it could just be a few friends over a couple of days, getting creative and seeing what they can come up with.

You never know, you might just surprise yourself.