Keith Allott, winner of Leicester’s The Short Cinema film festival, hosted by Phoenix, talks about the success of his film Dolls and deals out some advice for new filmmakers.
Keith’s been making films for more than 20 years, has his own production company Badshoes Film, and is a founder member of Seven/Five, the filmmakers forum which meets regularly at Phoenix.
So it’s probably no surprise that Dolls, a creepy little horror story with a neat twist, did so well at The Short Cinema. But it’s also been garnering interest elsewhere, currently selected for 12 festivals including the prestigious Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival in Bristol, which is a qualifier for the BAFTAs and Oscars.
“It’s a three minute piece. To be honest it was a bit of a surprise to be selected for Encounters as this is a straightforward genre piece, so to see it get in was nice,” says Keith.
With limited time and resources, it was important to have a strong simple story that could be shot quickly.
“With Dolls the driver was how can I make the audience jump and laugh at themselves? In a romance it might be how do I make them cry? I always focus on the audience, what I want them to be feeling from the film.”
“It was really easy to edit. The two actors were very consistent. It was very simple to do. It was about making sure the scare works.”
And it did. “The whole cinema jumped,” says Keith with some satisfaction.
Music came later in the process, and was an important part of the overall feel. It’s easy to forget just how important a role music plays in building tension and atmosphere.
“It’s all about giving clear directions to the composer. I was going for a creepy ballerina music box feel, with a highlight for the scary moment. I handed it over to my composer Kris and he totally got it. Kris’s score adds loads to it.”
Not that it has all been easy going on the festival circuit…
“I have made hundreds of different films over the years, both commercial and narrative films. When it comes to festivals you need to develop a thick skin. You’re going to hear ‘no’ ten times more than you will hear ‘yes’. It’s different strokes for different festivals, and some of them can be incredibly difficult to get selected for.”
Leading directors such as Spike Jonze and Jonathan Glazer both started out in short films or music videos before breaking into features.
“Short films are a great way to cut your teeth, find the people you want to work with, and show the industry what you’re capable of and committed to. I’m working towards a feature film next year and this body of work I’m developing is going to help in terms of getting industry professionals interested in the feature.”
Keith has some simple advice for budding filmmakers.
“If you’re a writer – write, get it out of your head and down on paper, then work on it, hone it. If you’re a director, start getting to know people you would like to work with, start networking.”
And go to short film festivals.
Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone, and be in it for the long run.
“I’ve been making films for 20 years, I’m only now getting to the stage where I am happy with what I am making.”
“Bowie said that if you are comfortable in the art form you are working in then you are in the wrong art form. You need to be just out of your depth, just out of your comfort zone, that is when you produce the best stuff. I want to be making things that push me forward, that stretch me a bit.”
If you’re not quite ready for the festival circuit yet, there are local alternatives. Derby Quad’s Five Lamps and Nottingham Broadway’s Short Stack both offer great opportunities for filmmakers to break new ground. Leicester’s Seven/Five has regular screenings where members can show their films and get positive feedback.
“When you’re ready for festivals”, says Keith, “be selective, do a bit of research on the festival that you are thinking of applying for. There are lots of portals out there advertising festivals. Check out the festival, ask yourself does my film sit well with what they have shown in the past, is it good enough, does the festival look any good, is it worth it?”
With all the festivals and filmmaking going on, it’s a bit of a surprise that short films are not more popular among the viewing public.
“I think most people think short films are depressing, unfortunately. But short film festivals give you a whole range of tastes and genres. Comedies, horror, animation were all represented at The Short Cinema – when you go to festivals it’s a cornucopia, that’s part of the beauty of it. If people knew more about film festivals then they’d understand more about short film.”
I remember a time when you would see a short film before the main feature in the cinema – I wonder if that could return. Currently the process of certifying films makes it difficult to show short films, but there are possibilities.
“If the main film is over 18, you could screen a short film before it. I think the audience would appreciate it,” he says.
A film short before the Phoenix Mystery Film? Now that could be fun.