Stutterer is a short film that has been making waves on the festival circuit for the last few months and is now picking up major award nominations - it is on the shortlist for the Best Short Film Oscar.
The movie sees Benjamin Cleary in the director's chair for the first time as he reunites with producers Shan Christopher Ogilvie and Serena Armitage. We caught up with the producers to chat about the new film.
- Stutterer is your latest film project, so can you tell me a bit about it?
Serena: Stutterer is a film that explores communication and dating, told through the eyes of a charismatic man crippled by a severe speech impediment.
- Stutterer is a movie that has been playing well on the festival circuit and winning awards, so where did this short film project start for you?
Shan: The three of us lived together in Hackney and all wanted to work on a shared project. We knew Ben was a talented writer so when he said he wanted to direct his first short we wanted to get on board. After developing a few other scripts together Ben had the idea for Stutterer, and we were sold.
- We are always hearing about how difficult it is to get film projects funding in this country how hard was it to get this film off the ground and made?
Serena: Ben funded the film himself but this meant we had a very small budget and had to keep this in mind when choosing which film to make. Our film is set entirely in Hackney where we live, which helped keep costs down.
Trying to pull off high production values on a very small budget meant calling in lots of favours and being entirely reliant on everyone pulling together. There were a few sleepless nights in the lead up to the shoot, but luckily the whole team played an absolute blinder.
- The movie sees Benjamin Cleary on board as writer and director, so how did this collaboration come about? What was it about this screenplay that was the major draw for you both?
Shan: We liked the fact that the story works on two levels. On the one hand, it explores the challenges of suffering with a stutter, and on the other it's a film about dating in the digital age. These two elements work well together and make the film relatable.
- How did you find working with him?
Serena: He's a dream, an ace writer / director, hugely professional and brings terrific energy to everything he does.
- You have both worked quite extensively in television in recent years, so how have you found the transition into short film?
Shan: My background was originally in short film, with film school and then getting involved in anything I could, probably in every department at some point! So my transition has been the other way from short film into TV.
There are definite areas of overlap where transferable skills apply, but I think there's no substitute for experience - either yours or those around you. I was very fortunate that the director and production manager I worked with on my first show were absolutely fantastic and I was able to learn a lot from them on the fly.
Serena: The transition has felt fairly seamless as it's all storytelling, and that's where the skills are transferable. In both mediums pacing and narrative are paramount. Working in television, you learn to be very quick!
- Matthew Needham, Chloe Pirrie, and Eric Richard are on board - can you talk a bit about the casting process and what you were looking for in the actors?
Serena: We were lucky to persuade Irene Cotton to help us with the casting process. We considered lots of actors before Matthew but as soon as Ben met him he was convinced, and we both agreed. He has a very sympathetic look in his eyes and a perfect sort of awkwardness.
Eric Richard had a caring composure that was spot on for Greenwood's dad. We had a lot of discussions about how Ellie should look, but crucially was the kindness in her eyes. Chloe doesn't have any dialogue at all, but her performance in the final scene is vital to film's payoff, and she nails it.
- And Stutterer is on the shortlist for the Best Short Feature Oscar, you must be thrilled?
Serena: To quote Greenwood, 'Current mood - Ecstatic!'
- Shan, you have also worked in the director's chair with short films and a Channel 5 documentary. Is directing where you see yourself heading or will you balance it with producing work?
Directing is where I see myself heading ultimately, but I'm not in a mad rush for it. Shortly after film school I saw a Q&A where Mark Romanek said he'd faked his way through his first feature, leading to a 15 year period of mastering his craft making music videos and commercials etc, before he felt absolutely ready to make his second film. This advice stayed with me, so I'm still keen on getting as wide a range of experience as I can, before I really plant a flag.
- Serena, does the director's chair hold any interest for you?
I've spent the last 5 years working as a Producer/ Director for Shiver, a label within the ITV group. I direct, story and edit produce factual programmes like Piers Morgan's Life Stories, Come Dine With Me and Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs.
I love directing and I'd love to direct drama one day, but at the moment, my focus is on producing, but always with a strong eye on the creative needs of the project.
- Finally, what's next for you?
Serena: I'm currently developing a couple of ideas, some for film and some for TV.
Shan: I'm doing a series of short videos on inspirational women for a women's organization called The Sorority, and discussing getting involved in a co-production with a US company. Beyond that, focusing on writing and developing my own ideas to raise finance and direct a short drama later in the year.