Calling the shorts

Anjali Jhangiani
Monday, 3 September 2018

Academy award-winning filmmaker Benjamin Cleary talks about the struggles to self-finance his short film Stutterer, and how there is an increase in audiences for this medium

Hard work never goes unnoticed, even though it might seem quite the contrary most of the times. But patience and perseverance ensure that you will get your due. Take Benjamin Cleary, for example, who struggled for two years to raise money all by himself to make his short film, which went on to be featured in over 75 film festivals across the world, bagged over 20 prestigious awards and ultimately went on to win the Oscar for Best Live Action Short in 2016. The Irish filmmaker talks about his baptism by fire, and the way short films have enticed filmmakers and audiences across the world.

Labour of love

“I was working in a chicken burger shop for about two years before and also while I was making Stutterer. Even during the edits and so on, for about six months, I had to keep this job to save money for the film. I really made it for very little, about 5000 pounds. I had to borrow a few hundred quids from friends that I paid them back when I earned enough from the shop,” says Cleary. 

Thankfully, in a time when finances as well as confidence was scarce, he had amazing friends to help him hold it together. “I had to rent out my apartment and slept on my friends’ couches. My friends were kind to have me in, so I could save money to put into the film. It was quite a labour of love that way,” he adds. 

A Masters graduate in Screenwriting from London Film School, working on his first short film was an incredible experience. “It was a real baptism by fire, incredibly exhilarating. I knew it was going to be a huge challenge but I was really lucky to be surrounded by talented team,” says Cleary, adding, “It felt like I was back in film school. We didn’t expect the film to do nearly well as it actually did, so it was a beautiful surprise when it started to get into festivals.”

The tables turned when Stutterer found a place on the nominees list for the Academy awards. The film is about a young man who is embarrassed because of his stuttering, so much so that it keeps him from making friends and finding love, and how he gets over his insecurities. “We got lucky with the Oscar win. The award has definitely opened a lot of doors for us. It definitely gets you into the right rooms. It can get you meetings that otherwise would have been difficult to get. These meetings were inevitably funding meetings where you get to pitch your projects. But the Oscar can only get you this far, if the funders don’t like the projects you pitch, they will not fund it. So it’s great to get you going but it won’t get you over the line completely,” says Cleary, who is currently working on a feature in the US. “I am doing it with a production company over there and we’ve just started going out to actors,” he adds. 

Shorts finding takers

Many short films are being made no doubt, but is there a sizeable audience for it yet? “Yes, people are digesting media very differently now. Attention spans are dwindling, and sometimes people don’t have the time to watch a feature length movie. Strong bite-sized content is becoming a lot more popular. Also because technology has gotten a lot cheaper, we’re seeing a wider variety of people from different backgrounds making the movies,” says Cleary, who claims to have seen refreshing comedies, riveting dramas and remarkable experimental films in this short format. 

“I don’t really think that there is one genre that supersedes the others at all, actually. Whatever kind of filmmaker you are, whatever your instinct is for the type of stories you want to tell, whatever you want to experiment with at the early parts of your career, I think that the short film format is suitable for them all really,” he adds. 

While audiences are increasing, so are the makers. Big names from the industry are moving towards short films. “I am not sure if it was the trend was around 20-30 years ago, but I do see quite a few well-known actors going back and making short movies in the US and the UK now. We got Jarvis Cocker to narrate my latest film Wave. It was a great honour to work with him. I’ve seen a lot of short films where you are getting really well-established people to join the projects so maybe that is indicative of the fact that this is also happening in the US and the UK, just like in India. This is probably because the standard of short movies is potentially getting better and because they are available online. Filmmakers are not just making movies that will be seen by a small number of people; they are potentially going global to have a potentially bigger audience. In a way, it’s a good testing ground for people to try things — the filmmakers and the actors, everybody gets to try things with less — there is less pressure financially too, so it potentially leads to a tall ground for experimentation as well,” he ends. 

ST Reader Service

Stutterer will air on Star Movies Select HD all this month as a part of Select Short Stories

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