The irony of the short film format is that, quite often, they’re anything but ‘short’. As a producer who works in commercials and music videos, Neil Linpow is keenly aware that less can definitely be more when it comes to lean, ferocious and exciting storytelling.
Time is a short that Neil wrote, directed and starts in – it’s an adrenaline-rush of a story about a prison inmate called Joyce who finds himself in the middle of a dangerous prison riot.
Neil came up with the idea for Time as a means to flex his acting muscles but also to process his thoughts and feelings about impending fatherhood. In just over three minutes, we go on a rollercoaster of emotion.
LBB> What was the genesis of this idea?
Neil> I think it was born out of a mixture of professional frustration and anticipation of becoming a father myself.
Before my life in production, and my current role as EP at Partizan, I spent just over a decade out of drama school hustling the boards. I had some decent success on screen, with a couple of really nice parts thrown in amongst some more forgettable ones, but I was finding myself increasingly further away from the type of characters and stories that interested me.
There’s only so many times you can play ‘the football coach’ or ‘police officer’ before it all starts to get a bit boring, to be honest.
I knew that the types of films I loved and roles that I wanted weren’t coming my way, so I decided to write something myself to try and address that, and scratch the itch.
My wife was also expecting our son, and I think that I was trying to figure out what that impending responsibility meant. It felt like an opportunity to explore both these things together. Free(ish) therapy, so to speak.
LBB> Your performance is so powerful and goes through so many shifts in intensity - how did you get into the headspace of Joyce and how were you able to bring yourself to all of those different levels?
Neil> Thanks so much. It means a lot to think that it resonates at all with the audience.
I grew up in a small town where there wasn’t much to do except play football or drink in the park and fight kids. Fortunately I had football, but I knew a lot of lads, some good friends, that went the other way, many of whom ended up in and out of prison as the years have gone by.
Thing is, no one is all bad. There’s a little bit of light in everyone, It’s just who we chose to let see it. That was the key thing in playing a character like Joyce, and helping me to go through the tonal shifts. A guy I know from home wouldn’t think twice about hitting someone that looked at him the wrong way in the pub, but would also sit for hours playing tea parties with his daughter and letting her put make up all over his face. The thought that she might see him as a violent man would break his heart.
I wanted to show how Joyce could be so volatile and acerbic, but utterly vulnerable too. I guess we also all have a bit of bite in us, and tapping into that helped to bring out that side in me.
LBB> It's a great example of storytelling through showing, not telling - the photos on the wall, the frantically crafted shiv. It removes too much need for lengthy exposition. How did you develop this side of the visual storytelling?
Neil> Whether it’s through the writing, or in the visual language, I love films that are economic in their storytelling.
Part of my job at Partizan means that I am sent so much short form content to watch, and often I come away feeling that even the better work could have been at least 25% shorter. Perhaps the curse of working in advertising is that it has lessened my attention span when watching shorts, but for me, it felt important that the film feel like a shot of adrenalin in the arm. To keep the narrative lean and the running time tight. Give a brief window into a bigger picture, and tell a story that requires no exposition but creates a sense of backstory in inference.
To do this we tried to populate the cell with these little nuggets of who Joyce might be, what his life might look like. The dialogue throws in hints at previous conversations, what he might have done to be on the end of this riot, that hopefully at least subconsciously draws you into the world, but it’s in the details that we choose to show you that we aimed to build the atmosphere.
LBB> Tell me about the shoot - where did it take place and what were the challenges you faced?
Neil> I think the biggest challenge we faced, no pun intended, was time. This film was basically all done on favours, goodwill and a few quid I had to throw at it. Obviously the biggest component in selling the idea was location. We had to have a place that was believably a prison cell, or the whole film just falls flat from the get-go. I managed to find an old police station in New Cross, that now operates as an art commune, and convinced them to agree to let me have access to part of the site for three hours one afternoon for £300. Whilst we had the right place, we had to make sure we nailed everything we needed in those three hours, from get in to get out, so the pressure was on, for sure.
The only way to approach it was to keep the crew lean. I mean, mega lean. Me, the DoP, Focus Puller, Gaffer, sound recordist and my friend Greg who was able to monitor the performance and give any notes. Fortunately my crew were all amazing, and my DoP Job Reineke is a long-time friend who knew exactly what kind of film I wanted to make, and how we could achieve that sense of rawness and grit. Shooting anamorphic and handheld meant that we could cover off so much, so quickly, maximising our time, and also maintaining the cinematic aesthetic we were after.
LBB> The edit and sound design create immediate impact from the off and manage to convey what we can't see - the frantic riot, the eerie calm, the tension and anticipation... who did you work with on those elements and how did you approach them?
Neil> Absolutely, so much of the energy of the film is created in the sound design and the pace of the edit. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to work with Matt Felstead at Big Chop, who took on the project in his spare time just to help me out. Matt’s understanding of how to really crank up that sense of tension right from the off was so crucial.
We discussed how the film should be constructed, and how we wanted to play with the pace at the front end and employ a frenetic and violent sound mix so that we could ratchet up the anxiety levels before allowing our character and the viewer some brief respite during the central part of the monologue. But only for a moment. Again, ramping up with a series of cuts to throw you into the desperate mind of our character. Matt’s involvement and passion for the film helped us get Gurdeep Singh and Nick Olsouzidis from Big Buoy involved, who together created the fantastic sound design that fires and dips with the edit to really create a feeling of anxiety and anticipation.
LBB> This film is a brilliant lesson in self-generated projects and working around your constraints what advice would you give to creatives out there with a film idea who are stuck at home right now?
Neil> Quite honestly I’d say the biggest enemy is procrastination. Just go and do it. It’s so easy to make something these days, especially with the advancements in camera phones and home post production software. You don’t need all the bells and whistles if you have a good idea and are happy to put the graft in.
I have been fortunate to have been able to call on some amazingly generous and talented people to lend me their talent and their time for free. My old production company HunkyDory provided all the insurance, support and a day off to go shoot too. The sum cost of the film was the location, picture printing and a few pints. But, as creatives, we all know people that just want to make work. Especially in these difficult times ahead, we’ll all be looking for ways to express ourselves and work together once we can again. Then it’s about looking to repay those favours in anyway you can, whenever you can.
Try to write conservatively, thinking about what you have access to that will make your film achievable. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to authentically pull off a piece of high scale science fiction without some money or serious art department. You can apply for funding, look to generate interest from a production partner or crowd fund, but these processes often aren’t quick. So I guess I’d advise to keep it contained. Keep it simple. Then go and do it.
I’m just finishing up my second film at the moment set in a hospital, again with just two cast, and again keeping it stripped back and simple. No dialogue at all this time. Maybe I’ll go full hog and do a fire station next!