Stuart Elliott | 2017 | 13 min | Fiction | N/C 12+
Thomas and Sarah have arranged a hillwalking date after meeting on the Internet. But Thomas has a problem; he lied on his profile about climbing mountains for a hobby. And that’ll explain why he’s turned up dressed for a night out instead of a hike.
Stuart Elliott is a multi-award winning writer/director, working across short film and commercials. His work has been screened at many international film festivals and has drawn large numbers of viewers online. He was also part of the talent labs at Edinburgh and Toronto International Film Festivals. Such Is Life is a sweet and funny narrative about how we present ourselves and our expectations of others in this age of modern dating, all set in a rugged but visually striking Scottish landscape.
How did you come up with the idea for Such Is Life and what made you decide on the outdoor Highland setting? A friend of mine once actually turned up to walk up Tinto Hill in boot heels and jeans, thinking she was going to the pub en route. And as Nora Ephron used to say, everything is copy. I had wanted to make a film about a hillwalking date for a while. Dating websites are (allegedly) full of photos of people scaling hills, surfing waves, and generally looking like they’re auditioning to be in a tampon advert. And, when you’re halfway up a mountain, you can’t just make up a lame excuse and leave when your date mentions their taxidermy hobby. You’re all in, and that means the drama and comedy can be cranked up. Also, when you’re up in the Highlands you get the best lighting in the world, and striking scenery that makes your film look great. The best part is that it’s all for free.
Was it challenging shooting on those locations? We were filming as we climbed the hill, so we had to have all hands on deck to lug equipment – that meant even the cast had to help. By the time we got to the top, we were in the middle of a rain cloud. After an hour of being pelted sideways with rain, everyone was beginning to question my sanity. There were slight murmurs about calling it a day, but I went full Captain Ahab and sat it out for another half hour. Luckily enough the rain stopped and we got some striking skies and enough footage to finish the film. In the end it turned out to be the best experience I’ve ever had making a short. Everyone chipped in, raised their game and never complained despite being exhausted and not getting paid for any of it.
From this film, should we deduce that you’re not too keen on modern technologies and how our social lives are governed? No, I don’t buy into the school of thought that modern life is rubbish. You have to take the rough with the smooth. If the drama comes from two people disagreeing, then modern technology throws up endless possible scenarios. Having said that, if the U.S. President starts a nuclear war on Twitter, then I hope this answer is the first thing to be obliterated.
You employ a dry comedic style in quite a few of your films. Do you prefer to work in the comedy genre and what are its challenges in short form? Considering that it’s impossible to judge how a film is going to be received – especially with comedy being so subjective, all I can do is write films that make me laugh and hope that the audience finds it funny as well. That will explain why they are on the dry side. The biggest challenge of making any short form comedy in Scotland is getting funding for it. Most backed short films tend to be dramas that lean towards being earnest or miserable. That isn’t how I experience the world and I’m not interested in making those kinds of films, so I have to rely on the kindness of others to get anything made. I just want to learn my craft and put stories on screen. To be honest, I’d ideally be making feature films by now, but they cost a lot of money so the opportunities to make them are few and far between.
You also direct commercial work. Can you talk about the differences between working on your own shorts and adverts? Fortunately the ads that I make aren’t a million miles away from my other work in terms of tone, so there’s a bit of crossover. The biggest difference with the ads is that l’m hired to help realise someone else’s vision. But I’m lucky enough in that I like my job and it affords me the time to make the shorts. I can also build relationships with cast and crew to the point where I can ask them to hike up a hill with me and carry the kit, without being launched off the nearest cliff edge. That’s always a bonus.
Such Is Life screens before The Party on Tuesday 17 October at 20.50.
Glasgow Short Film Festival’s Shorts In Support scheme aims to revive the tradition of the supporting short film by distributing four fantastic new Scottish short films to cinemas and film societies to screen before features during autumn 2017. Shorts in Support is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network.