Duncan Cowles | 2017 | 4 min
Using his failed attempts at creating profitable stock footage, a filmmaker reflects on the absurd, mundane and funny side of being trapped inside your own head as an out of work, self-employed freelancer.
Duncan Cowles is a BAFTA Scotland award-winning documentary filmmaker whose short films The Lady with the Lamp, Soft Toffee, Radio Silence, Directed by Tweedie, Isabella, Alexithymia and Taking Stock have been selected for various film festivals, internationally winning a selection of awards.
First and foremost, did Taking Stock actually boost your stock footage sales? No. However the aquarium from the film (Deep Sea World) happened to see the film when it played on Channel 4 and got in touch with me. I was initially worried when I saw the email as I hadn’t really obtained proper permission to film there in the first place, but luckily they just liked the way I’d filmed the fish and wanted me to do some marketing shots for them. So it’s paid off… kind of.
Your film has been exhibited and well-received around the world, picking up some prestigious accolades. What about it do you think resonates with audiences? I think we’re all used to seeing a lot of supposedly inspirational stories and motivational ‘I gave up my job, and now I make £300 a day from home’ videos and messages online. The internet and life is so saturated with this over the top fake positivity nonsense, so I suppose I wanted to do something more honest, and maybe people found that refreshing and relatable. I think a lot of us out there like to laugh at ourselves and the depressing reality of everyday life and failure.
The dry, self-effacing humour present in Taking Stock is a running theme of your work. Do you feel as a documentary filmmaker it is important to entertain as well as enlighten? Absolutely. So many documentaries are just depressingly bleak, some of the best ones out there in fact are just horribly sad and will leave you with tears streaming down your face. I’m hefty into these films, don’t get me wrong, but there are just nowhere near enough good entertaining funny documentaries made. Real life is plenty bleak at times, but it’s also hilariously absurd and ridiculous.
In spite of the humorous nature of the film, it does make an interesting point about the financial plight of many short filmmakers. What do you believe could be done to help alleviate such issues? I think the problem extends beyond short filmmakers into an entire generation of creatives, and probably other fields too. I know plenty of talented people who have just sacked it all off and found a cosy well paid job in the bank etc… Can’t blame them really, I sometimes find myself lying awake at night dreaming about the stability of when I worked in Boots the Chemist. In terms of alleviating the strain? I have absolutely no idea.
You’re working on your first feature film, Silent Men. What can we expect from it? It’ll be a personal film about male mental health, both my own and other men that I meet, but done in a way that you’ve never seen before. It’ll very much be in the style of all my previous work and not follow the typical structure or path that you might see something like a traditional TV doc follow. It’ll play and mess about with documentary conventions and take you on a strange, honest, at times bleak, but also funny little journey. (I hope, not finished it yet…).
Glasgow Short Film Festival’s Shorts In Support scheme aims to revive the tradition of the supporting short film by distributing eight fantastic new short films (including two selected by the Scottish Queer International Film Festival) to cinemas and film societies to screen before features during autumn/winter 2018. Shorts in Support is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network.