Don’t be fooled by the runtime. Making a short film is often no easier than making a feature, especially when your story includes up to 60-70 cast and crew on set at one time. That’s what iShorts director Jack Taylor Cox discovered when crafting Sweetheart, his ‘mob-styled’ rites of passage tale that receives its debut screening at Encounters Short Film Festival.
“It was born out of a want to do something focussed around a girl’s sixteenth birthday party,” explains Cox, discussing his initial idea for the film. “I have two younger sisters and I remember when they turned sixteen it was the be-all-and-end-all to have a huge sixteenth birthday party; I just found that whole thing bizarre.
“The idea of a sixteenth birthday party being a ceremonial event was something I was interested in but as I thought about it I was drawn towards doing something more dramatic. I tried to find a way to write a story that included this event but also at its core had a charismatic female protagonist that subverted audience expectations,” he adds.
The writer director’s second short film, Sweetheart is a quiet but deadly story of family, love and bloodshed set to a backdrop of rural Essex. Its sombre tone and muted style catch the eye, while its unexpected plot twists leave a lasting impression. “I blended ideas together and it somehow seemed to work,” says Cox, “and when I came across the iShorts fund and saw how they were looking for regional based stories that was the last piece in the jigsaw. I decided to set it in a place I knew well and do it in Essex; an Essex that feels familiar but at the same time you don’t really quite know when it’s set.”
Speaking of sets, with an ensemble cast of partygoers Cox had a pretty hectic one on his hands. “It was the biggest number of people I have ever managed,” he confesses, “I’ve had experience filming in situations where there have been a number of people on screen before but this was a whole new beast. I think there were about seventy people on set on the busiest day and I had a real moment thinking ‘Oh my god, this is big. How on Earth am I going to do this?' It was a massive learning curve for me but I had an amazing team that softened the blow.”
As for what he took away from this baptism of fire, Cox has this to say: “You have got to surround yourself with a good solid team. You’ve got to make sure that you have an incredible team of First Assistant Directors and Second Assistant Directors around you,” he says. “On this it was vital for me to have those assistant directors. Without them it would have been really difficult.”
Time keeping is another crucial aspect of managing such an extensive cast and crew. “When working with a big cast inevitably there will always be somebody who is picking their nose or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Timing is everything.” he explains. “One of the ways to alleviate that stress is by having an editor on set with us at all time. Between me, the Director of Photography and the Editor we knew exactly what we needed to make that story work.”
As part of our iShorts programme, Sweetheart received a £5,000 production budget and a bespoke programme of development and support support from our Talent Centre Executives. “I think I just came across a tweet from Creative England,” recalls Cox on hearing about iShorts, “and for me what was really attractive about it was that it wasn’t just ‘Here’s £5000, now go off and make a film’, it was a tailored programme to nurture talent. It had a structure to it and I knew it could introduce me to collaborators,” he says.
“One of the things that I did really respect and like about how iShorts worked was during the shoot I was really left to creatively do what I needed to do,” he adds. “Then during the editing and post production, Creative England looked at the cut and gave really informed feedback and some great ideas on how to help the story along. The iShorts programme has really helped to introduce me to a bunch of people that I will now hopefully be working with for the rest of my career.”
With Sweetheart debuting at Encounters Short Film Festival alongside its fellow iShorts projects, Cox may finally have time to look to the future. What’s next? “A good long sleep,” he laughs. “That’s the first thing. Then hopefully I’d like to get another short under my belt with a bigger budget. Just keep climbing up that hill!”
iShorts Round 2 is now accepting applications. Click here to apply.