Clanker Man first screened at New York Lift-Off in May. We caught up with producer Dan Dixon, director/co-writer Ben Steiner, and co-writer/performer Eli Silverman, ahead of the film’s screening at Vancouver Lift-Off, to ask them some questions about themselves and of course the film!
Interview by Claire Richardson
So this wasn’t your first screening at a Lift-Off festival.
D – No, so we had a previous film The Stomach which was selected for Lift Off Las Vegas, it was awarded a special mention, which also gave it another screening at Lift Off Liverpool. We went to the season awards at Pinewood with it as well, so it’s great to return to Lift Off with another film.
Well your latest short film Clanker Man was brilliantly received at New York Lift-Off!
B – It’s great because I was really unsure how it would travel, it was just very very British, so it’s really good to hear from people who have attended it at a festival elsewhere. The film was commissioned by Talkies Community Cinema in North London, to premiere at their Here Film Festival; so we all saw it there. We then put it out online, it became a Vimeo Staff Pick, and then picked up 25,000 views in its first week. So we’d seen audience’s engaging with it, but at a distance really, so hearing the feedback from New York is great.
That’s the main reason we do our audience feedback sheets, how did you find those?
B – They were great and it’s really interesting to read. There was one that was brilliant, it gave it a really high mark across the board and then the comment was “I didn’t really understand it!” That’s cool, you don’t really have to understand it to enjoy it! We haven’t received these from other festivals so it’s a really informative thing that you folks do it.
So what inspired you all to get into filmmaking?
B – I used to do a lot of painting and drawing, but then hit a wall with my ambition versus my ability, and so I gave something else a go. I made a short film, which Eli was in, 17 years ago… it’s terrifying how long ago that was. It was called Man with a Fork a cannibal gangster thing. That made a few festivals. I really enjoyed it and it just kind of went from there really. Myself, Eli and Simon Meacock, our other main collaborator then made a few more films and sketches before I met Dan. Insecticide and Office Party Rescue are among these and are on my vimeo page https://vimeo.com/bensteiner
What about you Dan, what made you go down the producer route?
D – I think if I was to look back, I was always interested in creating something. I grew up right in the countryside, not surrounded by lots of art or museums and my parents weren’t into anything creative… so the place you are looking to seek out creativity is in music and film, and getting into that side of things with mates. So that always stayed with me and I ended up studying journalism, film and broadcasting at university. I think my route that actually led to me producing something was that balance between needing to work, but also wanting to create and work on your own stuff. I think if you’ve got that ambition to create your own content, it’s very frustrating having a job that doesn’t allow you to do that… so it’s both frustration and the ambition to create with others in equal balance that made me want to produce.
Eli have you always wanted to perform on screen?
E – I’ve always wanted to be an actor for as long as I can remember. I trained for a year, in physical theatre.
D – By the French guy, what was he called?
E – Philippe Gaulier. He trained Borat! But I’m not really interested in theatre anymore, at all. My interest in film has just grown over the years. When I was younger it was much more about showing off, and getting an instant gratification as a performer, which theatre gives you, but honestly I hate theatre now, I can’t stand it. It’s so boring! Film is much more satisfying for me, on every level now.
But you also co-wrote Clanker Man with Ben. Where did that side of it come in?
E – I’ve always fancied myself as a dialogue writer, and basically it’s come from Ben kicking me up the arse to write. I’ve really got to give credit to him there.
So where did the idea for Clanker Man first come from?
B – Clanker Man isn’t our first collaboration together, Eli has acted in lots of stuff I have made and it’s the second time we have written something together. A lot of the themes and ideas from that carried over into Clanker Man. Eli had this idea about this guy who works for the “ministry of ambience” as it was then called. It didn’t have a structure, it was just an idea.
E – The original thought I had for the mockumentary didn’t have a narrative, or character even. It was Ben that had a very practical idea, and made it happen.
To what extent was the film written specifically with the political climate in mind?
E – Not at all. The idea of the austerity cuts was a device to be able to see this one character. But it does also give you another level of satire.
B – I think part of why Clanker Man works is because it’s sort of about something else, but it’s about him and then there’s this thing in the background. That just evolved because of austerity and stuff, but it’s not meant to be a politically charged film.
D – I think that’s why the idea was so strong. There is something about the timing. that what was inherently in the script just resonated at the moment that we applied for the commission.
What would you say in terms of writing for yourself, or writing with a specific actor in mind?
E – It just makes good sense. It takes out all sorts of problems later on, like not being able to find the right person in casting.
B – It’s being practical. We were playing to Eli’s strengths as a natural complainer, and where his comedic gifts lie, the pathos created for this character. Other advantages of being a co-writer and performer, mean the use of the language and tone feel familiar to how Eli would perform anyway.
D – It also speaks to practicalities of shooting something in a day, and being able to get there a lot quicker. You’ve already got a baseline and understanding of the character. With limited time and budget you’ve just got to hit it running really.
Speaking of practicalities, were there any obstacles to overcome in production?
D – There were constraints I would say, but those constraints kind of gave it its shape and gave it its timeline. We were commissioned by Talkies Community Cinema in North London is association with Short Sighted Cinema; it application came up online and we applied to it, because as a group of collaborators who love working together, we want to keep moving forward and working on things. making films.
The finance was very small, which meant we were pooling together relationships which we have built. It gave us an opportunity to work with people like Melanie Light, a production designer and director, who came onboard with us for this film. We had a lot of assistance from Talkies Community Cinema, they gave us our unit base and helped us look at locations. Our sound recordist had come from our previous film The Stomach, so did Halo Post Production who worked with us again, they did our sound mix and grade, they were great. Overall, although the budget was low, the effect on camera is a lot more value, because of the relationships we have. And that’s kind of how you have to make short films.
E – Yeah the familiarity working with each other really helped. We’ve got a kind of shorthand which we’ve developed through working together. I really feel like Clanker Man is the fruit of a long relationship.
So what does the future hold for Clanker Man and for you as filmmakers generally? What are you currently working on?
B – For Clanker Man we were recently approached by an online platform, Omleto and we’re entering into various other festivals too. We briefly talked about whether Terry could go on to have more adventures, but I don’t know, I sort of don’t think so…
E – I’m on an entertainment YouTube channel “Barshens”, so that’s been good for me, and good for Clanker Man. I also do a podcast called “Cheap Show” which does have dramatic episodes, we sometimes pretend it’s Christmas, and stuff like that… It’s going well.
D – I’m just constantly putting in applications and looking for opportunities to keep making things. We’re developing The Stomach as a feature film. We have a script we are really happy with, and are currently putting a package together for finance and casting etc… but all that takes a while. You’ve just got to maintain that energy, because it can be a long process.
“Clanker Man” will be screening in Vancouver on Monday 7th August, 6:15pm at Vancity Theatre.
To see more from the team follow them on their social media accounts:
Website – clankerman.com
Website – fumefilms.com
Twitter – twitter.com/fume_films