Director Doiminic Evans and Writer Mike Garley’s Test Footage is a great example of a short film that does a lot with not a lot. Set in a single location, with only a few shots and a runtime of four minutes, the filmmaking pair manage to execute a intense ride of uncertainty and suspense. When an actor comes in to shoot test footage for a potential role, the air in the room begins to grow uncomfortable, and as awkward conversations ensue, a much larger issue becomes apparent. Twelve Cabins spoke with both Evans and Farley about the inspiration behind their short, shooting under the restrictions of the pandemic, and the benefits of developing character and story on location.
Dom, what attracted you back to directing for the first time in a few years?
Dom: Over the years Mike and I have discussed shooting something, but our schedules often didn’t match up. I work in post production for features and often I would find myself on jobs with long antisocial hours. Lockdown allowed me time to reflect on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to challenge myself moving forward. One thing I wish I had done over the last couple years is direct more, so when Mike contacted me about his script I jumped at the opportunity to work on it with him.
How did you both develop the idea of Test Footage?
Mike: I had a couple of things in production and then Covid came along and everything got a little more complicated. My goal was to have something filmed in 2020 which meant I had to try and be a little more… creative. I knew there was a location that we could use for a short as long as we could create something simple to shoot. I started working on rough ideas of what we could do, while still respecting Covid restrictions, while still creating something that we think would be worth people’s time. Once I had a rough outline that I was happy with I approached Dom. Normally you’d have the script tied down, but I knew that if this was going to work we would have to tailor it towards the location, and the actors we had available.
Dom: A lot of the development for me came from working at the location. We were lucky enough to be able to use the space prior to the shoot. Mike and I walked around, blocking where the camera needed to be to cover the action and the actors. A lot of my focus was on the more technical aspects such as trying to light the room enough to feel natural, while still allowing us to use the darkness of the space. I was particularly focused on when it came to the sections of the film where the camera is handheld, as this limited our ability to make lightening changes during the takes. This helped us break down the film into sections where we would be able to start and stop the action. I think this also helped develop some of the flows of the scenes.
It’s really tightly written. What were the biggest challenges of writing the screenplay?
Mike: I think the brief made it fairly straightforward if I’m being completely honest. There wasn’t a lot we could do in the time, space, or with the restrictions we had to deal with. I just had to try and focus on telling the concept that I had as succinctly as possible.
Dom: It’s one of the things that I found so appealing about his script, there’s no waste, but it still manages to make the characters seem complete.
Mike: Luckily we have some very talented actor friends, who managed to do an amazing with a very short script.
With the story unfolding over only a few shots, did you require a thorough rehearsal beforehand?
Dom: There wasn’t much rehearsal on the day as we were on a tight schedule. But we did meet up with the Chris and Sam a couple of times prior to the shoot. We discussed the script with them and any thoughts and concerns they had. When we first discussed the project the script was not quite on its shooting draft, so it was great for the actors, Mike and myself to be able to talk it through at this stage.
Mike: Yeah, their input was great – they were doing us a massive favour, and working despite the world appearing to be on fire at the time. We tried to tailor it to make sure that they both really enjoyed their roles.
Dom: The week prior to the shoot I met with Chris and Sam again and we talked through the script. They both took to their updated characters straight away and I was fully confident in what they were going to bring to the film. It was exciting to talk through their thoughts on the characters and their motivations. For me it was the moment that it started to feel real, seeing the characters coming to life.
So we went into the shoot with a good idea of how things were going to play out. When it came to shooting we did quite a lot of takes in lieu of rehearsals. Chris and Sam were a delight to watch, their performances were strong on the first take and grew with subsequent ones, I wanted to do enough takes that they got out what they wanted to, but not so many that they lost energy. I trusted them, which also allowed me to keep an eye on the technical side of things as our crew was very small (there was only six of us altogether – including cast and crew) and we were all doing multiple roles. It was very clear for all of us when we got “the take”.
I read that Test Footage was created amidst the pandemic, how did you find the process of shooting whilst adhering the restrictions?
Dom: We shot in October 2020 prior to the second wave. The first thing we did was make sure that every member of cast and crew was comfortable, and we consulted them on all the precautions that we were taking. We had to have a bare bones cast and crew, and like we said before, we planned every shot to allow as much distance between people as possible. It helped knowing that all the cast and crew members were being strict in their own lives too so that helped to put minds at ease. Things might have taken a little longer and required a little bit more thought. But the main thing I noticed was getting a bit hot behind a mask, which was no big deal.
Mike: We made the decision that if anyone had any symptoms at all before the shoot – despite the fact that most of us were self-isolating – that we’d just rearrange, which was a luxury of trying to shoot something so relatively simple.
Dom: The pandemic was so much in the forefront of people’s minds, I couldn’t picture throwing caution to the wind.
What’s next for you both?
Dom: I’ve been working on another short film called Three Matches that I want to direct. It’s also a horror film with a small cast but very different from Test Footage. Three Matches is set midway through the final act of a horror film. There is a lot more running around in it.
Mike has mentioned that he has a few scripts up his sleeve one of which we are hoping will be our next short or web series which hopefully I will be directing. With things opening up again, the world of post production will be calling again, it will become a bit more of a balancing act to get things done, but we have some momentum now, I’m excited about what we’ll be doing next. I’m also working on a feature script for a friend who is a producer, I have finished the 1st draft which is in serious need of rewriting, I am mentally preparing myself for that.
Mike: I’ve got some shorts in development (development is shorthand for hell for anyone that doesn’t know), I have a few more looking for homes, and I’m chipping away at a couple of features. I’ve also got some more comics and games coming out soon, which is exciting. I’ve been doing comics for years, but I really want to do more film stuff now so those are definitely the projects that I’m must excited about. As a duo we’ve talked about doing a horror (ish) web series, which we can hopefully get to soon, and there’s another short that I’d love to make – It’s about a bunch of friend playing D&D who accidentally summon the Blood God. Although we’ll (obviously) need a massive ‘blood’ budget for that. A Bloodget if you will.