Photo credit: Daniel D. Moses
Candice is a newly released short film, written by short filmmaker Alexei Slater, directed by George Watson and produced by Dom Riley. After a run at festivals, the short is seeing wider internet distribution through the YouTube platform Million Youth Media. I caught up with Alexei to talk about the film, his varied career and what he’s learned working across the film industry.
Slater originally wrote the script for the (now defunct) Jameson First Shot Award, on that year’s topic- life-changing experiences- and eventually brought the project to life himself. Candice, starring Olivia Poulet and Nicholas Pinnock, charts the isolation of urban living in 21st century London. The narrative, that perfectly encapsulates the short film specific set-up/pay-off structure outlined by Darren Aaronofsky, starts at this point of alienation. We meet Candice (Poulet), alone with friends, tipsy and unhappy before being approached by a hooded stranger (Pinnock) on her way home. The pay-off, however, resists this bleakness offering a glimmer of hope through genuine human connection.
Adventures in the film industry
Since entering the industry after university, Slater has held a wide range of behind-the-camera roles. Starting as a runner he later found a role in development at HandMade Films before making the creative jump with critically acclaimed 82 in 2012. Now Slater is best summed up with the loose term film-maker, he is difficult to pigeon-hole as a creative. He is foremost a writer, with six credits for shorts since 2012 but he does not see himself falling into the ‘writer’ archetype. He also resists the writer-director mould, and is happy to work with trusted contacts on the basis that film-making is inherently collaborative; bringing another creative vision will bring greater depth to the final product. However, directing is certainly in his skill set; he has directed his own scripts Ewww and Call Me Alvy, the latter certainly because of the highly personal nature of the story.
Equally, his multiple producer credits are largely down to the fact he is “bad at being hands off”, rather than any desire to define himself in this role. Recently, working as mentor to director Louis Chan and producer Jonathan Caicdeo-Galindo on their short Stationary, he found himself ever more involved in the project to the point of being given executive and co-producer credits in the final short.
Slater’s threads of experience are unified by his production company, Turn The Slate, founded in 2011 with Jessica Turner. Originally established for legal reasons during the production of 82, the company has also helped with the practice of self-promotion. Slater has seen young film-makers- with attitudes ranging from “too cool for school” to genuine embarrassment- fail to push their work through personal channels. The company has been useful as a way to mediate between himself and the industry and outside world, allowing him to promote through the company and avoid the inward cringe that “all about me” posts provoked. While Slater is veteran enough to be past this attitude now, he recommends companies as a channel to help young film-makers to get over this psychological hurdle.
Slater has considered that a more orthodox career would have made him an easier proposition for agents, but this path has afforded him the ability to pursue a diverse range of interests. This has been, at least in part, pragmatic, having seen too many film-makers spend years trying to bring a single passion project to life. He has learned to “have a bunch of projects” on the go at any one time to take advantage of opportunities in the form of competitions, financiers and collaborators. This approach is evidenced by the range of genres covered in his prolific short film career which covers kitchen-sink-violence and childhood whimsy; gross-out comedy and magical-realism. Shorts as a medium- with two-day shoots relatively simple to fund- have allowed him to actually “go out and make things” and build a diverse body of work. Even as this, as he believes, makes him a difficult proposition, this range has been a testing-ground for the two features he is currently developing.
Generically, Candice sits somewhere closer to Slater’s first short, it is pure drama in the sense of narrative driven by the tension between two characters. For this to work, Slater was aware during writing of the need to bring fully formed characters to life. This core difference between shorts and features- where writers have 90+ minutes to develop characters – is something all script writers should bear in mind.
He knew that the dramatic conceit necessitated experienced actors to bring these characters to life. Here, Slater drew on his experience of actor selection while working in development at HandMade and felt comfortable without a casting director. He secured accomplished performers Pinnock and Poulet, both first choices, to provide the understated performances he was looking for. Poulet, perhaps best known for her comedic work in Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It and In The Loop, contrasts with Pinnock’s dramatic background, notably as Leon from series one of Top Boy, and most recently as Aaron Wallace in For Life. The performances, and the two actors’ public personas, heightens conflict at the heart of the film’s set-up and allows for a resolution that feels true and emotionally satisfying.
Getting shorts into the world
Slater’s own career is testament to the range of films created through a plethora of interest and experience. This also applies to his approach to exhibition in a way that serves as a guide to aspiring short film-makers. After exhibiting Candice at several festivals in 2017, Slater is now distributing the film with YouTube based Million Youth Media. This media brand has helped bring shorts out of the Vimeo bubble, and to a wider audience. This online-first model has been a necessity this year with many high-profile festivals taking their events online and could represent a future for many festivals that reduces barriers to entry and attendance.
The speed of platform cycles has ensured all film-makers need to be aware of current trends. While Slater once saw iTunes as the platform that would most ‘legitimise’ his shorts from a commercial perspective, he is aware that paid-for models, outside a small niche of high-profile shorts, may be a limiting factor. YouTube allows both wide-scale distribution and the opportunities for film-makers to monetise their content even if this requires a larger audience to make a return. While the platform is homogenous today, it is worth film-makers scanning the horizon to look at what the next distribution opportunity could be.
The combination of the two exhibition formats- the prestige and networking capabilities of festivals with the sheer viewership YouTube shorts brands can deliver- is powerful for filmmakers. In Slater’s view this offers a strong proposition to prospective agents, showcasing a film-makers talent and commercial acumen. In a world where opportunities for short film exhibition has limits, this can offer a powerful channel to bring work to the public, and as all film-makers desire, for more people to see their work.