In July last year, Chris from Boolean Flix reviewed Ian Cottage’s short film, ‘Keel’, which got broadcast on the BBC Film Network, describing it as “ an amazing feat”. In this interview with Ian,I discuss two of his notable short productions, his experience working abroad and what he hopes to create in the future.
At what point did you feel becoming a director was the career path you wanted to proceed
It was never a conscious decision. I always wanted to make ﬁlms and as a boy I was given a Super 8 camera for my birthday and shot small ﬁlms. There was something very nice about projecting the ﬁlms on a door and showing them to my parents or aunty.
One of my favourite ﬁlms of yours is The Shoe Tree. What was the inspiration behind this tale,
and why was it set in Estonia?
The inspiration comes from a shoe tree in a park near where I live. The tree is covered in 200 or so
shoes. There’s a mystery as to who threw the ﬁrst shoes up in the branches. It’s a pretty famous
landmark in Newcastle and a few years ago the council decided to take down all the shoes. Within a
week, people had ﬁlled the tree with shoes. That was the beginning of the Shoe Tree story; how
does a shoe tree come about? Who is the ﬁrst person to throw shoes up in the trees and why? I
remember writing the script in a day. It is one of those stories that suddenly comes out, fully
formed. Other stories are harder to write.
The ﬁlm was shot in Estonia because there was an unusual ﬁlm scheme where three directors from
Newcastle made a ﬁlm in Estonia, whilst 3 directors from Tallinn shot a ﬁlm in Newcastle. The
rules of the scheme were that you had to make the ﬁlm with local crews and productions companies
in the country you found yourself in. The other rule was that you were given 11 days, from casting,
ﬁnding locations, through to ﬁlming and post-production to complete the ﬁlm. So The Shoe Tree
was shot in four days, which was challenging but a lot of fun.
There was a huge emphasis on the relationship of the boy and grandpa character, much like
Keel’s Father, Daughter bond. Do you intentionally put a lot of focus on family values or is it
just a coincidence these ﬁlms happen to both focus around this area?
I think that is one of the themes that comes out in my work, but I don’t consciously look for it when
I come up with an idea for a story. A lot of my writing is intuitive at ﬁrst and then is shaped into a
narrative through redrafting. Films such as Keel, The Shoe Tree and Sleep are about the
estrangement within families (particularly with the older generation and the younger) and how this
distancing needs to be closed. Why this theme reoccurs I really don’t know, but I suspect it is to do
with having children of my own and wanting to be a good parent.
Both Keel and The Shoe Tree include music that deﬁnes the ﬁlm’s emotion and meaning. How
important and relevant do you ﬁnd the music is in matching the visuals for both the ﬁlms?
It’s very important to ﬁnd the right music for the visuals and I have been lucky to work with some
excellent composers. When I work with a composer I discuss what I want emotionally within the
ﬁlm or in any given scene. I often talk about textures rather than speciﬁc musical ideas. I also talk
about the kind of instrument that I feel will evoke certain emotions or feelings. This could be
anything from musical saws, prepared piano to throat singing. I’m keen for the composer to create
something that pushes the boundaries but remains evocative. Keel was unusual because I used an
existing track of Swedish cow calling, which is very haunting and otherworldly. Tarkovsky used a
similar song in his last ﬁlm The Sacriﬁce.
Keel approached “the ghost story” in a way that’s very rarely seen. It comes across more
chilling than a lot of modern day Horror pictures, but doesn’t feel like it necessarily falls into
that genre. How did the story come about and is there a speciﬁc genre you feel you’d like to
focus on in your career?
Keel is an attempt to create a ghost story in the tradition of British writers such as M.R James and
Dickens. I wanted the ﬁlm to create a growing tension or unease in the audience which ends in a
moment of catharsis. When I described Keel to the funders I said I wanted the ﬁlm to be like ‘a
creeping paralysis.’ In terms of inspiration, when I was younger I nearly drowned in a river in
France when my boat capsized. I got caught under the boat and was dragged by the currents. The
ﬁlm comes from that fear of drowning, the frenzy and panic of experiencing something like that.
I would very happily make ghost ﬁlms or psychological thrillers. Most importantly they have to be
dramas that are character driven and take the audience somewhere.
What does the future hold for you? Are there any projects in the works with a similar feel to
Keel and The Shoe Tree you could tell us about?
There’s been a good response for a feature I’ve written which is set in Finland during world war 2
and it concerns a Finnish boy who rescues and hides a Russian airman from the villagers and army
who want to kill him. It’s a humanist film about the choices we make. Again, it touches on the
theme of estrangement within the family.
There are other feature scripts that I’ve written and co-written: a film about a con artist who meets
absolute evil, and two ghost stories with a third on the way
You can keep up to date with Ian Cottage’s latest productions and news at www.Iancottage.com