The Limelight Index: Ewan Stewart – Writer/Director
I was recently lucky enough to see Ewan Stewart’s brilliant new short film Getting On (above) at Leeds Film Festival, it has since gone on to screen at a number of festivals and win the British Council Award for Best UK Short at London Shorts. I got in touch with the Scottish filmmaker to discuss his unique short and how he got started out in the industry.
When did you first get interested in filmmaking?
My parents are both writers, so I grew up around a lot stories and that basic fascination that I think we all have for film and cinema kind of took over. I was also very interested in the portrayal of Scottish culture in cinema. When I was growing up, there weren’t many films coming out of Scotland at first, but then films like Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, and the work of Ken Loach, really gave me hope that it would be possible to become a filmmaker where I was from.
Are there any particular filmmakers who inspire you?
I’m inspired by a wide range of filmmakers, but I grew up watching a lot of independent American cinema from the 70s and 80s. As well as the films of the likes of Coppola, Scorsese, Polanski, Malick, Lynch and Friedkin. I was also interested in European cinema, particularly French New Wave.
Am I right in thinking that you came into the film industry from TV?
Yes, I used to direct commercials before I started working in drama. Before this, I worked in various roles in TV from assistant director to editor.
Do you think that TV is a good route into the film industry?
It can be. The thing about filmmaking is that there are so many different ways that you can get into it. TV helped me to understand who does what and how everything works. I also gained a lot of contacts from the TV industry, so when I started making my own films I got help and support from people I’d worked with.
How did the idea come about for your latest award-winning short film ‘Getting On’?
It was actually based on a short story that my dad wrote. It was essentially a one-page character monologue and was based on a neighbour from his childhood. I felt that the story and voice of the character were very unique and that’s what attracted me to it.
Do you view the story as controversial in any way?
No, I don’t think it would divide audiences in any way. It’s not really about an issue as such; it’s more of a character piece about loneliness and isolation. My aim for the film was to make something that was both funny and poignant with a strong visual element to it.
What made you decide to shoot in monochrome?
I felt it definitely fitted the tone and the mundanity of the character’s everyday life and I also love black and white from an aesthetic point of view. Practically, as we shot quite quickly on a DSLR, I wanted to make sure the cinematography was consistent in the final film.
You have a lot of tight-angled and awkward shots that I imagine the use of a DSLR made more achievable. Are you pro DSLR in this sense?
The camera we used was definitely right for this particular film and I’m all for the DSLR cameras in general as they make filmmaking much more accessible. Some people say that the DSLR look is over used, but they do have a good quality to them, depending on how you use them. I wanted the very shallow depth of field look and the DSLR was great for this.
For those who haven’t seen your film, what other festivals is it screening at?
It will be showing at the Glasgow Shorts Film Festival this month and hopefully a few more in the coming months.
What is your take with online distribution?
I’m all for putting short films online, but I’d always do this after the film has finished its festival run. Obviously you can reach a larger audience online, which is a definite advantage.
Will you put ‘Getting On’ online?
I’m currently in the process of attaching the film to a distributor, so it’s unlikely that it will appear online any time soon I’m afraid.
Do you have any other projects in the works, a feature maybe?
I’m just finishing off another short at the moment for release later this year. After this, I have a couple of feature scripts I’m working on.
Will you be taking these projects online for funding?
I probably won’t be going down this route just yet as I’m hoping to get funding from more traditional methods through production companies. But getting funding is always tough, so it’s not something I would rule out.
Any advice for filmmakers starting out?
You really just have to keep making films and keep learning from your mistakes. It all helps. Before I started directing commercials and drama, I made a lot of corporate videos, which I’d shoot myself. Corporates are often dull in terms of subject matter, but everything you do helps to train your eye and give you a greater technical understanding of cameras and editing. They also can give you a chance to be creative whilst earning money at the same time.
Finally, what makes a great short film for you?
I always like to see fresh ideas or a new way of looking at a subject, whether stylistically or through a unique voice. However, I’d say that story is always the most important thing, whether in a short or feature.
Personally, I like short films with humour – there is often a tendency for filmmakers starting out to go for a rather bleak subject matter. With humour, you can instantly get a sense of whether an audience likes your work or not, purely through their reaction and this is definitely an attraction for me.
Watch the trailer for Getting On via the link below.