‘Return to Sender’ dir. Stuart Elliott

What happens when you get a parcel you didn’t expect?

Country: UK
Writer-Director: Stuart Elliott
Producer: Stuart Elliot
Key Cast: Paul Cassidy, Euan Cuthbertson

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Return to Sender’ come from?

SE: It actually came about from a chat on set one day about Viz magazine’s ‘Profanisaurus’. One of the runners was a bit of an aficionado and he told me about the ritual of ‘crating’ - where gimp owners swap gimps through the post.

Look it up. It’s obviously utter nonsense. But it got me thinking, what if a gimp got delivered to the wrong address. And who would be the most interesting person to receive it by mistake.

C8: ‘Return to Sender’ has a very dry and dark sense of humour. How much of this matches your own taste in comedy?

SE: That is exactly my taste in comedy. And it’s in almost all of my films. So if I do have a ‘voice’ as they say, it’s dark and dry. Like Patty and Selma from the Simpsons nether regions.

C8: Dialogue is used sparingly throughout the film. Was there a specific reason behind this?

SE: I’m still learning and wanted the challenge of telling a story, and revealing character mostly through visuals alone. So by making my two main characters a recluse and a gimp I knew the dialogue would be sparse

C8: How did you go about casting the film?

SE: I used to be a casting director, so I knew Paul Cassidy (the hermit) and Stewart Porter (the neighbour) through that.

Finding the gimp was a bit trickier though. He had to be good at physical comedy and up for wearing a gimp outfit for a few days. Which also means that for the most part you wouldn’t see his face.

So yeah, not exactly the stuff that actors and agents dreams are made of. This is where good old castingcall pro came into its own. And through that I found Ewan Cuthbertson. Who was an excellent find for the role of Barry the gimp.

C8: There is a lot that is left unsaid in the film. Particularly in regards to the main character. Do you feel this ambiguity enhance the audiences’ interest in the film?

SE: In earlier versions of the script he had a sister who provided a lot of exposition in the opening scene. This took up two pages and involved a lot of dialogue.

But as I mentioned above I wanted to learn more about visual storytelling. So with the opening scene in the film, that now only took up half a page, and involved no clear dialogue, I think/hope I managed to give a better insight to his psychological state than I would have done by force-feeding the audience exposition through dialogue.

And hopefully people feel as though they know enough about the characters to get into the story. Which is the challenge that most short films face; creating intrigue without losing the audience’s attention by being too ambiguous.

C8: You wrote, directed and edited the film. Was it difficult to keep your three roles separate or did the lines blur somewhat?

SE: Well these are meant to be the three separate stages where a film is rewritten. So if each discipline doesn’t feed the other then something is wrong.

I also look for feedback throughout the process. Especially during the scriptwriting and editing stages. And when it comes to directing I’m collaborating with the cast and crew on what works best for the story.

C8: The whole situation reminds me of some of the absurdist situations you would find in a Beckett play. Were there any films or other works that you feel helped inspire aspects of the film?

SE: Thanks. That’s high praise indeed.

We referenced Buster Keaton before and during filming. Paul, who plays the hermit, has that same melancholic, vulnerable deadpan look. So when he does make even the subtlest of facial expressions it really registers on camera.

And given that most of it took part in a flat with only two characters I referenced Ceylan’s ‘Uzak’ a lot. Which will no doubt seem odd if you’ve seen both films. But I love seeing the visual comedy of human foibles captured on screen.

C8: From start to finish, what did you find the most difficult part of making this film?

SE: Assembling the gimp outfit on the cheap was difficult. I managed to wrangle an outfit from buying bits here and there on ebay. So big thanks to Debbie in Cardiff for the mouth gag and Brian in Newcastle for the executioner’s hood.

C8: How did you get funding to make the film? 

SE: I funded it myself. Because at the time there was little interest in funding comedy short films in Scotland.

The budget was £1000. Which went far for a film almost 17 minutes long. But obviously I had to beg borrow and steal kit. As well as shoot the film in my own flat.

C8: From script to screen, how long did it take to make?

SE: It took about 6 months from the first draft to the first screening.

C8: If you did the whole process again, is there anything you would do differently?

SE: Yeah, the neighbour’s character is a bit too dark and dense. He could be developed more and given less of an evil presence.

Also, we could’ve blagged more lights for a couple of the scenes.

But overall I’m really happy with how it turned out, considering the budget and tiny cast and crew.

C8: If you could give young filmmakers a piece of advice what would it be?

SE: Go out there and do it. Shoot on your phone if you have to.

I made a short on my mobile phone last year and it was one the most satisfying filmmaking experiences that I’ve had.

C8: What do you feel is the essence of a good collaboration? What’s next? Any plans on the horizon?

SE: A good collaboration is everyone pulling together to get the job done. And trying to realise the script as best they can. Sounds simple and obvious, but stray from that and you’re in trouble.

I have a short film called ‘Ollie’ currently doing the rounds at festivals.

And I just finished another short film last week called ‘The Stash’. It’s part of a competition for the TIFF talent lab. Which I thoroughly recommend anyone who’s read this far applies for. It’s an amazing experience. And you deserve it for managing to stick with my chat.

Planswise I’m writing something much longer. As well as trying to get an agent, and more drama experience like everyone else I guess.