‘The Black Hole’ dir. Phil & Olly

A sleep-deprived office worker accidentally discovers a black hole - and then greed gets the better of him…

Writer-Director(s): Phil & Olly
Producer: Ben Sullivan
DOP: Will Bex
Editor: Phil Sansom
Key Cast: Napoleon Ryan

C8: Where did the idea for ‘The Black Hole’ come from?

PS: I used to watch a lot of cartoons – Wile E Coyote and Road Runner had an episode where they used an Acme black hole. It also featured in Roger Rabbit. I had tried to write it into a music video for ages and it makes a fleeting appearance in The Cribs video we did for Mirror Kissers. However it wasn’t until Olly suggested using it for a short that the right creative avenue for it came about. The idea grew from there.

C8: Do you feel your work in music videos and commercials informed the kind of story you wanted to tell with this short?

PS: We hadn’t shot any commercials at that stage so we we’re looking to try new things. We wanted to make something with a more considered narrative approach but it was definitely informed by the darkly comic tone we had established in music videos.

C8: How did you cast Napoleon Ryan? And how did you work with him to realise his character as the disgruntled office worker?

PS: We had worked with Napoleon previously in a music video for the Hoosiers Worried About Ray. We really didn’t need to do much other than put him in a monotone, windowless basement to get him into character. Everyone has had that thankless task moment and Napoleon is such a good character actor it was great to see him zone in on the role. He is very expressive facially, which is important for a silent part.

C8: You have a large crew for a two-minute short. Do you find there is a balance to be struck with having the right number of people in your team and how do you manage sizeable crews?

PS: If you are going to do things right it takes people power, we have been lucky enough to have great friends in the industry to call on for our more budget operations. This crew was actually pretty small - just friends giving up their Saturday.

C8: You’ve directed a lot of music videos and commercials. Do you find doing those very different from working on narrative shorts?

PS: Any shoot takes planning and preparation to achieve the best results. With shorts and music videos the main difference is you get to write the concept and generally have much less money and time. It puts the focus on creative solutions but also adds pressure to the workload.

C8: You made ‘The Black Hole’ for the Virgin Media Shorts competition where it won the Grand Prize. What did you learn from making this film?

PS: I think it gave us a bit of a confidence boost to trust our ideas. When you make things you believe in, good things happen.

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

PS: Not really - it was the only way we could have done it at the time. It’s had a great reception at festivals and online so we’re pretty happy with that.

C8: Can you tell us a bit about the film you made following your Virgin Media Shorts win?

PS: Archaeology was a great opportunity to try something we had never approached before. It’s much long piece of dialogue-based narrative, a kind of psychosocial thriller as a short film. We shot it in Hammerwood House - which Led Zeppelin used to own. It was great fun and we learnt an enormous amount from the experience - mostly never to write in a thunderstorm when you don’t have money for rain effects. We did get lucky though and torrential rain actually appeared on-cue.

C8: You and Olly wrote and directed together for some years under the name Diamond Dogs and later as Phil and Olly. Does your work as a solo writer-director mark a shift in your work as filmmaker and what you want to do creatively?

PS: It’s very hard to tell personal stories as a team. It works on commercial projects but working as a solo director is ultimately about opening up the kind of work I do to more drama based projects. In many ways I wanted to strip things back to basics for a while - to story, performance, cinematography & edit.

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

PS: Get out there and shoot - plan it and make it. Try to work with people you admire and can learn from - allow them to bring their considerable skills to the table. Often you’ll find people see things in ways that you can’t and your work will be all the better for it.

C8: What in your opinion is the essence of a good collaboration?

PS: I guess it’s a bit like a symphony orchestra or a really good chocolate cake. The elements all need to work well together. If it’s fun it’s usually good.

C8: What’s next for you? Anything we should be looking out for or future projects?

PS: My latest short film One Man’s Loss has just made official selection at the LA Shorts Fest this September - so I’m getting that out to festivals whilst writing longer form projects, and Olly has just finished shooting his new short film so definitely keep your eyes peeled for that one, it sounds pretty awesome!