We have an article today on Vimeo short films: how one is created and how it gets to be a Vimeo Staff Pick. If you’re interested at all in getting your short film on Vimeo, then listen up!
One of the latest Vimeo Staff Pick videos is docu-drama Drug Runner. This film blends documentary and fiction with the true story of a fifteen-year-old drug dealer.
Portrayed as a short, this story is full of beautiful framing and colour – surprising for the subject matter – that pulls the viewer into the life of a character that should be a villain, but ultimately is just a child trying to look out for his mother in a way that he understands.
The creator of this short is Charlotte Regan, a London writer and director, with support from production company, Bold Content Video.
Charlotte has a knack for writing and directing films that show authentic snapshots of life that people may not usually think about. Her style is gritty and reflects the culture in which she was raised.
Born in Hackney and growing up in a housing estate with her mum and gran, Charlotte directed over 200 music promos before moving on to her first short.
In her young career, Charlotte has won the BFI Future Film Award, the BFI New Talent Award, a Cannes Lions YDA Award, and now, two Vimeo Staff Picks.
Watch Charlotte’s second Vimeo Staff Pick, Drug Runner, below, and read on to learn how such a beautiful short film was made.
The narrative of “The Kid” stemmed from the real-life experience of one of Charlotte’s friends.
She felt this was a story that was never told: the reasons behind a person getting involved with drug dealing, but without painting the character as a villain. Her goal was to emphasize this was an every-day kid.
Charlotte developed the concept through three primary interviews with the real-life Kid (whose name is withheld to protect his privacy).
Rather than recording him and trying to cut that audio as a voice-over, Charlotte decided to record it on her phone as a reference, and bring on a voice-actor later.
Only some sections of the conversations made it to the script – Charlotte had to sift through 6+ hours of recordings to develop a cohesive voice-over.
The script was then interpreted by the voice-actor Alfie Stewart and child-actor Mitchell Brown. Charlotte spoke very highly of both; Alfie is an intuitive actor and she intentionally did not send the recordings to him for the purpose of allowing him to have his own take on how the script should be said.
Charlotte had worked with Mitchell previously. He is a rarity amongst young actors, having natural, subtle instincts when it comes to acting. He is also enthusiastic about tryings things a different way – always eager to be learning more, so he is open to direction.
One thing Charlotte wanted to play with was the line between documentary and fiction. By taking the original testimony, writing it into a cohesive script, and then allowing it to be interpreted by the actors, much of the authenticity could very well have been lost.
Charlotte’s goal was not to put out this short film and say, this is 100% literal: whist she is close enough to her real-life subject to be honest, even in people’s own minds, stories grow and change over time.
The intention was to show the subject’s world and mentality. While some aspects are exaggerated in production, no doubt the real-life Kid exaggerated some things in his interview. As with all documentaries, there will always be influence.
Production was primarily completed on a chilly day in mid-December on a housing estate in East London.
The cinematography being one of the highlights of Drug Runner, kit and crew were important. The director of photography, Arran Green, captured the young dealer’s world, both mentally and physically, with his shooting style.
One of the things that was particularly important to Charlotte was capturing the housing estate in a beautiful, vibrant way. She wanted to avoid the mainstream portrayal of a gloomy, gray city-scape, and show how the estate feels to the people that grow up in it.
Her intention was to make the short as a whole very colourful, but especially when The Kid is first falling into this drug-dealing world and loving the life: a youthful view of this dangerous world.
Charlotte and Arran together achieved the look using an Alexa Mini as the main camera, and a Black Magic for B-Cam. Charlotte selected the Alexa Mini due to convenience in terms of size, and both she and Arran liked how the picture looked once it was graded.
Much of the colour was achieved in post-production (which will be discussed below), but ultimately the vibrance was very much planned.
Most of the cutaways were filmed the day before by a micro-crew–since the project was very budget-conscious, most of the filming was done by Charlotte and Arran.
A steadicam was utilitized to achieve a good portion of the moving shots by operator Charlie Rizek. Charlotte filmed the short how she wanted it to look: much of the colour was brought out in the grade, true, but she intentionally lit the set with a lot of colour, so having the correct setup was crucial.
Author’s note: It is important to point out that although some top-of-the-line kit was used (the versatility of the Alexa Mini and Black Magic), the true aesthetic comes from Charlotte and Arran’s vision–one shouldn’t be discouraged from making something they are inspired by simply because they don’t have access to a RED.
Post-production was a collaborative process, as always. Charlotte conducted the edit herself. Usually, she finds that the film completely changes in the edit, but in this case, it followed the storyboard almost to the T.
Since the short was filmed in a very literal style, following the script of the voice-over, the piece was designed as a visual essay.
The edit began very matter-of-fact, giving people a clear insight into The Kid’s mindset. After that, it was a matter of knowing when to let the film breathe and when to cut more quickly.
Achieving picture lock was a challenge. One strategy Charlotte uses to keep a fresh perspective is watching the film with other people. Even if it’s just her friend or nan, she watches how they respond.
Even if it took ages to edit a certain bit, if more than one person has commented on a segment, it needs to be changed or cut.
Her view is, even if it took 5 hours to shoot, if it doesn’t add to the narrative or doesn’t make sense, cut it.
Colourist, John Layton, then took over for the colour grade. Having previously lit for the colour palette Charlotte envisioned, it was still quite a job matching up the footage from the Alexa Mini and Black Magic. John changed small elements here and there to make sure it felt like a cohesive piece.
Sound Design played another big part in Drug Runner. Sound Designer, Michael Ling, has worked with Charlotte on every one of her narrative projects, and they fully understand each other’s style.
It is this understanding that resulted in amazing sound. Ling purposely learns as much as he can about the story, and only includes sounds that add to the narrative.
Advice to New Filmmakers
One of the biggest setbacks for Charlotte was simply deciding to make it. A 15-year-old cocaine dealer is a strange topic for most people, and hardly something that (in Charlotte’s mind) people would be jumping to see.
Ultimately, she decided to trust in her own idea and invest in a team that believed in it.
Finding a team you trust is crucial, as Charlotte believes everything in film production is a collaborative process, thus teamwork is imperative.
Drug Runner is an amazing instance where a filmmaker had an idea and followed their gut instinct to make something great.
Determined to create something authentic and meaningful, Charlotte set out to make a docu-drama that truly reflected the life it portrayed.
The poignancy and relevance of the film is tangible in the final moments of the film, where The Kid expresses he has no regrets: “The people buying from me were adults who had made their own choices. If it weren’t me, it’d only be some other kid.”
This article was authored by Dana Lockwood of Bold Content Video.
Dana is a Missourian-transplanted-to London, where “ope!” quickly turned to “sorry!” Graduating with a Film Production degree from Missouri State University, she began her career in radio broadcasting, but ultimately moved to the UK in pursuit of opportunities in the film industry. She works as a Junior Producer at Bold Content Video.
We hope you’ve found this article on Vimeo short films super helpful. Have you had a film appear on Vimeo? Let us know in the comments just below here.