Short Film of the Week – Fish!

In mid-August 2010 long-time friends Mark Eccleston (Sky News, Radio 4 Front Row) and Damian Samuels (Doctor Who) went to Margate to get some fish and chips. They noticed an open-air swimming pool – the kind that’s refilled on each high tide. Imagine if a mermaid was washed up in it? And a chef discovered her there? Four weeks later they were standing by the edge of a lido along with a dozen crew, a mermaid, a stunt mermaid, a RED One camera and a smoke machine. It was 2am and the first of two days’ filming was complete.

VIMEO – Watch the trailer of Fish!

Fish is being premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2011. We grab Mark and Damian for a nice little chat. No chairs, ropes or knives are present. Once we’ve had our little chat, they’ll be free to leave.

What inspired you to make Fish!?

Damian – It all started with me being stuck on a see-saw on a train track in the middle of the Israeli countryside last May. I was filming a commercial for an Israeli mobile phone company and there was a small thin Israeli actor at the other end of the see-saw who they were strapping large metal weights to, to balance us out (with hilarious consequences) and I looked around at all the crew who were far busier than I was. And then I looked at myself dressed as a twat and thought there’s got to be more to life than this…

Mark – Having been a film critic for the past ten years I thought it was about time to see what all those people in the credits actually did. As for the story itself, we went to Margate for the day to get fish & chips. We noticed these amazing tidal sea pools set in the sand. It was a scorching day and they were full of drunk people in their underwear. So what would happen if a beautiful mermaid was washed up in one of the pools at night? For a short film, the idea seemed irresistible.

Damian – … as were the chips. We wanted to do a short film with a beginning, middle and end and have a crack at telling a complete story. I was also wanting to give myself the lead role and a screen kiss with an unfeasibly good looking mermaid. My heroes are Woody Allen and Mel Brooks – little nerdy Jews like myself ( a triple threat like J-Lo) who get to do everything and always get the girl…

What were the joys and pitfalls of creating it?

Damian – To be honest, there wasn’t a lot of joy on the shoot, which was surprisingly stressful. There was an electrical fire by the pool – classic health and safety / schoolboy error ( we nearly even got to use our highly expensive public liability insurance though ). The mermaid didn’t want to leap out of the water to catch raw sardines in her mouth… and Mark crashed the van.

Mark – Oh, when will you just leave it about that van. Nobody was hurt… well, not badly. Anyway, the joy for me was trying out all this movie stuff you see on the big movie sets. The Red camera, steadicam, prosthetic makeup, smoke machines, tea urns… lady with a clipboard! Then there were some surprisingly creative processes from the edit onwards, each dramatically shifting the tone of the film. Damian schmoozed us into some big name studios and Soho post production houses such as The Mill and Final Cut. And there was a really great afternoon, for me anyway, with the foley session down at Twickenham Studios.

Damian – He just liked the fact that our lovely lady foley artist seemed to assume the posture of a silver-back gorilla to re-create my steps. Also, another joy for me was seeing how much sound design and score are such a big part of the end product. We were incredibly fortunate to have Tim Thornton from the band Fink create an original score. Then Andre Jacquemin came up with a very fruity comic sound design. He’s the guy who’s worked with Monty Python from day one and is Terry Gilliam’s right hand man on the sound desk.

Mark – Another pitfall and, I guess, joy was how actors dropped out at the last minute and others came in to help us out. We had someone playing the Boss but he picked up a paying job elsewhere. Thankfully Jeremy Theobald, who produced and starred in Christopher Nolan’s first feature Following, agreed to come out of acting retirement. Ewen Macintosh (Keith from The Office) saved the day as the Judge and when our original mermaid announced she had a sardine allergy Francesca Brown stepped in at the very last minute. As Damian never tires of quipping – we had a ‘new and improved Ariel’!

What was it like, working on DOCTOR WHO? (we have to ask).

Damian – I realized I’d lucked into something special. At the read-through I also got to play Richard Wilson’s role as he wasn’t there – so did loads of scenes with The Doctor himself. It was when the first “fan” letter arrived asking for autographs, that I got what an honour it was to be involved in such a phenomenon, even in such a small way – although was a little freaked out by some of their dedication at the Doctor Who convention in LA. According to Mark Gatiss I was one of the first outed characters in the history of Doctor Who – and in two of the most popular Doctor Who episodes of all time.

So… any projects in the pipeline?

Mark – The idea is to see how much momentum the short gathers over the Festival season and then whip up some interest in a couple of tip top features ideas we have. I’m also rendering a wall in my back garden, which I’m quite excited about.

Damian – I’m writing a feature with Callum Blue who plays General Zod in Smallville.

Mark – Really? You kept that quiet. And this would be the same Callum Blue who was booked in to play the Boss but ran off to Bulgaria for a feature? Presumably he now wants to surf in on our hard work on Fish! Well, that’s bleedin priceless. Well you can forget about helping with the wall.

Damian – Oh, please. Just a bit of grouting?

Mark – It’s called ‘pointing’. And no you can’t.

How can people find out more about you and your stuff?

Damian – Fish! is getting its World Premiere this May at The Cannes Film Festival in the Short Film Corner and then hopefully will be at lots of other festivals. You can follow its progress on our Facebook page. Please “like” us, whatever that means. Also, follow Fish! on Twitter at @fishfilm; our website should be up and running for the beginning of May

I apologize for the number of names I have dropped in this interview – by the way… did I mention I was the bloke in Basement Jaxx’s Where’s Your Head At video….

Mark – ( yawning ) It would be a first if you didn’t.

About The Author