An Interview with Philip Pugh – By Brian Morton

Last month, I had the chance to see a very cool movie that was made up of a series of one minute movies. It’s called One Minutes and it may be one of the most ambitious low budget movies I’ve ever seen. So, naturally, I had to catch up with the writer/director, Philip Pugh, to find out why he would take on such an enormous challenge, how hard was it to put together so many individual movies and what’s next for this talented filmmaker.

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 BM – Philip, thanks for taking the time.

PP – Thank you for having me.

BM – Was One Minutes you’re first movie?  How did you get your start?

PP – It’s my first feature length film yeah. I did a bunch of shorts before. I’d been messing about with animation and short films for ages. I really wanted to do props and models for special effects movies when I was younger (I did most of the props, costumes and effects for One Minutes). Working for Industrial Light and Magic was my dream and through being so into the technical side of film making that’s how I ended up moving into writing and directing. Then I did a film making degree at university and as soon as I left I started making One Minutes. The whole thing just flowed into this over several years. I guess it was all pretty seamless and pretty standard. Just a hobby going out of control!

BM – What gave you the idea for a series of one minute mini movies?

PP – I really can’t remember exactly where the idea came from. It was just a thought that kept growing and growing. My biggest inspirations are film makers like Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater & Kevin Smith, people who just made their first film with whatever resources were available to them. They didn’t waste time trying to get a budget together, they just made their movies and to me that was very inspiring and that’s how I wanted to approach making my first feature. To make it work I needed a simple but original idea. Making a series of short films seemed perfect. It would build over time and if I never got to the end I’d at least have a bunch of short films to show for my efforts. In theory it seemed easy and it would have been had I stuck to my original plan of doing easy to make shorts. Somewhere during the writing period I realized that some of the ideas were in a similar style or genre so I wrote down a list of as many genres and styles as I could think of so that each film I wrote would end up having a different feel and visual aesthetic. It then occurred to me that the idea of the one minute films in different genres could be like a mini film world. That was really appealing to me. Like a condensed version of your DVD collection. And where you may have, say 5 or 6 DVDs of films which star someone like Steve Buscemi, for example, Desperado, Reservoir Dogs, Con Air, Ghost World, Fargo & The Big Lebowski, those are all in different genres and styles and all the characters are completely different, I thought it’d be a great idea to get actors to play several different roles in different genres for One Minutes. The actors loved the idea that they’d be able to explore many different styles and I think that’s why there was such a good response to the casting calls. The whole concept of the one minute films just grew out of control though because they needed so much work, finding different locations, costumes etc. and then making each film look different. Even getting stuff translated into 11 different languages. And what I thought would take me about a year originally, ended up taking nearly 4 years to write, film, produce, edit and apply all the effects.

BM – 4 years is a long time for an independent movie. Did you ever get discouraged?

PP – Yeah it seemed never ending. As soon as I thought I was getting close to something I’d find out that I’d have a million more things to do, or something major would go wrong like hard drives and computers just completely dying. At one point I lost 6 months worth of editing. I really did die inside that day. The thing that kept me going was how supportive everyone was about the film. Even when I was showing people rough cuts all the feedback was pretty good. And then there’s the fact that you get so far into a project that there’s no going back. I couldn’t give up on a film that so many other people had put so much hard work into.

 BM – Were there any ideas that you had to set aside because they were too big?

PP – There was a 3 part sci-fi fantasy trilogy that we filmed on a green screen. The footage was okay but people let us down with the CGI that was to be added, so that had to be abandoned. Similarly we also did a UFO film which was a one minute remake of a short film I made called “Very Close Encounters of the Small Kind” and an earth bound futuristic sci-fi film about a disappearing city. They were both filmed but due to the CGI problems they were never completed. I guess there were also another 30-40 scripts written that we just couldn’t film because we couldn’t get a location or the right actors. It would have been nice to make the film a little longer and include a few more genres but knowing how long the completed stuff took to make I know I’d still be working on it now if there were any other one minute films.

BM – Which were the hardest to make?

PP – Probably the Hell in the Library series. They weren’t fun to film and they weren’t fun to edit. I’m just glad they are fun to watch. I’m really happy, and quite surprised to be honest, that people enjoy those so much. At least the hard work paid off.

BM – The “Hell In The Library” series were definitely the highlight for me too! What gave you the idea for that one?

PP – Some of the genres and styles on my list were prequel, sequel, franchise, slasher. It just seemed logical to compile that lot together into a horror franchise since horror franchises are so popular and never ending. I thought making a sequel or a prequel to a one minute film would be a pretty funny idea anyway but you need the right sort of film to make a sequel or prequel of. The whole re-recurring, resurrecting demon-serial-killer thing is pretty well established and I thought would be fun to play around with. No one needs explaining to as to why there are 8 of them. The problem was thinking up a good killer. Something that hadn’t been done to death. I was writing a lot of ideas at the big library in Birmingham, England and while all the librarians were nice enough, I just thought it’d be a fun idea to have an old woman as the killer who’s going about collecting unreturned library books. A lot of these slasher killers have very little motive by the second or third movies, it’s usually a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case Mrs. Burrows at least always has a motive, she just wants her library books back! When I was getting ready to properly write the Hell in a Library scripts I sat down and watched all of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies back to back. I’d seen them all before but fairly sporadically and while watching them all I realized how little the events take place on Elm Street beyond the second movie so any parts that I planned to take place in a library I took out as a cheeky reference to the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

BM – Any chance of turning Hell In The Library into a full fledged horror/comedy?

PP – Not by me. Someone else may want to. A lot of people, after seeing One Minutes, have been telling me that I should make horror movies, so I might do something else horror-wise but it won’t feature Mrs. Burrows. I think “Hell in a Library” is a good 8 minute joke, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about it as a feature film. It might work. Even though that is one of the few with the most potential, I have no personal interest in making it into a full length movie.

 BM – Each movie has it’s own specific look and music…even the credits. Was it difficult to put each one together as a separate movie?

PP – Yeah kind of, but also that was the good thing about it at times, especially during writing and post-production. If I got bored with one I’d move on to another that was completely different. I went through about 5 versions of the film before I was happy with all the colouration and effects. That was hard to get spot on. I think the switch during filming was the hardest. One day we spent the morning filming the silent horror film on a purpose built set. Obviously with that one all the acting, make up & set design had to be really over the top to be in keeping with that style and the way they made films in the 1910’s. Then in the afternoon we filmed the documentary that was tightly scripted and done in front of a blue screen. That one had to be delivered seriously because it was all factual. Then in the evening we filmed the Danish Dogme film, a dark comedy, on a real location. That one was filmed with a hand held camera and was slightly improvised. So days like that were tricky to juggle styles and making sure everyone else didn’t get caught up in one style and ended up bringing it into the next movie. The music was really down to the composers and they loved the challenge. I gave them as much sample music as possible and highlighted the key parts of the films and cues that would need hitting with music. The music was very important to get right and they got it all bang on. It’s a good showcase for them and for the actors. The credits were a nightmare to make. They took over 3 months to do. But again, the hard work paid off. Someone told me that they enjoyed the credits as much as the film!

BM – Yes, it’s one of those movies that you want to sit through the credits! Would you ever think of turning any of the one minute movies into a full length feature?

PP – (Laughs) As suggested in the intro? I thought about extending the Danish Dogme one (Woman Becomes a Man). Having a whole movie of a woman stalking different men and mimicking them would be pretty funny I think. Dark comedy dramas are really my thing. But in general probably not, I’ll just leave them as one minute films. I have other ideas.

BM – Changing filming styles in the middle of the day would be very difficult.  Did you have ever notice styles overlapping and have to step aside to clear your palate, so to speak, before moving on?

PP – I didn’t notice it. I think I prepared enough so that didn’t happen, but I still needed to make sure. Like when we were changing in the middle of the day I’d try and bring a film or two for reference to get the cast and crew to watch before we moved on. Like before filming the silent comedy I had the cast watch a bunch of Chaplin shorts, before filming the Dogme film I had the cast and crew watch Lars Von Trier’s “The Idiots”, before we did “The Chimney Sweep”, the silent drama, I put on a Rudolph Valantino film and so on. That wasn’t always possible. It would depend where we filmed. Some people really got into it and did their own research. But it was still a worry.

BM – What’s next?

PP – I’m really trying to get One Minutes out as far and wide as possible. I’m hoping to get it playing at film festivals later in the year. I’m waiting to hear back from several places that I’ve submitted it to. Beyond One Minutes I’m working on two dramas. One about a group of teens living their lives through technology. It’s a non-preachy look at social networking sites mainly. The other is about a guy in his early 20’s already sick of the monotony of life. Like One Minutes, neither have a conventional structure or style. I’m looking to meet new producers to get those done, so if you know anyone…!!!

BM – Well, any producers out there would be well advised to jump aboard. One Minutes is a tremendous calling card and is also a great way to show how versatile you can be. Thanks for taking the time Philip, we here at Rogue Cinema can’t wait to see what you might be up to next!

PP – Thank you.

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If One Minutes is on the schedule of a fest near you, you’d be very smart to head out and see it. It smart, it’s funny and it’s amazing to see all these totally different movies coming from one man, it really is a tribute to the talent of Philip Pugh. Again, we here at Rogue Cinema wish Philip and his team all the best, and hope to see more from this talented filmmaker in the very near future…don’t make us wait 4 years for the next one!!!