Filmmaker Olly Williams’s first short film – in 2008 – was a co-directed project (with Phil Sansom) called The Black Hole, which I still consider to be one of the best examples of short form storytelling released in the past ten years. Last year a new short film by Mr. Williams debuted online. It was called The Fly.
The Fly recently won Best Editing and the Rising Star Award at Colchester Film Festival. It also won Best Comedy, Best Film and the Roger Deakins Award at the Plymouth Film Festival. Roger (Cinematographer on Sicario, Skyfall, Fargo, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, among others) had this to say about the film: “The Fly had me totally engrossed and wanting for more. In many ways this film started as the most traditional idea of all the films (the silent films of Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy come to mind) but it was so well acted and so well structured that it felt entirely fresh. The simple slow moving ‘observational’ camera and that stylized ‘push’ toward the Bank door were simple and effectively used as were all the angles within the car. Such simple development of such a simple situation is, I know from personal experience, deceptively hard to sustain. The shots of the gang, as they exit the bank to confront what the Fly has achieved, are priceless. Quite masterful. As I say, it left me wanting more.”
How did you come up with the idea for The Fly?
I hadn’t made a short I’d been pleased with since 2008’s The Black Hole and I wanted to get back to making something as conceptually stripped back as possible. One actor vs an invisible antagonist. I figured it would be the simplest and cheapest thing that I could possibly shoot – but then I started getting excited and things got a little out of control…
How did you plot out the escalation between the driver and the fly (because that is as excellent an example of rising action as any I’ve ever seen)?
I storyboard very tightly. Every shot, even repeat shots. It ends up more as a graphic novel but it helps me see the story as an edit and I can control the pace and know what I want before we’ve even got on set. It gets a bit control freaky but you still have to be able to let go of stuff even if you’ve worked hard on it. Here’s a couple of sample pages to a deleted scene involving a windscreen washer. We shot it but Leo King (Editor) thankfully talked me into losing it as it means the driver never gets out of the car till the end – which I think makes for a more claustrophobic feel.
How many cars did you have on stand-by in case the destruction of the hero car went sideways sometime during the shoot?
None! We used my car for the shoot. It has so much character in its face, just sitting there waiting to strike – a bit like Jack. It’s a 1987 BMW 5 series, which I felt was the classic getaway car. I spent months tracking down replacement parts – hood, doors, windscreens etc. then had all the new panels sprayed to match the faded green paint of the original. We blew holes in the replacement parts and then put it all back together again. I had bits of broken glass blowing in my face every time I turned the de mister on for months after! Amazingly my brother stumbled across the bonnet with the shotgun hole in it hanging in a swanky east London art gallery a few weeks later. The artist was claiming he’d done it himself as a homage to Tarantino. He’d even signed it.
Were all of those practical effects?
Hell yes they were! We built a gas powered canon that shot canon balls of ice through the windows. We called it the Fuckerizer™ as it basically fucked everything up that we aimed it at. As much as i’m sure that just sounds like we were having fun – we did it because you can’t put an expensive camera and an even more expensive cinematographer in a car and point a shotgun at them. The balls of ice explode into shards on impact that just look like more broken glass. Luckily as well as directing I’ve also worked as a Production Designer for over a decade so I had a few favours to pull. We also made a rubber replica of the shotgun that Jack could use to hit the bonnet with. Jack went at the airbag with the knife with so much ferocious power and anger that the blood on his hands is mostly real. It was quite an impressive performance! We did have some excellent post production help from our friends at Absolute Post, but none of it is where you think it is.
All of the action outside the driver’s immediate world is conveyed through sound alone – how did you go about achieving that?
Sound designer Phil Bolland created the character of the Fly from a bunch of recordings of flies, which we ordered into different levels of intensity. I wanted it to feel as if The Fly is consciously antagonising him and I hope you get that from the sounds it makes.
Was this always the ending you’d planned for the film?
Absolutely. Although Jack’s little “sorry guys” look at the end was priceless. We did a bunch of takes but that one was so subtle, funny and vulnerable that I don’t think you could ever repeat it.
Was Jack Doolan always your first choice to play the Driver?
Somebody had mentioned an actor from the Ricky Gervais film Cemetery Junction, but when I looked him up I stumbled upon a picture of Jack (who was also in the film) on the red carpet for the film premiere. He’d turned up in a tux but with beautiful black eye and for some reason I just thought – that’s him! I watched a bunch of his work, met him for lunch and knew right away he was our guy. He understood it perfectly.
Right until the point that things start getting really ugly The Fly looked like a small film about a guy sitting in a car – how difficult was it to actually make this film?
Ha. No you’re right. As per usual all the tricky stuff is behind the scenes. The “Bank” building was actually a business school in Hackney, we built the big imposing wooden doors from scratch to fit. We had real shotguns on set so we had to have Police with us. Then a bit of a fight started with some locals and our copper called backup. There was a point when I looked around and there were about 6 police cars on set. I was very very tempted to just turn the cameras around but i don’t think I’d have had much control. We had to get a botanical company to hatch 50 live flies in time to be alive on the day of shooting, I had them in my flat for a couple of nights in a big net – really horrible. Then we had get them to do what we wanted to – and flies really don’t take direction very well.
I really enjoyed your violent comedy timing and the way you were able to ratchet up the tension in The Fly – have you had a lot of employment opportunities after The Fly came out?
I’ve been very busy actually yes, I’m not sure how much of that came directly from The Fly but I’d like to think it helped.
What’s next for you?
I have a few commercials projects on the go and a feature film in development that we’re very excited about. Watch this space!