Call them what you will, short films or featurettes, their reputation is an unenviable one as time fillers or auditorium clearers. Audiences having finally rebelled at the frequent tedium of a full supporting programme, we have all now bade farewell to the exotic, far-flung climes of Honolulu or passed on the last chance to digest a fascinating documentary on the workings of a biscuit factory.
However, the short film rides again at the Glasgow Film Theatre in November when audiences for the Peter Capaldi comedy The Love Child will be also able to savour the world premiere of Loser’s Blues. This time no one will want to make their excuses and head for a second helping of popcorn.
Loser’s Blues is an accomplished 18 minute delight that may well leave Love Child standing at the starting gate.
Written, directed and financed by local independent filmmaker Norman Pollock Loser's Blues was made on location in Motherwell. Wishaw and Glasgow and stars John Hannah as a young Steelworker whose obsessive concern for his greyhound Sparky has precipitated the breakdown of his marriage. Attempting a reconciliation, his wife provides him with an ultimatum: either Sparky goes or her absence becomes permanent.
Louise Beattie plays the wife and James MacPherson, from Taggart, and Forbes Masson of Victor And Barry notoriety are also in the cast. Cameraman Grant Cameron enhances the film with some vivid images conjured up on 35mm cinemascope and despite his ‘amateur’ status Pollock could proudly stand his work against any big-budget professional effort.
As he works on the Daily Record during the day, Pollock‘s filmmaking activities are a passionate hobby that he pursues by putting his money where his mouth is. Previous productions include a documentary on the late lamented Scottish Daily News, Not Fixed and Marathon Men about the cup-winning Baillieston Juniors (‘That was a big hit locally. We sold about forty video tapes. ‘)
Loser’s Blues was financed entirely from his own pocket, a courageous act of arts funding that, at least, allows him the freedom to do exactly as he pleases. ‘I saved up for about three years. The film cost £8000 to make and will probably need about another £3000 to be totally finished. Fortunately, the bills are staggered
over a couple of months and can all be met. I was told not to make it in 35mm because it‘s very difficult to compose images for that letter-box shape of screen and holding the focus on the lenses can be difficult — but these problems weren’t insurmountable and you just work within the limitations. I can‘t recall anything Scottish-made having been done in 35mm Cinemascope but I wanted to shoot in that shape because, to me, that‘s cinema. When Grant saw the locations he was very keen on 35mm because he just fancied it visually. Everything was there in front of him and the
Allan Hunter meets Norman Pollock, whose shoestring budget short film, Loser’s Blues. made in Glasgow, may well upstage its more monied counterparts.
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locations were what he called “gorgeous“.‘ Pollock is a self-effacing man who claims that, ‘anonymity is a damned good thing‘. However, he is keen to acknowledge the talents of his actors and technicians because ‘it‘s their profession and how they earn a living’. Whilst unlikely to accept the tag oftalent spotter, Pollock has been quick to recognise ability. ‘Grant was a camera assistant with me and a stills photographer and is now in demand all over the world. He has been offered a Levis commercial in America and is shooting a feature in Liverpool with Robbie Coltrane called The Fruit Machine. I tend to look out for people in drama college productions and pick the best. catch them in the
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pub afterwards and ask them if they want to appear in a film. I‘ve never had a refusal from anyone unless they‘ve had professional commitments. Vince Friell, John Hannah - all the Scottish Bratpack have worked for us. I liked John when I saw him at drama college and he did a screen test with me a few years back so I‘ve always had it in mind to do something with him and it was just pure luck that he‘d done Brond when we were ready to do Loser's Blues.‘
Given his undeniable talent and infectious love of all things cinematic. its seems strange that Pollock has not made his career within the industry. ‘I don‘t know that I‘d enjoy it because then you would just be part of an industry,
producing a product. I don‘t think there‘s much difference between putting a film together and putting a newspaper together. it might become just a job. As a hobby. within limitations. I choose exacty what I want to do. I don‘t have to worry about the box office or anything. I quite often don‘t decide what to shoot until I turn up. I very seldom have any notions of pre-planning or following a storyboard. It‘s instinctive and working from real pot luck and I don't know that that‘s an accepted way ofworking. l‘m notorious for writing things on the spot. With Loser's Blues 1 had run greyhounds for years myself and knew the locations I wanted. Working on the streets is fairly tricky but I‘ve never used a studio.‘
Again. given his clear ability. it seems almost inconceivable that Pollock remains financially unsupported by a body like the Scottish Film Production Fund who are surely supposed to exist for the encouragement ofjust such people. ‘I think a lot of it is political and I don‘t know how much I should say because people who have worked on my films need to find employment in the industry all the time. Fulton Mackay did say that someone producing work to this standard should be working as a professional and that maybe is a valid point. I applied for money for Loser's Blues and they actually came back with an offer of much less than I needed sol rejected it. I think they just wanted to buy a credit on the screen. They felt they had to have their name on something coming out ofScotland that was made in 35mm cinemascope. When they see something like this or realise that young Michael Caton Jones has a certain visual talent then they start manning the barricades to defend their own inadequacies. There are too many. admittedly very nice. people in the Scottish film industry who couldn‘t direct you to Sauchiehall Street.‘
Defiantly moving on with his Quinlan Film Group colleagues. Iain Rintoul and Ricky Donaldson, the next ambition for Pollock is a [6mm feature film. ‘Short films have a limited appeal and are mainly used today by people who want to go to film school. I think a feature could be done. filming at weekends and using the seasons. 1 think it will have to be something with commercial appeal like a night thriller or a horror. something with a guaranteed audience. It‘s not worth making a film forjust 25 enthusiasts in a church hall.‘
Waiting for a bank balance to accumulate towards feature potential is a lengthy business so perhaps one ofour more enterprising distributors might take a chance on a cinema release for Loser’s Blues and provide Pollock with the wherewithal to make his full-length debut. It could be a sure thing.
Loser's Blues plays in support of The Love Child at the Glasgow Film Theatre 1-7 November.
The List 30 Oct — 12 Nov 7