Edinburgh-based writer and actor SIMON DONALD has turned movie director for
The Life Of Stuff. The film gets
a limited airing this month,
but has yet to find a distributor. So what went wrong?
Words: Andrew Burnet
TAKE ONE DRUG baron wannabe. one sinister henchman. one amorous sadist. one closeted gay lad with a badly shaved head. two lassies in search of a party and one 'hostess‘ who‘s lost her rent book. Throw them together in a derelict nightclub. Add champagne. whisky and designer cocktails. a severed human toe. a sleepy boa constrictor and a skinless clockwork dog. Sprinkle generously with powder and pills concocted under duress by a nine-toed chemistry student. stir briskly with an electric drill. fasten lid and heat
to combustion point.
'We decided early on that it was a pressure-cooker story.’ explains Simon Donald. who wrote the play The Life Of Stuff for lidinburgh‘s Traverse Theatre in the early 90s. and has now directed his own screen adaptation. ‘()nce everybody was in. they didn‘t get out.‘
The film itself has also been denied release. Shot last spring in a derelict (ilasgow bakery. it has yet to secure a distribution deal. The problems stem from an ill— fated premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. A dodgy sound system conspired with unfamiliar accents to make the dialogue unintelligible. People walked out after minutes. Distributors and critics were unimpressed. ‘lt was incredibly depressing.‘ admits Donald. A screening in another cinema two days later went down a storm — but the industry had lost interest.
Then The Life ()fStzr/f was chosen for the New British (‘inema programme at the London Film Festival. where it received high praise from festival director Adrian Wootton. But distribution-hunting tactics meant excluding critics. No fresh reviews. and no distribution deal.
'So it‘s just languishing at the moment.' explains Donald gloomily. ‘lt‘s a nasty. awkward wee black comedy and it hasn‘t got
Leonardo DiCaprio in it. There‘s
very little you can hang it on. and
you need a distribution angle.‘ The
film has a limited. local release. but for now. that‘s it.
Produced by Lynda Myles. (the
force behind The Van. The Snapper
and The (‘ommirmentw and shot veteran cinematographer Brian Tufano (Trains/inning and
Qlllldl'Up/H’Ilful. Life ()l‘Stul‘f is not flawless. lts opening scenes offer few handles to the characters and their circ- umstances; and despite the relentless pace. the momentum
that drove the stage play is sometimes missing.
Donald unflinchineg shoulders much of the responsibility. l)espite never having directed for film or television. he persuaded Myles to let him call the shots ('l‘erry (iilliam. the original choice. recommended Donald as a substitute when /2 Monkeys commitments forced him to pull out). lnexperience. he admits. forced him to tighten an already breakneck schedule. ‘The frustrating thing was starting to realise halfway through how much my inexperience had fucked up what we'd already done.. he confesses.
But rumours of an unmitigated waste of National Lottery money are grossly unfair. The dialogue sparkles with humour and
intelligence: the casting is inspired if star—free (the highest-profile actor is liwen Bremner): the lighting and design lend it an offbeat noir quality; and although it has an inescapable theatricality. there are moments of cinematic brilliance.
Some will find the explicit brutality disturbing. but for all its nastiness. The Life (21’ Stuff has starbursts of beauty. tenderness and spirituality. Donald feels the comic elements have been overstressed in theatre versions. ‘I might have gone too far that way.’ he ponders. ‘but I always thought that. at the end. everyone should be just fucking demolished. their fantasies and aspirations blown apart. their reality revealed to them. I made the film the
‘lt's a nasty, awkward wee black comedy and it hasn't got Leonardo DiCaprio in it.’ Simon Donald
way I meant it to be. which wasn't the same take that either the first 'l‘raverse production had or the Donmar in London.‘
With two writer/director projects in hand ~- a two-part frightener for the BBC called Grid and a ‘hectic. scary thriller" called Night ()f The (‘rt'uturt's for his own production company —- Donald is returning to the fray. Attending The Life Of Slit/7‘s Scottiin premieres cost him two weeks' acting work in Lithuania: let‘s hope the sacrifice proves worthwhile.
The Life Of Stuff screens at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Cameo from Friday 19 June. See Competitions page for a chance to win tickets to the Glasgow premiere.
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