“I always feel like you have to push forward. The idea is I don’t want to stand still.” Normally, a filmmaker will decide to make one short film, but this wasn’t enough for Alec Liddle. He decided at the beginning of this year to make one short film every month for twelve months. “One of the things I really want to do with the 12x12 is find that fast track into what I’m interested in, in the story, and how I can tell stories in a powerful way.” Let Alec describe the project to you, as he sees it.
“Doing a short film is good. Doing two short films is better. Doing a whole bunch of short films is even better than that.” Inspired by Mark Duplass advising filmmakers to find their voice by making a cheap short film every month for a year, Liddle took the man directly at his word. He began by making a three-minute film: just him, two actors and a mobile phone. It was very doable and he immediately progressed. “I have a bunch of gear, I know a bunch of people, it wouldn’t be too hard to organise something like this once a month.”
He is writing, directing and producing all of the shorts whilst covering all of the pre-production on his own. “Everything is condensed, crushed down and done with as few people as possible. As few people as possible sometimes just means myself.” After announcing the date of filming at the beginning of the month, he tailors the project to who will be there on the day. “For every project there’s like an ideal number of people” but when it comes to filming on the day, “I think there’s like a sweet spot. Once you hit a certain number, it now becomes unmanageable.”
Liddle studied Film and Television Production in Dublin for four years, where he specialised in Screenwriting and Directing. He didn’t go straight into the industry, but still set up a side business creating promo videos for people. The work eventually dried up and it was later, at 27, he managed to smartly sidestep into freelancing for BBC Northern Ireland. He started by working for an archive producer, and then on-and-off has progressed through projects up to unexpectedly getting a full-time staff contract barely three weeks after announcing his intention to do 12x12.The trickiest part of the whole project is finding a new story every month for the film. “I know I have an idea when I have the turn, that little bit where the character discovers something and it changes everything or the audience understand something new. I want to have that little moment.” Starting with something spooky, the first installment Don’t Look Back is a copy of the easily discerned formula in M. R. James' ghost stories.
The second story, Au Revoir, formed after he read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. The story is “an interesting idea of two characters who…they did love each other, but they still couldn’t be together, for whatever reason.” Developing this project involved much more back and forth between the director and actors, and a few rehearsals too. “I saw Amanda and Martin and I just thought they would be a really good pair.”
Zek, the third installment, is some fictional prison in a future where communism has taken over Ireland, and is the first short that Liddle felt went extremely well. "It's a story of a man who sells his soul." The fourth film is due to be published online this week. Speaking to Liddle, “I haven’t quite got the story yet. I have a location stuck in my head that I really like but I haven’t got a story for it yet.” You can follow the project through the year on the Planet Ogo YouTube channel.
Looking at the stories he's come up with so far, the historical thread seems clear. Is this by chance? “I did consider oh I should do something, an overarching theme for each of the twelve months, but then I thought no, that just means more work for myself. It’s already a challenge enough to come up with an idea every month that I can do.”
Accruing this experience, will the last short of the year be the pinnacle of skill, speed and expertise? “I know in my head there’s that crazy part of me which started this whole thing. You know when we get to December, that’s the time when we do something ridiculous, something really silly and complicated involving large amounts of people, just as the last minute, you know, final hoorah. Really push the boat out on that one.”
Planning ahead, Mark Nugent is filming a Behind-the-Scenes documentary for them at each shoot through the project. Come the end of the year, Liddle plans on screening the doc and the shorts all on one night in a rented cinema. What will Liddle have got out of all this? Certainly a barrel of confidence and there’s talk already of progressing on to his first feature. Thinking about the shorts he’ll have made, “it’ll be a hell of a showreel.”