The Unsettling is exactly as the title describes: it’s unsettling. James Mansell, the Writer and Director, likens it to an urban legend; someone coming home and realising that someone is in their house, though it is not the person they expected it to be.
Mansell spent around three months writing it, though the experience for him was more about pre-production than it was about writing the actual script. “I wasn’t so much as writing it per se, it was more figuring out how we were going to do it; the logistics of it and the pre-production.” Mansell’s writing style is born from a concept, which he then uses to develop the characters and the dialogue; “the types of shorts I focus on, is that as soon as I have a concept, that’s the script. You can then write in the people and all of that.”
The shoot took two days, but the editing process took over a year. Mansell usually edits his own shorts but for The Unsettling, he decided to bring in some other people to help. “For this film I wanted to get the editing done by someone I know, and the music done by someone I know so I had all these moving parts. I [thought this] was great; I’m going to get lots of input.” Although this allowed for Mansell to have outside input and for the editing team to suggest creative changes, it did mean that he was at the mercy of the team’s daily employment; “I’m not paying anyone enough for them to confirm a time slot [of when they’ll edit the film], I’m always at the mercy of other people’s actual work.”
Mansell is keen on showing a small group of people his work, to get their feedback on the work. “I’m really keen on finding people [of whom] you really respect their judgment. Then you have a small group of people that you show it to and you really respect their judgement.” In showing the small group of people his film, he realised that there were certain editing decisions that needed to be changed. They went back, changed it and re-edited it, but that meant that the colourist had to work over it again. The music, which had already been finished, had to be re-done. This all took time, and whilst the editing for this film was being done, Mansell was concurrently able to produce another short film called Nightmares.
The Unsettling was Mansell’s most expensive project to-date with a budget around £1500. The fact that he shot his film over two days instead of one also made the film slightly more expensive as it was not planned. His way of dealing with finances is freer than you might expect for a budget. In his own words, “we try and do it as cheaply as possible and just let it get as expensive as it gets, which is a slightly reckless way of doing it,” he laughs. He usually tries to keep the budget around £1000, which is quite cheap considering the cameras and other equipment he uses. In keeping it around £1000, it does allow him to self-finance his films. “I’ve never actually found funding because I’ve been able to keep the cost so low, but I think £1500 is about the most I would want to spend on a film.”
Mansell had this idea that his shorts could be connected and linked in some way. His short before The Unsettling is called Under the Bed and both are shot in the same house. “I had this idea that you can have a series of films of strange things happening to different people in the same house,” he says. “They’re the middle of stories, not the beginning. You don’t get to know who the characters are, and you don’t see what happens to them, you’re just shown the bit that scares them.” The preceding film to The Unsettling also follows this connection.
Mansell is now focusing on working on something that could become a feature itself, demonstrating his abilities as a filmmaker and showing that he is able to direct a feature. He shot a film last November and, in December, took it out to Hollywood. He describes it as being a character piece, with more dialogue as well as being, “bizarre and weird.” He received a lot of good feedback about it, which has made him go back and re-edit it slightly. “I thought I had finished and [felt], “yes, we’re done,” but then we got some really good feedback. There were a few comments around the end so we’re going to re-shoot the ending and then get that out.” His focus for now though is, “on stripping things back and making [the filmmaking process] smaller and simpler.”