Kate McCoid on squeezing out splendid comedy short 'It's Not Custard'
Kate McCoid, writer and director of It's Not Custard - a Best Film nominee at this year's Exit 6 Film Festival - talks to us about her inspiration for the film, the practical effects used to create a key feature of the story, and the lengthy process of completing the film after the initial production.
Hello Kate, congratulations on your film It’s Not Custard and being one of our Best Film nominees at Exit 6 this year. Tell us what the film is all about.
Thanks so much for selecting us. We are very happy to have been a part of Exit 6 this year, especially as you guys were our Premiere. It means a lot. It’s Not Custard is the darkly comic story of Louise, a teenager suffering the dual blows of unrelenting acne and bullying. One day she wakes to find her acne has disappeared…from her face. All isn’t quite as it seems and she’s left to dealt with a pretty gross situation.
Where did the idea come from and what made It’s Not Custard THE film you had to make?
Aha, I’ve had a lot of people ask me this and I do not have a real answer. The very first image I had of the film was of a girl sitting on her bed facing a giant wall of acne and I built the story around that.
I actually had no plans at all to make this film. I wrote it for a laugh for myself one night just giggling away at my keyboard. The thought of which now makes me laugh at myself. At the time I was working on Far From the Madding Crowd and I came into work and asked if the First Assistant Editor would like to read it. He found it really funny and suggested I actually make it. I passed it along to our Music Editor Yann McCullough to help me find a Composer for it and after reading it he came back and offered to compose himself, which was fantastic! (His score is one of the top things people have mentioned about the film, I love it.) He also told me that he’d sent my script onto a well known British Director, who’s name I would happily mention if I didn’t already know he prefers people not to do that, which is completely fair. So I’m going to sound like a mysterious dickhead, sorry!
Basically, I realised I was going to have to make this film when I was sitting in the kitchen of said Director and we were discussing the film and my writing. Side note: This interaction scared the shit out of me so badly that I couldn’t write for two years afterwards. Turns out receiving validation from someone of talent equals utter creative paralysis. Yay!
Charlotte Luxford, the star of the film, attended the festival and took part in Q&A after. How did Charlotte and the rest of the cast come together?
Charlotte’s incredible. While I was working on Pan, I was kindly allowed to use our screening room for auditions for Custard. Charlotte was the third actress I saw that night and she was immediately Louise to me. She understood exactly what tone we were going for and completely brought her to life.
If my memory serves me right, we chose Kate Leiper, who plays Jennifer via her Casting Call Pro profile and met in person on the day of our Indiegogo Pitch shoot. Kate can create the most animated expressions on her face and after speaking to her about the role, I knew that she was going to be hilarious as Jennifer.
Will Cox, who plays Wayne was cast via Skype audition. He is so lovely and nothing like Wayne in real life. We went through the lines together and honestly it was very easy to welcome him onto the Film. I have been very fortunate with the entire cast in Custard.
There are three extras in the film. Two ladies, Lexi and Ellis who were actual students at the school at the time and were brilliant on the day. There’s one particular shot of Lexi where she reacts to Charlotte’s line that absolutely kills me. Our final extra was Tom, our stills photographer who very graciously stood in on the day of shoot.
There are some wonderfully imaginative practical special effects used in the film to crowd-pleasing/crowd-gagging effect, can you tell about how these all came together?
Yes! Man, I love our acne wall. It actually now lives in my childhood bedroom at my Mum’s haha. While I was still on Pan, I reached out to the prosthetics team who were working with Hugh Jackman and asked if they ever worked on short films. They said yes! I sent over the script and we got started working with Waldo Mason Effects LTD. If you take a look at their website, they have an incredible portfolio of SFX; Star Wars, Ripper Street, Prometheus, Harry Potter, just to name a few. Their gallery is incredibly gross and amazing.
We knew from the offset that we wanted to work with a real wall that could be interacted with and that we would add a set extension in post. We settled on a 5x5 wall with silicone acne spots that Waldo himself operated, with a giant syringe through the shoot. We shared some really gross videos together trying to work out the best way to achieve the right consistency for certain spots. As I’m sure you know, a blackhead is very different to a whitehead. Our blackhead pus was made from wax and our whitehead pus from wallpaper paste. I don’t think a single member of crew went home without some of that goo on them that day. Also, if you haven’t seen the film and you’re reading this, I am terribly sorry for how disgusting this all sounds.
I also would like to mention our Hair and Make-up artist Emily Radjen who spent three hours a day with Charlotte applying and removing the acne make up from her face. It looks fantastic in the film.
You crowdfunded the film back in 2014, so it’s taken some time for the film to hit the festival circuit - in fact Exit 6 was the world premiere - how did you find crowdfunding and how does it feel to have the films festival run now underway?
Gosh, yes. Honestly, crowdfunding was so stressful. If you don’t already have an eager audience then it’s tough to find people who will pledge. We raised £7,205 and we only had one person donate who none of the cast and crew knew. Everything else was raised by us, family and friends. That month of raising money was tough. We were lucky that No Film School featured our Free Exaggerated Acne SFX Tutorial which gained us a lot of views, but ultimately didn’t draw in any pledges. You have to really try and not take it personally. It’s hard when you work out things like, if everyone on your friend list pledged £3, you’d meet the goal. Friends would be like “I can’t afford it” and then I’d watch them go out and I'd be like, that jägerbomb could have been a pledge, but you can’t think like that. As much as your film means a lot to you, it doesn’t mean anything to other people. It’s really hard to make them care! To those that do and did pledge, I love you forever. Thank you for supporting your local poor filmmaker friend.
We shot the film in three days in January 2015. So why are we only here now? The answer to that would be, I pulled in every favour I could, as I work in post-production, to work with amazing people on Custard in post. The downside to this is, they are working professionally on big budget films and they have very little free time. All these wonderful people are working for free on this small six minute short film, I can’t really push them too much to hurry up. I’m just happy they’re involved. I remember speaking to Ben Aston in 2014 who made the wonderful short film “He Took His Skin Off For Me” and he said to me “short films take time, you’re going to have to be prepared to still be with this film by 2017.” I was like, haha not me...
Next time, I would have a tighter post schedule, because I can’t let four years fly by again.
You work in the film industry as a First Assistant Editor and Assistant VFX Editor, can you tell us about the work you do and some of the projects you’ve worked on?
Absolutely. As a First Assistant Editor my job is to support the Editor with anything they may need during the cut. Sorting rushes into scene bins, laying sound effects and creating temp VFX comps are just some of the things I do. I also turnover cuts to other departments, Conform, Sound, Composer, Promo etc. Essentially I spend my day exporting a lot of stuff from Avid. The role of an Assistant VFX Editor is similar but is skewed a little more towards a data management side. Each VFX shot is tracked, shot length, what’s required, different versions and their vendors. It’s basically keeping on top of every shot, which can be a lot when you’re on a film with over 1,200. I’ve been very fortunate to work on a variety of feature films and TV shows that have each taught me something new. Most notably: Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, Guy Ritchie’s Man from U.N.C.L.E, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, Tom Hardy & Ridley Scott's Taboo & Rob Letterman's Detective Pikachu.
How has your work in these two roles informed your work as a director? A knowledge of the post-production process is completely invaluable and from my own experience, often overlooked. When our Editor Matt Cannings was cutting Custard, he said that I was the first Director he’s worked with who wanted to trim too much. I’m used to being on the side of filmmaking where we aren't precious about what was shot on set, because we weren’t there, we don’t know what you’ve been through to get that shot, and I’ve taken that mind set with me as a Writer and Director. If it doesn’t work in the edit, it’s gone. We had a whole scene dropped from Custard where we see how Louise gained access to the quiet staff toilet she eats in. But in the edit it became clear that this really was unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the film. If you’re a “we’ll fix it in post” kinda person, I’m not the filmmaker you’re looking for.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your ‘It’s Not Custard’ experience?
Have post planned before you shoot, regardless of budget and favours. It’s hard to get people who are working for free to stick to a deadline, but push for it.
What’s next for you now?
I’m mainly writing right now. I have a couple of shorts I’d love to shoot but my ideas are a little too fantastical for the budget that is open to me right now. I’m trying to curb my ideas and see if I can put together something really simple and effective that I can shoot before the end of the year. If you’re a Producer hit me up.
You can follow Kate on Twitter at: @KateMcCoid