Turn On, Tune In, Check Out
Niall Bakewell visits the set of new NI short film Checkout
WATCH the trailer for Checkout
As romantic settings go, the crisps and snacks aisle of Superlife Supermarket is far from ideal, but it is here that Gary will finally announce his love for Jane.
He’s been waiting too long to tell her how he feels, and nothing is going to stop him now.
Except, that is, for his megalomaniacal boss, who has chosen this moment to swoop down and drag Gary along the aisle like a naughty schoolboy, his short legs tripping to keep up.
‘Cut there!’ shouts the director. It is 12.43 on a Sunday afternoon.
Members of the crew frantically move in to restore the set in time for the next take.
They have until one o’clock to shoot this scene again from three different angles before Superlife becomes Curley’s supermarket again and hoards of hungry west Belfast residents pour through the sliding doors.
This is the chaotic set of Checkout, a short film by Northern Irish filmmaker Brian Philip Davis. In spite of the time pressures and unconventional set, the scene is finished before any shoppers arrive, with the crew already packing up their equipment as the checkouts are opening.
It isn’t a surprise that the cast and crew work so efficiently. Most are seasoned professionals, friends and former colleagues of the director, kindly giving up their time and some of their very expensive equipment for free.
Like many of Davis’ previous efforts, Checkout is being made with virtually no funding. Although it helps that the Belfast man is able to multi-task himself, acting as both producer, editor and director, as well a lending a hand in the art department.
‘It’s a great location. From an art department point of view, it can work on a very small budget,' says Davis.
'The time constraints force you to get things in with less shots than you thought. You end up with that beautiful shot where everything just happens perfectly and you had no idea that it was going to go like that on the day.
‘If people weren’t doing this for free, out of the goodness of their hearts and for the passion of making it, then it would cost £20,000,’ says Davis.
‘It’s basically talking people into doing it through getting them interested in the story. It’s always been about me saying: ‘I’m Brian, I want to make this film. If you’re interested, turn up on this date and we’ll make it’. They wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t a story worth telling.’
With Checkout, Davis is moving into the slacker rom-com realm of Kevin Smith and Mike Judge.
Written by Barry Falls, Checkout is the story of Gary, a pathetic singleton stuck in a dead-end job who longs to realise his dream of breaking out and finding love with the elusive Jane.
It looks likely to be a rare moment of light relief in Davis’ otherwise dark and brooding body of work.
A common thread that runs through Davis’ work is the universal struggle to escape the prisons that we make for ourselves.
His previous shorts, Inside and The Poet and the Bear were surreal, nightmarish works, Inside being the exploration of a man on the edge of madness, desperate to escape the voices in his head, while The Poet and the Bear centres around the stress dream of a young woman who is stalked by a life-sized, homicidal stuffed toy as she tries to escape her childhood home.
But which would the director rather face: a machete-wielding teddy bear or an eight-hour shift in Superlife?
‘I’d gladly take the knife-wielding teddy bear,’ admits Davis.
‘I have a lot of respect for people who work in supermarkets. There are people who love it. But it’s not something that I would like to be doing, and I suppose the stories and nightmares come from that. My worst nightmare would be doing something that I’m not happy doing.’
With both the vision and the technical competence - not to mention a whisper of the control freak that will stand him in good stead for bigger projects - might a feature-length outing be on the cards? And for someone who thrives on working independently, would it be worth the risk?
‘Well, that will be the ultimate test,’ foresees Davis.
‘It would be scary if someone was trying to change a film creatively into something that I wasn’t happy with. I can’t imagine sitting down in the cinema and having something start playing that I didn’t have the final say over. But I’ll fight that battle when I come to it.’