Stagnate

Mildred is an eccentric, bird-like woman who desperately tries to do her job to the best of her ability – only there’s little to do and the more redundant she becomes, the more she fades into her surroundings, literally. Conceived while working in endless, tedious temping jobs, Miranda Bowen’s short film Stagnate will strike a chord with those of us who’ve had the dubious pleasure of carrying out monotonous work for some nameless company.

The Stagnate script was written in response to a call for submissions of five minute scripts for a competition run by Orange in conjunction with Film Four that would award six scripts £25,000 each to make a short film using digital technology. After a fairly taxing interview and even more gruelling wait, Bowen finally learnt that she had been selected to make Stagnate.

Reminiscent of sets in the Coen Brothers’ Hudsucker Proxy, Bowen had a clear vision of how Stagnate should look: “Right from the start I knew that I wanted to build a set. I wanted Mildred, the receptionist, to be dwarfed by a glacially impersonal reception area. The desk was deliberately slightly oversized and the window above her head was tinted with yellow glass so as to allude to a desert island, Mildred is metaphorically stranded. The suits pass her desk like a herd of grey elephants – an amorphous, faceless mass, without so much as a good morning.” A marble, glass and chrome-guised two-wall set was created to make the set feel as cold and alienating as possible in contrast to Mildred’s organic sensibilities. As a digital competition, Bowen decided to shoot on high definition after several test because of the format’s clarity, perfect for capturing the sterile, impersonal atmosphere of Mildred’s reception area.

Even though The Mill was on hand to offer time and support, Bowen was intent on completing as many effects shots in camera as possible. For a shot of a flower travelling up Mildred’s throat, the ingenious solution of pulling a piece of semi-translucent cloth through a tube and backlighting it was created. This worked perfectly in the mock-up but on the day Bowen found herself standing on set, feeling the crew’s faith ebbing away as she tried to convince them how effective a toilet roll and a pair of tights would be to create the shot.

Stagnate was screened along with the five other winners at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and was aired on Channel 4 and Film Four before hitting the road. In 2003 Stagnate also gained Bowen runner up position in the Best New Directors category in the BBC Broadcast Awards. Since completing Stagnate Bowen has been raising money for her debut feature Hotel Europa and has swapped reception work for the better paid (and some would suggest more satisfying) world of commercials, represented by 2am Films. She is also in the process of making another short, Room Service Honeymoon, about a bride who suffers the trials and tribulations of being abandoned in her hotel room on her wedding night.

– Originally published in Showreel, Issue 7 (Spring 2005)

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