A self-proclaimed nocturnal creep preaching candy coloured nihilism with a penchant for slime and eyeballs, Glasgow based Filmmaker/Photographer Bryan M. Ferguson makes films which have little regard for the niceties of audience comfort or equilibrium. Case in point is his buzzcut to hacksaw short Flamingo, which despite the pink prettiness of its title, begins as a contemplative study on the nature of alienation before knocking the wind out of you with a gory gut punch. Overcoming our timid nature, DN invited Bryan to share how he battled Scotland’s meagre allotment of winter daylight hours, whilst channelling dark personal emotions into this descent into the world of self-amputation.
***Heads up, Flamingo isn’t for the faint of heart or stomach!***
Flamingo was a film that came from winning The Skinny Short Film Award for my previous film, Caustic Gulp in August 2015. The prize consisted of £3000 worth of camera equipment courtesy of Olympus, to make a new film in the intervening months and to have said film finished and presented at the Glasgow Short Film Festival in March 2016
I had originally written Flamingo back in the winter of 2014 as something completely different. It was initially more of a dark comedy. I even attempted to shoot the film in January 2015. I shot one scene, the climax. It was awful. Much to my annoyance and apprehension I put the script in a drawer (folder in my laptop) and the following month I started work on Caustic Gulp. Fortunately the little oddity caught the attention of the judges of The Skinny Short Film Award competition.
After winning The Skinny Short Film Award, I suffered a spate of intense anxiety and depression. I was in a complicated headspace while undergoing a separation/divorce. I found myself feeling anguished and alienated and I realised I only had a few months to shoot/cut and present a brand new film. So I found myself digging out the original script for Flamingo which I ended up retooling considerably, omitting a lot of the humour and completely rewriting our protagonist and her background. Huge scenes were removed and altered and I feel a lot of how I felt at that time bled into the finished film.
Production began on October 29th in a Glasgow Country Park on a wet day where I made one of my actors (Kristopher Curran – Lumberjack) wield an axe and hack tree carcasses for hours on end. I felt completely dead after we wrapped up on that day and I failed to realise that this was only the beginning of what turned out to be one of the most stressful and agonising shoots I had ever endured.
Not only was the weather against us but so was the light.
We were shooting every weekend during one of the roughest winters that Scotland had seen for years. Gale force winds, torrential downpour, ice cold temperatures. Not only was the weather against us but so was the light. The script was page after page of scenes set entirely during the day – which posed an issue considering we would only get 5-6 hours of daylight a day. I felt at the beginning, those first few weekends, I was being a pain in many of the throats of the actors because no one was getting paid and I would be dragging them out of their beds at 6am in the cold dark mornings to shoot. But as we continued to shoot we became more of a depraved family of outcasts trying to get this film finished.
Taking on the multiple roles behind the camera from director and DoP, to production manager and art director (aside from my Co-Producer Mhairi Henderson and Make-Up Artist Rachel Gallagher) I was feeling the strain of this shoot. The stress of every aspect of the shoot and prep of each weekend. The frustration of having to wait until the weekend to shoot while suffering a full time job simultaneously. Everything that could go wrong, did. But we banded together and said fuck you to the obstacles, even if we were bruised and mangled from doing so.
Sickness prevented us from shooting on what was scheduled to be our last two days of principle photography. We had to reschedule and only had 1 day to shoot the 2 days we needed, that day happened to be the one that Glasgow was covered in black ice and frost. There was also added pressure as lead actress Eileen Williams was to fly back to France the next day. It was a week before Christmas and I was sat slumped on the floor of a dance studio in the city centre of Glasgow. My eyes stinging, bones aching and brain dying from 14 hours of relentless shooting after cramming two full day shoots into one. But we had shot everything. I was too tired to celebrate and the journey for me was hardly over.
5 days later – I end up breaking my hand. The bittersweet irony of tackling post-production on a film about amputation – with one hand. Though I do believe this was a blessing in disguise as if it weren’t for my injury I would never had been signed off from full time employment and had the time to stitch together the film the way it deserved. I locked myself away in my flat over Christmas and started to piece the film together like Dr. Frankenstein. I took on every role in post-production (except music which was created by Sancho) from editor and sound design to colour grading. I would rarely sleep and lived on endless cups of coffee, gorging myself on late night pizza when I’d remember to eat.
We banded together and said fuck you to the obstacles.
I was at the London Short Film Festival for a screening of Caustic Gulp when I had received the news that Flamingo had been accepted to play in competition at the Glasgow Short Film Festival. But it wasn’t until the premiere of the film in March at the Centre of Contemporary Arts in Glasgow, that I truly saw how all those hours and all that money that I put into this film (leaving me massively skint), were completely and utterly worth it. The film packed the gut wrenching punch that I hoped for. The anguish, alienation and anxiety that I felt over those months spilled into the film and bled into the audience. Such a visceral experience in fact that the film induced panic attacks and caused some audience members to faint.
The glee I felt as I stepped over fainted viewers as I left the screening room to palpitate into a beer has yet to be matched. I honestly feel Flamingo is my strongest film to date and evidently so did the press and the jury of the Glasgow Short Film Festival as they awarded me Special Mention for having “a clear cinematic vision and style”.