Imagine being stuck in a time-loop but you’re not a loveable weather reporter or a happy-go-lucky wedding guest. Instead you’re a normal working class guy from Cambuslang, Glasgow. James Price’s Spiral – which we picked along with his drunken two-hander Boys Night as one of our favourite films from the Glasgow Short Film Festival – imagines just this scenario, turning feel good-tropes on their head. Made in just 48 hours as part of the Glasgow 48 Hour Film Challenge, Spiral wears the disorientating circumstances of its creation on its sleeve. We caught up with Price for a chat about the monotony of life and indulging in your worst self.
Where did the idea for a dark time-loop story come from?
I had this idea for a while, gestating in my head, of taking Groundhog Day but it being a wee working class guy like me it happened to and not your loveable weatherman. I felt it was quite an interesting thing to play with. It was a 48 hour film challenge. We had to write it on a Friday night, shoot it on a Saturday, edit it through Saturday night, then hand it back on the Sunday. I planned for every genre except for the one we got, which was sci-fi. It was just absolute craziness and so much fun. We really enjoyed it.
So you hadn’t written anything before the challenge started?
Yeah. I got home from the pub where the competition takes place at around 10pm and I think I sent everybody the script by 11pm. The script was a lot more nuts. There was necrophilia and a bit more gunplay. Thankfully we didn’t shoot that.
How did you pull together the cast and locations in one day and where did you find the guns?
Those were actually BB guns. This guy worked with my dad in the factory for years and by a weird, bizarre twist of fate I bumped into him in the street and I asked him if he had those replica things. I was like, “Are you up for bringing them along for the shoot?” and he did it. And it worked out. I was really shocked how well it worked out.
The location was a rough area in Cambuslang called Whitlawburn, and it was absolute insanity. We used the flat of one of the guys who worked on Boys Night. As for the lead, we dropped him a line asking if he would be up for acting. We didn’t have a genre when we text him. He agreed but didn’t get back to me. I remember arriving on set and not even knowing if he was going to be here. But he was there and he’s the reason it’s so good. He’s just so quick and he’s got such an energy to him. You let him roam free and he’ll give you something different each take.
The monotony of working class life feels like Groundhog Day at the best of times.
The whole film feels like an inversion of Groundhog Day. Instead of being a challenge to make one’s life better, it’s an invitation to indulge in your worst impulses…
I think the most interesting stuff in Groundhog Day are the hints towards darker stuff. I love the suicide montage. I love the fact that he uses it to get women. I thought that if we are living the same day over and over, essentially everybody in your world becomes a non-playable character because you know they’re just going to respawn the next day. You probably would indulge in your worst self. I just loved the idea of someone having complete sexual and violent freedom, and just letting them go.
In the first day the protagonist doesn’t seem to have much of a life anyway, with no job and eating a sad microwave meal. Is this a comment on being trapped in negative patterns in these kinds of neighbourhoods?
That’s me. It’s still my life. I’m still that guy living in my little flat plagued by drug dealers, and I’m always heating those terrible microwave sausage and mash dinners. It just ended up being a little avatar of me to be honest. One of the main ideas is: if your life is alright, then being trapped in a time-loop wouldn’t be that bad. But if your life is pretty dull already, it wouldn’t take long before you snapped. The monotony of working class life feels like Groundhog Day at the best of times anyway.
The programmer at Glasgow Short Film Festival had a great description, writing that it’s like, “Taxi Driver meets Groundhog Day“.
Yeah, we’ve been throwing that around as an elevator pitch.
How did you think about structure and repetitive anchors to ground the story so people could understand how it works?
That was my main fear. Even after we finished shooting it — we wrapped around two, three in the morning — I just wasn’t sure that it would make sense. I was in a total panic. We handed in an edit on the Sunday and then it screened on the Thursday night. It wasn’t until I watched it with the audience that I realised: “This works pretty well.”
How much did the edit go down to the wire?
I came over to my regular editor, Mark Fraser, completely sleep-deprived at like 7, maybe 9 in the morning. He just really got it. We didn’t have enough time to watch everything we had. I knew in my head it’s gonna be two montages and then it’s gonna hopefully work. I think the constraints actually made it better, as we were just a bit loopy by the end.
Even after we finished shooting it, I just wasn’t sure that it would make sense.
The film was made for just £50, what exactly was that spent on?
That wasn’t my £50. That was the producer’s £50. He got a bunch of sausage rolls from Greggs and some Domino’s pizzas. Actually it was a wee bit more. The make-up artist missed her last train home, and I paid an Uber for her back to her flat. I think that was the most expensive thing. That was £40 or something.
Did you manage to sleep during the challenge at all?
I didn’t. That was the thing. When we arrived on the edit it was like 9 in the morning to get up and compose the music and brush up a little bit. I was still covered in fake blood and I was completely delirious. I was seeing flashing lights. I went home around 10 in the morning and just passed out. I woke up to all these missed calls. I was supposed to go back to the place to give them the hard-drive to give them the film. If you don’t make it back by a certain time, by 7 or 8pm, you’re disqualified. So I woke up at 9pm to all these missed calls, but when I arrived at the pub they’d made it, they’d handed it in. It all worked out but I was dead. I was absolutely dead.
I guess it was worth it in the end?
It was! It won best film and ended up playing at Filmapalooza in Rotterdam which was really cool, a good wee buzz. We also got a little boost from the Scottish Filmmakers Talent Network to write a treatment for it as a feature, which makes it a bit deeper and more about class and stuff. It would be great if it happened.