James Coyle’s Confession is an all-American murder mystery made entirely in a small London studio. It’s a deliciously noir-ish take on your typical small town murder with a raft of hazy neon lights and smokey backstreets to fuel its mysterious atmosphere. Reminiscent of Clemens Wirth’s cinematic miniature work, the short was created in lockdown, during a period where Coyle was due to head to the States and shoot a documentary. Instead, he used that time to bring the States home. DN is honoured to present the premiere of Confession on our pages today and spoke with Coyle (already a two-time DN alum as part of James&James) about the evolving organic process which resulted in his miniature masterpiece.
What did you draw from when setting out to create the locations for Confession?
I always have an eye out for locations when we are shooting our passion projects, mainly down to the fact that we don’t have any budget or lighting, so finding locations at night that can be shot as is a must in those situations. Locations that have enough light to look cinematic, that’s always what I am searching for when travelling or just in any new area.
Was the idea for Confession born out of that process?
The idea for this project came about because we weren’t leaving the UK anytime soon. I had wanted to get back out and shoot a documentary in the States but due to travel restrictions I couldn’t. Initially, I just wanted to see if I could make a wide of a petrol station to see if I could make it look convincing so that if I needed to place a car for instance in a bowling alley in America but was shooting the rest in an indoor bowling alley in London, would it cut together and look real? So, the idea of making these worlds in miniature came about.
After that, was it a case of transitioning those shots into something cinematic?
I first just wanted to do it as a stills project and just pop them up online and tag them in random places in America to see if anyone would notice they were miniature but as I got more into making them I decided to shoot some video and try to add more technical aspects to it, to create a little more confusion to the eye. So, I started to build the gas station out of anything that was around my studio and started doing some tests. I realised early on from too much time looking at these things that it was super clear something was off. I added in haze, car light, torches, rain, etc. as elements to distract the viewer into the world. The project started to grow from that, basically adding more distracting things to make it feel more real. This then put me down the road of searching for a monologue and I happened to come across one by Patrick Thomson which was perfect and completely took the town location to America and worked a treat.
Next time you have a big idea and small budget maybe you’ve just got to think smaller and make it out of a cereal box.
How long did the sets take to make?
The building of all the sets took about three days but I was doing tests for around two weeks on and off before I knew exactly what I was doing apart from distracting myself in the studio. Most of the sets were made from bits in the studio but as I got more into it I found myself buying train set trees, and tarmac paint from train set building websites and getting into all sorts of weird miniature worlds online. I built all the sets and Eoin McLoughlin came to the studio for a day and we played around with lights and haze and shot it all in a long evening.
What camera equipment did Eoin use to capture the dark, hazy nighttime vibes?
We shot the project on a Blackmagic Pocket 4K, with a 24mm probe lens and a motorised slider. It was a lot more complicated than I thought it was going to be as you would set the camera off on the slider, Eoin would be moving torches around for car lights and I was spraying water over the sets, etc. It was a lot of effort but was something to be doing at the time.
Given its stylistic simplicity, did that make the editing easier?
The post-production on this was simple on my side as we tried to do as much in camera as possible. It was then taken on by Gareth Young for sound design which really started to add in the character and what was happening. Then St Francis Hotel sent me a track that fit perfectly. I remember watching it and thinking something was off and I spotted that it was the sky in some of the shots so I searched out and found Ivan Hryhorjuk a VFX artist who comped in some sky, added a sign to the opening and extended the dockyard in one of the scenes. Dan Moran did the grade and RuffMercy did the animation to finish it off, All of the people above are what really made this film what it is, I just made some sets and they pretty much brought it all to life so many thanks to all of the above!
What’s the lesson you’ve taken away from this whole process?
Next time you have a big idea and small budget maybe you’ve just got to think smaller and make it out of a cereal box… who knows!