There’s a wonderful moment that occurs about two thirds of the way through Will Liney’s short Last Drop where it all clicked into place for me. It’s a short film which follows Roger, a young alcoholic who sits alone in a quiet pub in the middle of the day. What makes Liney’s film so special is how he gradually peels away the layers of Roger’s existence, slowly revealing the history of his bad habits. This isn’t your stereotypical representation of an addict, this is an unfurling human drama that Liney and his actors bring to life with a bold sense of energy and DN is delighted to premiere it online today. We spoke with Liney about the challenges he faced in bringing his film to fruition between lockdowns and his creative inclination to subvert the traditionally cliched portrayal of alcoholism.
What was the creative incentive behind making a film about an alcoholic’s relationship with his father?
I was sent a voice reel of Tom Ware, the actor who does the voice in the film, it was so comedic and it just inspired me to write. The images came while listening to his voice showreel. What I am trying to do with the film is subvert the stereotype of the drunken man alone in the pub. You often see people drinking by themselves at the bar in the middle of the day. It is easy to judge, I am guilty of this myself. I wanted to explore what was behind that person and what had led them to a place where alcohol was the only saviour or escape. Roger came out of this curiosity. Why is he in the pub, what has led him to this place. The voice helps us explore that.
The way I see this film is a wacky take on an intervention. When you read about alcoholics and how they came out the other side, there is a commonality; they hit rock bottom and then there is a long way to go down from there. A lot of alcoholics say that what made them seek help was an ethereal moment, something they can’t quite explain. Something almost otherworldly stops them and they seek help. I wanted this to be Roger’s moment. I wanted the voice to lead him out of the pub.
I see that, for sure. One of the many reasons I enjoyed Last Drop is how it’s actually quite a tricky film to categorise in that sense on a conceptual level. How did you find getting it off the ground and pitching it to potential crew members?
It was a strange one in development as I had written it specifically for two actors. It started as a three page script and then developed into something so much more. I had them on board first and we rehearsed various scenes and worked it through. It went through different phases of writing. It got put on ice for a year as we all got busy with other projects and work. I picked it back up, inspired by watching various Vimeo Staff Pick shorts. The initial three page script made me laugh and I just thought, ‘Why aren’t I trying to make this?!’
What I am trying to do with the film is subvert the stereotype of the drunken man alone in the pub.
I rewrote it and sent it off to a producer I knew from another short film I had worked on, Joaquín Huezo, we met and decided to go for it. Then the real long road started. Finding crew, locations and the money. I put a lot of my own money in and then I pitched to family and friends to get the rest up.
What equipment did you use to be able to blend the realist setting alongside Roger’s memories of his Dad?
We shot on an Arri Amira with Cooke S4 lenses. Benjy Kirkman the DP managed to get us some crazy deals with lighting and camera and we got the best on a budget. He also called in many favours to get his crew all on board. No one was there for the money. They were all there to make something a little different.
How did you find sourcing your location? Were there particular pub attributes you were looking for?
We shot for two days in an alms village pub. We had many interesting meetings with pub owners around London. It turns out it is very difficult to find a working pub to film in on a low budget. We looked around dozens and dozens of pubs in London to try and find the right space on our budget. We came close to sealing a deal a couple of times but it felt dodgy; cash deals and no signed agreements. We learned a lot in that process. I found the alms village through Creative England (now Creative UK) and it just had everything that we wanted and needed to make it all happen. We pleaded with them to agree to our fee and they were kind enough to give us the two days that we needed at the price we could pay.
What challenges arose in and around the shoot?
In March of 2020 we were looking all set to go. We had the crew in place, a location, the actors and the camera gear was pencilled in for our shoot days. Then, as we all know, we were locked down and we had to cancel everything. This was obviously gutting but it gave us time to really dive into the subject more. We spent time looking at the sound design, and speaking with the sound designer to really come up with the atmosphere we wanted to create in the pub. I also had countless Zoom calls with the DOP to go through the look and the shots as well as giving the actors some acting exercises which really paid off when we finally got round to shooting.
No one was there for the money. They were all there to make something a little different.
We shot the film in September of 2020 in between the two lockdowns. It was quite an anxiety-inducing period as we didn’t know if we were going to be able to shoot it and we had crew members and actors having to drop out last minute due to COVID but we got it all done!
Going back to earlier, you mentioned that you wanted to subvert the cliched portrayal of an alcoholic with Last Drop, in what ways did you look to employ that in the film?
I think the main way was trying to explore Roger’s past and go to the flashbacks as a means to look further into who Roger is rather than just a surface portrayal. We tried to do that by digging beneath that surface and finding out why he was there through conversations with the voice and then showing who he was when he was with his Dad and what his Dad meant to him. Grief affects everyone differently and Roger has hit the bottle and is sticking in that pub because it’s comforting and reminds him of his Dad. So, mainly, just digging into his past and discovering who he really is, showing that he isn’t just a drunk. It’s an exploration of why he is in this position.
You also mentioned that the script went through various rewriting stages, what changed with the film over that time?
It started out mainly as a really short skit. When I rehearsed it with the actors we went for a drink afterwards and just discussed the characters, who they were and what they were doing. This led to more questions and just uncovering what it actually was that I was writing about. When discussing who Roger was with Ieuan Coombs and Tom it became clear that this was a troubled soul. A guy who had potential and was throwing it all away. That gave it a much deeper meaning and gave me, as a writer, room to expand the story. Joaquín the producer actually came up with the flashback ideas to help dig further into the character and his past and I think they add so much depth to the story. Neil Hobbs playing Roger’s Dad was phenomenal too and he was in my last short film. I am always looking to try and work with him and putting this scene in with the Dad was a good opportunity to explore that relationship further.
Can you tease us with any new projects you’re working on?
I am actually working on two commercials at the moment in addition to being a commercials directing student at the NFTS. It has been an incredible experience learning to try and tell a story visually in 30 seconds! Ieuan and I are also writing a feature film together which we are hoping to try and make. I have been working on writing my next short too which explores memory and romanticising a period of time. I have so many ideas that I want to get out there!