Craig Bingham’s intense short IRONSTONE imagines a world where to be accepted, you must take the place of someone else. It begins with us closely witnessing a young man as he psyches himself up for an unknown challenge. Bingham captures his shifting emotional state in a single take as the reality of the situation around him slowly unfolds. It’s a brooding and thrilling short film that boasts deft technical skills and equally impressive performances from Frankie Wilson (of The Souvenir and Against the Ice fame) and the rabble of baying onlookers that surround his character. You can watch Bingham’s film below and follow it up with our conversation with the director about the Yorkshire tale that inspired his film, the logistical challenge of creating an enormous hole in the ground, and the draining emotional and psychical experience of shooting the film in a single shot.
What was the beginning of your conceptualisation for IRONSTONE?
When I was growing up, I worked as a landscape gardener. One morning, my dad and I were working on a job in Bradford, West Yorkshire. On our tea break, the homeowner came out and told us a story about something his friend had witnessed the previous week, an illegal fight in the middle of a field. Two guys got in and only one got out. It never left me. This is a pilot short of a much longer story inspired by the tale he told.
And how did you initially translate that story into a project that could be shot?
This film idea had been on my whiteboard for quite some time. It’s always difficult to choose a project to invest time and money into. As soon as I was in front with work, I got the ball rolling. Early January 2022 I had some time to put pen to paper and write the short the way I saw it. I turned around, threw it to my fellow Producer Rob Wildsmith who said, “I love it”…which was a great start. I put a date in the diary, which I thought would give me enough time to prep ‘July 28th’. Putting a date in the diary is always the most important thing for me, love a deadline.
Two guys got in and only one got out. It never left me.
The next day I phoned up Hannah Ashby Ward at Lanes Casting. After reading the script with her she immediately said I should meet up with actor, Frankie Wilson. Strangely, at the time, I had just watched him in The Souvenir and Against the Ice and was really drawn to his performances in both. We met and hit it off. Hannah then set about searching for the rest of the cast. Among the bloodthirsty punters are some of my close friends from Yorkshire; they were all eager and excited to get involved, I thought why not, it’ll be fun.
How did you set about creating the hole in the ground? Was it a challenge to work out the health and safety logistics of it?
The hole proved to be a health and safety nightmare. Sounds silly, but I didn’t realise at the time but digging a hole that deep has a high risk of collapsing. The hole, which I thought was going to be simple, turned out to be a big stress. Luckily, my Mum and Dad agreed to let me dig the hole on the farm back home in Yorkshire as one of the old horses needed to be put down. I felt bad, but also, the hole now had a purpose. Thankfully, in the end, the horse had a flying recovery. He didn’t get put to sleep and Big Shane, my dad’s old pal from school, agreed to dig the hole… for free, bingo.
It was clear the camera had to be motivated by the cast and actions.
What did your shooting days look like? How much time were you blocking the movements ahead of capturing takes?
I went up two days early to dig the hole back on the farm. Spent the two days blocking through the moment on my own with my iPhone. It all went out of the window though as when we started blocking it felt static, the tractor felt too obvious, and it was clear the camera had to be motivated by the cast and actions.
There’s a real intensity to both the performances of your actors and the movement of the camerawork, did that restrict how many takes you could shoot for on those days?
Aside from the technicalities, you’re working with actors who are giving a lot to the scene, and we only had a short window of time until they’d exhausted themselves physically and emotionally. It was tight, the sun dropped quickly and, at one stage, I remember thinking… I’m not going to get what I was hoping for. But we did!
Are there any films or filmmakers that influenced you and your approach as a director?
I’m always drawn to films with limitations, stripped back approaches, character studies. Darren Aronofsky’s films also speak to me. I love the way he reveals his characters’ vulnerabilities, strengths, and relationships.
You’re working with actors who are giving a lot to the scene, and we only had a short window of time until they’d exhausted themselves physically and emotionally.
When writing IRONSTONE, there were a lot of films that tonally felt in the same world. I watched them all. One film that stood out was Daniel Wolfe’s Catch Me Daddy. The way he captures the north, its beauty and its hardness definitely had some influence on the look of IRONSTONE.
I’m assuming you can’t say much but what can you tell us about how you would plan to expand this story?
The long form story for this short has already been structured. The question I kept asking myself when writing this film was “What would make me get into the hole and risk everything?”. It was never about money, it evolved into something much deeper. IRONSTONE, at its core, is a story about family, community and the need to belong. Things we can all relate to.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m developing a feature. A script that came to me after the premiere of IRONSTONE.