The twisted, dreamy Glasgow underbelly Aaron John McIntyre conjures up in his short film Gomorrah feels like a marriage of Wong Kar-Wai’s hazy visual language and the bleak dark comedic sensibilities of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting. It’s hard to believe McIntyre made this film as a student as it feels so confident and assured both in the story he’s telling and the means by which he tells it. The plot follows as a recovering addict as he relapses in the pits of Glasgow’s backstreets. We see him wonder about, monologuing with a deep pessimism for the world he has found himself in. It’s a really impressive film that has certainly put McIntyre on our radar as one to watch for the future. For now though, as Gomorrah continues its festival run, DN caught up with the filmmaker to talk over the creative decision that resulted in his accomplished vision.
We were so impressed to learn after seeing Gomorrah for the first time that it was a student production as it feels so assured and well-realised. Could you take us back to the start of the journey of making it? Where did everything begin?
Gomorrah, my second short film, started its life like a lot of my university projects; a bit of a confused mess. It’s probably one of the hardest experiences I’ve had creating a project but has definitely been the most rewarding. I’d been going through a pretty rough time, as most of us were during the tail end of Covid and found myself watching a lot of weird, dreamy, shoegaze movies that TikTok had recommended. Fallen Angels, Enter The Void, and Mysterious Skin to name a few. I really wanted to make something that made me feel the way those films did. I especially loved Wong Kar Wai and his use of colour, and how the use of different shades and tones can be so meaningful when painted on a sad backdrop. It was the thing I loved most about each of these films, and I was itching to explore it myself.
You mentioned there that the experience of making Gomorrah was tough but rewarding, how so?
It was very cathartic for me and I think that’s why it took so long to write. I went through countless drafts for about four or five months, much to the chagrin of my lecturers. I won’t go into detail but the film gave me a lot of freedom to express a lot of bottled-up anxieties and fears, a bit of a thought experiment of, “What if I was the sum of all the worst parts of myself”.
How would you describe your creative process during pre-production? Do you have a particular approach when it comes to working with your collaborators during the early days of making a short?
I’m keen to use a lot of different media to help aid not just the writing process, but most, if not all of the creative aspects of production. For instance, I can’t write anything without a soundtrack. I always have to be listening to a specially-made playlist. These playlists became such an integral part of the communication with my team especially the DoP and sound designer. For these specific roles, I had a really clear sense of tone and style and I felt that getting across the ideas in this emotive way allowed the heads of production to build on those ideas in their own way and their own interpretation. Rather than a black-and-white instruction of, “This is what I want and this is how I want you to do it.” Giving it space to evolve and take shape on its own, going into different avenues that I would never have thought of myself, absolutely changing the scene for the better.
As a student, it couldn’t have been easy to get the film off the ground financially. How did you navigate that challenge?
The film was essentially funded by that sobriety experiment, a lot of overtime at Tesco Mobile, and my savings throughout studying. In hindsight, maybe not the best move for a student turned graduate, of an Arts degree, during a cost-of-living crisis. I had initially planned to source funding through some crowdfunders, like Kickstarter or even privately with folks like SharpShorts and Little Pictures, but felt very insecure. I’d never made anything to this scale before and the fear of failure made me feel that if I was going to fall, I wanted it to be on my own sword.
It’s probably one of the hardest experiences I’ve had creating a project but has definitely been the most rewarding.
I remember from making student shorts the sheer joy of seeing actors bring your script to life for the first time. What was that like for you and how was it sourcing your cast?
Casting was probably my favourite part of making the film. There’s something really special for me when working with actors. Especially as a writer, getting to see those characters jump out of the page, becoming living breathing people. It felt extremely collaborative, and I loved just how it changed the film for me in such unexpected ways. I think writers can be quite precious of their work at the best of times, but as soon as we tested Conor Berry and Sophie Sanders together the entire film changed for me; and I didn’t mind one bit.
I was a bit blown away by their talent and instant chemistry. I was particularly proud of Sophie as well, as it was her first time acting and she completely knocked it out of the park. As for Conor, I knew that boy was Dyksey the moment I saw his casting tape. I remember turning round to my flatmate and saying “Do we even need to see anyone else?”, I was jumping for joy.
Similarly, I also remember facing numerous practical challenges when working at that level with locations falling through and people not showing up to production. Did you encounter anything like that?
It was weird, at points the production felt absolutely cursed, and then at the same time, everything seemed to fall into place at the last minute. We had a DoP drop-out, no agreed location, couldn’t find any actors until the month before the shoot, had about ten extras out of the thirty that we needed, and didn’t have a sound recordist until the day before filming, either. Despite all of this, it was probably the easiest part of the whole production. Everyone had this “We’re in the trenches together” mindset that made us just get on with it and push through, and really brought us together as a team.
Everything had to have a homemade, dark and grimy feel.
Could you talk a bit about the technical side of making Gomorrah? How did you collaborate with your DoP to achieve that look that echoes Wong Kar-Wai?
I learnt a lot about technical filmmaking from our DoP, and dear friend, Alex Cormack. The man is an absolute wizard and I could sprawl on for hours and hours about how he can MacGyver a camera rig from thin air. And that’s exactly how we got a lot of those extremely experimental shots, playing around and really finding out how we wanted to tell the story cinematically. We achieved everything on our Canon C70 with a lot of lens whacking and hope. Everything led by this example, lighting set-ups were taped together. Art and set designs were set up and immediately destroyed. Everything had to have a homemade, dark and grimy feel.
How long was the shoot?
The project took about seven days to wrap, inside the coldest little art installation known to man. With days typically starting at 7am and finishing around 1am, to say we were shattered by the end of it would be an understatement. All in all, creating the film took seven days whilst making the film took a year.
Were you working that extensively during post too?
Post was a different beast altogether. Despite the troubles of production, they felt very surmountable; There was a problem and there was a solution. In post there was uncertainty. No definite time scales, conflicting schedules and a whole lot of waiting. We sat around playing with different ideas and versions of the film, on and off for around seven to eight months. I think part of that came from a loss of momentum on my part and also, my inexperience in directing a team in post-production.
Despite the troubles of production, they felt very surmountable; There was a problem and there was a solution.
Sound was definitely the hardest part to get right, because of just how dreamy and surreal we wanted the film the feel. Not only in its mix but also in its composition. I really wanted these aspects of production to inform and evolve with each other. Moulding into one big immersive soundscape.
How is the future looking for you at the moment? Do you have any more film work on the horizon?
As for what’s next, I’m currently working on my game plan. I’ve been applying for a lot of writing programmes and competitions. I felt I’d fallen a bit behind creatively with prioritising Gomorrah’s festival run so it’s been good to finally unwind in my writing again. I have a couple of scripts on the back burner that I’d love to make, however, I’ve never been the best at practising restraint with my writing, and Gomorrah’s festival run is still currently haemorrhaging cash as we speak. Shout out to PayPal credit.
I have promised my friends and family that it won’t be as depressing this time. I’m quite set on making a semi-musical set in the early 2000s as a love letter to my childhood and small hometown of Lenzie. A very different film, but I think I’ll still lean into really dreamy, vibrant visuals, and sound mix. Picking up where I left off with Gomorrah technically. I’d also really like to get out of retail if any potential employers reading this find themselves in the market for a new production assistant/runner/tea or coffee maker/will literally do anything for a job in Film and TV. Despite what my film may have you believe I am actually an upstanding young man with no substance abuse issues and have no current needs or wants to become a fly.