Dave Duffy as Death
Steven Galvin caught up with David Olof Svedberg – Director of the short film Death Can Wait – a black comedy in which a frustrated office worker journeys through the afterlife with Death himself to learn a valuable lesson about patience and humility.
Your short film, Death Can Wait is a product of the DBS BA(Hons)in Film Studies. Can you talk us through the process of making the film...
I started the script as part of a scriptwriting class with Claire Dix at Dublin Business School. Which is pretty much the best place you can develop a script as you’ve got someone who’s sole purpose for twelve weeks is to give you constructive criticism with no bias. The story was mostly inspired by old Twilight Zone episodes.
Clockwork Films provided us with equipment and editing facilities. My producer Richard Bolger contacted many production companies across Ireland but eventually we just decided to self-fund. Dave Duffy was my first choice for Death. I’ve known him for years and he’s always been this larger than life rockstar character in real life. I’d see him on TV and movies and he’d be playing an ordinary guy, so I really wanted to show the world this weirder side of him. Johnny Williamson as Cliff has that unique combination necessary to play an endearing jerk.
Johnny Williamson as Cliff
The hardest part of the whole process was everything to do with our elevator scene. Writing it was difficult but finding an elevator was even harder. Most elevators have a giant mirror built in to avoid that sense of claustrophobia, which makes it impossible to hide the camera crew. The one we did find was so small that we ran into all sorts of problems. We could only fit three people inside, two actors and a camera operator. I had to direct it blind. Then to top it all, we nearly tore our equipment in half when someone called the elevator upstairs by accident.
What are the benefits of this type of course?
There is a tendency to slag off film courses at undergraduate level in Ireland. This is a mistake. Of course you can learn a lot outside formal education and training but a university film department is one place where you’ll be put in a room with a group of people who are just as enthusiastic about filmmaking as you for three or four years. They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and that’s what makes DBS so special. I had Claire Dix, an IFTA-nominated writer/director teaching me how to write scripts and other lecturers like Kenny Leigh and Matthew Nolan gave me endless hours of help and support. One of our lecturers Conor Murphy even drove out to City West at 7am to act in the film, and later set us up with a venue for our Cast&Crew screening at Filmbase. You just don’t get that kind of help anywhere else. DBS also has a lot of ties with the Masters in Digital Feature Film Production at Filmbase, which I hope to join next September. It’s one of the best film courses available in this country and is the ideal platform for me to begin working in feature film production.
What are your plans for the film?
Richard Bolger (the producer) is working hard to get the film a significant festival run across Europe this summer and we’re also in talks with Swedish television to broadcast the film later this year.
What were the most important things you learned throughout the process?
Treat your people well. People sometimes think that film and TV directors are hyper-aggressive caricatures and that this is somehow an acceptable way to behave. It’s not. Try that in the real world and you’re just going to alienate people fast. When you’ve no money to pay your crew or actors, being nice isn’t just part of returning the favour, if you treat people with respect they’ll enjoy working with you. Richard put half our budget into catering which I didn’t consider important until I saw what a great atmosphere it created on set when good quality food arrived and everyone knew they were being valued.
Another important thing I learned is never be afraid to ask for anything from anyone. Richard spent months looking for an elevator to film in because I was too polite to ask Dave Duffy to get us access to RTÉ because he had already given us so much by agreeing to play the role. When we finally ran out of options I had to ask Dave for help. He sorted it out within 5 minutes.