Work / Film

Duncan Cowles’ latest film uses stock footage to tackle freelance feelings with dry humour

Despite their different subject matter, films by Scottish director Duncan Cowles are always highly relatable. Where other filmmakers often try to establish a connection between the narrative and the viewer, Duncan does it naturally, just by showing something normal… Like your mum repeatedly entering your room to chat about a lamp she thinks you should buy.

Duncan’s latest film Taking Stock is still relatable, but maybe more to those in the creative industry than anyone else. The short tells the story of the director’s recent working life: he’s in between projects and is trying to make some cash by selling stock footage online. “I was having a laugh with a mate about how I’d not sold any footage after spending longer than I should have filming, uploading and tagging it all,” Duncan tells It’s Nice That. “I was describing some of the shots and showing them to him and he was finding it way funnier than I had anticipated.” Unsure whether to be “laughing along with him or crying,” Duncan decided to channel the conversation into film. “I basically thought that if my mate finds it this funny then maybe others will too, and it’s possibly a way to make all those hours of collecting stock footage actually worth something and not wasted time.”

It definitely wasn’t a waste of time. Taking Stock, commissioned by Channel 4’s Random Acts, makes use of clips already shot by Duncan, whether it be one of Edinburgh Castle, or the only piece of stock footage he’s sold of a frog turning around, tagged as Costa Rica when it was actually filmed in his local aquarium. “I looked for the clips I could try to forge some kind of narrative out,” he explains. “So what footage told more of a story, or that the context behind filming the footage could add more depth or humour.”

The dry humour of the short develops from Duncan’s voice over rather than being creatively filmed. For instance, taking a piece like his mum walking down the road filmed from his bedroom window shows “how I’m stuck at home at 27 years old desperately searching for ways to survive financially by filming quite depressing stock footage in my back garden”. Consequently, Duncan’s narrative, and the hilarity of it, is focused on the failed aspect of the project. “None of the footage of the film (except from the last shot of me) was ever filmed with the intention of being used in a film like this,” he says. “It was genuinely filmed with the intention of selling it online and fantasying about some pension that might come from it, or side-income to afford a place to live of my own.”

Despite Duncan’s voice over being the gem of the film, the director explains it was actually “a bit of a nightmare”. Built spontaneously rather than scripted, several re-recordings had to take place and even resulted in a bad back for the director. “In order to get the best ‘studio sound’ on a low budget I recorded the whole thing underneath my bed covers, which means I’m hunched over a microphone under my duvet for ages mumbling away, all the time hoping my Mum won’t barge in the door asking who I’m talking to and what I’m doing hiding under the covers. It doesn’t look normal, put it that way.”

Each of these elements, even down to Duncan recording the voiceover in his bedroom at his parents house, make the film so comically charming. By facing the freelance feelings of “isolation, loneliness or being stuck inside your own head wondering what on earth you’re doing with your life" head on, it allows the viewer to laugh at themselves. “Filmmaking and other creative jobs are a bit weird and not always very straightforward. A lot of the work we do doesn’t always feel like traditional ‘work’ so we feel guilty or a little lost at times trying to justify ourselves to others.”

Even though Taking Stock is personal to Duncan, it relates to anyone’s “tormenting inner dialogue that we have inside our heads and the spirals and anxieties that come from that, and then kind of taking a step back and going ‘aye we could do with chilling out a bit’,” he says. “I hope non-filmmakers, or people less connected to the creative industries also have a bit of a laugh when watching the film, and maybe get a little insight into the world of a freelancer. At the very least there’s a decent sunset shot in there that should keep some viewers happy enough.”

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Duncan Cowles: Taking Stock

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Duncan Cowles: Taking Stock

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Duncan Cowles: Taking Stock

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Duncan Cowles: Taking Stock