Regulars / Nicer Tuesdays

Ellen Evans on finding the right character to make a documentary film compelling

First to take the stage at the end of last month was documentary filmmaker Ellen Evans. “I make short character documentaries about people that I find interesting,” she told the crowd as she introduced herself. While admitting that she hasn’t made a feature yet because no one has funded her to do so, Ellen also explained that there’s something about the short form she finds compelling: “it obviously has limitations and so you have to respond creatively to that experimentally.”

Since graduating from an MA in documentary filmmaking back in 2016, Ellen has been working on her own documentaries (as well as other people’s) ever since. It was one particular film, titled _Life in Miniature, which then became the focus of the rest of her talk. Three minutes long, it tells the story of Kath Holden (and her mum), an artist of the every day who devotes her time to creating tiny replicas of the objects that make up contemporary life; tripe, mobility scooters and ironing boards, for example. An altogether endearing film, the Nicer Tuesdays audience laughed at Kath’s replica condom packets “made for a woman as a gift for her son in law as a joke” and were charmed by her genuine passion and belief in the sociological importance of her hobby.

Once the film finished, Ellen explained that she made the film while on a short film scheme run by the indie training fund in which you’re allocated six weeks and £5,000 to short a three-minute film for the Sheffield Documentary Festival. “Because I had this really constrained brief, I thought I’d make a short film about small things,” Ellen remarked.

Ellen began by looking at various avenues, such as people who build exact replicas of their own homes, or people who fabricate entries storylines and dramas with using dolls and dolls houses, but none of these people was quite right, she explained. “By this, what I mean is that, to find someone interesting for a film, what you’re looking for is character and it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve done the most spectacular or strange thing, it’s that’s they’re able to tell you why they do what they do,” she outlined. This was where Kath came in. “She stood out to me straight away because not only does she have an incredibly deadpan sense of humour (as you can tell from the film) but she’s really open and really honest about why she does what she does.”

Ultimately, this was the crux of Ellen’s talk. The shoot itself was simple – two days spent with Kath and her mum at their home and a miniature fair – but the research that went into finding the perfect protagonist was not. It’s worth spending the time to find that person because they really do make a documentary engrossing.

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