Ahead of its tour of cinemas across the UK, Commonspace film review, Scott Wilson sat down with Director Douglas King to talk about his first feature-length film.
Scotland on screen tends to veer between historical epics (Outlaw King, Outlander) and introspective depression (Trainspotting, Neds, most Peter Mullan films). While outliers stick their heads above the stereotypes, such as the undoubtedly Scottish Sunshine on Leith which is almost un-Scottish in its optimism. Super November not only stands apart in its country of origin, but in the wider cinematic landscape too. With a seismic twist halfway through (no specific plot spoilers follow), what at first feels comparable to Frances Ha becomes something that sits comfortably alongside Black Mirror.
This is Douglas King’s first full-length feature and confidently pulling off such a deviant structure will stand him in good stead going forward. Budget restraints – the film was made on less than £4,000 and more than a few favours – meant shooting took place in two blocks six months apart, mimicking the narrative.
“If we’re going to shoot it like that, we may as well incorporate it into the story,” says King, talking to CommonSpace ahead of a Q&A at the Glasgow Film Theatre with himself and writer/star Josie Long. “What was funny was, after we finished the first half, the very next day Brexit happened. Then we shot the second half in November, the day we wrapped, Trump was elected.”
The script hasn’t changed since its conception, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it shifted to reflect the world it would eventually be released into. The film’s volatile second half is so connected to the current political landscape one would think King cheated and looked at the answers ahead of completion.
“There’s a line where Sean Biggerstaff says ‘gluten doesn’t exist’ and I have since been diagnosed with celiac. I’m going to get Josie to write about a bunch of filmmakers winning the lottery or something.”
King is light-hearted and jovial, switching effortlessly from talking about politics to having a laugh, like the film itself. What could be taken as a social horror (“I have had a couple of audience members come up to me and say they’re a wee bit gutted by it”), is just as much a comedy about friendship, with romance, booze, and plenty of swearing worthy of the Scots canon. The director always comes back to those characters and how forming a bond with them is crucial for the film to have an impact.
“One of the strengths of the film is you spend so long building up these characters and when the crisis finally hits they still act the same way. When bad things happen there’s the initial panic, but once they have settled in another hideaway then they revert back to their normal selves and slag each other off.”
“But because you’ve spent so much time with those characters, once you realise they’re in genuine peril then it’s a great asset for a film that people care about them so much that some laughs are missed because of the tension.”
King grew up in Clydebank and has been making films since he was nine, using his grandpa’s videocamera to make films with Lego. He’d piece shots together on his VCR, shooting out of sequence because that’s just how he thought films were made. Over time he accrued a catalogue of “tens and tens of short films”, which prepared him to tackle something longer. He said all that writing, editing, and directing gave him “a big skill set to play with” when approaching a full-length feature.
Asked about choosing to make Super November here, King says: “I absolutely love Glasgow, I’ve shot pretty much all my films here and that’s through choice. I still feel like I’ve got unfinished business because there’s some amazing parts of Glasgow I’d love to commit to film; the city centre, I think I haven’t quite nailed yet.” Although, he adds, “maybe if we shot in London we couldn’t have made it because the budget of the film would’ve just amounted to our parking.”
His partnership with comedian Josie Long came about after meeting at an arts installation in Newcastle six years ago. After sending her some of his short films, she told him she would be in Glasgow for a week, inviting him along to work on something together. King says her manic schedule is great for filming, since everything has to take place between her tour dates, giving production a deadline that has to be met.
Super November premiered in February at the Glasgow Film Festival (“I had my fitbit on when I was watching it so it was as if I was doing a work out. By the time the film was finished my average heart rate was 130.”) and has since visited London’s East End, Dublin, and Dunoon Film Festivals, before heading out on this month’s Q&A tour.
King says “my overall dream for Super November would be for somebody to take it off my hands. I’ve had it from conception to self-distribution so I’d love if we could get a brilliant distributor in place. I’d love to see it on terrestrial television as well.”
The Q&A will feature some stand-up from Long before the film, and the event will be hosted by Chris Forbes who plays John in the film.
For such an ambitious film with such few resources, Super November is a hell of an achievement. Despite its tonal shift towards something more sinister, King hopes people see it as a hopeful film: “I think people think it’s gonna be fine, as long as you stick with your friends and show a bit of solidarity.”
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