Hello and welcome to the new and improved Short Film Saturdays!
From now on, I’m going to be including interviews alongside my usual reviews, in an effort to provide further insight into the projects I discuss on this column.
The first film I’m doing this with is a very unique one, and comes from Scottish filmmakers Andy McEwan and Chris Quick. I had the chance to interview Andy about the film, which I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did.
Autumn Never Dies has been dubbed ‘the sequel to the film you probably didn’t see’, and is the follow-up to the 2012 film The Greyness of Autumn.
It follows the story of ostrich Danny (Duncan Airlie James) and monkey Nelson (Chris Quick), both puppets, as they navigate life as roommates in Glasgow.
Danny and Nelson exist in the same universe as humans, in a similar vein to Netflix animation BoJack Horseman, which happens to be one of my favourite shows.
I was curious if there were any challenges around integrating the puppets into a human world. Was there a risk that audiences would find it too surreal, and would it distract from some of the more serious themes?
Andy: “It wasn’t overly hard. We knew that if we got the actors to play this as serious and to act as if they were next to human characters, the audience would accept this as normal.
“The important part was the opening scene to introduce the puppets. The first film opens on a serious monologue then there’s the reveal of Danny. And we did a similar thing with the funeral having a somber tone then the shot of Nelson reading the misspelled wreath, which I think sets up the tone.”
The story is primarily focused on Danny, who is recovering from a failed suicide attempt following a break up. Danny’s storyline is actually a very heavy one, with his emotional turmoil played brilliantly by Duncan Airlie James.
But it’s spliced with genuine humour, including Danny’s obnoxious behaviour in the pub and the strange, over the top TV series Callaghan and Horse which exists in their universe.
There are some laugh out loud moments, but then we’re suddenly hit with Danny’s ongoing struggle to move on from what happened and be happy again. The film is an emotional whirlwind, but that was part of the appeal for me.
I asked Andy how they managed to strike the right balance, and ensure they weren’t making light of the struggles that Danny was facing.
Andy: “Mixing humour with dark subjects is always a tricky balance. Having Danny as the ‘straight man’ in the film worked well to highlight the serious issues that the character goes through.
“Nelson is basically the comic relief. If things got too dark he would say a line to lighten the tone then continue on with the process, so the film didn’t get to bogged down with issues that may have people feeling down and depressed with no levity at all.”
Despite being puppets, Danny and Nelson are pretty relatable characters. And if you can’t relate to them, then you’ll definitely know someone who embodies the same personality traits as they do!
Andy had a lot to say about the characters, and why it was so important to have them as polar opposites to make the film work.
Andy: “The character of Danny was someone we needed people to care for. He wasn’t necessarily a complete victim as we do see him get angry in the first film, which shows his human side.
“When we wrote Autumn Never Dies we used him as a sort of mirror that people could identify with such as losing a job, being dumped or just having to make a hard decision.”
Danny definitely needs to make a hard decision, as he has a chance encounter with Lizzie (Nicolette McKeown) in a pub that gives him an opportunity to move on from his past relationship.
I found myself rooting for this ostrich all the way through the film, hoping that he’d make the right decisions and find happiness. Never thought I’d say that sentence…
Understandably, it seems Nelson was the biggest hit among fans due to his hilariously inappropriate behaviour, and classic Scottish sense of humour.
Andy: “Nelson was totally different when we penned him, we thought, ‘he’s got to be a total scrounger loser and just a lazy guy’.
“Once the first film was out, people were quoting Nelson lines so we knew we were on to a winner with him. I realised Nelson is the friend we all have that just says crazy, weird offensive ‘out there’ stuff , but they are so funny and charming that they get away with it.
“And if anyone out there can’t think of a friend you are that friend.”
It goes without saying that Autumn Never Dies might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found myself oddly charmed by the eccentricity of it. I soon found it normal for puppets to be sitting drinking pints or visiting their therapist.
The writing is really something special, the way it had me laughing one minute and on the verge of tears the next was fascinating, and I hoped that others would have a similar experience.
As with many writers and filmmakers, Andy was inspired by some other work. He cited the likes of Spitting Image, Bronx Bunny and Team America for the creation of Danny, Nelson and the gang.
Andy: “CGI is now the go to thing for everything but I think puppets hit a nostalgia bone with most people. Maybe it’s a longing to return to a simpler time who knows.”
And you can definitely see those influences in the work, with some political satire gags also making their way into Autumn Never Dies.
I would definitely recommend giving this film a go, especially if you find yourself needing a laugh.
Thank you to Andy McEwen for sharing the film with me, and for the great answers!
You can watch the trailer for Autumn Never Dies below.
Got a short film you want me to review? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org with any relevant details.