A man ponders existence and what it all means, if only he had a sign to tell him.
A one minute, one shot, existential comedy written & directed by Daniel Harding, starring Neil James, with Director of Photography Matt Prior and a score composed by Gus Nicholson.
The film was released online in May 2016, and has been entered into a number of specialised festivals for ‘one minute’ or ‘one take’ short films.
Toast developed from a delay in Daniel’s next project Two Pound Forty Pence. Neil, who also stars in that film, suggested that Daniel write a story that could be shot indoors with relative ease, and not reliant on good weather. The script also developed from Neil’s idea of doing something in one continuous shot, whist Daniel wanted to make a film under one minute. A two page script was drafted within a day.
The first attempt to film Toast was scrapped, and a second day was scheduled for early 2016. It took forty-nine takes before Toast wrapped, and post-production lasted less than a week.
This film marks the fourth collaboration between Daniel and Neil, and his first with Matt and Gus.
MEET THE CAST
Q&A WITH WRITER/DIRECTOR DANIEL HARDING
Where did the idea for Toast come from? I was actually at work when I was talking to Neil about doing something new because Two Pound Forty Pence had to be postponed to the new year as the weather had just turned very cold. We needed something indoors, and with just one character – I couldn’t afford to pay for anymore roles. So I decided it had to be an inner monologue story, as it is very hard to do a comedy with no dialogue. It has always fascinated me how people look for answers or signs where there are none, and how we as human beings tell ourselves stories to fit the narrative we want to live. I’ve been playing around with that idea for years, but as soon as Neil laid down the challenge for this project, it suddenly fell into place.
Can you explain why it took forty-nine takes? Well actually it is a lot more than that because I completely scrapped the first attempt, which was a slightly different set up. Basically, because it is all done in one take, there is absolutely nowhere to hide your mistakes. I like things to be a certain way, whether it be the smoothness of the camera track or the tilt down. If it’s not as good as I want it to be, I won’t allow myself to use it – it will haunt me forever otherwise. When you’re editing from numerous shots, you can cut around the bits that you don’t like. With this project, there was no cutting away.
What was the set up like? Neil being the only actor was great, because we actually run into a few complication, especially with time. It took a while for me and Matt (the DOP) to set up the lighting, track and work out the camera movements. Actually, on the second attempt we told him to turn up later than us so we could crack on and not feel the pressure of an actor staring at us and waiting. Once everything was set up, it become very much like a routined dance or orchestra where we all had our different beats to hit. I can certainly see the attraction of doing things on a bigger scale in one take, it focuses you and the crew to what needs to be done. Normally I am running round like a headless chicken, so people don’t have much time to perfect their performance in detail.
Can you explain why it was like a dance? Neil had performance cues, but on those cues, the camera had to be in a certain place – which relied on me tracking the camera back and Matt focusing the camera and locking off at a certain point so we got a steady frame. He then had to unlock the camera as I pushed in smoothly, to hit a closer framing of Neil whilst Matt focused. He then locked off again but unlocked a different part so we could pan. I then followed Neil, Matt locked off the pan and unlocked the tilt so I can tilt down for the reveal. I am not surprised I can still remember what we had to do, we did so many bloody takes! I’m not sure that description would make sense to anyone else though.
What sign does he see on the toast? It has to be a holy symbol of some kind. My lawyer has advised me to not comment any further.
And finally, how do you take your toast? Lightly toasted, with lots of butter and a light covering of Marmite.
Q&A WITH DOP MATT PRIOR
Can you give us a bit of background on yourself? I’m a freelance camera operator and aspiring DOP. My background is mostly in corporate and event videos but I have dabbled in several low budget short and feature length films over the years too.
How did Toast come about for you? I had seen some of Daniel’s previous work online and thought it demonstrated a level of maturity not often seen from a director so young. I spent several months on social media trying to catch him for a coffee and to show him some of the work I had done to try to persuade him to let me do some lighting for him. By the time we got round to it a week later we were shooting Toast.
Can you talk us through your set up? Shooting in a relatively small location and only having one shot to film meant we were naturally quite restricted in terms of framing and lighting. I worked with Dan carefully to block the shot so that we could get enough movement to make it visually interesting but also successfully hide the lights and allow us to operate! The lighting was actually quite simple; only needing to use two Arri 800W hard lights. There was no desire for this shoot to be particularly moody or have high contrast so using a diffuser to soften the key light (the sunlight coming in) and bouncing one light off the toilet wall in the background and stopping it down with some ND seemed to work perfectly.
What was it like working on set with Daniel and Neil? I’ve worked with Neil many times before so it was great to be on set with him again. His performances were so good that I was having to suppress the giggles all the way through a few takes. Very difficult when you’re already having to multi task! As for Dan, well it was great to experience my first short project with him. I learned that not only is he a very focused and determined filmmaker, but he also values his cast and crew input. Not to say that he’s a pushover, he certainly knows what he wants, but in terms of development he knows that he can’t always do everything himself and that delegation and trust in key crew members is going to allow him to grow as a filmmaker. I’m glad to have had a chance to prove my worth!
And finally, how do your like your toast? My toast is actually just warm bread. Number 1 or at a push number 2 on the toaster, with butter AND chunky peanut butter. Scrumptious!
“Actor Neil James is, quite simply, perfect for this role as Mark, showcasing a normal, slightly odd bloke who would most likely be found standing in his kitchen, fixing a bite, pondering the concept of being and being cared for by something higher than himself…”
OFFICIAL FESTIVAL SELECTIONS
The One Shot Move Competition, 24-25 October 2016
Miami Independent Film Festival, June 2016