Simon Ellis became one of the hottest rising talents of the UK film scene with his lauded short film, Soft, about a father and son coming to terms with bullying. That Bafta-nominated film won 35 festival prizes including best international short at Sundance 2008.
For his first feature he isn't playing it safe by any means. He has made a film with a darkly comic, different sensibility from Soft and the title - Dogging: A Love Story - signals that it is an unusual project. 'The subject matter is something I've never done before: it's people getting together and a bit of romance. That's the polar opposite of Soft,' says Ellis who is based in Nottingham, in the Midlands of England.
The two parts of the title do hold true for the film - there are scenes of sex in cars and some explicit shots of ejaculating on windshields - but there is a sweeter romance at the core. 'This duality was definitely something that attracted me to the project,' the director says. 'Dogging and love hardly roll off the tongue together and that contradiction was instantly appealing.'
Luke Treadaway plays an aspiring journalist whose boorish cousin inspires an idea for an article about the dogging subculture. Dan pretends to be a dogging expert on the internet but meets another novice who is also looking more for romance than sex in car parks.
Dogging had packed screenings at its world premiere in competition at Rotterdam (where it was the top title viewed in the video room) and now travels to the Dublin International Film Festival (February 12-22). Vertigo is releasing it in the UK this spring.
'We shot the film under the working title 'Northern Star: A Love Story' to avoid any potential press problems,' says Ellis of the challenges he knows he will face when marketing the film in the UK. 'Those who knew about the dogging element embraced it fully, with good humour, but what the press might think remains to be seen.'
Producer/distributor Vertigo Films sent Ellis the original script by Michael Groom in summer 2005 and then Brock Norman Brock came on to work in development and production at Vertigo and Brock spent a year helping with rewrites. The film shot for 30 days in November and December 2006 in Newcastle on a shooting budget of about £290,000, entirely funded by Vertigo. 'We didn't try to get public funding because we wanted maximum control,' Ellis says.
Ellis himself edited it on and off for a year and a half. 'Because I had to keep distance myself, I was just stepping out to get away from it,' the director says. 'I've had a long time to shape it. I also wrote (and later shot) new scenes during the edit and changed music ideas.'
Even with a feature under his belt, Ellis has ideas for nine new shorts (he has been actively making shorts since 1996). 'I'll definitely keep making shorts and I'll keep making features if I'm lucky,' he says.
Ellis says Soft was always intended as part of a longer feature he was writing, so he is working on that script for his next feature. But don't expect it to be Soft2. 'It's not so much about bullying; it's about a father who falls into a great depression and how that affects his relationship with his son,' Ellis says. 'It's a man's version of looking at the male psyche.'