“I’m buzzing – I haven’t slept at all, the party’s still going on.”
It’s 9:30am in West Hollywood the day after the Oscars, and Shan Christopher Ogilvie is still trying to process the fact that he’s an Academy Award winner.
Ogilvie is one of the producers behind Stutterer, the 12-minute movie that won the Best Short Film Oscar on Sunday.
It’s been an insane rollercoaster ride for the Brit, his fellow producer Serena Armitage and Irish writer/director Benjamin Cleary. The trio have been friends for several years, with the producers working behind the scenes on everything from Come Dine With Me to Piers Morgan’s Life Stories and a Channel 5 documentary on Moors Murderer Ian Brady.
Cleary’s scripts won him awards, but he was itching to direct for the first time.
“Serena hid the Oscars application forms under her paperwork as she didn’t want anyone else to see.”
“Without a track record nobody would fund him to direct,” Ogilvie tells Loaded. “So we said ‘Right, let’s just make a low-budget short ourselves.’”
Ideas flew around, but they were too ambitious for the budget Ogilvie and Armitage’s Bare Golly Films could muster. After jettisoning early ideas, Cleary landed on the idea of Stutterer, the story of a typographer with a crippling speech impediment who struggles to navigate dating in the digital world. It’s a condition his father and brother suffered from.
The number of locations and actors were kept to a minimum, and Cleary recruited former Casualty star Matthew Needham for the lead role. Fast-forward two years and Cleary, Ogilvie, Armitage and their director of photography Michael Paleodimos are on-stage at the Dolby Theatre clutching an Oscar and desperately trying to get out their thank yous amid a mad adrenaline rush.
How did they do it? And what is it really like behind the scenes at the Academy Awards? Ogilvie takes us through Stutterer’s incredible journey in seven steps; from shoestring-budget short to being the toast of Hollywood.
£5,000 can fund an Oscar-winning film
Cleary used money from winning screenwriting competitions and rented out his room for two months to help scrape together a budget. Most importantly, he had the belief and backing of his producers.
“Ben’s a really talented writer. His scripts all had a real warmth and lightness to them – something that’s reflective of him as a person,” Ogilvie explains. “Serena and I knew he was a really talented guy. He pitched this idea to us after a dinner party as we were washing up and it was just ‘Wow’.”
This was in March 2014. By May of that year, Cleary had written a script and the film was ready to roll.
“His idea really stuck with us, particularly the ending,” Ogilvie adds. “The idea was exactly the same from him pitching it, through every script draft and every cut.
“The whole thing was a complete surprise. Our initial goal was to make a film that represented Ben as a director.”
Film festivals are the breakthrough
Stutterer was rejected by several big name festivals, but momentum started to build after wins at Savannah, Kerry and Aesthetica festivals.
“We got into LA Shorts and we were really chuffed with that,” recalls Ogilvie. “It turned out a week later – and we hadn’t even been checking – that it won an award there. That win qualified it for submission to the Oscars.”
Ogilvie and Armitage were unsure about whether to put the film forward, joking about it as the deadline crept up. At Bare Golly’s offices, Armitage discreetly filled out the applications to get Stutterer in before the doors slammed shut.
“We didn’t think we had a chance, but we thought that because it didn’t cost anything we may as well submit it,” says Ogilvie. “Serena was doing the application at work, but hiding the forms under her papers because she didn’t want anyone to see.
“We got it in last-minute and didn’t think anything of it, and then out of nowhere it got shortlisted and it was a complete surprise.”
Team Stutterer couldn’t afford a limo to the red carpet
Ogilvie and the Stutterer crew managed to get tickets to Sunday’s Oscars ceremony. They kept it relaxed in the lead-up, and took a non-traditional route to the red carpet on Hollywood Boulevard.
“We didn’t get a limo, they’re pretty pricey,” Ogilvie says. “We made the film on a shoestring of £5,000 and a limo cost £1,200. We just got Ubers down there and rocked up to the red carpet.”
Before Stutterer won, the team felt “every human emotion”
Ogilvie describes the moments before the presenters – Room star Jacob Tremblay and Beasts Of No Nation’s Abraham Attah – announced them as winners as a “surreal blur”. And they didn’t prepare a speech for it.
“It felt like every human emotion,” Ogilvie says. “At that point, being in that environment in that room, you were just happy to be there. We didn’t have any expectations, but it got to a point where it started to feel real. We were nominated for an Oscar, so maybe we were in with a chance?
“We didn’t really plan anything to say, we were thinking about what we should do if we won. Should we all go up? The four of us went up and winged it.”
Leonardo DiCaprio left them starstruck
— Variety (@Variety) February 29, 2016
Backstage, where Oscar winners get their statues engraved, Ogilvie and the team came face-to-face with the man of the night.
“There was a moment with Leo where he was getting his statue engraved and he congratulated us,” he says. “Something like that was incredible, as Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the finest actors. It was surreal being there with all those people.”
The producer was also fast to praise director Lenny Abrahamson, whose film Room won Best Actress for Brie Larson and was nominated for Best Picture.
“Lenny couldn’t have been nicer. He was an incredibly down-to earth-guy and there was no sense of him seeing us as just being in the Shorts category,” he says. “It was great to see Brie Larson win, because she was absolutely incredible in that film. We did get to say hello to her. She was very courteous and nice.”
Who’s keeping the Stutterer Oscars?
The Academy hands out two Oscar statues to short winners; one for the director and another for a designated producer.
Ogilvie and Armitage had to settle it with a flip of the coin, but both of them found a neat way to share the spoils.
“Ben is the writer-director so he gets one, then Serena and myself get one as we produced it,” Ogilvie explains. “We had to flip a coin to see who got nominated, because they could only have one producer. That was heartbreaking, but we decided that the person who lost the toss would get to keep the statue.”
“Where’s it going to be kept? I haven’t thought about that… probably on my desk so I can see it when I’m working!”
Though the natural step would be into full-length features, Ogilvie says Bare Golly enjoy the creative freedom of making shorts and hope to continue making more. He, Armitage and Cleary are all developing scripts for new projects.
“We are interested in making feature films,” he notes. “This is a great stepping stone, a lot of doors are opening and we are having meetings in LA and back home. Hopefully we’ll be doing both shorts and features.”