Spotlight On: Candy

Filmmaker Sarah Grant and producer Misha McCullagh recently chatted to us about challenging societal norms and reclaiming female sexuality in their Sharp Shorts-funded film, Candy.

Pictured: Sarah Grant takes centre stage behind-the-scenes of her Sharp Shorts funded film, Candy
Credit: Kevin J. Thomson

When did your interest in filmmaking start and what were you doing before you became a filmmaker?

SG: I’ve known I wanted to make films since my early teens. I remember watching Moulin Rouge for the first time and having an epiphany that behind all the colour and songs and theatricality was someone making all the creative choices. I wanted to be that person. I studied Film and English at Uni and after I graduated, I worked as a waitress. I had a five-year savings plan to buy a camera. I won a competition that gave me £8k worth of industry equipment, so I was able to start making films which led to my first videographer job. 

MM: I trained as an actor and always imagined the theatre was where I would end up… When I graduated I did a work placement at STV Creative and saw the production process for the first time. Long story short, I got hooked on the quick turnaround buzz of making short content. Since then, I have pin-balled around the creative industries, juggling jobs and trying to stay afloat. The most rewarding work I’ve done has been centred around people, their stories and bringing out the best in them then sharing that energy with audiences. In the last year I have really committed to training up as a producer in film and TV. There doesn’t seem to be a clear path but making short films has been a great training ground and has allowed me to work on fresh ideas, with exciting talent and brilliant teams.

What made you want to apply for Sharp Shorts?

SG: I had worked with Short Circuit through the First Features programme and got so much out of the development process. I had a lot of self-funded, crowdfunded and zero budget shorts behind me, but not an industry funded short. Applying to Sharp Shorts was the obvious next step for me so I could continue my relationship with the team and create a short that would support my work on First Features.

MM: The support you get alongside the commision is an invaluable package for filmmakers looking to gain experience. As a producer in training I knew that the masterclasses would be really beneficial and ultimately having the support of Screen Scotland and BFI NETWORK through Sharp Shorts is a great jumping off point. I had previously produced a GMAC Little Pictures film, so Sharp Shorts was the logical next step for funded shorts in Scotland – although it is still quite a jump.

Tell us a bit about your Sharp Shorts-supported film.

SG: Candy is about plus size burlesque enthusiast Mandy, and the run up to her first public performance. But only when her best friend needs her help does she find the confidence to perform in her full power.

MM: Sarah got in touch with me after she had been selected for Short Circuit funding so I wasn’t part of the initial development. I’d been recommended as a producer through a mutual friend. We hadn’t worked together before but it turned out to be a match made in heaven. Candy is a body positive comedy that joyfully reclaims female sexuality and self confidence. It’s a story I relate to and I loved the vibrancy and vivacity of the script. It’s a colourful, empowering, showstopper of a film and I think it’s a great time to be telling stories that lift people up and leave audiences buzzing. 

What did you learn through taking part in Sharp Shorts? How was your experience working with the Short Circuit team?

SG: I loved the whole development process. Being part of peer review, the masterclasses and one-to-one script development process meant that when it came to putting Candy into production I felt really ready for it.

MM: I learned a hell of a lot. Particularly how hard it is to produce a film! The Short Circuit team were a great support, offering advice, guidance and insight throughout the process.

“The bodies we see on screen have looked the same for far too long and it’s not representative of the world we live in. Everyone should get the opportunity to see themselves reflected on screen, especially a character who totally owns their sexiness and stands in their power. “

What was your creative process? How did you get ready to make your film?

SG: Because I was playing ‘Mandy’ I approached the film differently than I normally would. I’m not normally an actor, so I had a lot of fear about being both the performer and the director in front of a crew I had never worked with before. I tried to use that fear as much as possible. Mandy knows she has everything she needs to take centre stage and do what she loves, I tried to feel the same way.

MM: I read the script multiple times and broke it down into lists of what needed done and the priority. I spoke to Sarah about what her vision was for the film and we talked in depth about the characters, their motivations and how we wanted to portray them. With our execs Lauren and Gabriel and 1st AD Charlotte, Sarah and I had lots of conversations about our more complicated scenes and discussed the various ways we could get the shots we needed in the best and safest way. Although this is very practical, it’s such a rewarding part of creative problem solving when preparing for a shoot.

Why do you feel stories like this are important?

SG: Plus size women are never allowed to have a main character moment on film. They are either the ‘Fat Girl Best Friend’ trope or the butt of the joke. I wanted to make a film that unapologetically placed a comedic plus size character front and centre and have her own her sexiness. Women who look like me don’t get many opportunities to feel good about ourselves and the film industry has been historically unkind to us. Candy is a message that everyone who doesn’t fit the societal norm of sexy should still get to have a dance-topless-on-top-off-a-car moment. 

MM: The bodies we see on screen have looked the same for far too long and it’s not representative of the world we live in. Everyone should get the opportunity to see themselves reflected on screen, especially a character who totally owns their sexiness and stands in their power.

Pictured: Producer Misha McCullagh behind-the-scenes of Sharp Shorts funded film, Candy
Credit: Kevin J. Thomson

What are you hoping for audiences to get out of your film?

SG: Simply put, pure joy.

MM: I want audiences to feel empowered, inspired and elated. The final scene makes me want to whoop with joy and I hope audiences will feel that energy too!

What was the greatest hurdle you encountered whilst shooting, can you tell us how you overcame that?

SG: Shooting on top of a platform in Kinning Park in February had its challenges. We had so much to do that day that we were running over late at night, and I felt I couldn’t be as hands on at that time because I was getting ready for a really intense scene in the film. But the whole crew was so supportive and kind, I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing group of people. As hard as the day was it was so rewarding. 

MM: The biggest challenge for me was navigating cast and crew safety during a night shoot in Glasgow especially since we were shooting a sensitive scene. We had to change our shoot schedule at very short notice due to concerns about football crowds, this was the first hurdle which the crew and cast managed beautifully. On the night, we had security personnel standing by. When there was a bit of trouble it was handled calmly, safely and efficiently by the team.

How easy was it to navigate the COVID-19 situation? What support did you have?

SG: We had a covid supervisor with us who made everything easier for us.

MM: We were very fortunate to get an additional £5k funding to navigate COVID which allowed us to get PCR tests for all cast and crew. We also had a COVID coordinator who organised everything, monitored the results and maintained COVID protocols on set. The additional budget made it possible for us to work with safety as a priority instead of cutting corners due to cost restrictions.

What piece of advice would you give to someone applying for Sharp Shorts?

SG: It’s all about your story outline. Make sure it’s clear and concise, don’t try to pack too much into it, and put as much of your voice into it. This will be your calling card film so make sure you are pitching what you want, not what you think the panel wants to hear. 

MM: Go for it! Even if you feel like you don’t have enough experience. We are always our own biggest critics so chances are you’d rise to the challenge and do great (and you’ll learn loads)! The Short Circuit team are brilliant at supporting the filmmaking teams no matter their experience. They can always link you with the right people to support you if there are skills you are yet to learn. 

Candy is set to premiere at BAFTA & BIFA-qualifying Bolton Film Festival this October with physical screenings taking place from 5th-9th and online screenings taking place from 12th-23rd. The film will also be screening at Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York between 1st-6th of November.