Spotlight On: Sean Lìonadh

Filmmaker Sean Lìonadh shares his thoughts on the importance of ​world building in film and the process of making his Sharp Shorts funded drama Too Rough throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pictured: Behind the Scenes of Sean Lìonadh’s Sharp Shorts funded project Too Rough
Credit: Kevin J. Thomson

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

As soon as I realised films didn’t grow on trees, I was obsessed with the filmmaking process which seemed to me to be indistinguishable from magic. I had always wanted to write books, and film directing shared that god-like appeal – not in a dictatorial sense, but in the sense of being able to create a world to hide in that was far away from housing schemes and alcoholism. The irony is, now all those things are central to the stories I tell.

What made you want to apply for Sharp Shorts?

While I’d been building as much experience as I could to help support any funding application I could, Sharp Shorts seemed to be most interested in story, and that really excited me, because the story is what I felt was my strongest asset.

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

Too Rough is essentially about two young men in a relationship that has reached an impasse. Then they’re thrown into a bedroom that they can’t leave, surrounded by danger, whilst also very hungover. Nick, my hero, is a character I love, portrayed incredibly by Ruaridh Mollica. Nick’s an incredibly sensitive soul who has been hardened by his environment – and he’s finally presented with the opportunity to open his heart.

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

This is the first time I’ve ever worked with producers, Alfredo Covelli and Ross McKenzie, rather than having to produce myself. It was an incredible relief, for instance, to find a stationery box on set that had appeared with no effort on my part! For the first time, I was able to focus almost entirely on the creative decisions, without the distraction of organisation. We received support from the Short Circuit team every step of the way, from story to editing. Having such a diversity of opinions to consider is an asset to a director, because you’re able to interrogate your creative convictions. It was a very collaborative process, and a kind, human environment – rather than overtly corporate one. Being able to work with Simone Pereira-Hinds casting was also an absolute delight!

“What I love about all art is its ability to invite people to soften, rather than harden. To open, rather than close. To make friends of others, rather than enemies. If I can do any of those things even in a small dose, then I’ll be very proud!”

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

I’d love to say I had a chart and a plan, but a lot of the creative process this time was tackling problems as they arose (thanks COVID-19!), and trying to constantly follow the north star of the very first feeling that came to me with the idea – the feeling of containment, of heat, and of melting into vulnerability with a loved one. My creative process is mostly just constantly working, inverting my sleeping pattern, and being a believer.

Why do you feel stories like this are important?

All of the time and everywhere, I see people hardening to love and to relationships, and denying themselves and their hearts the nourishment they need. This is a natural response to the pain and the trauma we experience growing up, and what we learn from previous relationships. Nick, the hero of this story, is victim to this from the beginning – he hides from the love he needs, until he can’t hide any longer. The importance of this story to me is being honest about the difficulties of love and intimacy, when your relationship with love is damaged from the beginning.

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

What I love about all art is its ability to invite people to soften, rather than harden. To open, rather than close. To make friends of others, rather than enemies. If I can do any of those things even in a small dose, then I’ll be very proud!

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

COVID-19 itself was the greatest hurdle. I wanted the film to feel confined, icky, warm, infectious. Not great things to feel right now! Just about every single decision was affected by COVID-19, and the budget had to grow several arms and legs to keep the film standing. My Uber drivers were very suspicious of me. “Filmmaking is still legal, I promise” was my morning taxi mantra. We had to constantly improvise and find solutions and compromises, without damaging the creative expression. Luckily, all key cast and crew were able to take COVID-19 tests, and everything was done to reassure everyone that the workplace was safe, and the vision would remain intact.

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

Don’t forget what excited you about the idea when it first arrived. That’s your north star – let it guide you. If you believe a great film is there, feed your belief – not your doubts – and chip away until you get there. Also, use a nice font in your treatment!