Cashing in on Oscarless Cashback
The filmmakers behind best live-action short nominee Cashback may have left left the Oscar ceremony empty-handed, but their film is poised to grow bigger. Writer-director Sean Ellis and producer Lene Bausager have turned the sexy, 19-minute supermarket drama ("think a UK-style Clerkswith lots of nudity" - Variety) into a feature-length film, reuniting the short's ensemble cast.
"Originally, there were no plans to turn it into a feature film," says Ellis, normally an accomplished fashion photographer and director of music videos and commercials. "Then it did the festivals, and I saw people's reactions to the film. It really connected with people, and they really identified with people in the short."
Ellis said audiences continued to ask what happened to his quartet of disgruntled night-shift workers, played by Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Michael Lambourne and Michael Dixon, as well as their Ricky Gervais-like overlord boss (Stuart Goodwin). "I was like, wow, there seems to be life after the short," Ellis recalls.
So, in 2004, long before "Cashback" had been shortlisted by the Academy, nevermind nominated for an Oscar, Ellis and Bausager began the arduous task of building a full-length movie around the footage they already had in the can.
"We already had 20 minutes of footage," says London-based Ellis, whose credits include the 2001 short "Left Turn," which, like "Cashback," was produced by Ridley Scott's RSA Films. "That means it saved us 20 minutes of story and shooting, and it (brought) our budget down. We thought if we write a script around the existing 20 minutes, then it is something we can privately finance without the help of a studio."
Raising the money presented the usual indie film challenges. But for Bausager, the biggest obstacle was finding a single window of availability for all five actors.
"We couldn't have done it without them returning," says Bausager, a Denmark native who has been collaborating with Ellis on music videos and commercials for more than seven years. "It was a miracle that they were all available at the same time."
The new film, also titled "Cashback," finds protagonist Ben (Biggerstaff) suffering from insomnia after a difficult breakup. As a result, he takes a night-shift job at a supermarket, where his imagination runs wild. Shaun Evans ("Being Julia"), Michelle Ryan (BBC series "EastEnders"), Marc Pickering ("Calendar Girls") and Brit TV regular Nick Hancock round out the augmented cast.
Although Ellis and Bausager have yet to find a distributor for the full-length version of "Cashback," the pair signed a deal with Gaumont to sell the film internationally, excluding the U.K. Gaumont, which will release the film in the fall in France, is expected to offer rights in other territories at the Cannes Film Market.
Till then the short version of "Cashback," which is available in the US only for download from the iTunes Music Store, counts as the closest thing to a sneak preview of the new feature.