‘Cool Unicorn Bruv’ dir. Ninian Doff

This short shows a rainbow firing unicorn causing a stir on Brick lane.

Writer-Director: Ninian Doff
Producer: Seth Wilson
DOP: Ben Fordesman
Key Cast: Alex Harvey, Nathan Bryon, Abrahim Jarmin, Crystal the Unicorn

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Cool Unicorn Bruv’ come from?

ND: I was offered a unicorn! A chap called Mike Clear at LBi phoned me up on a Thursday evening to say they’d hired a unicorn for a photo shoot for the following Wednesday and, feeling like it was a bit of waste since they had it for the day, wanted to know if I wanted to use it too! Ha ha such a surreal incredible phone call. I got off the phone and wrote the script that night.

C8: It’s cliché to say ‘never work with animals’ but what was it like working with Chrystal the Unicorn?

ND: Very easy, I guess Unicorns are the exception to the rule.

C8: What was the biggest obstacle you faced while filming and how did you overcome it?

ND: Time is always the biggest obstacle on any shoot. This was outdoors in mid winter which meant it got dark at about 4.30pm – not ideal.

C8: How did you achieve the visual effects shots such as the horn and the rainbow?

ND: I did them myself! My background is in post production which has been very useful as it means I can write in little post tricks into scripts knowing we can do them.

C8: You regularly use VFX in your work. Where did your interest in VFX begin and how easy was it for you to get to grips with?

ND: It came from editing. I was in house editor at an advertising agency for a few years and whilst there got really into After Effects. I then left that job to pursue directing, and to earn money whilst I built up a reel specialized in VFX work. It’s something I love doing, though the fact that I’m still rubbish at 3D is a constant frustration.

C8: Do you feel that emerging artists need to be even more knowledgeable about the technical details of filmmaking?

ND: 100%. There’s a great quote from Robert Rodriguez which goes something like “A technical person can never learn to be creative, but a creative person can learn to be technical” Basically if you have the ideas and can also make the ideas happen then you’re unstoppable. All my early videos I shot, edited and did all the months of post on all by myself.

C8: The tone of your work is quite quirky. How would you describe your style and has it evolved since you first started directing?

ND: That’s an interesting question. I think narrative is becoming stronger and more confident in my work as it develops. I seems to be telling more stories now rather than just crazy visuals.

C8: ‘Cool Unicorn Bruv’ was featured as part of Channel 4’s Random Acts strand. Can you talk about some of the challenges of trying to tell a visual story in under three minutes?

ND: I think it’s a great challenge. Short films definitely benefit from being short, unfortunately they’re often very self-indulgent and could be cut down. There’s a nasty joke I read in an interview with Peter Serafenowitz which was “How do you know you’re watching a short film? It feels really long”. I feel like you need a really good reason to justify going over ten minutes! I’m really proud of how much of a story and character actually manages to get told in the 90 seconds of ‘Cool Unicorn Bruv’. There’s no time for long drawn out establishing shots when you have a strict time limit.

C8: You often direct music promos. What are some of the key differences between making short films and music videos?

ND: In a way not much. I approach them both in a very similar way. The big difference is obviously there’s no dialogue in a music video but good music videos they still feel like cinematic, narrative short films to me. I truly think they’re the modern continuation of silent movies.

C8: What makes for a great collaboration?

ND: Enthusiasm from everyone involved and also throwing your ego out the room. Everyone around you has ideas that might elevate your film into something incredible and so you should be open to them.

C8: What’s next for you? What can we expect from you in the future?

ND: I just got confirmed on a music video for a very big band but not sure I can say who yet. But I’m so insanely excited about it. It’s really dark and intense and I keep daydreaming about it so hopefully you’ll see it soon.