‘Stutterer’ may be the title of Irish filmmaker Benjamin Cleary’s Oscar nominated short film but stuttering is certainly not an apt adjective when describing his swift ascent to the top tier of the industry.
Produced by UK-based Bare Golly Films on a budget of just £5,000, ‘Stutterer’ tells the tale of a lonely typographer with a cruel speech impediment but an eloquent inner voice who must face his greatest fear when a woman he met online turns up unexpectedly.
Despite racking up an impressive nine awards in its’ international festival run last year, Cleary, who wrote, directed and edited the film, states that the Oscar nomination took him completely by surprise.
“It’s funny because this time two years ago, myself and producers Serena Armitage and Shan Christopher Ogilvie were sitting around a dinner table talking about maybe throwing a few grand into this project”,said Cleary, who is now based in Dublin again after a number of years in London. “It has been an absolutely insane journey. We were just delighted to get this film into the Galway Film Fleadh and now next month we will be at the Oscars - it’s very surreal.”
With the Oscar nominee tag now veritably pinned to his chest, has Cleary noticed any doors opening since his nomination?
“Not so much doors opening but I have been in a lot of interesting meetings of late which has been really encouraging. Hopefully, moving forward, getting funding will be a little easier.”
Acclaimed by critics for its’ originality, the idea for ‘Stutterer’ hit Cleary when he came upon a video of a man with a stutter speaking openly about his speech impediment online.
“That was the initial idea”, said Cleary, who completed a Music & Audio Tech course in Pulse College in Dublin before undertaking a Screenwriting MA at the London Film School. “This man had gotten to the point where he was fine talking to people face to face but his stutter would come crashing back as soon as he picked up the phone. That touched me and I just started thinking about how someone with that issue might try to navigate through life. I also would love to hear the inner voice of this person – a witty, eloquent voice in contrast to how he speaks externally.”
With so many layers enveloped in as rich a story as ‘Stutterer’, was it hard for the filmmaker to fit it all into just 13 minutes of screen time?
“Short films are a great place to learn about how to be economical. You have to cut to the chase. There are a lot of layers to this film and I knew there was a risk in the script opening with a sub-plot of him on the phone before the main plot kicks in of a woman he met online turning up unexpectedly in London. We knew it was risky cramming all that into a short but we knew it was a risk worth taking if we had a chance of hitting the right emotional beat.”
After leaving the directing duties to other people in the past, was it daunting for Cleary to direct ‘Stutterer’?
“Directing was always something I had planned to do but it is very hard to go into a room looking for funding and have absolutely no portfolio to show. I started on the screenwriting side and I was very lucky to have some really talented people direct my scripts. But my intention was always to direct myself so we just raised a few quid and went for it. It just seemed like the right time.”
With a very impressive directorial debut under his belt, Cleary is currently trying to get funding to write and direct another short film as well as developing his first feature film. Another short he wrote – ‘Love Is A Sting’ directed by Vincent Gallagher – is currently on the long-list for the 2017 Oscars after winning at the Cork Film Festival last year.
“I am so happy for the lads. Vincent Gallagher did such an amazing job with the film and I was over the moon to hear it was on the long-list for the Oscars. I am sure it will play at a lot of festivals this year and then who knows?”
The Oscar ceremony takes place on February 28th. Check out the trailer for ‘Stutterer’ below: