Q&A with Lee Bailes

BFF spoke to Lee Bailes - the director of the short film 'Mr Clean'. The short film is the September winner of our monthly short film contest and an official selection for the 2021 festival.

What was the inspiration behind making this film?

Mr Clean was inspired by two different ideas. Originally, I was seeing bizarre stories about people breaking into houses and cleaning them. The most interesting was one of a serial burglar-cleaner, who left no traces but did it to show how the people living in these homes lived like pigs. But then I could never find that story again, as if it got wiped / covered-up. And later, I realised that an old HP Lovecraft image, from another film script / story of mine, would work perfectly: a naked man, licking the blood off a tiled floor, before later cleaning the crime scene.... but ultimately, after just being an idea on paper, it all came together when Darwin reread my script and saw the storyboards I'd started doing and asked me why the hell weren't we making this film already?

One other thing of note, I had changed camera systems and needed to shoot something, to do a camera test with the GH5. Mr Clean was kind of born out of that necessity. Because we had a specific goal - make enough short films, of the right quality to get into fests, to potentially win some awards, and later be picked up for distribution. But we felt that a newer camera would help us pull that off.

What did you learn from the experience making the film?

I learned how to complete something. I became a finisher. I'd made two shorts before and had not released them, due to dissatisfaction with being what we'd filmed, how it didn't match the script and the key team, like the editors on both movies / people lost interest and left me to finish it alone. And ultimately life would get in the way or I'd allow it to do so. But I learned on Mr Clean that even when your cinematographer doesn't show up, your editor quits and when they hand the project files to you, they're corrupt / unusable and you have to start right from the beginning, that although it will take much longer than you envisaged, you can get it done. Basically, I devoted 18 straight months to it after we shot it, to getting it done and having that all important premiere in a local cinema. And that was my very own film school / reward. 

I learned that nothing ever quite turns out the way you envisaged it. Not exactly. But if you know if it's good enough and can work with it on the day, that experience helps you make the right calls when you come to put it all together. 

I also learned that no matter how much you scrub, that not all of the fake blood will get cleaned up if you get carried away with firing a pressure sprayer in your bathroom. 

How has the film been received?

It's strange. This is my first time putting my own film into festivals and seeing how it works first hand, rather than learning from Darwin or other collaborators how the films I've contributed to have been received by festivals and audiences. I've seen enough rejection notices to make me think it wasn't worth it and wanted to give up. But then something like this win comes in and I become a giggly, smiling loon and shout it from the roof tops and then nervously waiting for the next decision. But more importantly, of the people that just want to watch it, I've had nothing but positive feedback on the film. Yes, there are always areas for improvement, but if you think that we shot a short film with a 2-3-man crew (when Darwin wasn't being Mr Clean, he was helping behind the camera) and tried to make something that could compete with professionally crowd funded and crewed shorts, and produced with access to budgets we could only dream of, it's really quite impressive to get any wins at all. 

It will be interesting to see how it plays at the H P Lovecraft film festival, to its true intended audience and pure horror and SF audiences; and also how it will be received by critics. 

What do you love the most about the filmmaking process?

From a literal aspect, the foley and sound design aspect was a lot of fun. Shooting is stressful. And trying to do it all at the same time, is not for the faint of heart. But later, goofing off with a cleaver in the bathroom, slicing carrots and snapping celery and then stomping around the house while wearing the clean suit and booties etc, while the missus helped record it, was great fun. Also, for me the overall aspect of taking an idea and fleshing out a story from it, world building and defining the logic of what's happening in that world and then later designing each aspect of it, to better communicate your vision, that was fulfilling. There were many hours researching occult geometry and symbolism and creating intestines and sourcing props. 

But actually, I think that it's the friendship that comes from building a team and collaborating with others. I thought that this would be stressful. But I've made some real friends out of this experience, and we've bonded through that shared battle to get it done. And we've since worked together on other films. And I love that once you give them a brief, they come back with more than what you first thought of - always going further and bringing their own influences and talent to the project. 

What is your advice to filmmakers making their debut short film?

1. Finish it. No matter what. And then show it to people for feedback, to see how it worked and advice on how to improve. Don't be like me and make things and keep them hidden. 

2. Be prepared to fail, and be ok with failing hard and even failing often. But do the work, keep at it and learn from any mistakes / don't keep making the same mistakes. Fail. Learn. Grow! - I do shoot diaries on every shoot, no matter how much it hurts to read about what mistakes we made. And I publish them on my blog for all to see. But the idea is that I'm the biggest fool if I have a record of me cocking up and I keep doing the same thing.

3. Buy 3x more duct tape than you think you need. It's awesome stuff. A life saver. 

What are you up to next?

I'm editing Tumble Dying, a micro comedy horror short (https://eibonfilms.co.uk/tumble-dying/) that we shot in August, after our last micro comedy horror short, Comfort Him (https://eibonfilms.co.uk/comfort-him/) has done well and also won a few awards. 

I'm rewriting a comedy horror feature script for production next year. A commission that came on the back of Mr Clean's initial success.

I'm also half way through writing Mr Clean the feature, purely because people want to see how the rest of the web series would have panned out and people keep wanting more.