(Written for Virgin Media Shorts)
Ever wondered what you would do if you could stop time and walk around in a “frozen” world? Sounds pretty interesting, right? This is what Sean Ellis explores in his short and feature of the same name, Cashback.
Originally exhibited as a short in 2004, Cashback tells the story of Ben, an art student working the night shift in a local supermarket who finds himself with the power to freeze time whilst remaining on a normal time-frame.
This quirky, albeit interesting and unique, story line, is only one small quality amongst a list of many, however. Most of all, Cashback is stylish. Full of technically brilliant sequences and trick photography, the best quality of this short is in its transitions, as it goes backwards and forwards in time seamlessly, working as a constant stream of Ben’s consciousness.
Layered under a well-written narration, showing off its intelligence at the same time, Cashback is also sexy. The amount of nudity has proven a little controversial, and we must comment that if you are planning on watching it then it is NSFW, but let’s be honest, I’m sure we’ve all got pretty similar ideas for if we could do the same!
With a set of comedic characters, as well, Cashback is also very funny (See I told you the list was endless!). Sean Biggerstaff, who played Oliver Wood in the Harry Potter franchise for those who recognise him, leads the short well enough, but it’s the supporting cast, Michael Dixon and Michael Lambourne, who bring in the laughs.
It’s no surprise that the short film won 14 awards at international film festivals and was nominated for the 2006 Academy Award for Live Action Short Film.
Expanded to feature-length in 2006, it was the success of the short itself that made Ellis decide to turn it into a feature-length film, commenting in interviews that the more he heard people compliment his work, the more he thought there would be a market for it to be turned into a feature.
Writing the expanded script in seven days, it took only seven weeks for the feature film to be completed. It was a gamble, though, with Ellis having to re-mortgage his house and finance it through private money to finish shooting the film completely.
But the gamble certainly paid off. Why? Because Ellis worked on the many strengths of the short, using the original footage as part of the feature version itself. As the short was already quite self-contained, having its own beginning, middle, and end, Ellis’ decision to add footage around the short was to not be forced into re-shooting this middle segment, and so that the feature film didn’t become an expanded version of the short; since people enjoyed the short already, he made the decision to work the new footage around it.
Although the short was made years before the feature was even written, they fit together as if they were written and filmed all at the same time. With the short now being just a segment of the feature, running at around the half-way point to fill more story around the original idea, it’s even more impressive to see how well his story actually develops.
Having established the pace of the film already, Ellis carried on writing the script for the feature in the same style, continuing to add seamless transitions between the past and the present, giving us more background information, progression, and character developments from what the short had already introduced.
Having already cast the characters as well, Ellis more easily wrote about them with the actors specifically in mind, rather than working with fictional characters that were yet to come to life.
Expanding on the qualities that the short already established really shows, as both the feature and short showcase some brilliant, British film-making qualities. If there’s ever a short I had to recommend it would be this one, and then you would just have to watch the feature version too.