The Locksmith tells the story of Dave Parker, a highly trained locksmith whose skills end up putting him in a sticky situation.
Clocking in at one minute long and featuring only a single actor, this independent comedy is simple, visually striking, and subtly subversive. We spoke to director Rob Heard about this quirky short.
Where did the idea for this project come from?
It started with the idea of trying to make a film contained entirely on a tabletop. It felt like an interesting challenge and a good way of keeping costs down!
Telling the story over the course of only a minute, how does that change the way you approach a film?
You don’t really have time to approach it in terms of acts and character arcs and all of that. So, you really just want to set it up quickly and then pay it off with a surprise – just like a joke. I do this a lot with TV commercials, but this film was different from an advert as it starts a lot slower. Normally, with an ad, you only have 30 seconds to get your story across, and you need to grab the viewer’s attention right from the start. I worried that the pace at the start of the film was too slow, but people seem to slide into it.
The film has a very particular aesthetic style – the persistent close-up of the hands at work. Tell me a bit about how you arrived at that style, and your reasons behind it.
I thought just showing the hands was an interesting exercise visually, but also subtly added to the suspense – you keep waiting to sort of see this guy and you never really do. This allows the viewer to create a stronger image of the character using their own imagination than if we just showed him sitting at the desk. So we took pains not to show him too much, which in turn led to some interesting shots – taking a sip of tea shot from above, for instance. It was fun to make.
The Locksmith begins with the energy of a documentary. What lengths did you go to in order to make the film feel authentic?
As the idea developed, it became obvious that the set up was going to look and feel very much like the kind of ‘craft’ film you see on YouTube, where we get to see someone stringing a violin or some such. Generally very beautifully shot but sometimes a bit lacking in terms of storytelling. As I could see the film was starting to go this way, I decided it would be funny to try and subvert that by having a tiny little twist in the tail – just to make people smile.
So, in order for the reveal at the end to work, we needed to really push the ‘crafts person’ vibe to the hilt – ergo the soft side lighting and warm tones. We hired a distressed piece of wood, some old locks and an old safe from a props house. I also got a friend of mine, Martin, who is an actual locksmith, to play the main part, as his hands just looked right and obviously he knew what he was doing, which comes across strongly in the film. He also brought an extensive range of tools. Without him, I don’t think it would have worked. He also ended up genuinely breaking into the safe as the props house forgot to provide us with a key!
How did you manage the tonal shift that occurs at the end of the film?
This goes back to the ides of approaching it like a joke, or a magic trick, and was done at the script stage. It relies on the viewer’s knowledge of genre to lull them into a situation where they can be surprised. By about 30 seconds in, as a viewer, you accept that the world of the film is contained within the tabletop, because that is obviously the conceit. So as you are watching the guy’s hands at work you sort of forget that there could be a wider world or scenario just waiting to reveal itself. Like with a magic trick, you concentrate so hard on the hands, you forget what might be hidden up the sleeves. And the voice over also lulls us into a false sense of security, as the monologue seems to be part of an interview with a perfectly ordinary locksmith. Only at the end of the piece do we realise that everything he says about his career could equally apply to someone who wanted to open locks for nefarious reasons.
What are you up to next?
I’ve just finished a big TV ad campaign which has taken up a lot of my time and creative energy. But in terms of my own projects, I’m developing a caper movie with the guys I play football with on a Thursday night – there’s about 50 of us. And I’m hoping to bring back the Dave Parker character for another spin!