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SXSW 2019: A Conversation With “It’s Not Custard” Writer/Director Kate McCoid

Kate McCoid is a filmmaker from the UK who came to SXSW for the first time with her debut short film, “It’s Not Custard.” She has previously worked in film post-production, including in editing and visual effects. We spoke with her about her film, her influences, being at SXSW and more.

How did you come up with the story? Was it based on anything?

KM: It’s funny; the first idea I had for it was an image of a girl sitting on her bed, against a wall of acne, and then the idea sort of built around that. When I wrote it, I wanted it to be both Louise’s story, the main character, and the narrator. I liked the idea of, like, a grandfather as the narrator going to do his job and telling a fairy tale, and then when everything starts going wrong, he starts losing his cool a little bit. He starts swearing and losing the plot. I just wanted to merge those together.

Yeah, I was going to ask about the decision to have a narrator, so you totally just explained it. At the same time, it felt like he was an audience stand-in, or Louise’s subconscious.

KM: Yeah. I wanted it to be that he’s ready and he thinks this is a regular job. And when things start going wrong, he’s completely unprepared for it, and starts rooting for her and everything.

How tough was the set decoration and special effects?

KM: We were quite lucky, actually. We worked with a company called Waldo Mason Effects. They created a five-foot-by-five-foot set piece, which was the acne wall, which was interactive. He came in on the day and he drilled it to the wall and we used a set extension in post to make it.

But it was quite disgusting; we ended up with stuff all over us. But he was, like, pumping it from the other side with this giant needle and pushing it through. It was wallpaper paste and wax. Yeah, it was gross, but it was a lot of fun. It was like peeling craft glue off of your hands. But yeah, we were quite lucky. It was actually quite smooth, considering.

So the short is a dark comedy, and when I read the plot synopsis originally I thought it almost sounded like horror. Are there genres you’re specifically interested in making films in?

KM: Absolutely. I actually really like thrillers, but — it’s not a trouble, but whenever I tend to write something and I give it to someone, they’re like, ‘This is really funny!’ I think I accidentally skew towards comedy. So yeah, comedy, and I’d love to work in thrillers.

I really love Jeremy Saulnier and his stuff, like “Green Room” and “Blue Ruin.” But then, on the same side, I like fantastical, like Guillermo del Toro. A lot of people have likened [“It’s Not Custard”] to Roald Dahl, and those sorts of stories.

I can definitely see that. You talked about Jeremy Saulnier and Guillermo del Toro, but are there any other filmmakers who you get inspiration from?

KM: I’d say Henry Selick, who did “James and the Giant Peach,” or that sort of otherworldly weirdness. I just love it. Especially like, with “James and the Giant Peach,” it’s sort of stop motion, and there’s something about the world that’s sort of off. It’s not completely interactive, but it’s still fun to watch and still fun to look at.

Is there anything you’re working on that’s feature length, or could you see a stretched-out story with a piece of this in it?

KM: I think it’s sort of a contained story in itself, but I am trying to move into features. I have a couple of ideas; I have a couple of scripts. It’s just sort of finding the financing, and our producer in “[It’s Not] Custard” — she moved back to Virginia. And I’m looking for my next partner, really, so we can team up and move forward with it. In a similar sort of vein — sort of fantastical and weird.

What was it like casting for the role of Louise?

KM: Pretty comfortable; it was fantastic. We met with Charlotte [Luxford, who plays Louise], and a couple of other actresses as well. But immediately she knew exactly what we were going for, and there and then I was like, ‘Yep, okay, absolutely.’

That’s how it was with Kate [Leiper] too, who played Jennifer. Her facial expressions are just incredible, and I could just watch her eyebrows all day. There’s just something about the way that she articulates words and expressions. She just was perfect for the sister role.

It's Not Custard
Charlotte Luxford (L) and Kate Leiper in “It’s Not Custard”

What did you find was the hardest part about making a short film?

KW: Raising the money. We crowdfunded, and we did flexible funding on Indiegogo, where even if you don’t meet your goal, you can keep it. But you lose 10 percent to Indiegogo. We aimed for £10K; we got £7K, and then we ended up with £6K after everything.

So it was a struggle and we just sort of pushed through that. We were really lucky. I work in post-production, in visual effects and editorial. All of our post-production was just every favor I could pull with everyone I know, so we saved a lot of money there. It’s the funding that’s the hardest part.

Going from post-production to basically owning a film — how much did that change how you view filmmaking?

KW: It was curious. When we were cutting this film, we would go through it and look at the rough cuts, and I was told by Matt [Curtis] I was the only director he knew who wanted to make too many cuts. I was like, ‘Just trim the fat. Get rid of it; we don’t need it.’ There were two extra scenes that didn’t make the final cut because we were just like, ‘It’s not needed.’

I definitely went in with an editor’s mind, which I think helped a lot, because there wasn’t too much extra going on in my brain. We storyboarded, I knew how we needed to work. But it was great being on set; it’s a totally different environment, because I’m so used to sitting in front of an Avid all day. And now I’m just surrounded by an entire crew. It was fun. It was nice to see some sun [laughs].

How does it feel being at SXSW with your own project for the first time?

KW: It’s insane. We had our first screening Saturday night [March 9] and it was lovely. The Midnight Shorts program is so tight that I went home with massive impostor syndrome. Everything in that section is incredible, so it just made me feel really grateful that I’m a part of that, and that’s what they’ve chosen. It’s mad. It’s really weird to be here and so cool. I’ve wanted to come here for years. When I was at university I wanted to come here, so it’s — I won’t say it’s a dream come true because that’s so cheesy. But it means a lot to me to be here.

And you got the audience reactions while you were at the screening.

KW: Yeah, which is great. American audiences are so much more vocal than a British audience. Where it’s gross-out, everyone’s really letting me know, which is really funny to me. And the laughs as well, which is always a relief. I’m always really nervous until the first laugh hits. There aren’t really any jokes until about three minutes in, so I’m always just a massive nervous wreck until that first laugh.

Is there anything else that you want people to know about that you’re working on?

KW: I just finished working on “Detective Pikachu,” which is everywhere here. It’s really great seeing it. At the moment, I’m just sort of pitching. I’m pitching features and TV pilots, just moving in that direction.

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