Happy for You, the nail-biting thriller directed by Scott Talbot, delves into themes of forgiveness, revenge, and the blurred lines of right and wrong. At Indie Shorts Mag (ISM), we had the privilege to pick his brain, and so, Talbot discusses his journey as a filmmaker, the influence of his background in film and animation, and how he approached storytelling and character development within the constraints of a shorter format.
Indie Shorts Mag (ISM): Can you tell us about your journey as a filmmaker and how your background in film and animation has influenced your style?
Scott Talbot: Starting in animation and having a foot sort of in that world does influence my style a lot. I find it really satisfying when a camera moves in an almost animated way. But also, coming up through post-production, that skill set is something I can really lean into for my style. I understand the workflow. What is possible and what isn’t. Funny enough, someone might expect me to be the first to say, “We’ll fix it in post,” but I’m actually more often pushing to get it right in camera. I lean on post-production, but if we’re going in that direction, I need the execution to be perfect. And still perfect 5 years after the film is done. It’s awful when a bad visual effect pulls you out of the story of a film and I just strive to prevent that happening in my films as much as possible.
ISM: What were the key inspirations behind your latest short film, Happy for You, and how did you incorporate them into the storyline and visuals?
Scott Talbot: While writing, I think I had a lot of modern characters in mind. I spoke with the actors a lot about the characters in Succession. Specifically with Samuel Dunning who plays Cameron, we spoke about those characters so that Cameron’s motives felt right. He wasn’t a character that was just acting on impulse. He was someone who grew up wealthy and thought probably that this was how you get ahead. That this was the “skill” that financial success requires. Visually, the film is inspired a lot by the works of Nicolas Winding Refn, the Coen’s, Ruben Ostlund, Denis Villeneuve, David Fincher, and others. I really wanted the camera to have an uneasy calmness until things really go off the rails. Even then, we’re putting the camera in very specific places. And I think seeing the way Refn uses colour in films like Drive and The Neon Demon, really inspired us to really make things pop instead of trying to mute the colours due to the dark story.
ISM: Short films often have limited time to make an impact. How did you approach storytelling and character development in Happy for You to create a compelling narrative within the constraints of a shorter format?
Scott Talbot: That’s a great question because I think about it throughout the entire process of making a short. Short filmmaking is an interesting world. Where there are endless amounts of essay’s and material talking about feature film structure, there isn’t a lot on shorts. The goal with every film is to enter the party late and leave before things start to slow. With a short film, I think you should stay just long enough to say what I want to say and then end the film as fast as possible. I really push for that cut to black to feel impactful. People have come up to me after seeing Happy for You and said they wished the film continued and I think that’s perfect. It’s right where I want to be.
ISM: Happy for You is described as a nail-biting thriller with a hard-hitting ending. Without giving away any spoilers, can you elaborate on the themes and emotions you wanted to evoke with this film?
Scott Talbot: It’s hard to talk without spoiling a short film but Happy for You is about what you do after someone wrongs you in a serious way. Do you forgive? Do you ignore it? Do you seek revenge? Do you resort to violence? We’re watching a character deal with being wronged and seeing how they react. I think these questions of what is right and wrong get asked and hopefully by the end you get a sense of my view.
ISM: As the director, what were the biggest challenges you faced during the production of Happy for You, and how did you overcome them?
Scott Talbot: We shot three nights in a row. Twelve-hour days. One day was offset to get the opening scene as the sun went down but overall it was a tough shoot. In order to get all the shots we wanted we had to shoot scenes split up often. So we’d shoot a scene facing one way the first night then come back and shoot the reverse coverage the following night. It was the only way to get everything we wanted. Luckily our cast was so well prepped with the material and talented enough to handle this with ease.
ISM: Could you share some insights into your creative process? How do you approach pre-production, working with actors, and making decisions about visual style and composition?
Scott Talbot: So for almost a decade now, I’ve used 3d animatics to preview every scene down to every shot. The sets are accurate to an inch of where we’ll be shooting. So I can place a camera with the same sensor specifics and throw a 25mm lens on and see almost exactly what we’d be seeing if we were there. When we arrive on set we know exactly what we’re shooting and it really lets me focus with the actors and not worry about where we’re putting the camera. It’s crucial to my process.
ISM: What do you hope audiences will take away from Happy for You, both in terms of entertainment value and deeper meaning?
Scott Talbot: I can’t really control if the audience will take away a deeper meaning, but I do hope they feel some tension and anxiety throughout and when the credits roll they can finally relax. I’ve of course attempted to put in themes and points of view, because I’d feel like it’d be a pretty boring movie if everyone just came away with the same message.
ISM: Are there any particular filmmakers who have influenced your work or whose style you admire? How do you incorporate those influences while still maintaining your own unique voice?
Scott Talbot: Visually, I think I’m pretty inspired by David Fincher. The way he moves the camera. Other favourites include Jean-Pierre Melville, Hitchcock, and Jesse Armstrong. I think Jesse Armstrong has probably never been mentioned with those others but I think there’s definitely some Succession in Happy for You. Maybe I just pour a little gasoline on it to heighten the stakes.
ISM: Can you discuss any future projects or ideas you are currently working on? How does Happy for You fit into your larger body of work as a filmmaker?
Scott Talbot: I have just wrapped my next short film and I think there are a lot of similar themes between it and Happy for You. I think watching characters make mistakes is about as entertaining and interesting as it gets. Happy for You really is just my first entry into exploring this and I think there’s so much more I can do. I have started developing my first feature and it’s definitely looking like it will be a continuation of this theme.
ISM: Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who are looking to make their mark in the industry?
Scott Talbot: Make sure you’re having fun. It’s never a waste of time to make a film that you had fun making.
Talbot’s meticulous approach to pre-production, working with actors, and decision-making on visual style and composition shines through in Happy for You. As he continues to explore themes of characters making mistakes in his upcoming projects, Talbot maintains his unique voice while drawing inspiration from filmmakers like David Fincher and Jesse Armstrong. For aspiring filmmakers, Talbot’s advice to prioritise having fun serves as a reminder to stay passionate and true to their own creative vision. Filmmakers like Talbot, offer a window to filmmaking that is both inspiring and unique—a valuable insight into the craft that entertains countless across the globe.