( ENSPIRE Entertainment ) Short Film by Mike Doxford “Non-Negotiable” Premiers at Cleveland Film Festival
ENSPIRE Contributor: Daniel Garritson
Mike Doxford’s “Non-Negotiable” is a witty and surprising take on family dynamics, spearheaded by a phenomenally precocious 9-year-old girl. A whimsical story of a young girl who puts her non-negotiable terms in front of her parents prior to the arrival of her new sibling. This fantastic short was screened at Cleveland International Film Festival.
Director Mike Doxford wanted to tell a story that captured the fears felt by both parents and children with a new child. His work is rooted in visual storytelling, and while leaning towards the quirky and humorous, he looks for the heart within every story. His debut feature as a writer/director, PLEASURE ISLAND, was nominated for ‘Best Film’ at the East End Film Festival. He has written and directed multiple award-winning short films, including co-productions with BBC and Channel 4.
At ENSPIRE we interviewed Mike Doxford and ask him about his inspirations and creative process.
How early in your life did you realize you wanted to be a director?
“When I was 5 my heart was set on becoming a Ghostbuster, but when that didn’t materialize I settled on becoming a filmmaker. From an early age, I was drawn to the magic of cinema and the way it could emotionally affect an audience. I consumed as many stories and genres as I could – I’ll never forget when I watched The Blair Witch Project as a child (in the middle of the night with headphones) and I didn’t sleep for a week! Once I got myself a Handicam I began filming everything and began making little movies – to this day nothing has changed.”
“Non-negotiable” stars a 9-year-old child. How was the experience working with a child actor?
“For the role of the young daughter, played by Izabella Dziewanska, we struck gold. She’s so natural, has impeccable timing, but most of all is a wonderful person. She’s so wise for someone so young, intuitive, and has bags of energy. It’s special collaborating with child actors as they are often instinctual and just play the moment. There are of course times when they might not understand the dialogue or the nuance of a story beat, but then it’s about explaining it in a way they will understand. It’s important to welcome them into that creative process rather than think because they are a child they need to be told what to do. It’s very exciting.”
What did a typical day of work look like for you while working on the short?
“Every day I counted my lucky stars as fortunate to have a brilliant cast. I wrote the film for the parents in mind – Jill Winternitz and Samuel Anderson – who are both gifted comedic actors. From our first rehearsal, I knew the dynamic between parent and child would be dynamite. They truly molded together as a family and found little quirks that can only be found when rehearsing or shooting. As the film runs in real time every take was like watching a play. The start of pre-production through to filming was only two weeks – so every day was a mad dash to get everything in place (trying to negotiate deals and bring onboard my favorite crew).”
From where did you draw inspiration for this short?
“When I was young I certainly enjoyed pushing the buttons of authority. I think as a young person you explore the boundaries of what you can get away with, and if successful you might repeat the trick. In the film you see the parents listening to their daughter but equally trying to install an element of authority over the negotiations. When it transpires the list is relating to a new baby, we then dig a little deeper into the insecurities, that both the daughter and the parents have about the impending arrival. At its core, it’s a film about the fear of lost love. The dynamic between children and parents has always fascinated me. It’s a constant power struggle that shifts back and forth. I wanted to illustrate that tug-of-war in a funny way, and a list of non-negotiable terms seemed a fun place to start.”
Is there anything you would do differently after having completed the short?
“I feel it’s natural for filmmakers to forever dissect their own films, but having said that I feel the short delivers on its story. I’m happy it has made people laugh (phew) and it’s thrilling to see how it starts debates about family dynamics. I feel we rarely see on screen how a new arrival affects a child, and it’s exciting meeting audience members that want to share their own similar stories. I’ve heard countless times ‘When I was a kid, I was so angry when I was told my mother was pregnant!'”
Were there any noteworthy challenges in creating this short, unique to this project?
“For this short, we took on the challenge of filming with both children (who have limited work hours) and pets (you never know what’s going to happen). Because of our budget, we had to shoot the entire film in one day. However, we rehearsed the day before in order to refine the blocking and performances, so it would be camera ready on our shoot day. We filmed with two cameras but it was only possible because of the remarkable cast and crew that brought the film to life.
“One of the biggest challenges with short films is finding an audience, We’ve been fortunate enough to play at world-renowned festivals in packed cinemas. So I really encourage anyone reading this, that hasn’t thought about going to a film festival, to try it and get yourself a ticket to the shorts program. There are brilliant short films being made every year that deserve to be seen. You won’t regret it.”
The film’s producer, Kirsty Malcolm, explains that it was vital to make sure the film had a gender balance in the crew, most of our HODs identify as female or non-binary. Beatriz Delgado Mena’s beautifully crafted cinematography compliments the humorous tones and put the audience in the personal space of the characters.
This memorable short leaves you reflecting on your own childhood and reminds us that of all the things a child wants, love is the Non-Negotiable. It screened at the Cleveland International Film Festival on Thursday, March 30th, 2023, at 12:00 pm at the Allen Theatre and on Friday, March 31st, 2023, at 7:15 pm at the Upper Allen Theatre.