ShortList 2015: How Cheap Weekend Project ‘Russian Roulette’ Turned Into a Sensation

Nobody was more surprised than director Ben Aston when his film, made in two weekends for 50 pounds, became a festival hit

Director Ben Aston made the five-minute comic short “Russian Roulette” for a simple reason: He and his writer Oli Fenton hadn’t made a film for a couple of years, and they wanted to shake off the rust before going back to work on a bigger, more substantial short film.

So they spent all of 50 pounds, built a set in Aston’s home, filmed over a couple of weekends and put the result on the internet — only to find that the little movie they’d made for a lark became a sensation and began winning awards at festivals like Sundance London.

“It’s insane,” Aston told TheWrap, which is featuring his film in the 2015 ShortList Film Festival. “It was almost like a rehearsal, something to get us warmed up for the next film. And to see it do so well is kind of stupid, but also kind of great.”

The short is set in the bedroom of a young woman (Australian comic Bec Hill) who feels lonely and isolated in London; scanning the chat rooms one night, she finds herself talking to a Russian cosmonaut (Stewart Lockwood) who is really lonely and isolated as he floats overhead as a maintenance engineer in a deep-space telescope. He’s online to see breasts, of course, but the two nonetheless make a connection despite her refusal to flash him.

Ben_Aston

“My fiancĂ© is American, and she didn’t like London and didn’t feel like she fit in,” Aston said. “Oli and I started talking about isolation, and we decided to get rid of the cobwebs and be funny and tell a positive story.”

They shot Lockwood one weekend on a makeshift set, spent the week editing his footage, and then shot Hill the following Sunday; the two actors never met, and the cheapness of the production was obscured by the fact that Lockwood was shot on a webcam and the whole thing, they figured, was likely to be viewed on mobile devices.

“It was full of things where we just thought, ‘Nobody’s gonna see that,’ because we just thought people would be watching it on their phones,” said Aston. “When we first saw it on a big screen, it was on an IMAX-size screen in the O2 arena at Sundance London, and we were terrified. But people understand that it’s meant to be funny, and they were fine with it.”

Watch the film above. Viewers can also screen the films at any time during the festival at Shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 4-18.