While Doctor Who is filming series 11, we are looking at the other work of the actors and creative team from past episodes.  Emma Campbell-Jones, who portrayed Cass in The Night of the Doctor with Paul McGann and Doctor Kent in The Wedding of River Song, has a new short that is available on the internet today.

Terminally Happy is written and directed by Adina Istrate and produced by ToyBox Films.  The short, starring Alastair MacKenzie (Black Mirror), Emma Campbell-Jones and William Stagg (Macbeth), is a set in the not too distant future where a depressed population is increasingly ending their own lives. Dr Louis (Alastair MacKenzie) believes he has a solution, an opiate that helps the user deal with their trauma.  But does it work?  Louis decides that the final experiment must be performed on a human subject.  Himself.

Terminally Happy is a beautifully shot film, subtly acted by the three leads.  Dr Louis (Alastair MacKenzie) is trying to partake in some quality time with his son Oscar (William Stagg) much to the annoyance of his wife (Emma Campbell-Jones) who wants to get the couple’s son to the breakfast table and then to school.  But his wife’s irritation is not what is wrong with this family.  Something is profoundly broken.  The responses are too subdued, lacking all colour and joy.  The family interactions are tinged with pain, sadness and suffering.  Slowly, the viewer discerns the cause of the pain as the story ends on an ominous, pessimistic note that leaves many more questions than answers.

As a director and writer, Adina Istrate deliberately uses a minimalistic approach and dull washed look.  The home is bare bones without the clutter that makes a house a home.  There are few words spoken to between the characters and what is spoken has the air of the remember highlights or lowlights of a conversation skipping the details.  The colour palette of the film is dull and drab adding to the melancholy sense of the story.

Terminally Happy is a fascinating idea – well directed, well written and well acted.

Adina Istrate

in anticipation of Terminally Happy’s Vimeo launch, we were able to chat with the director and writer of this award-winning British short film.

What was the inspiration for your idea for the Terminally Happy?

‘Terminally Happy’ started off as an entry for a themed script competition. The commissioners were looking for short film ideas centred on inventors or scientists who fall victim to their creations. In my response to the brief, I decided to embark on a journey alongside a scientist who is appointed to create a drug to counteract the devastating fallout of a depression pandemic. In an attempt to solve a worldwide crisis as well as self-medicate, the protagonist creates a chemically-induced interactive experience meant to alleviate the pain of the mourner. However, he also inadvertently destroys his relationship with reality in the process.

You have written and directed several shorts with a sci-fi / futuristic theme. What draws you to this genre?

Sci-Fi gives me a lot of freedom. I liken writing science fiction to conscious dreaming. I take reality in, zero in on events or images I find striking, and let them percolate for a while. I then speculate and contemplate their future outcomes, letting my imagination take over and start building worlds from scratch – worlds in which the outlandish outcomes I’ve just imagined are part of day-to-day reality.

Writer and Director? Why both roles? Controlling your vision?

I started my career in television, working as a scriptwriter for 2 sitcoms. Every week, a new director would come on and shoot an episode I have just delivered. This taught me a great deal about how and what to communicate to a director who is going to work with actors and bring your words to life. Conversely, I had a wonderful time directing scripts other than my own, collaborating with writers who trusted me with their material. In the case of ‘Terminally Happy’ and my upcoming feature ‘Eve’, the ideas generated with me and it seemed a natural fit to work on these scripts with a view to directing them myself.

There is a lot of talk about Women in Film. Have you any thoughts on the barriers of breaking into the business. Is it more difficult for women behind the camera?

The year I graduated from film school, half of the student body was female. Looking to the years above and below my class, the ratio was pretty much identical. A vast number of female colleagues have written, directed, produced or worked as heads of departments on tremendously successful short films that have premiered in A-list festivals and received worldwide critical acclaim. One would imagine that in the years after, these women would follow similar (if not identical) career paths and be presented with equal opportunities to progress as male filmmakers with an equivalent level of experience. Statistics reflect a very different reality. Film remains to this day a male-dominated industry, ruled by both conscious and unconscious bias against women. The majority of male producers and studio heads simply do not trust female filmmakers with years of experience and training behind them to helm a multi-million dollar movie and command a large crew, but will sign a first-time male director to the job, solely on the basis of gender familiarity. To that, I would add that the industry is very forgiving with male directors’ failures and is more than willing to grant them another chance, another film to prove the last flop was just a fluke. If a female director’s film performs poorly, her chances to secure the next project are virtually nil. Worse still, her failure is regarded as further proof that women cannot and should not direct, both putting immense and unjustified pressure on other women working in the industry and reinforcing misconceptions and stereotypes

The three leads are excellent. How was the short cast? Where did you find the actors?

Casting director Sophie Holland joined our team early on and was instrumental in piecing together our cast. Alistair Mackenzie, Emma Campbell-Jones, William Stagg, Christopher Lawley, Kevin Golding and Georgina Sowerby were all great to work with and had a very acute understanding of what was, at least on paper, a puzzle of emotions, disjointed layers of time and fractured memories. Playing husband and wife, Alistair and Emma had a particularly tough job. Alistair had to be both fully immersed in an exchange with Emma, while being aware that the experience is just a drug-induced illusion. Emma, on the other hand, had to both live in his summoned memory as if it was real, and behave as a projection who gradually becomes aware of her purpose.

Can you tell us a bit about your new feature – Eve?

‘Eve’ is a Sci-Fi psychological thriller about the first crewed mission to Mars. The project has so far  received development support from the Wellcome Trust, Venice Biennale College Cinema, IFP No Borders and was shortlisted for the Sundance Screenwriters’ Lab. Having worked on it for nearly three years now, I am very excited to confirm we will be going into production with it this summer.

About ToyBox Films

ToyBox Films is an independent, London-based film production company founded by Giannina La Salvia and Adina Istrate in 2012. The company’s first feature documentary, 512 HOURS with MARINA ABRAMOVIC is currently in post-production.  FOLLOW 512 HOURS HERE

ToyBox is producting Adina Istrate’s directorial debut EVE in the summer of 2018. A psychological thriller about the lead up to the world’s first mission to Mars, EVE was selected onto the Venice Biennale College and is being supported by The Wellcome Trust.  FOLLOW EVE HERE


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