Interview with Phil Drinkwater & Tim Woodall, How to Disappear Completely

Short drama How to Disappear Completely (2014) was awarded the York Youth Vote at ASFF 2014. The 11 minute film follows 13 year old magician Preston, as he attempts to escape a cruel adolescence by perfecting the ultimate disappearing trick. Part of the Creative England iShorts screening at Bootham School, the heart-warming tale showcased the filmmakers’ talent in adapting the universal experience of adolescence for a diverse audience of all ages. Currently on tour around the UK film festival circuit, directors Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall reflect on their time with How to Disappear Completely‘s talented young protagonists, as well as their invaluable collaboration with the team at Creative England.

ASFF: How to Disappear Completely was awarded the York Youth Vote. How important is this accolade to you as short filmmakers?
PD & TW: It’s hugely important to us, and we feel very proud and very humbled that the young people of York have responded to our little film with such generosity. We cast two very gifted young actors, Tom Chatfield and Ruby Morgan, in the lead roles and we couldn’t be prouder of their performances. Adolescence is such a formative period in our lives, and a lot of our own adolescent experiences founds their way into the film. We are orbiting 30 now so to know that young people in 2014 are able to identify with those characters, or see something in the strange little world we put onscreen, fills us with immense joy.

ASFF: The film follows the story of a 13 year old misfit magician. What message do you hope young (and older) audiences will take from the drama?
PD & TW: Whilst the film does deal with bullying, we’ve never really imagined How to Disappear Completely as a ‘social issue’ piece and we don’t necessarily want audiences to take away a message. We just want them to occupy Preston’s world for 11 minutes; to see things from the outside, as he does. Since 2013, we have written and directed two short films together. In Rain on Film, Josie Long stars as a lonely 30 year-old woman who attempts to ‘direct’ her own life as if it were a romantic comedy, because she longs for the comforting narrative conventions of the cinema world. In How to Disappear Completely, our misfit magician struggles to perfect an on-stage disappearing trick as a way of escaping the cruel, unflinching landscape of his adolescence. Both characters are loners, fantasists and heroes. They are unwilling to exist in the real world and so they find a way to break free of it. There’s a line in How to Disappear Completely, where the girl Preston is in love with from across the classroom explains the cruelty of the other schoolkids: “They just seem like they’re happy because they’ve got each other. But that doesn’t last. You’ve gotta be an island.” She is telling him it’s okay to be yourself, to be different. And when you’re a teenager, that’s pretty great advice to follow.

ASFF: In what ways have Creative England supported you in the production, realisation and screening of the film?
PD & TW: Creative England are the heroes in the story of how this film found its way out of our heads and onto the screen. From the moment we first met with the iShorts team, we knew these were the guys we wanted to make our film with. Why? – because they know and understand film. A lot of people will read a 15 page script about school kids, set in a school which has to feel authentic, which relies almost entirely on the capable, nuanced performances of two young actors, with a budget of only £5000, and immediately tell you you’re being too ambitious. “Too ambitious” were words we heard a lot in the early days of this idea, but never from Creative England. They trusted the story and we trusted them. It was a match made in Sheffield (and a little bit in Manchester). You hear so many horror stories of conflicts between the filmmaker and the ‘studio’ but we can honestly say that, from development to realisation, the advice and guidance we have received from those super-talented human men and women at Creative England has only ever served to make the film as good as it can be. And now they are organising incredible, interactive screenings to showcase 20 films which – without their investment and support – might never have made it into production at all. We are better filmmakers because of Creative England and we hope our relationship with them continues for many years (and films) to come.

ASFF: Are there any particular filmmakers or films that inspire your work?
PD & TW: We really love auteurs. Woody Allen. Sofia Coppola. Wes Anderson. The Coen Brothers. And there’s definitely a little of Judd Apatow in How to Disappear Completely, in the sense that – when he’s at his best – Apatow is able to strike a wonderful balance between warmth and sentimentality, and a kind of honesty and realism. But perhaps the biggest influence on our work is Charlie Kaufman. So much of good storytelling is about finding your own unique way of telling that story, and Charlie Kaufman is a master storyteller. His work is funny and strange and poignant and profound, and that’s what we are always striving for: a way of exploring universal themes in unique, specific and powerful ways.

ASFF: In your opinion, why are festivals like ASFF important for short film?
PD & TW: The most important thing about ASFF – and your fellow festivals around the world – is that it means filmmakers can get their films out into the world. Due to the festival’s hard work, care, and love of short film, people like us can find an audience for our films. Whilst it is eternally lovely for filmmakers to turn up at festivals to meet other filmmakers, often the audience at a screening comprises only those who work in the industry. However, being at ASFF this year, we were struck by how much the whole city has embraced the festival. Walking around during the day, we were never far from someone huddled beneath an umbrella with an ASFF pass around their neck, making their way to a screening. In this sense, it was a festival in the truest sense of the word. Like Glastonbury (other music festivals are available), there was a genuine sense of community and togetherness all across York. And that can only be a good thing.

ASFF: Do you have any upcoming projects?
PD & TW: We do. We have just started writing another short film, which will complete the loose trilogy of “films about love and escapism” we embarked on with Rain on Film and How to Disappear Completely. It also reunites us with our How to Disappear Completely producer, the enviably talented writer/ director/ Mancunian, Jason Wingard. In December, we are due to start work on a feature film, and we currently have two sitcom pilots in various stages of development both here and in the U.S. We’ll keep you posted.

For more information on How to Disappear Completely, see or follow @HTDCFilm.

Additional details on Creative England’s iShorts programme can be found at

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1. Phil Drinkwater and Tim Woodall How to Disappear Completely (2014). Courtesy of the filmmakers and Creative England.