Short and Sweet: "Alleyway Chefs"
British comedy short screening at Austin Film Festival
By Richard Whittaker,
2:59PM, Mon. Oct. 25, 2021
Welcome to Short and Sweet, our look at short films playing at film festivals in Austin. This time it's "Alleyway Chefs," the new comedy short pilot from British writer/director Craig Ainsley.
The short, playing as part of Austin Film Festival's shorts programming, is the pilot for a planned series of shorts set in the back alley behind a restaurant in London's Chinatown, on the fringes of the heaving night life of Soho.
Austin Chronicle: Last Night in Soho is putting an international spotlight on Soho, particularly historic Soho. If you were describing the area now, how would you sum it up?
Craig Ainsley: It kind of feels like it exists in range of different times actually. You can feel the 60s, the 70s in certain streets still. Carnaby Street is right there. And the characters from those years, they are still there too. Older, but still around, sauntering down the road in a cravat.
I love it. It’s a higgledy-piggledy maze, filled with mysterious alleyways and doorways. And all kinds of people. It’s a veritable buffet of all of the creatures of London.
CA: I basically had two comedy actors (Arnab Chanda and Alistair Green) that I love, and I wanted to shoot them just talking. And I always wanted to shoot something set at night in London. Then I glanced down an alleyway one evening and saw two chefs smoking, and that felt like the perfect setting to build a story around.
AC: From a narrative standpoint, it sets a specific entrance and exit, one that can cut across the story within (once the cig's done, they're done). How did that affect the writing?
CA: I liked that it was so contained. And I like the cigarette break – a small window of time where you are just stood there, and no one wants anything from you, and your mind is free to wander and think ‘what the hell am I actually doing with my life?’ I wanted to set the narratives within that moment.
AC: There's a definite sumptuousness to the cinematography - London piss-alley rubbish bins have rarely looked more gorgeous. What was the idea for the look of the short?
CA: Hahaha that’s right. The floor in Soho is always somehow wet and grimy, even when it hasn’t rained. And yet, at night, it always feels so cinematic. The beauty of neon reflecting against human piss. In Soho there always feels like something is in the air. Something can happen at any minute. A million, plays and theatre productions and gigs and dates all happening at once, and when you’re there, you feel part of it all. There’s piss and hope.
AC: What's the plan for future installments?
CA: The show follows a 10 episode arc (each episode a cigarette break) where Al (Green) waits for his big moment to approach the theatre director, who he has heard sometimes smokes outside the stage door across the way. Though, there’s a kind of Waiting For Godot thing going on as she always fails to emerge, until the end.
And during this time, different characters from Soho enter the alleyway and mingle with the lives of our two chefs. For example, the Gold Man from the cold open of episode 1 - he arrives into the show in episode 2. He busks on the street as a human statue, and a new, younger, Silver Man has taken his space. Locked in a territory battle with a younger, more successful human statue, Gold Man sits in the alleyway talking to the Chefs about what to do. Every character we meet is kind of stuck in neutral.
"Alleyway Chefs" plays as part of Shorts Program 16: Original Series 1, Mon., Oct. 25, 7pm, Hideout Theatre Austin Film Festival, Oct. 21-28. Find all our news, reviews, and interviews at austinchronicle.com/austin-film-festival.