Interview: Cabby

Documentary filmmaker Daniel Watts discusses his film Cabby and his creative process


Cabby’s showing at Lift-Off was perfect given it’s Manchester setting. It contained shots of many locations that would be familiar such as Fifth nightclub during freshers week. Giving an interesting insight to the people who aren’t often noticed, I’m sure it’ll spark more people to chat to their taxi drivers on their next night out. If you’d like to read my review of Cabby before progressing to the interview click here.


Your film was also shown at Manchester International Film Festival in 2015, why was there such a gap between that and Lift-Off this year?

I made the film whilst at University and after I left I decided to set up my own production company. Since then I have just been doing corporate work for companies like Speedo, with the intention of becoming a documentary filmmaker and hopefully one day doing a feature film. It’s been two years since we filmed Cabby and it just makes me reflect, giving me motivation to make more films.

When you do reflect on Cabby are there things you see now and think ‘if only I didn’t include that’ or vice-versa?

I’m a massive perfectionist, so when I’m watching it I just shake my head at all the mistakes. In the development of making the film I spoke to at least 70 taxi drivers and they can be quite flakey and hard to track down at times. There was one in particular who dropped out last minute which was a shame as they had some really interesting stories.

Was Cabby your first attempt at a documentary?

I’ve done a few documentaries before, for example one about the street art in Manchester. Cabby was my final project though. I love meeting people and always had experiences of going on nights out chatting to taxi drivers and just having random conversations. It’s because of this that I wanted to document the characters.

As you progress through your career, what are the shorts you’d really like to make given free range?

Personally I really like obscure cultures and scenes. The different ways that people act that are unique. In the same way I’m a big fan of Louis Theroux’s social commentary documentaries.

Do you watch lots of films or do you concentrate on documentaries like Theroux’s to get filmmaking ideas?

We are starting to see more and more documentaries incorporating a cinematic style which is taken from films. I love both and watch a diverse range of things in order to learn about different styles I could use. I can only see myself making documentaries though. The stripped back feel, just getting to know people and learning about their life experiences. There are lots of topics which have already been done so I try to find the more out-there people.

Are you working on another film? Or have plans for the next one?

Not currently. I want to be a filmmaker but I want to make a living being a filmmaker and sometimes you have to compromise in order to make the films that you want to make. As I said I’m such a perfectionist and once I meet person or subculture I’ll immediately know. Wherever I go I’m always on the lookout for my next topic. Everybody I meet I try to read them and suss them out to try and see if they are short worthy. There is a gut feeling I get when I know I’ve found the right thing.

Click here to go back to the Lift-Off Homepage to check out more reviews and interviews

Manchester Lift-Off 2017: Local Filmmaker’s Showcase (1/2)

A selection of shorts from the last day of the festival

Meat on Bones

On a windy day in coastal Wales, Gwyn, an inexperienced council worker, struggles to climb a steep hill in order to deliver a court-ordered eviction notice to the caravan of Dai, a middle-aged alcoholic. Naturally he doesn’t take kindly to this and in a fit of rage abducts Gwyn and ties him up inside the caravan before knocking him out. After the red mist clears and Gwyn comes to, our perception of Dai begins to slowly change. He isn’t this angry alcoholic as his initial portrayal suggests, rather a vulnerable and self-destructive man who has lost his home and his family. We watch as the pair unexpectedly grow close, in spite of their violent first meeting.

Meat on Bones is a fantastic example of how a large budget isn’t a requirement for a gripping film. Director Joseph Ollman uses the natural beauty of Wales as his setting for this realist film, including a sequence in a cave which is a fitting metaphor for their individual isolation. The two actors, Jams Thomas and Matthew Aubrey as Dai and Gywn respectively, give very convincing performances as the leads and create a warmness and empathy uncharacteristic of the situation they present.

Directed by Joseph Ollman

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Duke’s Pursuit

Duke’s Pursuit is a revenge thriller set in Iceland. It follows Duke whose deep-set principles lead him to seek revenge against a former colleague. After arriving in Iceland and meeting his guide he travels to the small town where his intended victim is currently living. We follow the unexpected twists and turns Duke’s story takes as nothing goes to plan.

In terms of style this short is reminiscent of the Coen Brother’s with its snappy dialogue and dark humour. The cinematography is also in the same vein with fantastic landscape shots as well as framed interior shots. For a 16 minute short there was a surprising amount of character development from visual and spoken cues. In addition the more subtle cues such as body language made the film have more depth than would usually be present in most of this length.

Directed by Charlie Edwards-Moss and Joe Williams



In a post-apocalyptic world, every choice must be carefully evaluated, for one wrong move and your life may very well be over. Therefore the decision to abandon your family to increase your own personal chance of survival is not one that would be easily taken.

Our protagonist, aptly named the Survivor, takes refuge from the hellish environment in his hideout. In the corner of his room lies a radio. It is from this radio that we learn of his identity, of his family, and of his selfish disappearance from the voices of his children calling him, pleading for him to come home. His will is pushed to the limits as he tries to resist risking his life to return.

What is fantastic about Ascension is that we never see the world outside his room, because nothing we would see could ever live up to our own imagination. This allows the viewer to imagine the world in their own way while also keeping the film within budget, in this case a shoestring £220.

The climax to the short plays into the viewers mind once again, leaving the fate of our protagonist open to debate. While this is understandable due to budget constraints I would have liked to see a little more information about the background and fate of the Survivor. I feel this would have led to the audience having a deeper connection with the short, ultimately enjoying it more.

Directed by Rajnish Sharma



For most people, a staple part of any night out is the taxi journey there and subsequently the taxi journey back. One is full of excitement for the night that awaits and the other’s outcome is entirely dependant on the how the night pans out. Shot in the perspective of those who drive taxis in Manchester, we learn of their unique experiences, both good and bad.

Cabby is the third and final documentary short at this year’s festival and sits squarely between the two in terms of quality. The film has the good fortune of being shown in the city that it celebrates, which I feel really deepened the audience’s interest. It features multiple interviews from the drivers pieced together with well-shot footage showing various parts of the city. I do think pacing was an issue at certain points throughout the short but for a student film it is a great effort.

Directed by Daniel Watts


Return of the Hat

A flat-cap and a silk scarf rest upon a mannequin in a charity shop. Here they live a peaceful life, watching their favourite VHS films every night when the shop closes. That is, until they are both individually bought. In order to return to their home they must kill their new owner and be donated back to the shop.

Return of the Hat has a very original concept at its core but unfortunately this is where the positives end. A repetitive storyline quickly causes this initial excitement to disappear. The acting does very little to distract the viewer from this with every human character feeling either extremely overemphasised or entirely wooden. When the best performance of the short comes from a flat-cap there is certainly glaring issues.

Directed by Alec Birkbeck


Click here to go back to the Lift-Off Homepage to check out more reviews and interviews