Interview with Filmmaker Aram Atkinson (FIREFLIES)

FIREFLIES played at the August Under 5 Minute Short Film Festival in Toronto to rave reviews.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Aram Atkinson: I actually made this film for two specific reasons, firstly that I was just about to go freelance and wanted to kickstart with a narrative based passion project, and secondly for Rode Reel, the online film competition. I had just quit my full-time videographer job at the RNLI in the pursuit of moving forward with my goal to writing and directing narrative work, and I knew if I didn’t make Fireflies I would build up a fear of making any of my original work. Much to my surprise Fireflies has been exceptionally well received, winning Best Drama at Rode Reel, making the shortlist for Best film and picking up a load of other nominations here and there. I put it down mostly to the incredible performances of Ivy-Mae Harris, Ben Elder and Ellie Snow who really brought it to life, and the brilliance of Harrison Bates, Ricky Gane and Jamie Kemp who turned a sheet of material into a magical place. You can actually watch a behind the scenes film here:

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I had the idea about 2 years before actually making it, just written down in a notebook, so when Rode Reel came up and I was flicking through my ideas, I instantly knew this was the one to make. Writing the voice of a 5 year old girl was a challenge and so I asked Nikki McMullen, a brilliant writer who was a colleague of mine at the RNLI, to help me pull it together. Once we had a script I then had two weeks to get the ball rolling. I was lucky to have the support of Treehouse digital in Bournemouth who let me use their loft studio space over a weekend, so on the Saturday we went about trying to make a tent, buying material and building a-frames, fairy lights and props.

This film relied heavily on set design to be believable and install the sense of magic (it was a massive relief the ‘Fireflies’ light effect actually worked)! I think too inside the box when it comes to building things however, so if it wasn’t for the ingenuity of Ricky, Harrison and Jamie when it came to building the tent, this film simply wouldn’t have happened. I then had about 10 days to edit it before the Rode Reel deadline so all in all it was about a 4-6 week process (excluding the 2 year hiatus from concept)

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Unashamedly sentimental.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The biggest obstacles would be both getting the actors and the final location. The day before the shoot, the actor playing the dad pulled out, so I entered a frantic hunt for someone to fill the role and luckily my close collaborator and friend Riyadh Haque (an incredible writer/director in his own right) put me in touch with the outstanding Ben Elder. I called him and despite the fact he was 5 hours away at a family party, he learnt the script, camped overnight in his van and drove down early in the morning to help make this film possible. I’ve worked with Ben since and I think he’s a phenomenal actor, and an admirable professional.

Similarly, the hospice we were planning to use for the climactic reveal pulled out two days before, but I was sure a hospital would help once they saw most of the film, so I actually went ahead and shot Fireflies without knowing if I would be able to source that clinching shot. So after we shot the tent scene, I quickly pulled an edit together and spent the next few days asking hospitals if they would let me film one quick scene at their hospital, and Poole Hospital were heroes in letting us shoot there, so at midnight on a Thursday evening Harrison and I went and tried to replicate the tent in an unused ward…nothing like some indie filmmaking!

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was humbling to see such strong responses! I’ve been fortunate to see Fireflies screened twice and see an audience reaction in person, but this was the first time I’ve been able to hear such academic deconstruction of Fireflies and it’s amazing to hear a consensus I hadn’t even considered. This film is very much told through the eyes of Alice, and as said in the video and podcast, the film would be tragic beyond belief to view it through the dad’s eyes, but I had never actually realised this is what I was doing. I love moments like these, where you discover your own artistic decisions and style by listening to others’ take.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

I can’t actually remember how I first came up with the idea for Fireflies, I have a tendency for nostalgic themes and bittersweet situations though. I’ve been asked a few times if it is based on a personal experience and whilst my family has been effected by cancer, thankfully never in the tragic way that it is in Fireflies.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

You’ve got mail is probably my guilty pleasure, I love Tom Hanks and I’m a sucker for a romantic story. I have a new pen pal because of the Under 5 minute Film Festival so perhaps this will lead to my own You’ve got mail! I’ll try not to put them out of business…

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I think it’s an amazing platform, one of the few times submission systems are done right. It’s so refreshing having it all in one place and being able to determine the value of festivals by reviews, photos and detailed info!

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

There’s too many to pick. Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley or Adaggio for Strings by Barber really get me though so I’ve probably those two. Although ‘Doin me’ by Mikey Mike is making a strong claim at the moment.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Whilst I am incredibly proud of Fireflies, even after 5 years of filmmaking, it is only now that I am preparing to make what I consider to be my first true film. I am in development of a short film that tackles some of the issues in the UK I feel passionately about and is a far bigger challenge than anything I have made before, both in what it is trying to say and the level of execution. I have a crew attached, and am rewriting the final version of the script, whilst also seeking funding, which as we all know requires a lot of perseverance and resilience. But I believe this film needs to be made, and the goal is to make it before the end of 2018, funded or not!


Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival


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