We start on a closeup of a man’s pockets where a pack of cigarettes lie. The man then picks up a cigarette, lights it up and we move into a profile of the man. He’s standing outside what appears to be a big building on a cloudy day in Liverpool. He picks up his phone and calls his wife. He gets frustrated at her before asking to talk to his son. They seem to be having a fairly casual conversation for a while. For the first roughly two minutes of this film we’re left on our own to figure out what is happening. Then the conversation turns into something more dire, more serious for the main character and we begin to suspect what is happening. The main character begins to sob and his face shows sadness. Even though we’re never told the circumstances or given any context as to what happens, by the end of the film we know exactly what is happening.
Bud is a short film that was written and directed by Jack McLoughlin. One of the things that makes Bud work as such an effective short film is the apparent focus McLoughlin seems to have over his material. Writing a good and simple short film isn’t easy and it’s often one becomes over ambitious with it. Here, we have almost a perfect setup for a great short film that’s been diluted to its most minimalist element: just a man, having a conversation over the phone, in one location, in just a few minutes. And despite this time constraint we get a perfect and entirely satisfactory beginning, middle and end in just four minutes. Having a satisfying conclusion to your short film is extremely difficult, yet McLoughlin finds in this ambiguity the perfect conclusion for a viewer to walk away with a perfectly suitable ending.
The strength of the film lies in its simplicity, which isn’t just down to the fact that it’s all shot in one location with one actor, but also in terms of the camerawork. McLoughlin and his director of photography Cameron Brown shoot the whole film in one long, unbroken take that allow us to not only feel the passage of time a lot better, but we’re also allowed to stay with the drama of the main character and see his face change from happy to sad to relatively melancholic. If this had been shot using traditional coverage, it wouldn’t have worked as well and we as an audience wouldn’t be allowed to share this journey with this character. And credit must also be given to the lead actor Shaun Fagan, whose face actually reveals even more than the dialogue does. That’s the power of the close-up when used properly, and McLoughlin understands this.
As you probably have figured out by now, the ending is left ambiguous, and it made me think of this quote from Bernardo Bertolucci: “I left the ending ambiguous because that’s the way life is.” We will probably never know what ever happens to this character nor his son, but we have our suspicions thanks to the brief level of information that’s revealed throughout and Fagan’s performance. Because life doesn’t hold any answers, we’re just left in the cold, outside in the rain, unknowing of our own fates.