I caught up with filmmaker Patrick Myles for a chat on film-making, influences, surrealism, Russian literature and more in his entertaining and original, award-winning short film The Overcoat.

The Overcoat, adapted from Nikolai Gogol's short story, has an all-star cast including the BAFTA-winning actor Jason Watkins (W1A, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies), Tim Key (Gap Year, Alpha Papa), Vicki Pepperdine (The Windsors, Getting On), Dominic Coleman (Trollied, Upstart Crow) and Alex Macqueen (Peaky Blinders, The InBetweeners). Having been on its festival run, this wonderful film has already won Best Comedy at LA Shorts Film Festival, Best Short Comedy at London Independent Film Festival, Best Director at New Renaissance Film Festival, and a screening at Aesthetica.

In The Overcoat, a lonely social outcast gets a glimpse of what life is like for someone popular, and cannot let it go, even in death.

Patrick Myles' first film Anthropopopometry starred Peter McDonald and Lloyd Hutchinson; his London-funded dark comedy Santa’s Blotto starring Brian Blessed followed; he made Telling Laura with Louise Ford and Colin Hoult for Finite Films, and his latest film A Pornographer Woos, adapted from Bernard MacLaverty’s short storystars Michael Smiley.

Kate Turner and Mark Puddle produced The Overcoat, Tom Turley created the wonderful cinematography, Melanie Jane Brookes did the production design and Alex Baranowski composed the music.

Just some of the festivals the film has been selected for include DC Shorts, Palms Springs Shortfest, Belfast Film Festival, LA Film Festival, Galway Film Fleadh, LA Cinefest, Dinard Film Festival and Cambridge Film Festival.

This still from THE OVERCOAT gives a good overview of the scene created in Myles' film.

Enjoy the interview and trailer for The Overcoat below. It's really an exquisite mesh of realism and surrealism that says a lot about humanity and also being careful what you wish for.

Hello Patrick and welcome to The 405! I'd like to start with The Overcoat in asking what inspired you to do your adaptation of Gogol's tale? I understand a animated version with Cillian Murphy is also due to be released in 2018.

Thank you! Yes, it seems adaptations of "The Overcoat" are like London buses, you wait years for one, and then two come along at once! I think it's great there's another adaptation, it's a wonderful story that deserves to be retold, and the fascinating thing about Gogol's work is that it says different things to different people. For example, I believe that the other film is fully animated and is tonally quite different to ours, less dark and more targeted at a younger audience, whereas ours I think has a tragicomic feel to it. I'm looking forward to seeing it, I'm a huge fan of Cillian Murphy.

It does look good.

What inspired me to do the adaptation was reading the short story for the first time, which I did after seeing a stage adaptation of "Diary of a Madman". I had known Gogol's play "The Government Inspector", but "Diary" inspired me to read all his short stories and I fell in love with them. I knew as soon as I put "The Overcoat" down that I wanted to make a film of it and I started work straight away

Gogol was long called "the father of Russian Realism", yet his work has also been more explicitly tied to Surrealism too (through Nabokov's book on him specifically). I found the balance of realism and surrealism to work really well in your short too (without giving away too much, that pivotal scene when Christopher is in bed). What did your creative process look like with a view to realism and surrealism? And particularly, what did it look like in choosing to do that scene the way you did?, which appeared to me to be stop motion although I could be wrong on that point.

The Nabokov book on Gogol is fascinating, isn't it? It's clear he thinks that Gogol is pretty untranslatable (aside from his own translations of course), which I think is interesting because Gogol has been called many things, often contradictory. Realism, surrealism, absurdism, they've all been used to describe him and his work, and the man himself was hugely complicated and conflicted about many things. So I tried not to hang my hat on any specific school of thought as to what Gogol's work "is" or "represents", and instead concentrate on the human story, and tell that story in a tone that is finely balanced between light and dark. That's easier said than done, but thankfully all the actors were on the same page tone-wise, and that really helped establish the world we were in.

I think you hit that very well.

Jason Watkins as Christopher Cobbler in THE OVERCOAT.

In terms of the scene you're referring to, I felt it was an opportunity to do something that was visually different to what we'd seen so far in the film, and as in any dream sequence you have the freedom to do what you want, how you want it. But because it was such a pivotal moment for him, I wanted to hammer home why he's found himself in this situation and who has driven him to it, and clay stop motion animation ticked all the boxes. It’s a very arduous process, but our animator Gustavo Arteaga did a superb job I think.

I agree he did. It was subtle, surreal and well-done. Any funny or memorable moments during filming?

We shot the film over five days, so not a lot of time, but I think it was a pretty relaxed set on the whole. As the director, you tend to miss out on some of the fun on the set because you've got your face in a screen or in the script thinking about the next shot, but our final day of shooting was a night shoot in the Nell Gwynne pub on a Saturday, so that came with some inherent issues…mainly drunk people on the Strand. In fact, we had someone who was clearly high and/or drunk come in to the pub at 3am and rant at us about the CIA. We gave him a glass of water and sent him on his way, so we either placated a drunk or failed to stop a conspiracy.

[Laughs] very interesting. Maybe a drunk conspiracy. Those two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive in my opinion.

What were the challenges like?

The challenges with any independent film are always to do with time and money, of which there is never enough. But at least we went into the shoot knowing this was the case, so we did a huge amount of preparation to make sure that the time was used in the best way possible and that we were spending every penny we had in the right places. Aside from that, it was just the day to day challenges of filming, anything from the electricity shorting to running out of biscuits (the worst case scenario for the actors), all of which our producers Kate Turner and Mark Puddle dealt with admirably.

The whole tale of The Overcoat was very much a morality tale about being careful what you wish for. I really liked how fun it was in the process too and how you put an interesting twist at the end on the whole thing while also adding in some elements I thought were Kafka-esque (particularly Christopher's dealing with the police). What do you hope people will take with them from it?

I'm not sure I agree with your idea that the original short story of "The Overcoat" was a pure morality tale, I think it was far more than that.

Absolutely. I suppose that was the element that jumped out most for me.

There's no doubt that it could be taken as a tale of hubris, but it also could be taken as a tale of loneliness, of social exclusion, of the oppression of bureaucracy, of a strict hierarchical system, of making up for the lack of human contact with material possessions…I could go on and on. I think that's what makes the story such a work of genius, and that's not taking into account Gogol's mastery of his craft, his structure and form, that led Dostoevsky to say that "we are all come out of Gogol's 'Overcoat'". I fully agree that there is a Kafka-esque feel to the world, and that was quite deliberate as I'm a fan of Kafka (and of Welles' film version of "The Trial") and I thought that they would chime with the endless bureaucracy and dead ends that the protagonist faces when trying to track down his overcoat. I really like that police scene, I think Vicki Pepperdine is fantastic and she's brilliant in the part.

Jason Watkins as Christopher Cobbler with Vicki Pepperdine in the Kafka-esque scene in THE OVERCOAT.

Agreed. She really was.

In terms of what people take from the film, I tried not set out with a specific message, I suppose I hope that they empathise with the lead character and his struggles to retain his individuality in the face of a world that has become homogeneous where people have assimilated. It's something I can definitely relate to, and I think a lot of us struggle with marrying the very human need for social acceptance from our peers with the need to be a unique, individual human being.

A question I ask everyone: what films and directors have had the greatest effect on your development as an artist?

Directors I love include Stanley Kubrick, Paul Thomas Anderson, Orson Welles, the Coens, David Fincher and Ridley Scott, though I'm sure if you ask me again in a couple of hours I'll come up with plenty more names.

[Laughs] indeed, it's a big question.

Films that have remained with me my entire life include The Godfather, Blade Runner, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all of Kubrick, Welles and PTA, Taxi Driver, Brazil, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and loads more that I will think of tonight at 3am and regret putting on this list. 

[Laughs] My apologies there. One other big question, what makes a great film?

A great script and great actors. If you've got those two elements, you can just point the camera and roll.

Great summation. Final question, what's next for you?

I'm working on my first feature (a comedy caper set in London) and writing the pilot for a long form TV drama idea that has been bubbling around for some idea. I've also got a sitcom script ready to go and another animated sitcom idea that one day I will get down to writing. One day...

THE OVERCOAT trailer, adapted from Nikolai Gogol's short story from New Division Films on Vimeo.