Hollywood Reporter March 9, 2006

Oscar-less 'Cashback' will grow into feature

By Tatiana Siegel
Although the filmmakers behind best live-action short nominee "Cashback" left Sunday's Oscar ceremony empty-handed, their film is poised to enjoy a cinematic reincarnation.

That's because writer-director Sean Ellis and producer Lene Bausager have turned the sexy, 19-minute supermarket dramedy -- think a U.K.-style "Clerks" with lots of nudity -- into a feature-length film, reuniting the short's ensemble cast.

"Originally, there were no plans to turn it into a feature film," says Ellis, an accomplished fashion photographer and director of music videos and commercials. "Then it did the festivals, and I saw people's reactions to the film. It really connected with people, and they really identified with people in the short."

In fact, Ellis said audiences continued to ask what happened to his quartet of disgruntled night-shift workers -- played by Sean Biggerstaff, Emilia Fox, Michael Lambourne and Michael Dixon -- as well as their Ricky Gervais-like overlord boss (Stuart Goodwin). "I was like, wow, there seems to be life after the short," Ellis recalls.

So, in 2004, long before "Cashback" had been shortlisted by the Academy, nevermind nominated for an Oscar, Ellis and Bausager began the arduous task of building a full-length movie around the footage already in the can.

"We already had 20 minutes of footage," says London-based Ellis, whose credits include the 2001 short "Left Turn," which, like "Cashback," was produced by Ridley Scott's RSA Films. "That means it saved us 20 minutes of story and shooting, and it (brought) our budget down. We thought if we write a script around the existing 20 minutes, then it is something we can privately finance without the help of a studio."

Raising the money posed the usual indie film challenges. But for Bausager, the biggest obstacle was finding the same window of availability for all five actors.

"We couldn't have done it without them returning," says Bausager, a Denmark native who has been collaborating with Ellis on music videos and commercials for more than seven years. "It was a miracle that they were all available at the same time."

The new film, also titled "Cashback," finds protagonist Ben (Biggerstaff) suffering from insomnia after a difficult breakup. As a result, he takes a night-shift job at a supermarket, where his imagination runs wild. Shaun Evans ("Being Julia"), Michelle Ryan (BBC series "EastEnders")(cq one word), Marc Pickering ("Calendar Girls") and Brit TV regular Nick Hancock round out the augmented cast.

Although Ellis and Bausager have yet to find a distributor for the full-length version of "Cashback," the pair signed a deal with Gaumont to sell the film internationally, excluding the U.K. Gaumont, which will release the film in the fall in France, is expected to offer rights in other territories at the Cannes Film Market.

Till then the short version of "Cashback," which is available for download via the iTunes Music Store, will have to serve as an extended sneak preview.