“The funny thing about people fainting was it wasn’t even a horror film; it was a film about alienated people who connect through a common interest in self-amputation”.

Bryan M. Ferguson says “horror adjacent” would be a better way to describe his 2016 short film Flamingo, about an aspiring dancer who develops an odd relationship with an obscene phone caller who then discover a mutual erotic obsession for amputated limbs.

Flamingo saw the self-taught Scottish filmmaker gain notoriety within the Scottish short film scene after it caused multiple viewers to faint during its world premiere at the Glasgow Short Film Festival.

“It was definitely crazy to screen the film for the first time at the Centre for Contemporary Arts and watch two big burly grown men turn white and collapse”, he tells me. 

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“The scariest one however was when a guy was hurriedly trying to leave during a screening of the film in Germany, he rushed to the door but became limp and fell through a large speaker, thankfully he was okay.”

For Ferguson, making something that garnered such an intense response from audiences “is a storytellers dream”, although it would seem hard for any viewer to avoid having their sensibilities disturbed by a list of a long line of protagonists who, among other ‘interests’, have developed an erotic fixation with a motel ice machine (2017s Blockhead), joined a gang of punk belly button fetishists (2017s Umbilical Glue) and recruited followers for a cult that steals and drinks chlorinated pool water (2016s Caustic Gulp). 

Speaking of mutilation, Ferguson’s status as the enfant terrible of the Scottish short film scene - thanks to his distinct style, unorthodox ideas and guerrilla-style filmmaking (being chased by the police on several occasions) - is one he admits he wishes will remain “stapled on my forehead” for some time yet.

He says: “I’ll always wear that moniker proudly. That said, It wasn’t something I ever felt probably because I always just made what I wanted to see. Always have and always will. But at the very beginning I felt like I was doing it wrong, nothing I made looked like anything else that was coming out of the Scottish film scene. 

The Herald: A still from Bryan M. Ferguson's short film FlamingoA still from Bryan M. Ferguson's short film Flamingo (Image: Bryan M Ferguson)

“There would be abstract films about wheat or short kitchen sink dramas about drug addiction and sandwiched between them would be something I made about a dancer becoming infatuated with self-amputation. The stuff I was doing at the time was definitely transgressive and rattling cages. I was getting hit with all sorts of labels, everything from a ‘natural descendant of the Cinema of Transgression’ to a maverick. I disrupted the Scottish short film scene and now with my features I intend to do the same.”

He adds: “I worked really hard and mostly on my own to get my gonzo films out there so they could be seen and I hope they influence and inspire young filmmakers. I hope the work I made and make from here on out continues to remain as disruptive to what the norms are. 

“As a working-class Glaswegian there’s only so many more films I can take about scheme life, neds and junkies before I scoop my eyes out. There’s far more to Scotland beyond the deep-fried Mars bar. We should be allowed to show the world we’re just as f*****g creative as anyone else.”

Ferguson’s short films led to further film work, with Channel 4 commissioning him to make his first funded horror short - 2019’s Satanic Panic '87 (a 1980s set horror-comedy infusing death metal with a satanic aerobics tape), and also caught the eye of the music industry, which has seen him make music videos for well-established artists such as Ladytron, Sega Bodega, Arab Strap and Boy Harsher - whose Glasgow-set blood-soaked vampiric video for their track ‘Fate’ has been watched over six million times on Youtube.

Despite his burgeoning success as a music video director, Ferguson admits that making his first music video, for Ladytron’s song ‘The Island’, nearly sent him to an early grave. 

“I still worked a s***** office job at the time and it was mental when Ladytron vocalist Helen Marnie emailed me out of the blue to ask if I’d do a video for the band, who I loved when I was a teen,” he said.

“I had no idea how to make one or if I’d get the chance to make another one so I almost killed myself making it the biggest thing I could.” 

A lot of “patience, perseverance and persistent pestering” then saw him fulfil a lifelong dream of making the music video for Garbage for their 2022 track ‘Witness Your Love’.

The Herald: Bryan M. Ferguson is a self-taught Scottish filmmakerBryan M. Ferguson is a self-taught Scottish filmmaker (Image: Bryan M. Ferguson)

He says: “The first album I ever bought was Garbage’s Version 2.0 and they were the first band I remember calling myself a fan of.

"Shirley Manson is an absolute legend, one of the nicest and most help people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Don’t get me wrong, she’s tough, she’ll tell you straight that you’re a c*** and I’m exactly the same way, so we connected fairly easily but I reckon that’s just a Scottish thing. 

"Garbage gave me complete carte blanche to do what I wanted. There was a trust there and getting to make a vampiric punk road movie inspired video for them was definitely a career highlight. I was told by film producer, Dilly Gent (who produced all of Radiohead’s iconic videos), that not everyone can knock on Shirley Manson’s door and ask to do a video for Garbage. I wear that like a badge of honour.”

Now in his late 30s and with 12 short films and 18 music videos under his belt, Ferguson says he is now “hurtling” towards making his first feature film, with another feature in development. 

He says: “I’m always working, I climb the walls if I’ve not got my teeth into something. As difficult as this journey has been I am closer to where I want to be as a filmmaker and being on set making films. I’ll be throwing myself and my work at the world until I die or my arms fall off.

“I’ve been working on several things and then sometimes, the further you get into a filmmaking career the more it feels like you spend more time trying to get things made than actually getting to f****** do them. For the last year or two I’ve been writing and writing and writing, swallowing rejection after rejection. 

“Fortunately, I’ve got two features in development at the moment. One is a feature-length version of a short film I made almost 11 years ago called The Misbehaviour of Polly Paper Cut

“The short was optioned by Helen Jones and Naomi Wright at Silver Salt Films, who contacted me completely out of the blue and convinced me that I should expand my wee sociopathic film. 

“I’m also spearheading towards making my other feature, which looks like it’ll be my debut. It’s called DYSPHONIA and it’s about a neurotic voice actor, with a temporary throat disorder, who is obliviously hired by criminals to imitate the voice of a dead hostage. We’re aiming to shoot at the end of the year and I can honestly say that this will really spin a few heads.

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“I also shot a short no-budget horror film last summer called PUMPKIN GUTS which I was in the middle of editing but I’ve put on hold for the time being as my friend and composer, Luis Vasquez (The Soft Moon), tragically passed away last month. I’m hoping to get that finished and dedicate it to him. The work he did on it is fantastic and everyone should hear it.”

While his process of filmmaking may have shifted since he started making music videos, Ferguson is determined not to abandon the gonzo-style approach that characterised his early no-budget punk shorts.

He says: “You quickly realise that you’ll never have enough money to make what you want to make so it’s always important to have the run-and-gun attitude and keep your bag of tricks close because working that way in the past has made me resourceful and knowledgeable on what can be done, even if what we have to do is pretty crazy to achieve what we’re trying to make. 

“My wife and I transformed our whole flat into a 1970s set to shoot my short Earworm for Adult Swim. We nailed wallpaper to the walls and slept on a mattress in our hall while a crew of people would wedge themselves into our tiny flat to make a film about tape cassette dwelling worms that attack your earholes.”