Mark Stirton is an Aberdeen loon through and through. It comes across in his dialogue, his humour. That dry whit that is particular to folk here the North-East of Scotland. His second movie has a legendary status with the people of Aberdeen, though it didn’t travel well. One Day Removals is the story of Andy and Ronnie, a pair of Aberdeen removal men who have a very, very bad day. The sharp dialogue is in doric, peppered with as many swear words as you could possibly hope for.

His first film, The Planet, was a low budget sci-fi. He filmed it at Balmedie Beach with a budget of just £8000. No mean feat for a film that doesn’t shy away from visual effects. Mark and his production team spent two years to create the models and effects.

Publicity photograph for Mark Stirton’s ONE DAY REMOVALS

2018 saw the release of his third feature length, Dark Highlands, a horror about a Japanese artist who visits Scotland, only to become the target of a crazed killer. It’s a delicate blend beautiful cinematography and high tension with very little dialogue.

We reached out to Mark Stirton to find out a little bit more about the man behind the films. We want to find out what inspired him to became a filmmaker, what he’s been up to during lockdown, and his plans for the future.


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It’s been a crazy few months with a few highs and a whole load of lows. How are you doing right now? Have you been coping okay with lockdown…and coming out of lockdown? Have you been able to work?

Yeah, I was pretty reclusive anyway so it didn’t affect me so much. However I couldn’t go filming so I turned to animation and had rather a fun time working with Composer Jon Brooks on Wrong Time, Wrong Space which won a few nice awards.

Being locked down really destroyed my ability to put a crew together. Now I love my crew and I enjoy working as a group, but that was just impossible, so i turned to a project that one man theoretically could do alone.

Mark Stirton’s lockdown short film, WRONG TIME, WRONG SPACE

Wrong Time, Wrong Space

Animation is new for you. Can you tell us about that experience?

Slight problem, I’m not an animator. So I opened some animation software, started to build my hero spaceship and made a deal with myself. If I could make the spaceship, I’d make the film. It took a while but eventually I had a hero model that could star in the film, so I just learned how to do each shot pretty much in chronological order.

But, I’ll never do it again. I had this one animation project in my head, and that’s yer lot. It was nice to finally get it done after years of thinking about it, but it would never have happened without a lockdown.

So did you you do all the work on Wrong Time, Wrong Space yourself?

My only real collaborator was composer Jon Brooks, who also scored Dark Highlands for me and will also be providing a full orchestral score for the new [version of] One Day Removals.

I knew my animation would be, kinda rudimentary, so Jon really had to bring the whole thing to life with his music, which he did beautifully. The best days for me were hearing his music come in, as I painfully pushed the film forward with maybe four seconds complete each week. Maybe six if I was lucky.

CGI animation is neither easy nor fast. Particularly since I was using some very old equipment to achieve the shots. After all, I didn’t know we’d be locked down for months and months, so it’s not like I had a CGI workstation sitting waiting, I had to improvise one!

Why film making?

Nobody comes out of the womb a fully fledged creator. What inspired you to set out on the path to making movies?

Avoiding going to prison. My path, as a younger stupider man, wasn’t exactly smart or legal. I was going no-where, except probably to prison so I pulled myself together a bit, focused on what I wanted to do, then did it.

Publicity photograph for Mark Stirton’s DARK HIGHLANDS

One Day Removals

I think it’s fair to say most folk know you for One Day Removals, your 2008 Doric comedy set very firmly in Aberdeen and around. Tell us about how the idea for that came about and how you took that from script to screen.

It took a long time. I wrote the first version in around 1993, but I just couldn’t find anyone interested in funding it, so it sat in a folder for a decade. But, little by little, digital technology advanced enough and was affordable enough that I was eventually able to mount a feature film version for around 60 grand. The basic idea never changed, what if two removal men accidentally killed not just one person, but a van load.

A lot of folk were shocked by the language. To me, though, it just reflects the way that folk in the north-east speak at work and in the pub. Was the swearing a conscious decision when you wrote it?

Yes. The screenplay was written in Doric and was full of swearing. It was very much a mission statement. This is the way we are going to do it and it won’t change. Unfortunately that was also the path to distribution failure.

I remember at the time it was the sort of movie that people passed between friends and co-workers. It’s a great way to ensure people in the city see the movie. However, it’s probably not the most profitable of distribution methods. Did it ever get a commercial release?

No. The Planet was released commercially, Dark Highlands was released commercially, but the Raindance selected BIFA nominated One Day Removals, was not.

Aberdeen’s film industry

Aberdeen’s film making scene is particularly small even while other creative industries in the city are hitting a bit of a moment in the sun. So why do you think Scotland’s film industry is stuck in the central belt…even just in terms of filming locations? What do you think can be done to help our industry?

I’m hardly the person to ask. I’m a multi award winning director with distribution deals in America, Japan, France and HBO Europe, but in Aberdeen I am both unemployed and unemployable. You’d be as well asking me how to get a job at ASDA.

Publicity photograph for Mark Stirton’s DARK HIGHLANDS

Tell us about your most recent film, the horror Dark Highlands. It’s a very different film so you must have experienced a different set of challenges and frustrations.

Very much so. I like to change genres every time I make a new film. Sci-fi, to Comedy to Horror to Animation. Keeps things challenging. In terms of Dark Highlands the most challenging aspect was filming everything in the actual Highlands. Filming miles away from anywhere, with bad weather and midges was not something I’m rushing to do again.

However, as a budget conscious director I was aware of the amazing production values you get from going there. It’s not exactly free and it takes plenty of planning, but visually it was worth it.

Trailer for Mark Stirton’s 2018 film DARK HIGHLANDS

What do you think motivates you to create?

I’m not sure, but even during the pandemic I was animating away on a new project, so even if I’m alone in a flat, I’ll create something!

Is there anything you’d have done differently in your film-making career? What advice would you give to your younger self?

To be honest I kept being surprised that we got anywhere. I was surprised that The Planet sold, I was surprised One Day Removals opened in London at a big fancy festival, so maybe I’d advise myself to have a little faith and not worry so much.

The future

As folk get the vaccine and we can hopefully get on with the next part of our lives, what are you up to? Is there a new movie on the way?

Yes, I’m writing it now. One Day Removals never gained any real popularity outside the North East, so I’m going to try it again only based out of London next time with two English actors. Call it the Lock Stock version.


Find out more

Thanks very much to Mark for his time. It’s fantastic to get an insight into a local industry that perhaps needs no small amount of attention. You can find more about the work of Mark Stirton on his website. If talking directly is more your thing, you can follow him on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this interview, check out our Temp Check with Colin Farquhar from Aberdeen’s Belmont Filmhouse Cinema.

You can also watch One Day Removals in full right here!