Private Project


An ambitious, zero-budget short film about the dichotomy of reality. After a drug-fuelled night ends in turmoil, good-natured and right-minded sister Abbie (Alice Neal) must decide whether to betray her morals and break the law, or betray her own brother (Mike Marsh). As the reality of their situation begins to set in, Abbie descends deep into stress, whilst the intoxicated Johnny descends further into delirium. Abbie must make a decision, and soon. She abruptly discovers, in the worst of ways, that what may be moral may not be the right thing to do.

  • Billy Ward
  • Alex Gardner
    Art Director
  • Ivan Phillips
    Director Of Photography
  • Abbie Moir
  • Ella Redmond
  • Mike Marsh
    Key Cast
  • Alice Neal
    Key Cast
  • Daniella Kidd
    Key Cast
  • Chloe Hardy
    Art Department
  • Georgia Trowbridge
    Art Department
  • Sarah Skinner
    Art Department
  • Amaia Ku
    Graphic Designer
  • Project Type:
    Short, Student
  • Runtime:
    14 minutes 12 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 1, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    0 GBP
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
  • Country of Filming:
    United Kingdom
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director - Billy Ward
Director Statement

We are currently in the midst of a wave of re-emergence of ecstasy use in the UK, especially at universities. Recent data suggests that at some UK universities, over 80% of students experiment with ecstasy at least once during their studies. This emerging scene is bringing with it a new drug music culture which has been scarcely touched by cinema. Drug use is invariably dangerous, and we wanted CORTISOL to explore the gritty side of drug use and its effect on the mind.

CORTISOL is the body’s main stress hormone and acts as the fuel for our “fight or flight” instincts in a crisis. Medical studies have found that cortisol levels in the brain also increase by up to 800% when on ecstasy. This stress hormone can warp perceptions of time and reality and restrict a person from thinking straight. We wanted to explore how two siblings, both with heightened cortisol levels (one through drugs, the other from sudden stress), would interact and cope with an intense situation.

Art Director Alex Gardner and I lived together at university and spent a couple of years refining what kind of film we wanted to make. When ‘philosophy with film’ student Ivan Philips joined the team as Director of Photography in 2017, the three of us set to work constructing CORTISOL. We knew that in order to avoid the stereotype of a ‘drug-centric student short’, we would have to delve deeper into the human psyche. CORTISOL centres around sibling relationships and how they hold up under stress. Within CORTISOL, we present drugs as unglamorous and dangerous – yet they serve as an interesting insight into a mind with extremely high cortisol levels.

CORTISOL was made on an completely zero-budget basis and entirely for fun. We had no investors or production deadlines, and as such we were free to do whatever we wanted. Everyone in the CORTISOL team has used the film as a platform on which to experiment and express. Filming took place over a weekend in Nottingham - we blocked out the windows and shot round the clock! I am immensely proud of everyone involved in this production… everyone brought real passion, hard work, and no small amount of creativity.

CORTISOL really is the result of sheer passion and I hope you find something in it that speaks to you.