As we launch our annual Ideas Fund Shorts brief, we hear from director John Maclean. Fresh from winning a BAFTA for his short film Pitch Black Heist, starring Michael Fassbender, John shares his advice for would-be filmmakers…
How did you get into film?
My background was actually in painting. I went to art college and once I left I got involved with music – all my friends were musicians. I was very interested in doing music videos. I always wanted them to be like short films – they were no budget and slightly dodgily acted but were a bit narrative. When it came to doing my first short film I didn’t think it was a massive step from what I was doing before.
Pitch Black Heist is your second short film with Michael Fassbender – how did that relationship come about?
The videos that I made with my mates were compiled onto a DVD and a friend of mine, who is Michael’s agent, passed them onto Michael and he really liked them. We were introduced one night a few years ago and Michael said, “Do you fancy doing something?” so I said, “Yeah absolutely.” I quickly scrambled together the first short idea [Man on a Motorcycle], which was pretty much based on what I thought Michael would like and how I thought it could be filmed.
Why did you choose to film Man on a Motorcycle on a mobile phone?
I was always shooting on my mobile so I knew its capabilities. I knew it was better in black and white and what kind of light I could shoot in, I have a little steadicam for it – it was equipment that I felt confident with.
How come you stuck with black and white when making Pitch Black Heist?
It’s got a lot of noir references and I was influenced by French black and white films from the 50s. Also, because it’s set in pitch black with lights that come on, it’s very tonal so it was a bit of a no brainer making it black and white.
You’re working on a feature now – what challenges has that thrown up?
Just writing the script. I thought it would be like a short film script times ten but actually it’s like a short film script times ten cubed. I’m enjoying it but it’s a challenge to hold someone for 90 minutes – it’s not just nine times holding someone for ten minutes.
What advice do you have for young short film directors?
Work within your means so you’ve not suddenly got a new bit of equipment that you don’t use just because everyone says you have to shoot on a particular camera. If you watch short films by people like Scorsese and Polanski, their shorts are very individual and unique. Don’t think of it as a show reel - my view was that I was making mini movies rather than short films. There aren’t really any rules.
Are you a filmmaker? With Ideas Fund Shorts, we’re offering eight IdeasTap members £5000 funding, plus expert mentoring, to make a short film. Apply here.
Images: Stills from Pitch Black Heist, directed by John Maclean.