Finding Hinterland: Harry Macqueen on directing his first feature

Finding Hinterland: Harry Macqueen on directing his first feature

By Nadia Attia 25/02/15

Actor, filmmaker and IdeasTap member Harry Macqueen, 31, started out as a cinema usher at Curzon Soho. Now he’s written, directed and starred in his self-funded first feature, Hinterland, out on Friday 27 February. Nadia Attia finds out how he did it…

My plan was always to make an alternative road-trip movie. 

A very intimate and delicate character study played off against the dramatic background of the English coastline. I began writing Hinterland in October 2012 and we shot it in 13 days the following February. The post-production process took months but we had a finished film within a year. 

Neither Harvey nor Lola, the lead characters, were based directly on anyone I knew, but Lola was so fully-formed in my mind that I worried I’d never find someone to play her, especially as she had to be a musician, too. I explained the dilemma to my friend Rosie Morris – who then became Script Supervisor, among other roles on the film – and she immediately suggested I meet Lori Campbell. Lori, in her debut role, brings such a natural playfulness to the character, and her own music couldn’t be more perfect for the mood of the piece. I’m so lucky she was brave enough to do it, and really happy that I found a good friend along the way. 

 

HINTERLAND - OFFICIAL TRAILER 1 from Hinterland Film on Vimeo.

 

When it came to shooting the film, we used the 40-page script as a springboard and improvised when it felt right, shooting on the fly. I wanted to make Harvey and Lola’s friendship as organic and truthful as I could, because the success of Hinterland rests on the fragile relationship at its heart. I’ve been lucky enough to have been on set a fair amount as an actor, and have worked with plenty of directors, so I think a lot of that experience seeped into the script through osmosis.

I have to admit, though, it was almost impossible to be writer, actor and director and remain objective. In fact, my initial intention wasn’t to act in the film, so when I had to out of necessity it became an exercise in trusting my ability as a performer by knowing if the energy, emotion and interaction was working.

I made Hinterland on a budget of £10,000, from an inheritance I came into. It was a real challenge – I spent months sleeping on friends’ floors, and in a shed, to save money! – but I’m proud that I did it, and that it’s being well received. It made me realise that what’s most important is not to wait for permission to make something. You have to get out there and see if you can make it happen yourself. And if you feel that your voice needs to be heard then you’re more than halfway there already. That’s not to say there aren’t some wonderful funding schemes, but my advice to first-time filmmakers is to not be disheartened if they don’t join you on your first adventure.

 

Image: Portrait of Harry Macqueen © Sam Churchill

Image: Portrait of Harry Macqueen © Sam Churchill

 

We shot Hinterland with a cast and crew of just six, and we were all friends of friends. Stripping production back like that was wonderfully freeing, but also a practical necessity, so what you see on screen is the result of a really intimate collaboration. The wonderful thing about the process was that everyone worked on it because they believed in the story and, I think, fell in love with the characters a little. 

I wanted Hinterland to have a slightly timeless quality to it, so we shot on a tape-based, not even full HD, camera borrowed from a friend. I wanted to avoid the traditional aesthetic of a modern indie – that shallow focus, DSLR look – so the Sony FX1 HDV worked well. That said, it’s a tricky and time-consuming camera to use, and shooting in confined spaces, like a car, was hard because it’s bulky, making DOP Ben Hecking’s work all the more impressive. 

When I received a £400 tax rebate about a month after we completed the film I immediately booked a screening room and invited a distributor, a cinema exhibition company, a handful of film critics and festivals – and was blown away when they all turned up. Distribution companies tend to have their niche, so I’d targeted the one I thought would be best suited to supporting my film. Thankfully my judgment was right, and Soda Pictures came on board as distributor, while Curzon agreed to screen the film theatrically and on their home cinema channel.

Hinterland became my life for the last 18 months. I feel like I’ve had a film baby and had to learn quickly how to be a good dad! But making the film was such a beautiful process involving a bunch of such hardworking people that letting them down wasn’t an option. When the dust settles from Hinterland I’ll be continuing to develop a second feature, finishing a play I’ve been writing, making a comedy pilot, and I’ve got a bit of acting work in the US. But before all of that: a lie down.

 

Harry Macqueen was talking to Nadia Attia. 

Hinterland is released on 27 February 2015.

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