Coming of Middle Age: A Conversation with Harry Macqueen
When Harvey (Harry Macqueen) hears that his old friend Lola (musican Lori Campbell) has been forced to return home after years abroad he arranges to take her away for a weekend to the seaside cottag where they spent so much of their youth. What follows is a touching and beautiful story of an old friendship rekindled within a new context. Hinterland is a poetic journey of self-discovery and heartbreak in contemporary Britain. An original and visually stunning British road-trip film. Harry Macqueen’s debut film is a tender and honest exploration of love and change.
Here, The Fan Carpet’s Phil Slatter had the pleasure of talking to Harry Macqueen about his directorial feature debut…
What sort of release is Hinterland getting?
It’s released on 27th February in the Curzon Soho in London and it goes out on Curzon home cinema on the same day. I’m also taking it around the country doing screenings and Q and A’s up and down the country from the start of March so it’s all go.
How long have you been on the festival circuit with it?
Just under a year at a guess. We got into quite a few UK festivals and some European ones before we ended up premiering at Raindance where we were nominated for best UK feature. We’ve also just done a festival in Turkey and I think we’re going over to China to do one soon.
So how did the film come about?
It came about for a number of reasons really. I’ve always been an actor and I’d always written stuff but mainly for myself, and I knew I wanted to direct. I inherited ten grand in a will which is not a lot in film terms but enough to make something happen. When I had a bit of freedom between some acting jobs and I’d just moved out of my flat in London I thought ‘hang on a minute, I’ve got to see if I can get this project going’. Also, acting is great when you’re doing it and frustrating when you’re not so this was a chance to take some creative control, especially as time between acting jobs can be quite extensive these days.
How difficult was it playing one of the two lead roles and directing at the same time? You’ve got to be both in front of the camera and behind the camera at the same time.
It was nigh on impossible to be honest, it was incredibly, incredibly hard. When I started writing the film I hadn’t written the part for myself at all and the plan was to just write and direct solely. But for various reasons such as not having enough money for a second actor and just logistical reasons such as not having enough space for another person in the car on the road trip, it soon became apparent that either I was going to have to play Harvey or the film wouldn’t get made. It was very hard wearing all those hats at the same time especially having never directed before, but we got through it.
To me the film was something of a coming of middle age story. You have two individuals at an age where society might be expecting them to start a family and yet life hasn’t quite turned out the way they thought. What to you was the essence of the film?
Well I think very much about that. I think there is a period of transition that most people will go through within their twenties where they haven’t really worked anything out yet whether it be professionally or in their love lives or where they live. I think everything is sort of up in the air when you’re in your twenties and I think it’s less so when you’re in your thirties. I wanted to explore that period that to a degree I experienced in my twenties and I know that a lot of other people do to. It’s a film about yearning for the past, about nostalgia and a film about change. Harvey and Lola’s journey is a journey into their past if you like and what they find when they get there is that things have changed, life has changed and they’ve changed and it’s harder now than it was when they were kids, as much as they’d love to be running around on the beach playing in the sand like they used to. Broadly it’s about people of my age (30) in the UK and that life is in some ways quite a lot harder – I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to afford to own a house and in some ways the film therefore has quite a political undercurrent and has a contemporary kind of resonance to it. I definitely wanted to explore that.
Certainly at the start when your character is driving out of London there is a lot of talk on the radio about debt and re-paying student loans and never having any money. That seems like something you could relate to as well.
Absolutely. That was stuff that we deliberately tailored into the film and I had my uncle and other actor friends record those transcripts for that purpose. Also right at the very start there is a hand drawn note in Harvey’s room that reads ‘We are all children of Ayrn Rand and Margaret Thatcher’ and that was a reference to twenty and thirty years olds in Britain today of in many ways and where we are. We are children of a generation of people that have in a broad sense made a lot of money but where does that leave us now? Someone in their late twenties now is very different to say their parents were at the same age – they would already have had a house and a job and probably a family and I definitely wanted to look into things like that.
You’ve clearly drawn on your own feelings and life in terms of the themes but to what extent is the actual plot autobiographical?
It’s definitely directly autobiographical geographically as the part of the Cornish coast that Harvey and Lola go to is somewhere I went with my family as a kid. Emotionally it’s not directly autobiographical; I’ve never been in a position exactly like that although obviously I’ve had feelings for people that haven’t been reciprocated as we all have growing up. It was more a story based on lots of people’s experiences rather than just my own.
Your co-star Lori Campbell I thought was absolutely terrific as Lola. How did you come across her?
She is a musician from Bristol and she had never professionally acted before. She is a friend of a friend is the honest answer. I’d written the script and happened to be living with a friend. One evening I said that I’d written this script and I don’t know how to make it and one of the reasons for that is that I don’t know who this girl is. There were some actresses that I knew but I didn’t know anyone who I felt could pull it off. I described the character to my friend who said Lola sounded like her friend Lori and I should give her a ring. It was serendipity really – a month after we spoke Lori said she would be up for playing the part. It was real luck finding her and I’m not sure how the project would have panned out had we not met.
You mentioned she is a musician and there is a terrific scene between the two of you around a camp fire where she sings a song. Was that something she composed that was incorporated into the script after she came on board or was it already in there?
It was something that was already in there actually. It was quite remarkable as I always knew that music had to be part of the film important as I felt it was something that distances the characters from one another. Lola has this kind of freedom that she expresses through her music . When I got in touch with Lori she was writing that song (called September) and she was going through something of a transition at the time and was living in France. When we were rehearsing she played me the song and it just seemed to resonate on so many levels with what the characters were going through. It was the emotional pitch of the film at that point. I always knew the song had to be in there but it’s Lori’s original work.
You’ve worked with Richard Linklater on Me and Orson Welles and this film is similar in many ways to the Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight trilogy that he made. What did you draw from that?
I learnt a lot working with him, he is a really inspiring film maker as he has a lot of fun and also does what he wants. I think his films are really beautiful and it’s great that he is having so much success with Boyhood at the moment. When he picked up the award at the BAFTA’s I thought it was wonderful that Ella Coltrane was saying that Boyhood was a kind of narration and exercise in vulnerability. It’s a film that is most interested in the simplicity of human interaction and there is a real beauty in that. Now of course I’m not comparing Hinterland to Boyhood in anyway but if they are comparable it’s definitely that. I think there’s something more interesting and exciting in that than in a car chase or an explosion and that is what I find so wonderful bout most of Richard Linklater’s films – they’re so natural and honest, especially the Before series. I think his work is definitely a touch paper if you like for Hinterland.
I read that Hinterland is the UK’s first carbon neutral film. Is that the case and if so what can you tell me about that?
As far as I know, yes, certainly in terms of UK fiction film making. There’s been a few documentaries such as The Age of Stupid which came out a few years ago and was a documentary about climate change and that was carbon neutral for obvious reasons. But this is the first fictional film to be completely carbon neutral to the best of my knowledge. It was something that I really wanted to explore although I didn’t know how you’d go about doing something like that or how expensive it was to do.
We essentially estimated how much carbon we used making the film with the petrol, transport, electricity, hiring the gear, the food we ate on set etc. We worked with a company who work that stuff out for you and we came up with a figure and then you offset that by funding wind turbines and the like. We did it retrospectively and it turned out to be not an overly expensive exercise because when you’re making a film as small as this where you have a small crew and you’re not flying anywhere or anything like that it’s not too bank breaking. We’d budgeted just enough money fortunately to do it but it’s now interesting in terms of distribution. It’s one thing making a carbon neutral film but it’s another thing distributing one. For that reason we’re completely holding off on a DVD release because DVD’s are, by definition, very unfriendly in terms of the amount of carbon they use.
With home cinema and the internet and streaming, DVD is kind of on its last legs I think. There is a way of doing a carbon neutral DVD release but it’s quite expensive and we’ll have to wait and see how much money the film generates on demand and in the cinema before we look into that.
You’re obviously quite busy taking this film around the country and beyond at the moment but what will you be looking to do after that?
Well I’m so busy at the moment that I haven’t really had time to think about the future. I’m tentatively writing another film and I’m also writing and shooting a comedy pilot with some friends that we’re hopefully going to pitch to the BBC quite soon. I did a bit of acting before Christmas for T.V. in America that’s due to come out this year at some point. So I’m very busy but at the moment just focused on getting Hinterland out there at the moment. Hopefully I’ll get a holiday in at some point but that’s probably not going to happen!
HINTERLAND IS IN CINEMAS AND ON DEMAND 27 FEBRUARY