Look Who's Hawking - Meet Welsh Mountain Short Makers Alias McMahon & Jones
Hawk is an upcoming short film that was written, directed and produced entirely by twenty-somethings. Shot on location in Snowdonia, Wales, for a budget of £50,000, the 35-minute film follows the life of young Rowan, who retreats into a fantasy realm of Celtic folklore touching on ancient gods and paganism.
Hawk is also the first British short film to have its trailer screened in cinemas across the UK, as well as being featured on television. It also features talented actors, such as Robert Gwyn Davin (First Knight), and Philip Madoc, whose credits include Dad's Army, Doctor Who and Porridge. Add an SFX team straight off Brothers Grimm and a designer from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Clearly a short that is aiming high. So for a mentor, who else would they choose but John Peverall, the Oscar-winning producer of The Deer Hunter who they persuaded out of retirement to guide them.
Suchandrika Chakrabarti met up with the director, M J McMahon, and producer, Matthew Jones, to find out how they managed it all.
Q: How did you end up working with each other on Hawk?
Jones: When I first saw the Hawk website, I was like wow! Most things I’m asked to look at are nowhere near as impressive and I definitely wanted liked what I saw. I’d also been involved in screening Mac’s previous film, Southside, so I did know his work already.
Q: How did you get the well-known astrologer Russell Grant onboard as executive producer?
McMahon: We met him through our third producer Sean McArdell. Russell liked the script a lot. When we told him that we’d love Anthony Hopkins to be in it, he passed our work on – so our script was on Anthony Hopkins’s desk! We hear that he did read it with interest…
Q: Do you think that your ambition played a part in Hawk’s success so far?
McMahon: We basically had this rule, to aim really high, and then just see where we land. A lot of short filmmakers stick with, “Just make it two guys in a room,” very small-scale, but we really went for it.
Jones: We wanted to test ourselves. Eventually, we’d love to work on feature-length projects, so we thought that the best way to learn is through doing shorts.
Q: Are there any ideas yet for a feature-length film?
McMahon: For Hawk, we specifically created a short story, but the feature will be bigger. We’ll come up with a new tale to tell, one that fits a larger scale.
Jones: We might go back to the Welsh mountains for it, but it definitely won’t be too similar to Hawk. We’re wary of doing the same thing again.
Q: How did you start with the promotion of Hawk?
McMahon: As the film was being wrapped up, we started the whole publicity thing going. The website was instrumental to all of this, because people could access the trailer there. We’ve had fan emails sent from all over the world, asking, “When’s your film coming out? I’m a big fan of paganism…” It all goes to show that you can get an audience for a short film.
Jones: It’s also great that they’ve been able to draw that theme out of the trailer. Hawk’s very much about religious conflict, and how that impacts on the way people live. In that sense, the issues are very contemporary.
Q: So you’re taking the trailer to the Cannes Film Festival in May?
McMahon: The trailer and a scene, possibly. The trailer’s the first one for a short film to be shown in cinemas. It was shown on BBC Wales too. There’s a fairly cliquey media industry in Wales, and that’s what we were hoping to tap into. As soon as you have something of quality – that’s Welsh-orientated – you get their interest. BBC Wales did three reports on us, and the last one went out to 350 000 viewers.
Jones: The second trailer will go up on the website when it’s done, but since the first one’s been up there, we’ve had a lot of interest in it. We’d really like the second trailer to have an even bigger impact. We’re keeping people in suspense, hoping the interest will grow.
McMahon: By getting the first trailer out there, we could get an idea of our target demographic. Now, the TV channels have said that they’d definitely air the second trailer, that’s amazing for a short film. It’s almost as though there’s this invisible rule: you’re not allowed to promote short films. We don’t know why that is, but we’re going against it.
Jones: It’s about the quality, really.
Q: The film’s now in post-production. Do the special effects team have a lot of work to do?
McMahon They’ve been coming in at weekends, really giving up their time. Mike Kelt [Senior Effects Technician], who’d worked on the special effects for The Brothers Grimm, gave up his holiday time to come over to Wales and help us out. We’ve had help with post-production as well, from Molinare [digital filmmaker facilitators]. The effects in the trailer and the film are monumental, especially for a British film.
Jones: The opening is an aerial shot, for a minute and a half, and then there’s a CGI hawk in it. That still takes a long time to add in, though – the effects are the most time-consuming part of post-production. The team’s been great.
Q: What’s happening after Hawk?
Jones: We’re developing a second project with BBC Wales. It’s an adaptation of the so-called ‘first Chav novel’, Playing Mercy, by a Cardiff-based writer named Matthew David Scott. It’s the tale of one boy’s quest to find the girl that he fancies. The idea of community interaction, and how rumours can spread, is essential to the story.
McMahon: It’s about social stature as well, and what that means within the Welsh underclass. It’s the background that I’m from. We managed to see the manuscript before it was published, and the author is now working on the screenplay. Just waiting for the green light on it. John Peverall told us to always have three projects cooking at once, so we’re working up to that.
To see the Hawk trailer, go to www.hawkthemovie.com