Dan Hartley - from Harry Potter to Joseff Hughes
Who gets the first cut on a Harry Potter film these days? Thanks to desktop editing many scenes are now roughly edited on set - and in some cases effects and music added - so that the director can tell if a sequence is working before progressing.
Meet Dan Hartley, the UK's first 'Floor Editor', who got into the film industry by walking onto set, knocking on a 2nd AD's trailer and asking for a job (within a fortnight he was driving Ewan, Ray and Bob around Soho). He's also author of the Rogue Runner gonzo blog (occasionally seen on Netribution) and director of the acclaimed short film Love You Joseff Hughes, currently screening online and at Cannes in a mini competition. For anyone looking for proof that you don't need to go to film school to make it in the industry, Dan provides hope a plenty that commitment and enthusiasm will win out and that you can progress from extra to runner to key player on a blockbuster and back to short filmmaker. Either that or he's the king of the blaggers.
In a first for me and Netribution, I decided to interview him on iChat, and the slightly cleaned up results follow. For those in Cannes, look out for his Rogue Runner van, which will be doing guerilla screenings of a number of films around the centre over the weekend (20/5/6)
When did you get the bug?
I can give you an exact date. Valentines day 1996. I broke up with my then Amercian girlfriend and suddenly had an idea for a screenplay. Not too sure why but I began writing the same afternoon and didn't stop for about a year. I was doing a law degree at the time so it was a welcome distraction.
Yeah it was a feature called The Greyman. I wrote short stories when I was growing up but at the time I was writing essays like Equal opportunities in the Law and Socio-economics of the household. The latter because I had taken a social studies module to try and boost my score.
Dreary, dreary degree. It felt like we were the only ones who actually worked whilst all the other students went out five nights a week. We could only manage 3.
Where were you studying?
Newcastle University 94 -97
Which would make you 30?
32 now. Long story but my family emmigrate to Australia when I was 16 and because the year starts in feb I was held back. After Oz I travelled for another 18 months before my degree.
When did you decide to attempt to make a full time career of making films?
Pretty much a couple of weeks into writing the screenplay I became convinced that I could write the ultimate film. Blind naivety and enthusiasm enabled me to write that film and I became convinced that I could make it in the industry. The greyman was supposed to be that film and it now collects dust in my bottom drawer. It took me about a year to write and then I realised it wasn't going anywhere so began to look for a way to break in whilst I kept on writing.
What was it about?
Lousy film. It was a typical first time and as such it was about the exploits of a bunch of university students. It was supposed to be a new Withnail but wasn't. The title came from Bravo Two Zero of all places. Greyman is the persona that a captive soldiers should take on to reveal nothing. The script was ironically apt.
So what happened next.. further training?
So then travels. Returned to Alaska where I'd previously worked as a waiter and managed to get some work experience with a company called Sprocketheads. Following that went back to Oz and got some work experience and then returned to Uk and managed to get a job on a feature film as a minibus driver. I'd returned to my folks in Yorkshire and was about to move to London to find work in film when they saw an advert in the local paper asking for extras for a feature film. I went with a cobbled together cv saying that I was available 24/7 and they took me on. The film lasted about 8 weeks and then I moved to London.
By which time you were hooked?
Not entirely. I remember thinking that it was really boring and the hours were really long but I still took the view that I had an incredible screenplay in me that I could get made if I knew the right people. Really, really boring. I now know it gets better the more central to the process that you are but on the periphery it's pure dull. Well the Yorkshire film gave me a few contacts but didn't lead to any offers of work so when I moved to London I began temping. Then one day I was undertaking a huge walk around London and bumped into a film being shot.I approached the 2nd a.d asking for work and as he'd done his knee in, he said I would run for him. That was a film called 'Tube Tales' which had 8 guest directors including Bob Hoskins, Ewen Macgregor, Jude Law and other big names
I remember it.. Sky pictures were involved. Not a bad start - what was your technique in getting the 2AD to say yes?
Yeah it was Sky's first I think. There wasn't much too it really. I literally knocked on his trailer and told him that I'd just done a film and was looking for work. Excellent timing because the film split into two units and they needed a runner/driver and I got the job. Which was great but I'd never driven in London before and suddenly I'm picking up Ray and Bob and driving Ewan to the lab.
Do you get people come up to you on the Potter sets asking similar things?
I certainly meet a lot of people who ask if I can get them some work, be it for themselves or a friend. With Potter it's less likely as we're cocooned away near Watford behind a security fence but folk who know me field requests. I've tried to help as many people as I can get into the industry. I employ two assistants and they were selected not on their experience but enthusiasm and personality. Along the way I've helped people become runners and try to ive advice when I can. My roguerunner diaries were intended to be instructive albeit in a rather gonzo way.
When did they start?
On the strength of 'Tube Tales' I was introduced to a runners diary service (a little like an agent) and they got me work as a runner. All up I did two years and it was in the last 3 months the diary started.
And when did you start making films?
About a year into running I made a dv short called 'Bright Sparks' which was a fake documentary about a school that had been opened up to train Film industry electricians in the skills necessary to swear, argue with production, calculate overtime, that sort of thing. It was half decent but too long and with poor sound. It's a dust collector though I might revisit at some point.
Is there much time in the runner's life to make films.. it seems v long hours..
You can be lucky. Working on commercials as I mainly did pays about over a £100 per day and you generally average a 3 or 4 day week. So although the days are long you do get days off and you can choose not to work.
How would you advise a complete newbie to get in? go around the city apporaching film shoots?
Well my diary service gave me a list of about 30 production companies in Soho, London and I called on the ones on the list and asked if it would be okay if I popped around that afternoon and handed over a C.V. Making that initial and then being polite and enthusiastic seemed to give me an edge on all the other CV droppers. I actually got a call the same day to see whether I might be able to drive a new Mercedez from Germany to Spain. For a shoot.
Can you give me a quick run down on the other films before Joseff Hughes?
I tried another one after Potter 1 but it was set outside and rain stuffed us. Most of them have been in the last two years. I've done two 24 hour challenges and I shot a music video with my girlfriends teddy bear whilst on holiday in the states and that's about it. I think I've done about 4 films before 'Love you.' all dv for no money with non-prof cast.
What have you been doing on the Harry Potter films?
On Potter I'm a video operator. The job essentially requires acting as an intermediary between camera and director. I take a video feed from the camera record it and play it out onto the directors monitors. I also do a lot of editing on the floor using final cut pro so that the director can see whether the sequence is working straight away. I do see what we shoot as we shoot it and can often be the first person to make creative decisions about how to cut it, even if my cut isn't followed by the editor.
Sounds like quite a bit of creative control
Certainly with the 2nd unit director on the first four films I had a large degree of creative control because he enjoyed challenging me and would let me make my own cut and then he'd make requests based on that. Most of the major action sequences I've cut and then the director has used that cut to talk to the producers and main unit director in order to showcase how he thinks it could look.
Did you train in Final Cut Pro?
No never tained in Final Cut Pro. Started out on premiere which I learnt on the set, literally as we were shooting - the computer arrived in the morning and I was cutting in the afternoon.
You got the job as video operator on the Potter film and you only got to learn desktop editing in the afternoon of the day you started?
Longish story but very basic editing I had to learn on the spot as they were doing a shot on no. 1 with 3 ghosts that I had to composite together. So the computer arrived in the morning, I unpacked it, tried to figure out how to use it.
How long have studios been using this? Since desktop editing was standard, I guess?
Well my job doesn't exist on smaller productions because they won't justify it in the budget so they don't use a video op at all. I think people have been set editing for the past 7 years or so but on Potter the extent of what I do is far beyond that of most films. They actually created the position of 'floor editor' for me as it didn't exist before as recognizable title, in England anyway.
Wow. So you've really been able to define a new job - almost from scratch - on one of the most successful franchises in the world.
I didn't so much create the job as the director created it for me. As each film progressed he embraced editing and with it my skills progressed. Final cut pro is an incredibly versatile package and so I can create multiple layers, add foley and music and create something that can showcase his material to great effect.
How did Love You Joseff Hughes - your short (in competition during Cannes at www.silenceooncourt.tv) come about?
'Love you...' fell into my hands at the end of no. 4 when I asked a girl from the production office to flat sit for me. She (Catrin Cooper) had written the script a few months before and wanted my opinion on it.
What was your first impression?
I really loved it. It was an absolutely enchanting script. Wonderful dialogue, charming and poignant.
It seems there's a real vogue to having young people in shorts in this country. But I don't think I've seen a love story between two before.
It's a bit like if you want to win an oscar, you feature someone with a disability. Kids work great in short films, though they probably feature too often. You're right though I don't think many are love stories and though we didn't decide to shoot it because it was different in that regard, I'm certainly glad now as it sets our film apart I think.
Did you self finance it?
Yeah totally. I'd earmarked the period after Harry Potter 4 as the time when I would do my first 'proper' short and so I knew that I'd have to spend some of my savings on it. I'd been rejected for funding three years running and so I wasn't prepared to wait either. So as soon as Cat asked me to direct it I began putting it into pre-production straight away. I had a dream budget of £5k but ultimately it was near £13k and luckily my producer put in about £5k of that
Who is your producer?
Sandra Gorel. We met when I put a post on Shooting People. She's an ex BBC lady who pioneered interactive tv. Best still though she's a great laugh.
How did you lure Sandra onto it - was it a post to the Script Pitch Network?
No it was a filmmaker post. Basically director seeks producer for collaboration on a no. of shorts. This is my background etc. We'd met several months before and then the script turned up after so we were geared up and ready. We're still partners now.
When did you decide it would be (mainly) black and white?
My director on Potter and Joe Dunton who runs a camera facility house were having a chat and both these blokes now in their sixties have an 'old school' aesthetic and were very passionate
about me shooting black and white 'scope' or anamoprhic. That planted in my head the idea of transitioning to colour and so I went with their judgement. We actually though had to shoot the whole thing colour and then take out the chroma.
What did you shoot on?
35mm. Joe gave me the camera's for free, stock I blagged off potter. It was cheap but costs still mount up. The script was set on an island off North Wales but we could only shoot so much there that was flattering, so I cheated a lot of the dialogue scenes to stoke newington cemetry in London.
Ah I thought I recognised it. How did you find the kids?
We put an advert in the local paper in Wales (local papers man!) and we auditioned 50 kids with essentially no experience and chose the two you see in the film. They were first choice from day 1.
How did you help them to deal with what at times seems quite adult emotions?
In the audition it was clear that they had the skills, they listened to one another as though they were hearing the words for the first time - which was a clincher for me. The dialogue is very innocent and so it wasn't that hard for them to understand it. The power of the script comes from the subtext which is 'do you love me?'
Was it this aspect that attracted you most to the project?
It wasn't necessary to elevate their readings to adult, rather it was my job to keep the adult world of filmmaking from interfering with their childlike curiosities and innocence. Absolutely good writing is suggested not spoken.
I've seen kids directed badly. My goal was to try to remove them from the technical and speak to them in a way that would register.
Did you draw on personal experiences for this? It seems it was love / or not that propelled you into film.
I'm a bit of a romantic. if you disculde breaking up on valentines day that is.
What has people's responses been like? I've found myself with tears both times I watched this.
The comments I usually get is that it's a beautiful film, the kids are great and that people love its simplicity. It does certainly move people often, of both sexes and I think it's a testament to the children that they engage with an audience in that way and it also delights me that all of us big adults have some experience of first love that it touches upon and for a moment it brings back those initial trembling moments.
It does. Where can people see it in Cannes?
It's showing in the Cannes Short film corner and it's a finalist in their online competition at https://www.silenceoncourt.tv. Better still though we've equipped the rogue van with a huge screen and will be touring the festival and playing it to people on the streets at cafe's and bars on friday and saturday night. With our hotrold styled luton van it will be hard to miss.
You can read about the rogue runner's exploits at www.roguerunner.com