Hinterland – An Interview with Actor and Director Harry Macqueen

Hinterland dir. Harry Macqueen in cinemas and On Demand 27 February

On Friday 27th February, Raindance 2014 Best UK Feature nominee Hinterland will be released by Curzon online and in select cinemas across the country.

Centred on the reunion of two young adults who travel back to the holiday home of their childhood, the film is the remarkably assured directorial and screenwriting debut of actor Harry Macqueen, who also stars as aspiring novelist Harvey, alongside Lori Campbell as musician and songwriter Lola. Urban displacement, creative anxiety and the search for meaning in the modern world are all themes that the film takes on, with the two friends seizing their sojourn as an attempt to recapture the lost freedom and innocence of years gone by, only to discover that maturity may have changed the nature of their relationship.

Stunningly shot on a shoestring budget against a bleakly beautiful Cornish landscape, Hinterland is a distinctly British take on the road trip movie, reimagining the classic coming-of-age format in the context of contemporary English life. MCM Buzz spoke to Harry Macqueen to find out more about the film and how it came to be.

“It came out of a combination of different things,” he explained. “I had a break between a couple of acting gigs and I’d just moved out of my flat so there was a personal period of freedom and flux that I wanted to take hold of. Acting is probably the only creative profession where you have to be given permission to work, so there are always times between jobs where it’s very un-creative and you’re trying to work out what else to do. I’d always wanted to make a film, and I had always written, but until Hinterland it had been a very personal thing, something I did in my down time from acting. I’d just been left a significant sum of money in a will, so even though I hadn’t anticipated this being something that I would do so early in my career, I decided to go for it. It was sort of an exercise in throwing caution to the wind.”

Despite their natural on-screen chemistry, the the two stars of the film barely knew each other before embarking on the project, and were introduced by a mutual friend when Macqueen mentioned that he was looking for a musician to take on the role of Lola.Headlands - Hinterland dir. Harry Macqueen in cinemas and On Demand 27 February

“I was at the point where I’d written the film and wasn’t sure how I would get it made, especially since I’d written this character and didn’t know anyone who could play her. It had to be a very specific sort of person – I was keen that she should be a musician first and an actress second, and there had to be a really natural quality to the performance. At the time, I was living with a friend of mine, Rosie Morris (who also ended up acting as a kind of script supervisor), and when I was telling her about it, she said that it sounded a lot like her friend Lori. I think finding her was one of the major factors in getting the film made, because it just could never have been the same without the naturalism and the music that she brings to it.”

Although previously unacquainted, the pair fostered a friendship by spending as much time together as possible in the weeks preceding filming.

“What’s brilliant is that everyone who sees it thinks we’ve known each other for years because there’s a very free, organic chemistry between the characters, but all of that was basically engineered by Lori and me. We lived together for about a month, on and off, before we shot it, and we talked about it all the time, getting to know the characters and their relationship as much as we could.”

This “engineered” intimacy wasn’t only true for the actors: during filming in Cornwall, both they and the tiny crew lived together in a house owned by Macqueen’s mother. Fortunately, they’d all established good relationships beforehand.

“We knew that we didn’t have the money or facilities to take a lot of kit or a lot of people with us, so we stripped it down to the bare bones. My very good friend, Rob Petit, who’s a brilliant filmmaker, recommended his friend Ben Hecking. He’s our Director of Photography, and he’s really brilliant and talented. I’d worked with Helen Miles, who did the sound, on a short film I’d acted in about six months previously, and then Rosie Morris came along and did pretty much everything else! We went through the same kind of word-of-mouth, friends-of-friends process for post-production, too.

Working on film sets can sometimes be quite tense and difficult, when you’re living in close proximity with loads of people you don’t know, but the beauty of this project was that there was only six of us, and it was a really nice experience. We were in Cornwall for eleven days, and we all cooked together every night and ate breakfast together. It was a little bit like a holiday, except that we were working all the time and had hardly any sleep!”

It’s in part this naturalism that lends the story a very real, personal feel, and although its central relationship is entirely fictitious, it resonates with its creator’s own experiences in more ways than one.

“The literal journey of the film is one I know very well. I’ve always gone on holiday in Cornwall since I was a kid, and I have strong memories of being there and of the excitement of travelling down.

I also wanted to explore that feeling of being a 20-something in contemporary London, or England more broadly, that my friends and I have all been through. It’s quite a difficult time because you have to start making big decisions, and often relationships may not work out, or even if they do you don’t know how far you’re ready to commit to them, maybe you’re not really sure what you want to do for a job or who you should vote for politically – all those kind of things. So it was a case of drawing on a lot of different experiences to create that sense of ennui, the period of hinterland where things don’t always make a lot of sense.”

Beach Scene - Hinterland dir. Harry Macqueen in cinemas and On Demand 27 February

These common themes and feelings are viewed through the lens of the road-trip movie, a format which, though popular in America, remains relatively unusual in UK films.

“The road trip genre has been explored a million and one times, but not very often in England, and I think that’s interesting in itself, because it says something about what we feel about our country. Part of the reason we don’t make road movies in this country is because it’s a very small island, so road trips just sort of end with you falling off the edge, whereas in America, where the genre was born, you can keep going for ages, but I think think there are other reasons. I was very conscious that I hadn’t seen many British road movies, other than Chris Petit’s Radio On which was made in 1979.

I was interested in the format because of the freedom it affords, its intrinsically cinematic qualities and the interplay between the emotional and physical journeys. Also practically, it’s the sort of genre you can approach quite easily as an indie filmmaker because there isn’t that much you can do sitting in a car, so it lowers the costs and the crew numbers.”

Despite all the driving, the film has been certified as carbon neutral, something which Macqueen hopes will also extend to distribution.

“It was really important to me to leave no trace, if that was possible. So we calculated the amount of carbon that we had emitted – in all the car journeys, from the kit we’d used, all the electricity in the house – and then we offset it retrospectively with the help of a company that specialises in that kind of thing. There was a documentary about climate change called The Age of Stupid that came out a few years ago which did the same thing, but apparently ours is the first British fiction film to have done that. It doesn’t seem to be something that’s in people’s minds that much, but I think it’s an incredibly important thing to be aware of these days. Obviously it’s more difficult when you start involving yourself in bigger projects, but in our case, it was quite an easy thing to do.”

In keeping with its overriding, bittersweet quality, the film ends on a poignant yet hopeful note, with sadness cloaking a subtle note of optimism.

“I wanted to give it an open ending, which I think is a more intelligent way of finishing a story than building it up into a Hollywood kiss or anything like that, so a lot of people have taken it as being very positive, but an equal amount have had the opposite reaction. I think it is a positive film in its own way, but maybe not for traditional reasons, in that as much as it’s about this complex relationship, it’s also about fun. These guys leave the city and escape to the countryside where there’s freedom and fresh air and sea and they can run around and act like they’re 15 again. There’s definitely a positivity and an innocence in that.”

Hinterland will be released in cinemas and on demand on Friday 27th February, with special Q&A events taking place at select UK cinemas. The film is distributed by Soda Pictures and Curzon Cinemas, and will be released online via Curzon’s Home Cinema Channel. For more information, visit the Hinterland website.

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