Making his directorial debut with the truly chilling Brit shocker HUSH, filmmaker Mark Tonderai is clearly a talent to keep an eye on as our very own Stu Willis can attest as he checks out HUSH and kicks back with writer/director Mark Tonderai to discuss the film and his burgeoning schedule of productions ahead in our exclusive spotlight interview...
Stu: Hi Mark, congratulations on "Hush". It's a fantastically entertaining film.
Stu: I'd like to begin by asking you about your beginning in the media industry. I believe your career began in radio in the early 90s. Can you talk a little about how this came about, and what you learned as a radio producer and presenter?
Mark: I became a trainee presenter when they were getting rid of the old boys. Got lucky got a show. Was on air. What did I learn? That I didn't want to do it…that I wanted to write narrative.
Stu: You also became renowned for your writing while working in radio. This led to you later writing sketches for TV programmes such as "Prickly Heat" and "Comedy Lab". How did these experiences help build toward writing a fully-fledged feature film screenplay?
Mark: Writing is writing. Even sketches have a beginning, middle and end. Writing comedy is I think the hardest thing to do…so writing sketches for say my BBC 2 show 'Uncut Funk' was a great learning experience.
Stu: Along with the above, you also co-wrote the screenplay for the film "Dog Eat Dog". Your style is clearly based in comedy. How did this benefit you when you began writing the script for the much more serious "Hush"?
Mark: Dog Eat Dog happened 1999 and by 2007 I had moved away from comedy…I will go back…for example Eden Blackman one of my other screenplays is a comedy…and I co-wrote that script. But now I really feel I have my voice…
Stu: Thematically, how would you describe "Hush"? What is the subtext to the film?
Mark: Self interest verses social responsibility. People don't act…what's the quote?…evil flourishes when god men do nothing. Amen.
Stu: "Hush" is very accomplished cinematically. Where did you gain your technical experience prior to directing the film?
Mark: Shorts. TV. More TV. But especially radio. Radio is a great learning experience and before I ever shot anything I could edit on reel to reel then Pro-tools. It helped me think in images…if that makes sense.
Stu: How did you go about getting financing "Hush"? I note that both Film Four and UK Lottery were involved in the funding. The benefits of these are obvious - but were there any drawbacks to their involvement?
Mark: No. Okay having lots of paymasters is quite tricky but that's how it is. Every single person contributed enormously.
Stu: On the DVD extras, you emphasise how important it was to prepare for months ahead of shooting "Hush". Can you elaborate on what this preparation entailed?
Mark: Storyboards mainly. Finding examples of other sequences. Learning how other people did it. We had these t-shirts made up. No budget. No money…but thinking's free.
Stu: What were the main obstacles you encountered when making "Hush"? How did you overcome these?
Mark: Night is a problem. And you don't really overcome it just keep going which is what I did.
Stu: I've read some reviewers comparing "Hush" to Hitchcock. I agree with this, as well as seeing similarities to British horror films of the 70s (Pete Walker, for example). Which directors would you say directly influenced your style for "Hush"?
Mark: Paul Greengrass. Michael Mann. Soderberg. Del Toro. Iñárritu. Fernando Meirelles. Zemeckis.
Stu: You've also worked as an actor in projects as diverse as "Holby City", "Kevin & Perry Go Large" and "The Four Feathers". Do you agree that it is an important rites of passage for a director to have worked as an actor previously?
Mark: I think every director should do it so they know what it feels like. Without actors you have nothing.
Stu: Can you speak a little about the casting of "Hush"? Obviously your casting director Des Hamilton 'found' the actors, but presumably you had the final say. Can you speak a little about what attracted you to Will Ash and Christine Bottomley?
Mark: They have a conduit to the truth. You never doubt them for an instant. I think I was so so lucky to find both of them!
Stu: Was there ever a time when you were tempted to act in the film yourself?
Mark: No. God no.
Stu: Theo Green's score is very successful in "Hush". What prompted you to opt for a more traditional score, as opposed to perhaps the rap/hip hop you were became known for championing?
Mark: Theo is brilliant. No I never use pop music in a film unless its incidental. That's just not my style. I think scores allow you to have many levels whereas as songs allow for only one interpretation usually based around the words unless of course we're talking nostalgia.
Stu: A large part of the reason "Hush" works so well is because it's unrelentingly tense. Was there a model you worked from in this respect?
Mark: North by Northwest.
Stu: What's your favourite set-piece in the film? Without giving too much away, I love the whole "farmhouse" sequence.
Mark: Thanks. Hard scene to get right. I think it's the 'Containerland' sequence, everytime he tries jumping onto those crates I scream 'Hurry up! He's coming!
Stu: When you look back at the shoot, is there anything you would do differently?
Mark: Too many things to mention.
Stu: How did you find it working with CGI? It's used expertly, I must say.
Mark: Film Gate. Sean Whelan. A genius. He got me out of many many problems. We boarded most of the shot so knew which ones were going to be CGI so there were no real surprises. My view is CG should accentuate story not replace it.
Stu: Out of the whole shoot, what is your fondest memory?
Mark: The end.
Stu: Are you a fan of the horror genre as such? Do you consider "Hush" to be a horror film? I ask, because it is a cross-over film in my eyes - one that some will debate is a thriller, but that I feel firmly fits within the modern horror genre.
Mark: It's more thriller than horror as I think I use suspense more than outright gore.
Stu: What has the response to "Hush" been at screenings? Does any experience in particular stand out for you?
Mark: The Raindance screening. Family and friends there. Packed house we got a huge round of applause when at the end. Special.
Stu: Following on from that question, I have to ask: which films have you seen at festivals while promoting "Hush", that you would recommend to our readers?
Mark: The Square. Brilliant film. Brilliant!
Stu: If you could remake "Hush" for Hollywood with A-list actors, who would you choose in the lead roles and why?
Mark: I wouldn't…but if I had to…someone like Wentworth Miller…my wife fancies him and she would love to meet him!
Stu: I understand you are currently in pre-production for your next film "I Die At Midnight". Can you share any early thoughts on this film?
Mark: Now we're actually doing the final draft of a film called THE 12TH PROPHET for Pathe Productions. It's about a cycle courier in NY with a photographic memory who delivers some packages…then gets a phone call…do exactly what we say or the packages you just delivered will be detonated…he has to find out who the bad guys are, what they want using the only weapon he has…his memory.
Stu: Screen International have stated that you have no less than five film screenplays ready to film. Is this true? If so, can you give us brief summaries of what's to be expected?
Mark: They range from revisionist dramas for Channel 4 to a French movie with Laurent Garnier.
Stu: Thanks very much for your time, Mark. Congratulations again on the film, and best of luck in the future!
HUSH is available now on DVD from Optimum Home Entertainment
Special thanks to Mark Tonderai and Candy at Optimum