We did an interview with Dan Hartley, director of the No/Gloss Official Selection and multi-award winning film, Lad: A Yorkshire Story ! We were eager to know what it felt like starting out as a runner, then working on the Harry Potter films and then the experience of directing his own films. Dan has been in the film industry for a very long time (14 years!) so we also took the opportunity to get his take on what DIY meant to him and his advice to upcoming film-makers.
Short intro about yourself
In the fourteen years that I’ve been working in the film industry I have learnt that stars are people and sometimes heroes are villains. Along the way I’ve driven Ray Winstone, got Armando Ianucci lost and made John Cleese laugh. Exen McGregor got me smoking and Ben Affleck wanted to fire me.
I’ve directed Imelda Staunton and been charmed by Jude Law. I’ve had Bob Hoskins in the back of my car and I’ve been friends with Harry Potter. I was once saluted by Nicole Kidman whilst Angelina only thanked me. Some people have read my scripts and watched my films though mostly they don’t. Everyone wishes you well but few help you. People at the top of their game are usually the nicest but powerful people can be mean. Some of the nice people are Matt Damon, Helena Bonham Carter, Dan Radcliffe. Alfonso Cuaron is crazy but a genius.
“All directors are control freaks and sometimes untalented people are given huge amounts of money.”
You as a runner
Being a runner is a great introduction to the film industry but it can also be incredibly debilitating and after two years I was really fed up with it. That’s why I began writing a blog about my experiences and this eventually grew into my production company Rogue Runner. Anyone wanting to enter the industry should consider trying to become a runner however. It’s a great way of getting experience whilst making contacts and in my view its better than university. Just make sure you don’t get stuck there for too long. I should say too that I eventually progressed to becoming a video assist operator which is a little known about job but extremely useful in terms of getting set experience and being near the director.
You as a director
“Because I didn’t study film and didn’t have access to a camera growing up, I’m learning as I go.”
Obviously experience is crucial and making shorts has been a huge learning curve for me. I was so naive on my first short film that I didn’t actually plan to get any additional camera angles which meant that I would never have been able to edit it, had a production assistant not suggested it to me, so from simple beginnings I feel like I’ve come a relatively long way. Editing was a huge part of that development and really shaped how I approach filmmaking. I’ve been on sets where the director doesn’t seem to know how he’s going to edit the film so the emphasis is on ‘coverage’ whereas I like to know how I’m going to edit the film as I shoot it. That said I don’t do a great deal of preparation for filming and I don’t use storyboards. I prefer to arrive on location and work with my actors to find something that fits. In that sense I’m extremely driven by location and ideally I will have the locations in mind before I begin writing.
Harry Potter represents ten years of my life. On the first film I began as a video trainee, my first job since being a runner and when I finished the film I was a video playback operator on the second unit. I was very lucky to be promoted so quickly but it was incredibly stressful and several films later I was still getting to grips with my job. It was a great film to work on. We had huge budgets which meant that we had fantastic crews and great access to equipment and technology so I learnt a massive amount. I was also tasked with editing the second unit footage on set for the director to approve which really brought on my editing skills. Because os many of us worked on the films for so long there was also a really family flavour to the film. We literally watched the kids grow up and it was great to be part of a franchise that was so engrained in public culture.
Big budgets vs crowdfunded
I don’t really believe in crowdfunding yet. Not for most filmmakers. In my experience of using it for Lad I attracted about 50 funders, most of whom I knew and I think without an existing fanbase it’s unlikely that we will find angel funders through that platform. In terms of budget generally, nearly everything I’ve made has been funded by myself or in the case of Lad by help from my family so I have very little experience of raising a budget. I have however tried repeatedly to secure funding from training schemes and lottery film funding but without success. What I do recognise now is that the budget has to match the intended distribution mechanisms – so if you want the film to go out on cinemas then best to raise the money to attract a star so as to eventually secure distribution. If however you’re making a very low-budget film then keep the budget as near to rock bottom as you can as it’s likely the only outlet will be self-distribution.
What does DY mean to you?
“My entire ethos to date has been DIY and I think its incredibly powerful.”
It’s not easy to afford of course and it’s meant for quite a slow progression in my case as I’ve only been able to shoot one short a year but at least I’ve had full creative control and I’ve not been beholden to anyone.
[watch Lad: A Yorkshire Story trailer]
Your advice to upcoming film-makers
Set a date that you’re going to shoot. Make that the first thing that you do, regardless of whether you have any crew, cast or script. Maybe six months in the future. Picture yourself on that day with a camera on a location and know that you will be there. If you’re new to filmmaking then collaborating will be really helpful. See if you can find actors who will help you workshop and develop the script. Choose a genre that you’re comfortable with and devise a script that requires very few locations and actors. Camera’s should be easy to come by these days but make sure you have professional audio kit. If you can involve a school or university as you’ll hopefully get the equipment for free. Also start your distribution/festival campaign before you begin shooting. It’s easy to lose tempo once a film has been shot so it helps if you have the infastructure in place to keep the film moving along.
Lad: A Yorkshire Story (UK)