BBC Films

Hush: set visit

Over the next month we'll spotlight some of the Brit pics heading your way in 2008. We start with the thriller Hush...

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Autumn 2007. It's early evening in a disused quarry on the very remote outskirts of Doncaster. As darkness falls, members of the cast and crew of Hush - a British thriller made under the Warp X label - begin to assemble, gathering around the catering truck for breakfast at 7pm. Debut writer/director Mark Tonderai tucks into a hearty fry-up in preparation for the latest in a five-week series of night shoots.

As the crew busy themselves lighting the set, the cast begin to arrive. Will Ash plays Zakes, a man who, driving down the motorway with his girlfriend (Christine Bottomley), glimpses a bound and gagged girl in the back of a lorry. Scared, Zakes decides not to get involved. It's a great concept, with Tonderai admitting he likes "stories with a hook. The film is about self interest verses social responsibility. What would you do if you saw this? How would you behave? Once Zakes decides not to help, he pays for it in ways he couldn't imagine."

Tonderai initially wrote the premise in prose form, which was how producing partner Zoe Stewart pitched the project. "It was incredibly provocative and really drew me in, and it was what I pitched to Warp," she recalls. "They were fascinated by the texture of it."

Stewart and Tonderai were already acquainted with Warp. "They liked the ideas Mark and I were suggesting so when this idea came about they were instinctively my first port of call," Stewart says, adding, "I may have subconsciously suggested to Mark that in order for us to get our first film away we'd need to be practical about it and have budgetary parameters around the kind of ideas that we were trying to sell."

For Tonderai, Hush is make or break. Having spent time fly-posting (which is also Zakes' job in the film) he was similarly keen to find a viable first feature. "I felt trapped. It was meant to be a stop-gap to supplement the films and then suddenly it became a mainstay of what I was doing and I thought, This is obscene! I shouldn't be doing this. So when I got the opportunity to make Hush I really grabbed it because I just knew that actually, this could be it, this might be the only chance I get so I'm going to really make sure that I get the most that I can from this."

Tonderai started out in radio, writing, producing and directing his own shows before moving into writing, directing, editing and acting for television. But films were always the aim, and in 2002 he and Stewart set up Shona Productions, where he wrote and starred in the feature Dog Eat Dog and directed the short Sarah Smile.

Of his time in front of the camera, Tonderai says it taught him to "appreciate how hard the job is. I'm always amazed at how actors just turn it on... it taught me how good you've got to be." So he was impressed when auditioning for his own cast, noting, "They have this uncanny ability to take a line and then say it like they've just thought of it... I tell you what, I lucked out."

Christine Bottomley, who plays Beth, is similarly appreciative of Tonderai's understanding of acting. "Because Mark wrote it, it's his baby and this has been a long process for him. But he's really quite open to it. Some writers can be sticklers for saying how it has to be done, but Mark is really open and just wants what's best for the film."

The menacing trucker from Hush approaches.

The menacing trucker from Hush approaches.

Hush has been a hugely collaborative process, as Stewart explains: "There are five partners involved in the Warp X initiative. Two are key development partners - the two regional funds, Screen Yorkshire and EM Media. The other two chief partners are the UK Film Council New Cinema Fund and FilmFour, who are also involved in development but their investment in the scheme is towards the final production budget. Then Optimum Releasing, who are the UK distributor, are the fifth partner and I suppose what makes them really interesting to the Warp scheme is that they are looking at ideas at very early stages and nursing those ideas to the cinema." Also, Fear Factory is an equity investor and Pathe is handling international sales.

Despite the readily available advice, some knowledge only comes from first-hand experience. For Tonderai, one of the main things he's learned on Hush is timing. "Before, I had no idea because obviously I hadn't done it for a sustained period... For instance, our film is set at night so you have to spend about an hour and a half lighting it and you need a longer set up time. You've said three quarters of an hour and it's not, it's a lot longer than that. Then once you've done that you have to light every single shot and that's just so draining. So I'll never write a film set at night ever again!"

For the actors, night shoots can mean sitting in a trailer until the early hours of the morning to go on set. Andreas Wisniewski (Die Hard) plays the ominous Tarman, not the kind of guy you want to meet late at night in a disused quarry - although he is generous with the Chocolate Hobnobs. "I've never done a whole film in night shoots and I was hoping that you just flip your day to night and that was it," Wisniewski notes. "But it's not. It's actually a permanent state of jetlag."

Bottomley concurs. "I feel a bit like a vampire, a creature of the night! It's been weird but it all helps. It keeps you very much in with the film because you go home and you see a bit of daylight before bed then you get up and you're here again. You're just living the film really."

Given the film's low budget, the cast and crew have to work intensively. Tonderai says there are no ifs or maybes, just pressure as the crew have less time to nail a scene. "It's a ruthless kind of filmmaking, you've got to think on your feet," he states. "It's great on some days because you're in the cauldron but on other days it's tough. But I think it's a fantastic job."

From her time on Hush, Stewart's advice for producers is to "be very careful about picking your team, because people do behave differently under pressure and under stress". She also adds that trusting your instincts is essential. "You just need to go with it because at the end of the day it is creative and it is art, in terms of what you're creating. I think the answers are always there, you just need to trust that."

Hush is now in post production and will be released by Optimum Releasing later in 2008.

Laura Bushell | Published 15 January 08

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