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Hush - Mark Tonderai interview


Interview by Rob Carnevale

FORMER DJ turned director Mark Tonderai talks us through some of the influences behind horror movie Hush, some of the problems he encountered while getting it made, and some of his forthcoming projects, including a collaboration with Orange Rising Star winner Noel Clarke.

Q. How does it feel to finally be able to get your film, Hush, into cinemas and have people talking about it?
Mark Tonderai: It’s good. I saw the beginning and the end of it again last night and I’m really happy with it. It loks a lot bigger than it was to shoot and I’m really happy with how it looks. It’s a very difficult genre to get right and there is, obviously, room for me to improve. But I am very happy and hopeful.

Q. How important was the involvement of producers such as Mark Herbert and Robin Gutch (This Is England and Touching The Void fame respectively)?
Mark Tonderai: It was good, but the real credit goes to Zoe Stewart, who also produced it and nursed the project through. Don’t get me wrong, Mark and Robin were great and their presence helped an awful lot. They are really powerful forces, but Zoe was the real power behind the film and was with us for the three years it took to complete. She’s still helping to promote it now.

Q. Three years is a long time. Did you ever think it might not get made?
Mark Tonderai: Well, you try not to think that. We just had to keep believing and once we got on the conveyor belt we just had to push on. We knew this was our last chance and fortunately it just happened. But it wasn’t a picnic. I have written a diary for Total Film that kind of explains the process, and you can gauge how difficult it was from reading that.

Q. What made you decide to make the leap from radio to film, because you started out as a DJ, didn’t you?
Mark Tonderai: That’s right, I worked my way up from radio to TV. I want, ultimately, to write novels and hopefully one day I will write one when I have a bit more time. I love prose and finding the right way to put dialogue in action. The best way of saying it is the best way to get a script sold. But prose is a different discipline. Hopefully, one day you’ll eventually be talking to me about prose and novels.

Q. So what do you like about film?
Mark Tonderai: It’s the one thing that utilises everything I can do, from writing and employing visual style to working with actors. I know a little about lots of things but not enough about one thing [laughs]. In fact, I think as a director you hire people that are more clever than you and let them get on with it.

Q. You hired well in William Ash and Christine Bottomley. How easy were they to find?
Mark Tonderai: It was a long process, but we found them and they were brilliant. They were worth their weight in gold. Will is very believable as Zakes. I don’t think there’s a single point in the film where you don’t believe him.

Q. How much did you learn from shooting on such a tight schedule and triumphing against adversity? I gather the scene where Will is nailed to the floor had to be completed in half an hour?
Mark Tonderai: Yes, and I really didn’t expect it to work so well. The nails were bending, his hands didn’t look real. I don’t want to have to go through that again! But I do think you learn a lot more from experiences like that… and you keep learning different things all the time in this business.

I also think that, in many ways, you face the same pressures on a big film as you do a small one… you never have enough time or money if I’m honest. It’s just that on big films the pressure must be extreme from the studios. Part of me wants to make a big studio film, but within a certain budget so that I can still have a bigger say. With the Hollywood blockbusters, you’ve really got to make $70m just to break even and that’s a tall order.

Q. What are your expectations for Hush?
Mark Tonderai: I’d like people to watch it. It’s in the hands of the Gods at the moment. But I hope people discover it, because we’re up against some big films at the moment, like Watchmen. So, I hope they go to the cinema and see it. If we can stay in cinemas for two weeks, or even three, which is a hard ask these days, I’ll be happy.

Q. You’re in a pretty solid horror sub-genre, given that Hush has similarities to the likes of Road Kill and Breakdown. Did you find yourself referencing those films?
Mark Tonderai: Oh yes, definitely. I also referenced films like The Vanishing and Duel, and always tried to find some way of getting nods to the characters. I think it’s important to do so because the fans are clever and they know their stuff. Duel, for instance, is about a guy being chased by a truck. We don’t have that, but we have a faceless truck driver.

Q. What’s the best reaction you’ve had to the film so far?
Mark Tonderai: The best one is always at the end when everyone claps. The punters love that bit.

Q. What’s next for you?
Mark Tonderai: I’m doing a film called The Twelfth Prophet, about a cycle courier in New York.

Q. Will that be shot in New York?
Mark Tonderai: Yeah, we’re hoping to start shooting there this summer.

Q. Is that daunting?
Mark Tonderai: Yes, it is. But I have been there before, and filmed there. So, we’ll see.

Q. Has it been cast yet?
Mark Tonderai: Not yet.

Q. And are you still doing a film about vampires set on a council estate?
Mark Tonderai: Yeah, I’m doing that with Noel Clarke. We’ve been friends for a while and we’ve both done well in own way. So, we’re looking forward to working together and hope to start shooting that towards the end of the year.

Q. Finally, we have to ask… what would you do if faced with the predicament your lead character faces in Hush?
Mark Tonderai: I’d probably get involved and try to help. But I’m pretty stupid like that. My wife wouldn’t let me [laughs]. But I think I’d be John Wayne.

Read our review of Hush