“I never went to film school or anything like that, so watching films was my film school...” - hmv.com talks to Elliott Hasler
Many of us harbour teenage dreams of becoming a film director, but for a young British filmmaker named Elliott Hasler those dreams have already become a reality. At the age of just 16, Hasler became the youngest director in the UK to see his debut feature film WWII – The Long Road Home make its cinematic premiere. And as if that wasn't impressive enough, he's already working on his next one.
Based on his own grandfather's wartime experiences of an escaped POW trying to make his way home from deep behind enemy lines, Hasler's debut feature makes its arrival in stores on Monday (October 26) and ahead of its release we caught up with him to talk about how it all came together...
You probably get asked this a lot, but how did you get into filmmaking at such a young age? You would have been something like 13 when your debut feature began production...
“I was 14 when that started, yeah, and 16 when it came out. I'd sort of started making little films and things when I was about 10, and sort of developed and got better, and then at 14 I decided to try and make a feature.”
Were there any particular films or filmmakers who inspired you in the beginning?
“Yeah, loads really. I mean I never went to film school or anything like that, so watching films was my film school. There were lots of directors really but I guess David Leen is probably my biggest inspiration as a director. I love Lawrence of Arabia and all those films that he did. I was a kid, and I suppose I started very young with my interest in films. I was a massive fan of Pirates of the Caribbean growing up, so those films were a real inspiration as well.”
So big, epic films is what we're talking about there, aren't we?
“Yeah, that kind of thing, yeah.”
The Long Road Home is a story based on your own grandfather's wartime experiences – can you give us a brief outline of his story?
“He was a prisoner of war in Italy, and then he escaped and made this 400km journey across Italy, evading Germans and living with the Resistance, things like that, to try and get rescued by the Allies and get sent back to England.”
How did you take that idea and begin turning it into a film? What was that process like at the beginning?
“Well, I didn't really know that much of the story at the start, so it kind of began with really finding out what happened to him. And I never met him, unfortunately, he died before I was born. So I'd kind of grown up hearing bits about his story, but I never got to speak to him about it or anything like that. So then through this I knew I had to try and piece together everything that had happened and started looking through historical event websites and stuff like that until I'd got a backbone for the plot, and then we kind of worked it around that.”
So from there, how did you begin putting the film into production?
"I just sort of went for it, really. The research went in, we got the script ready and we just started rolling. There was no kind of 'eureka' moment, we just started, we planned it out, and it all kind of came about naturally.”
What kind of challenges did you face along the way?
“The whole thing was a learning curve, I mean going back to the film school thing, this was my schooling. There was no budget, this made for literally nothing, so that in itself was a challenge, coming up with creative ways to get around budgetary issues. Like getting hold of military vehicles, uniforms, soldiers and that kind of stuff. So I mean that was a huge challenge in itself, and everything was challenging just because there literally was no money when we were making it.”
How does somebody go about getting hold of military vehicles with no money? Was it a case of beg, borrow and steal?
“Yeah, pretty much. But a lot of people are really good like that, because the owners of those vehicles often want their trucks and their cars and jeeps and stuff, they want them in the movies so they're more than happy to help out a lot of the time, so they were really good and we got use of all their vehicles just by paying for petrol and things.”
How did the cast and crew respond on set to being directed by someone so young?
“They took it really well actually! I mean, I never really thought about it at the time, but it must have been quite an odd thing for some of them. Maybe why they took it so well is because that wasn't really the approach that I took, as in a young person bossing people about. I viewed it as we were all equals on the set, and I think that attitude sort of rubbed off.”
So you're already working on your next feature, Vindication Swim, which tells the story of Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel. How did you come to hear about her and what was it about her story that grabbed you?
“The actual way I discovered the story is pretty dull I'm afraid, I just stumbled across it online, but it was the story itself. It's such a fantastic story and that was what really captured me. It's very inspirational, it's about this person who just had this dream and went out to grab it, regardless of what people at the time said she could or couldn't do. So I think that's what's so powerful about it, you get this one woman against the natural world but also against society at the time. There's a lot going on in the story and I think it's really remarkable.”
And she had to fight to be recognised for her achievements, what exactly happened there?
“She was accused of cheating by the Channel Swimming Association, because they just didn't believe that she'd done it. So she had to fight in order to prove that she had actually swum the Channel.”
What stage are you at with the new one?
“We're right in the middle of it now, we're slowly getting through it after the three month lcokdown break, which was annoying, but we're carrying on. We've actually done loads, we had been filming out on the English Channel, but now it's getting colder we're having to sort of move more on land again and so some of the interiors and things.”
Where are you shooting the rest? You're based in Brighton, aren't you?
“Yes. It's all around Sussex, we've been filming in and around Brighton, Worthing and Newhaven, where we go out to sea from.”
When are you hoping to have it all completed?
“So for Vindication Swim we're looking at a release of that in 2022, and Cannes will be the objective for that, to release it into the festival there.”
Do you have any plans for what sort of project you'd like to do next?
“I haven't really been thinking about other projects at the moment, I have a few ideas, but nothing that's set in stone or really that formed, we'll see.”
WWII - The Long Road Home arrives in stores on Monday October 26 - you can also find it here in our online store.