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Filmmaker Interview with Elliott Hasler

Filmmaker Interview by Julian Gaskell


 

Elliott Hasler is a young British film director who finished his first feature film when he was just 16 years old. He is about to complete his second feature film Vindication Swim whilst still at university.


You started making films at such a young age, how does it feel to have completed your first feature film, WWII - The Long Road Home, by the age of 16?

To be honest the age aspect always kind of goes over my head. It’s not something I really think about. For me it is all about the desire to make films and my age was never something that was going to get in the way of that.


Your first feature is a very personal story about your great grandfather in the 2nd World War, why did you want to tell this story?

I’d grown up hearing snippets of the story told to me by different family members, and I was always fascinated with it from an early age. I think it was really the scope of his story and the very visual nature of the narrative that inspired me to turn it into a film. Story is always the most important thing for me when it comes to a project; if the story is great then everything tends to come together.


In one review you were dubbed the next Spielberg. High praise indeed. How would you describe your style of filmmaking?

I do take a lot of inspiration from Spielberg, Jaws is one of my all-time favourites. But I would say my style owes itself most strongly to David Lean. The visual quality of his films is near unparalleled, and the way he paints these very intricate and intimate stories against such epic and stunning vistas is absolutely mesmerising. It’s something I always seek to emulate in my own way with my films.



The film has incredible authenticity with the locations, period costumes and vintage cars. How did you manage to achieve this on such a micro budget?

By begging, stealing and borrowing really! A lot of people were really fantastic in helping make the film happen, everything from lending the military vehicles to pieces of costume or providing locations. A lot of the film was also shot in quite a guerrilla style, which also helped in that regard.


How did your Relsah productions company with your father come about? How does this business and creative collaboration work?

That really came about as necessity to facilitate the making of WWII: The Long Road Home. I write and direct, handling the creative side and he produces taking control of the organisational and business aspects. I like to think of it as sort of like the Lean/Spiegel partnership; not always the smoothest sailing but a partnership that works very well, with the proof very clearly in the pudding.


Your second feature film Vindication Swim, which is due for completion early next year, is another biographical account about the first British female swimmer to swim the channel. Why did you choose this subject? Do you enjoy telling historical, period stories most?

I stumbled across this story and was stunned by the strength and determination of Mercedes Gleitze. To accomplish what she did as a woman back in the 1920s is nothing short of amazing and when you combine this with the fact that to this day more people have climbed Everest than have swum the Channel, you’ve got a truly incredible story. The time period was definitely also a draw, I love doing period stuff as you really get to immerse yourself into another world. For me that’s what cinema should be about, the viewer should be taken on a journey to explore new horizons that they wouldn’t have otherwise ever experienced.



How did you cast for this film and who are the main characters played by?

The first actor cast in the film was John Locke (Darkest Hour) who plays Mercedes’ coach Harold Best. I worked with John previously on To Hunt a Tiger (a short film) and the part was really written with him in mind. For Mercedes herself we auditioned a lot of different women but Kirsten Callaghan was the only real choice. She trained for three months for the swimming aspects of the film, which she does all herself, no stunt people, and has delivered a stunning portrayal of Mercedes. Not only that but Kirsten is also the spitting image of Mercedes!



You also managed to cast Victoria Summer (Saving Mr. Banks) who is based in the US. What was it like working with her and how did you manage to get her over to the UK during a global pandemic?

Working with Victoria was great and her character adds a very exciting dimension to film. She was really a breeze to work with, it was just getting her here that was the difficult part. Her scenes were all scheduled for January but had to be postponed last minute due to the lockdown, which marked the third time that production on Vindication Swim has been shut down. Thankfully by April we managed to get her over, but with an assortment of different tests and a period of isolation. Thankfully they all came back negative and we were able to get the cameras rolling!



You film in some ambitious and challenging locations, which has not made it easy for yourself, your cast or crew (with your lead actress swimming in the English Channel for long periods of time!). What were some of your most challenging moments?

The first day of shooting was very challenging. We were all rookies so no one expected the conditions to be so challenging. Everyone went down with sea sickness and Matthew Wyn Davies who plays Corentin the oarsman couldn’t shoot anything and was ill for two days after with motion sickness. Thankfully we invested in travel tablets which proved to be the miracle cure!



WWII - The Long Road charted in the UK DVD charts and Sky Store ahead of many blockbuster titles and Vindication Swim is receiving a great deal of media attention, how do you feel about this?

The level of interest around both films is fantastic. I think the messages of endurance and perseverance that both films carry have really inspired people in these difficult times and given a much needed boost of inspiration.


What can audiences most look forward to experiencing with Vindication Swim?

The endeavour of swimming the English Channel is really not something that has been dramatized on film ever before and certainly not to this extent, as Vindication Swim will be the largest scale, truly independent film, ever put on the screen!


 

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