Elliott Hasler: “Self-belief is hugely important”

…I wish someone had told me not to bother trying to follow established channels as a means of getting a foot in with the film industry. It didn’t really matter in the end because I soon figured out that the bodies in place are largely a waste of time and the only way to get […]

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…I wish someone had told me not to bother trying to follow established channels as a means of getting a foot in with the film industry. It didn’t really matter in the end because I soon figured out that the bodies in place are largely a waste of time and the only way to get your movie done is to do it yourself.

As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Elliott Hasler, UK’s Youngest Film Director and the most exciting emerging filmmaking talent within the UK, having completed his first feature, ‘WWII: The Long Road Home’, aged 16 after a 3-year production. ‘The Long Road Home’ screened at the Edinburgh and Brighton Festivals, where it received critical acclaim and was lauded by critics as a “miracle”, with Culture Trip’s Graham Fuller citing Hasler as “the next Spielberg”. Hasler will follow the success of his debut feature with his next project, ‘Vindication Swim’, a biopic about Mercedes Gleitze who in 1927 became about the first British woman to swim the English Channel.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Brighton on the south coast of England. I am part Italian on my father’s side, originating from Lake Iseo in Northern Italy. My great-grandfathers on both sides of the family were keen amateur photographers which is where my love of film may well have originated from. For as long as I can remember I’ve been very interested in movies, as a child I was obsessed with ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and from around ten years old I began experimenting with cameras and putting together my own little stories which grew bigger and better in scale and quality.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was ten my school did a project where over week the class made a short film adaptation of ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’. This was my first experience with filmmaking and I was instantly hooked!

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting thing that’s happened since beginning my career was probably being flown to the Maldives last year for the premiere of my short film ‘To Hunt a Tiger’. The Soneva Jani resort flew me out personally to screen ‘To Hunt a Tiger’ on their open water cinema and I spent the week in one of their luxury villas on the beach with use of all facilities and dining, all totally free of charge. I still pinch myself slightly thinking back to it!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I think I’ve made was probably when I was nearly arrested along with my grandmother on a shoot at a little church in rural Italy. This was for ‘WWII: The Long Road Home’ so I was pretty young at the time, probably about fifteen. Anyway, I had my grandmother making an appearance in the film as an Italian nun who helps the main character on his journey. So we arrive at this church get into costume and begin shooting the scene inside. All of a sudden we hear tires screeching on the gravel outside. So we go and see a 4×4 with flashing blue lights and ‘civil protection’ written in Italian down the side. The driver, as well as the local priest come flying out and over to us. After a somewhat tense exchange (I can’t speak Italian and their English wasn’t much better) the situation was resolved by showing them stuff about the movie online. But it turns out that the caretaker called the priest about the filming and it transpires that in Italy it’s a crime to impersonate a nun. Suffice to say I have never seen my grandmother disappear so fast as when she heard this. I didn’t see her again until about two hours later at the hotel and since then she’s been somewhat less keen to feature in my movies!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m currently working on my second feature, ‘Vindication Swim’. Which is a biopic about Mercedes Gleitze who in 1927 became the first British woman to swim the English Channel. This project is particularly exciting as it’s the most ambitious independent film ever attempted in terms of scale and girth. We are actually filming out at sea on the English Channel, with the fantastic Kirsten Callaghan who plays Mercedes doing all her own swimming for the film, which I think it’s safe to say is the greatest challenge of any of our careers. ‘Vindication Swim’ is a true epic in the tradition of David Lean who is probably my greatest inspiration as a filmmaker and it’s looking to be a very exciting movie.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

I think diversity within the movies is a very important thing to strive for, most importantly as a source of inspiration. Movies are meant to inspire and if we tell a more diverse range of stories the wider our films can reach and hopefully inspire those who watch them; people who traditionally have not found a great deal of inspiration within them. There was a wonderful moment while we were shooting ‘Vindication Swim’ when a woman said how she’d heard about the film and that the story of Mercedes Gleitze inspired her to take up sea swimming. So if Mercedes Gleitze through my film is able to inspire just one girl, or indeed anybody, and serve as a role model for whom they can admire, then that is ultimately the most rewarding thing for a filmmaker like me and I think our goal with the project would’ve been achieved.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. This is a hard question as I still consider myself to be starting out to some extent but I suppose, firstly I wish someone had told me not to bother trying to follow established channels as a means of getting a foot in with the film industry. It didn’t really matter in the end because I soon figured out that the bodies in place are largely a waste of time and the only way to get your movie done is to do it yourself,
  2. I wish someone had told me not to take no for an answer when it comes to getting your vision on screen. Again this is something I had to learn for myself but had someone told me before it might have saved some time!
  3. I wish I’d been told how difficult it can be to get the perfect shot. I mean you hear about nightmare shoots but until you undergo it yourself, you can’t ever fully appreciate how challenging it can be. Now that I’ve shot in both the jungle and out at sea (locations that Coppola and Spielberg both actively discourage shooting in) I can really appreciate the struggle, although I don’t for one second regret it so perhaps I don’t wish someone had tried to tell me otherwise.
  4. Continuing in the vein of ‘difficult shoots’, there was a shoot at a waterfall for a scene in ‘WWII: The Long Road Home’ and I really wish someone had told me not to drink the water from it. At the time, as I was acting the scene, I thought it would be more method to actually drink from it. Safe to say I regretted my decision that night and even more so the next morning when God-knows-how-many charcoal tablets later, I had to undergo a six-mile hike up a mountain to a remote cave location to shoot more scenes. The thing about this is I failed to learn my lesson and was ill again from drinking dirty water in Sri Lanka filming ‘To Hunt a Tiger’. Somehow though despite the amount of seawater I’ve swallowed filming ‘Vindication Swim’, I haven’t got ill… yet.
  5. On the subject of feeling unwell, I wish I’d been told not to drink heavily the night before an early morning shoot in mid-summer. Or perhaps someone did tell me? I can’t remember.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

As a filmmaker, self-belief is hugely important. Of course a certain amount of doubt is necessary and we all burn out from time to time. But unless you can overcome that and are dead certain about achieving whatever your goal may be, whether it’s to simply make a film or something more, then it’s never going to succeed unless you and those around you absolutely believe in it, and yourselves, wholeheartedly.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Well I don’t know anything about bringing about a movement and I hardly see myself as a sort of messiah, but I suppose it all goes back to whether my films are able to inspire people. Particularly with ‘Vindication Swim’, if when it’s released it inspires as small a thing as people taking up swimming then I think that would do an enormous amount of good. Having been swimming regularly because of the film I’ve noticed a huge change in myself; it’s an excellent way of relieving stress and taking your mind off anything which might be bothering you. Once you’ve been plunged into chilly water for about twenty minutes you come out feeling totally uplifted and rejuvenated, which is something that right now I think a lot of people could benefit from.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are a whole host of people I’m completely indebted to for the help they’ve given me along the way, and I feel that if I should ever win an Oscar then my speech may have to last some time! I suppose that I’m particularly grateful to Kirsten Callaghan who plays the lead in ‘Vindication Swim’, I truly couldn’t have made the film with anyone else. It’s wonderful to be working so closely with someone who is on exactly the same wavelength and who totally understands my vision and is really a part of it. Without her help both on and off camera, I wouldn’t have got very far at all.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Not meaning to sound shallow or superficial but I do think Nike have it summed up pretty well with their “just do it” slogan. If I didn’t just get on with things when I set out making my first feature ‘WWII: The Long Road Home’, then the film would never have been made and I wouldn’t be where I am today. ‘Just doing it’ is the greatest lesson for filmmakers and indeed anybody who wants to do anything; there’s never a perfect time to start and the stars are never totally aligned, so in my mind now is as good as ever, so just do it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

For this, I would have to say Johnny Depp. Without him, I would not have become a filmmaker. As a four-year-old watching him as Captain Jack Sparrow I was immeasurably inspired and I’m still influenced greatly by those films. So that is for someone living but if it were someone dead, it would have to be David Lean and for much the same reason. To be able to sit down for lunch and pick either of their brains about everything and anything would be a great honor.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can follow me personally on Instagram @elliotthasler or equally they can follow my production company @relsahfilms and also my latest project @vindicationswimfilm

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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