An Interview with Harry McQueen, the writer and director of Supernova

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Supernova was my favorite film at this years London Film Festival. As I stated in my review, the films emotionally raw script, intimate directorial approach, as well ass career best performances from two acting giants, make Supernova an emotional journey worth taking. I had the absolute pleasure of taking to the films writer/ director, Harry McQueen about how he made such an incredible film. Check out what we got up to below and I hope you enjoy.

Harry McQueen: Hi Dan how you doing?

Dan: I’m alright, how are you?

Harry: Yeah good thank you.

Dan: Awesome, so yeah I saw your film, really outstanding and emotionally resonant film, so my first question is what inspired you to make this film?

(Writer, Director Harry McQueen at the LFF premiere of Supernova)

Harry: Well, a very personal thing inspired me to make it initially. I had quite a lot of first-hand experience with some of the themes that the film touches on. So I then went on a process of research and spent a lot of time with people who are living with dementia, young onset dementia in this instance. So it kind of came as a result of that profound and kind of life changing period where I was just spending a lot of my time with people who are living one way or the other with this kind of terminal condition. So it’s just a really personal story which hopefully did that process justice and those people justice. So that’s how it started and then you just have to pick that up and run with it and try and make it your own thing, an original thing.

Dan: That’s cool, so you write and directed the film. What was your writing and directing goals for this film and how were the two similar, different and how did they enhance the other?

Harry: It’s a good question, I think my goals throughout the process, just as a filmmaker, was to make something that felt authentic and, as I said, did the people who had given me some of their time justice. So I hope we did that, but I think also I guess I write quite emotionally.

Dan: Definitely.

Harry: Thanks, and I think that when you’re directing something like this, that is a very performance heavy and intimate film, you have to reflect that in some way by how you direct it, so not getting in the way of the performances, that was informed by the way I written the film. So one definitely does inform the other for sure.

(writer/ director Harry McQueen at the LFF premiere of Supernova)

Dan: You said about authenticity, because the film is very emotional, the dialogue especially, so how do you go about writing something like that or get dialogue that hits the right tones of emotion?

Harry: Well I think partly just trying to get to know the characters as intimately as I did, to really see them and know them inside out helped because then hopefully the words that come out of their mouths feel authentic to the character and fully realized and fully formed. And I don’t know, other than that just working really hard, trying a lot of things out, trying different ways of doing things. And then on set, allowing a space in which that can be delivered as naturally as humanly possible, because hopefully that effortless naturalism was what the film was going to live or die on.

Dan: As you said, the film is very performance based. How were you able to get Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth on board for the film?

(Colin Firth at the LFF premiere of Supernova)

Harry: Well to be perfectly honest, it was really simple in the end, which it probably never usually is. We approached Stanley and he read the script and loved it and he watched my previous film (2014’s Hinterland) and we met and got on really well. He wanted to be on the film right from the start and we spoke about who would be playing opposite him and I really wanted to find two actors who knew each other and he suggested that I speak to Colin because they are best mates, I didn’t know that at the time. So it turned out he had given the script to Colin anyway and happily Colin responded really warmly to it. So they both got on board really quickly in the end and then it sort of happened really quickly, yeah it was an experience.

Dan: What was it like working with both of them?

Harry: Well first and foremost, it was really fun. They are really fun guys as well as amazing actors and when you’re working on anything, but certainly something as intense as this, when you got the two people who are front and center of it who are just best mates and love each other; it really helps the rest of the process. It’s a pretty cool environment to work in and we are doing some really challenging stuff, but yeah I learnt a lot from them and hopefully vice versa. They were just really trusting and open with me and that was important and yeah it was lovely.

Dan: So I did some research and you were an actor first and then you started to make your own films. How did your history as an actor help you with this performance based film?

Harry: It really helped yeah, that’s the first thing to say. I think it really helped the script writing process because I’m constantly writing for actors if you’d like and I want to create scripts and great characters that I would like to play myself if I could. If you’re doing that then you’re on the right track. It also helps because when you are working with actors you have a shared knowledge of the process and the language and there is an instant trust between us and it was certainly like that with Colin and Stanley because they knew I was an actor too and vice versa.

(Harry McQueen and Colin Firth at the LFF premiere of Supernova)

Dan: How did you make the leap from actor to writer and director?

Harry: I got into it (filmmaking), because I had been an actor for some years and had some lovely jobs, but it’s very difficult to have a consistent career as an actor as I’m sure you know, and I wanted the chance to tell my own story really and I just decided to go out and do it so I just went for it and made a micro micro budget feature with only six other people, cast and crew, I obviously had to do it all myself really, but that’s always the way when making tiny stuff like that, and I learnt a lot and was very lucky that the film ended up with a cinema release, bonkers for a film with that budget, yeah so I just got lucky going out and doing it really is the key to it.

Dan: With the name Supernova, there are a lot of motifs of constellations where did that come from?

(Colin Firth at the LFF premiere of Supernova)

Harry: Personally, I’m quite interested in that kind of stuff I guess and also when you’re dealing with a story about someone who is facing their own mortality, I guess it feels natural, authentic and organic for that person to be thinking about why they are here and what it means to be a human I guess. So there is that, but also what you got is a small microcosmic story and I wanted to give that I much bigger context, so in the film you got this tiny little van traveling through an enormous, beautiful and brutal landscape, which is the Lake District, while on top of that you got the fact that they are literally looking up to the stars and are interested in the cosmos, so it’s sort of like making the world bigger brings magnitude hopefully to the story at its center.

Dan: So, finally, what is next for you?

Harry: The first thing is that the film is coming out on the 27th November in cinemas up and down the country so that will mean I’m quite busy doing that, and then hopefully I got two or three other projects I’m writing at the moment, all feature films, all different from each other so hopefully getting one of those off the ground would be nice.

Dan: Thanks for speaking with me today

Harry: Thanks Dan, really nice to meet you.

Dan: It’s a really great film and I will do my best to spread the word

Supernova arrives at UK cinemas on November 27th

(Tricia Tuttle, Harry McQueen, Colin Firth and Producer Emily Morgan at The LFF premiere of Supernova)