Local Filmmaker in Focus: Mark Brennan

For today’s filmmaker in focus, Penny Post contributor Mirek Gosney interrogates established Basingstoke filmmaker Mark Brennan, who walked away from this year’s Newbury Box Film Festival with two awards for his latest short drama, ‘Squall’. His short sci-fi comedy ‘SoulMatrix’, a collaboration with fellow Basingstoke filmmaker Geoff Harmer, also won ‘Best Film’ at Newbury in 2014.

Mark has numerous writing, producing and directing credits to his name, including the quirky BAFTA-qualifying short comedy ‘Tea for Two’ starring the late great ‘Only Fools and Horses’ star, John Challis. He is also the co-founder and director of the Exit 6 Film Festival in Basingstoke, which celebrated its sixth edition this year. It’s fair to say that he keeps himself busy!

‘Squall’ is a moving and heartfelt drama that follows two troubled strangers who find comfort in each other’s company while sitting in a hotel bar one night. The authentic, honest performances and undeniable chemistry between the two leads helps drive its sobering reminder of the importance of basic human kindness in an often apathetic world. The narrative’s ability to seamlessly switch between humour and heartbreak further distinguishes this one from the crowd and certainly warrants a watch or two. Well, read my article first and then go and watch it.

How did you get into filmmaking?

I’ve been obsessed with films for as long as I can remember. My interest started by going to A LOT of car boot sales with my parents. I would see suitcases filled with VHS tapes of films I never heard of. I’d read the back of each copy to see what they were about and if any took my fancy, then I brought them home. Whenever a film didn’t match my expectations, I would always consider how I would have done things differently if I had made it.

My first tragic attempt at filmmaking began with my dad’s shoulder-mounted VHS recorder. Later, I left for university to study Media, Film & Creative Writing. After graduating, I worked for a company based out of Shepperton Studios which trained screenwriters for Film and TV, and I soon began making my own short films with my friends.

Where did the idea for Squall come from?     

Squall was filmed all around Basingstoke in 2019. The fact we shot this in my hometown helped a great deal, but it was still enormously hard work filming across 3 days and nights. The film follows two strangers who meet in a hotel bar in unusual circumstances, and who go on to enjoy a drunken evening putting their respective broken worlds to rights.

The story is about the solace that can be found between strangers. I’ve experienced nights out when I’ve been at an incredibly low ebb, feeling like the world is on top of me and there’s no way I can have as good a time as the people around me can. Then, you find yourself talking to someone you don’t know. Someone who doesn’t know your story or the burdens you carry. And just for a little while, you’re able to take a short break from the struggles you’ve been wrestling with the rest of the time. It can be a real tonic, something that comes out of nowhere and really helps show some light at the end of the tunnel, that things can be better. That’s what I hope people take away from this film.

The official poster for 'Squall'

What creative challenges or difficulties did you encounter whilst filming, and how did you resolve these?

I think our biggest challenge was the amount of story we were trying to convey within a relatively short runtime. We had many locations, a small (but brilliant) crew, and days and nights to ensure we captured everything we needed.

One challenge that stood out was when filming a very important scene in a nightclub. I desperately wanted it to look like a ‘real night out‘ with plenty of people, so we arranged an hour of filming at 10pm on a Saturday night in Basingstoke. We put a call out for extras but very few people replied, so it was looking rather empty! In the end, we made sure that any crew who weren’t needed behind the camera were in shot. We asked people who were out enjoying their evening if they’d like to be in our film. We roped in as many as we could and in the end, the scene looked great. On the stroke of 11pm, we had everything we needed. Calling ‘cut’ on that scene was a highlight of the entire shoot!

What else can we expect to see from you in the future?

Next for me is a short film I have co-written for another director. I’m also part of a writing team developing a television project. I also have a couple ideas for short films I would like to direct myself, something I’m itching to do again now that Squall has finished its festival run. Here’s hoping that 2022 is a little kinder than the last couple!

Hopefully! And now a silly one for the sake of variety. If Basingstoke was an actor, who would it be?

That is a brilliant question! And by brilliant, I also mean totally stumping… I suppose I need to sum up my thoughts on Basingstoke first. It’s a brilliant town that has so much going for it. It is sometimes the butt of jokes for people who don’t live here, but it’s a really likeable place for those who do. Having grown up here, I have nothing but love for Basingstoke. So, I’m going to say…Ricky Gervais. Funny, not everyone’s cup of tea, but he has a good heart. He’s from just up the road too!

Interesting choice. I personally don’t see how anyone could ever poke fun at Blasingstoke. Thank you and best of luck for the future Mark. ‘Squall’ is currently available to view online at the following link: Squall (2020)

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