My love for cinema inspired me to make films: Michael S.U. Hudson

Growing up I always had a love of cinema and in the school summer holidays in the UK, I would stay up late, like stupidly late to 3-4 am watching films on channel 4. Each summer they would show films from different countries so I was exposed to John Woo, Hong Kong films, and other great Hong Kong and Chinese film directors from an age when I was probably not old enough to be watching those kinds of films. Still, those late nights also introduced me to Japanese and Korean cinema as well as French cinema. Hence, movies from those countries really influenced me heavily in the early stages of my development. Michael S.U. Hudson


Can you tell us about your first project? What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
I guess what I would consider my first project was a feature film I did in Pakistan with my actor-producer friend Kamran Faiq. I had done another feature film previously but I wouldn’t really consider that project totally mine as I co-wrote it and the co-writer directed some elements. The film in Pakistan was set approximately 75% inside a car and was a thriller with car chases, action sequences, basically what you would expect from a thriller. The project was difficult because of problems such as infrastructure, in that we would have power cuts every hour, we had security issues, and a whole host of problems related to technical issues in addition to conflicts between executive producers. I’m often told that we should have made a documentary about the making of that film as so much happened on that project.
I’m not sure I can say we overcame those difficulties, we just tried to do the best we could and adapted to the situation, which I think is a large part of what filmmaking is. I think filmmaking, in essence, is adapting and finding solutions to situations, it just happened to be more extreme in that environment. I do know that Kamran, me and Kacper Zieba who was my DOP on that project came away from it with a huge amount of knowledge and experience so over time I have definitely come to see it as a hugely important part of my development.

Can you walk us through your creative process? How do you go from an initial idea to a finished film?
In short, but I guess this answer won’t be short, normally I’m given a topic or theme and then the guardrails, the guardrails are basically the things I can’t do. I usually ask for a rough idea of the budget so I don’t start going down a road that will turn out to be impossible but based on those parameters I let my mind go a bit crazy and explore every avenue, some will be interesting but most will be dead ends. I then start watching films and studying images related to the topic as I start to form a basic idea.
I then create a starting point and end point for the script and work on developing the characters as when I start writing the first draft the characters will lead me through the story. They create the script which I will revise multiple times and back up with research.
The producer, distributors, agents and actors will then have their say and the script will be revised again.
When it comes to the production side I give a lot of freedom to the actors to develop the character and bring their suggestions to the script but it needs to be done inside the script’s framework. I work this way with the key crew as I try to get everyone on the project to give me more than purely what is on the paper. On the actual shoot, I try to build an atmosphere and emotion for each scene so that everyone buys into the “truth” we are trying to convey. Then finally when we get to post-production I again try to convey the atmosphere and emotion to the post team so they can build on the cinematic language I’m trying to create. We will then do test screenings and evaluate the results before seeing what changes are needed after which the film is pretty much done.

How would you describe your approach to narrative and character development?
I think to answer this question briefly I would say that my narrative and character development are naturally entwined but I am character-driven and ultimately the characters govern where the story goes and how it gets there. I will initially base characters on people I know, I will take elements and characteristics from people I know and combine them to give them a voice which is as real as possible. These characters will then bend and shape the narrative so that the narrative is true and logical to that character.
I do believe that all people are good and bad, logical and illogical so I try to develop characters to have these elements, but, the narrative itself must be clear and logical otherwise the audience will get confused and not connect with the characters.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as an independent filmmaker, and how do you tackle them?
I think the biggest challenge every independent filmmaker faces is financing. In simple terms, there isn’t enough finance available for the demand from filmmakers which of course makes the entire process massively competitive. A lot of people will tell you how it is easier now there are streamers but the reality is that it isn’t easier. Independent filmmakers have to compete not only against each other but against big studios, franchises and already established directors. An investor wants a return on their investment and independent filmmaking is a risk by its nature. Hence, the safe bet for the investor is to go to the big studios, franchises, and established directors as they know they are likely to make their money back and make a profit.

I think financing is the eternal question for filmmakers but there is no easy answer other than to build your network, and most filmmakers tend to be very reserved over telling others how they obtain their financing, because, at the end of the day, we are competing with each other for attention and finance.

How important is collaboration in your filmmaking process, and what do you look for in your collaborators?
It’s impossible to make a film without collaboration, it just involves too many elements and specific skills. I think finding the right collaborator is key to any filmmaker and it is probably the element that will affect the end product above anything else.
When I’m looking for someone to collaborate with I look for someone who I can share a dialogue with. Of course, personality plays a part but in reality, the most important factor is if we can share a dialogue. An example would be the collaborations I have had with Kacper Zieba, who is the cinematographer on the majority of the projects I do. With Kacper I will describe to him the emotion of the film, specific scenes and the key elements I require emotionally and visually and he’ll then design the visual narrative. I can show him art or play him music rather than giving direct visual references and he will interpret what I’m looking at far more effectively than if I were to tell him to sit him in front of some else film and say “do it like that”.
Also incredibly important to our collaboration is that we trust each other and genuinely have fun working with each other, so, when we have those moments when things aren’t working or we are feeling the pressure of the situation we know we can rely on each other.

How do you connect with your audience, and what do you hope they take away from your films?
I try to get the audience to connect through the characters and I hope they come away from my films feeling something they can relate to, a kind of truth. I try to create characters that are both good and bad, also flawed in that they make mistakes and are often fighting their own internal battles, while, trying to achieve their goals.
The major difference is that the characters and reality is that they are placed into situations and scenarios that are outside the ordinary and they try to manage these situations as best as possible, as we all would. So by doing this, I hope that the audience buys into their logic, actions and emotions which hopefully makes us connect with them, their truth and their circumstances and the film overall.

How has the advent of new technology impacted your filmmaking process, particularly in terms of production and distribution?
AI has and is having a very real impact on my filmmaking process. I can achieve a lot more within our budgetary constraints and I’m able to be far more ambitious in exploring narratives that previously were impossible due to cost.
For one specific project I directed 10+ years ago AI has now made it possible to fix the technical issues that stopped the film from being finished as technically and financially it would have been almost impossible to solve these issues with AI.
In terms of technology generally, how equipment has become more affordable and compact has made it possible to be dynamic and adventurous with where you place the camera and what you do with it, without having to compromise the quality.
However, technology has increased competition inside the industry as these technological advancements have opened filmmaking to more people, so, the industry has become saturated with content forcing filmmakers to do more to stand out from the crowd. 

What role have film festivals played in your career, and how do you choose which festivals to submit your work to?
Ultimately the career aim of a filmmaker is to be able to make films, but, this is impossible without collaboration. So in my opinion, the role of a film festival, from the filmmakers’ side, is to provide opportunities to network while building your reputation.
It is important for your work to be screened to an audience, but, it is far more important that you are able to network with other industry professionals so partnerships and collaborations can be established.
The top film festivals have markets where you are able to talk to distributors and find out the type of projects they are looking for as well as financers and studios who can answer the same question which is key to creating a project that is wanted and will ultimately progress your career as it will be seen wider and at scale.

How do you see the future of independent filmmaking evolving, and what trends do you think will shape the industry?
It’s really difficult to say with any certainty to predict what will happen in the future because of AI. However, I think it is obvious that more content will be produced with AI and there will be more blurring of live action and AI which has its pluses and minuses.
I hope that, with the cost of filmmaking dropping and the advances in technology we will see my original stories and big studios willing to take chances on more original voices, challenging stories and independent filmmakers as they won’t have to risk as much capital in order to do so. And, in a way, I do hope we reach this point where the public pushes back and says they want more reality and more voices. I believe if that happens the future will be very positive, I just hope the cost to individuals in the industry won’t be unreasonably high.

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