Mason Cardiff interview

Mason Cardiff’s new short film is difficult to classify. Nowhere in Particular has an uncanny atmosphere and some fantastic twists in the tale, but is also funny, and hints at romance. This Irish-set film is the first film he’s directed and last week Stephen Fry recommended it on his gigantically popular Twitter feed. We caught up with Mason to hear a little about the origins of the project and the drama of actually getting it made.

Nowhere in Particular

Nowhere in Particular has a fascinating back story. Mason is the youngest son of the renowned cameraman, cinematographer and director, Jack Cardiff who died in 2009. Cardiff played a key creative role in some of the last century’s most renowned films and worked with the titans of the industry such as Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston. One of his final legacies is the story behind Nowhere in Particular.

“When my dad was ill I used to read to him, and a little article fell out of the book I was reading. I said ‘What’s this?’ – he always used to cut out interesting articles that would make good ideas for films – he said ‘Yeah, I always thought that would make a good idea for a short film.’ So I started writing it straight away.” Sadly his father died before the film was finished, so he never got to show it to him.

These newspaper cuttings serve as an interesting insight into the creative process of Jack Cardiff. His son elaborates, “he used to use them as book marks, still I go through books and come across these little things, so I’ve saved up a few. Some of the articles are big movies now, which is funny. He was really quite good at spotting what would be a good feature film.”

Perhaps it was inevitable that Mason would end up directing. It would certainly have taken a titanic act of will to have steered himself away from the film industry. He grew up scampering around film sets. Jack Cardiff felt he’d barely got to see his first three children grow up due to the long stretches he spent working away from home, so he decided Mason would come to work with him and learn from tutors on the set. This idyll eventually came to an end, he explains: “By the time I was about 12 my mother put her foot down and said I needed a proper education.” Shortly afterwards he too was sent off to boarding school.

It’s not that easy to escape your past however. “I’ve always wanted to be a film director,” Mason says. “My dad said good directors have usually worked in all the other departments. So, that’s what I did. I’ve worked in everything from electrical to camera, on quite a few feature films.”

The events reported in the newspaper cutting happened in France in the late 1960s, but Mason decided to set his film in Ireland. Not only does he have family in the country, he found the Irish can-do attitude helpful too. “The way they do things means you can get away with a lot more,” he explains. “Helicopter shots are really expensive, but Ireland is the sort of place where people go ‘Hang on, I know a cousin, who knows a friend, who knows a sister, who’s got a husband that’s got one.’”

The helicopter pilot did the job for a fraction of the price he would have charged anywhere else. But the shoot became more complicated when the camera mount ended up being sent to Scotland. The day was saved by veteran cameraman Jack Conroy. A stalwart of the Irish film business, Conroy has worked on films such as My Left Foot and Scorsese’s After Midnight, but he still insisted that he be tied with his camera to the side of the helicopter to get the necessary footage.

Mason Cardiff and Jack Conroy in action

“It was a hard shoot,” 6.50 Mason recalls. The troubles started the day before shooting when a murder in the town originally selected as the main location, Baltinglass, prevented them from shooting there. Luckily, they quickly found a replacement in the town of Tinahely.

Then there was the classic 70s Ford Mustang that was going to be sold by its owner the day after they’d used it. The car has to take a fast three-point-turn that meant crashing through a fence, but rather than driving through the specially prepared rubber fence, the brakes malfunctioned and it reversed into the real wooden fence wrecking the back of the vehicle. They then had to buy, repair and sell the damaged car.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget the case of the missing rain machine. All the rain machines in Ireland had been requisitioned for a huge shoot in the south of the country – with one spare saved for Nowhere in Particular – which turned out to not have been so spare after all. This time the local fire crew stepped in to help – the rain was provided by fire hoses.

Possibly the number of problems had something to do with the scale of Mason’s ambition. “To use a rain machine, helicopter shots and crane shots on a short film, is a big ask,” he explains. “Because if things go wrong you’re in big trouble. It was the great crew that pulled it all back together. That’s one of the great things about shooting in Ireland, they’ll always find a way to fudge it.”

The original shoot was six days, but they needed another couple of days later in the year after all the mishaps. Having spent so long on film sets over the years and seeing directors dealing with trouble, Mason says he’d built up a false sense of security. “You think you’ve been there and seen it, but as a director you go back to scratch. You don’t know anything really – although obviously the experience helps you.”

Financing a film is usually a tough slog, but the backing for Nowhere in Particular grew out of the work Mason put into his previous film. The Cameraman is a documentary about Jack Cardiff which Mason produced. The film took 13 years to make, the last six years of which were mostly spent searching for finance. Most potential backers thought Cardiff wasn’t famous enough to have a film made about him, that’s if they knew who he was at all. Eventually, executive producer Julie Williams stepped forward and the National Lottery added the rest. Williams then came in to fund Nowhere too.

Two other tips Mason picked up from his father. Establish a decent relationship with your actors and make sure you’ve got a solid script at the beginning of the project. Regarding the actors, Owen Roe, who plays the chemist, is well known in Ireland and brings a lot of experience, but Mason says he was lucky with the two young actors too. “I found with these actors, they were getting things right on the first take.” This was all important considering their time constraints. “They were both wonderful actors.”

The key event in the film may be an attempted suicide, but Mason was keen to point out the film is not entirely centred on it. “I think it’s about a rite of passage as well,” Mason says. “It’s about this kid wanting to go out there and discover life.” A sentiment we can all relate to.

You can see the trailer for Nowhere in Particular here:

Buy the film on iTunes here, and The Cameraman is available on DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon.

Audience feedback on the film at the WILDSound Film Festival:

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Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
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