Written by JJ Barnes
When Jonathan McKinney and I set out to make a film, we didn’t have much to work with. Namely, experience, money, locations, crew, or performers. What we did have was a whole lot of determination, a love of story, and a willingness to call in favours. And, as it turns out, that’s all you really need.
Sure, it would be nice to have a big crew of experts, top notch kit, and a massive budget to get the glossiest most perfect film the world has ever seen. But life is short and waiting for that is painful. And I’m a big believer that if you want to do something you have to go out there and make it happen.
Making It Happen
The first step was to work out what story we could tell. To do that, we had to work out who we could get to be in it. There’s no point writing a story for a bunch of characters and nobody to play them. So, we contacted people. People with experience and a track record of being performers, and people who just a dream and a willingness to try. And we offered them no money in exchange for hours of hard work.
Then we had to find locations. We could write characters and a story, but it needed somewhere to be played out. Thanks to the kindness of people around us, and the promises of lots of promotion (check out Squirrel Barn, The Sun, and The Green Man) we found places to film. We wrote our story around who we had available, and where we could film. And thus the story of Hollowhood was born.
Luckily, as we are both experienced authors and have written multiple scripts, that bit was relatively easy. We just had to figure out why they were at that place, what they wanted, and what was going to go wrong for them. Then it’s just a matter of developing personality and humour and subplots around that central story line.
Originally, we intended to film on our phones. But because we are blessed with good people in our lives, we were gifted with a video camera and some sound kit for Christmas. After spending the remaining money we had on props, lights, editing and audio software, and costumes, we were set.
January 2020. We went into production.
Filming Hollowhood was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. I’ve been on sets before, and it’s always magical. But I’ve never had full control before. Together with Jonathan, I ran the set. And it was incredible.
Everybody was filled with so much good will and so much love. They travelled long distances (Jo Liptrott miles and miles at a time each day), they filmed around work and family, they took unpaid leave from work. This band of actors worked crazy long hours not just on their own jobs, but helping us with ours. They lugged kit, held lights, propped up microphones. They got up before sunrise. They went to bed at midnight.
And not one person complained. Their love for this project, and for us, was palpable. Without their hard work, passion and genuine kindness, Hollowhood would never have happened. And we will never be able to thank them enough.
We didn’t finish filming in 2020. Lockdown came just before we could finish the final scenes. We went into editing this film not knowing if we would ever finish filming.
Editing took place whilst trying to home school our children. Jonathan was composing music to a background of My Little Pony songs, crashing blocks, and screaming children. I was editing footage together whilst trying to teach maths and English to reluctant children.
It wasn’t easy. And it held us up massively. Originally we had intended to release Hollowhood in October 2020. Both because we were excited to get it out, and because, financially, everything we had was sunk into it and until it was released we had no hope of scooping back any of our investment.
The soundtrack to our film was always going to be important. Mainly because film soundtracks were something both Jonathan and I grew up obsessed with. I could regularly be found cruising the film music section of HMV, obsessing over songs by artists I’d never heard of before because of the films they were featured in.
First we spoke to the incredible Constellation Prize. We told them what we wanted and for what scenes, and they wrote Dancing In The Shadows, one of the most truly fabulous songs I’ve ever heard (and available now on Spotify). Then Nehanda wrote us the most beautiful love song inspired by our main characters, Penny and Olivia. The Lee Ford Orchestra gave us use of one of their wonderful album tracks and it is perfect.
With the work of these fantastic artists, we were starting to get the soundtrack of our dreams. After that, we got creative. Jonathan is an incredibly skilled musician, and our little band of actors happen to be wonderful singers. We got to work writing songs, recording music, and producing incredible songs, all with the hard work and dedication of these performers to whom we already owe so much.
Finishing The Film
In June 2021, we finally managed to finish. We filmed scenes set in the dead of Winter on the hottest day of the year. But we did it. Our film was finished.
Then came the fear. It’s done. This little film that we poured so much love into is done. It’s ready.
We’ve already had some negative responses to our first trailer. It looks cheap. It IS cheap. We know that. We hope that the story carries it anyway, that the enjoyment of watching it, and the obvious love that has gone into making it, will mask some of the weaknesses. But it might not. Some people might hate it.
And we have to come to terms with that. Some people need their films to be glossy and perfect. They can’t see the duct tape and determination holding their films together or it ruins the experience. And that’s fine, we all need what we need. And if that’s the kind of film you want, then ours just cannot compete.
But if you need your film to have heart, dialogue, humour and spooks, then we can deliver. If you need your films to feel like they were made by people who just LOVE making films so very much that they pour their souls into it, then we’re right here.
No matter what happens, we did it. Thanks to the wonderful people in our lives, we lived a dream. Together, Jonathan McKinney and I have written, directed, edited, scored, and acted in a feature film. And it’s a film that we are immeasurably proud of. A film that we believe in. And a film we hope you can believe in too.
No matter what happens, our film will be released in October 2021. And we are going to forever be proud of that accomplishment.
And if you dream of making a movie, and fear not being able to compete with the big studios for quality and shine, please put that aside. Just do it. Cast your family and your friends, film it on whatever you’ve got. Beg for and borrow what you need. Accept that it won’t be perfect, it won’t be pristine, and it won’t make you a fortune. But it’ll exist. It’ll be a real film that you made and nothing can take that away from you.
Making movies is a process I am so desperately in love with that I want to do it again. I won’t be making blockbusters any time soon, but I don’t need to. I just need to do what I love, and what makes me feel alive. And so do you. Embrace that love and make that movie. Put it on any platform that’ll have you. And then you’re a filmmaker.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose