Balti Meets: Hugh Mulhern
With a short film under his belt, a mini-documentary on the horizon, and an impressive portfolio of directorial credits for the music videos of artists such as AJ Tracey, Dah Jevu, and more recently Hare Squead, Hugh Mulhern is one of the most prominent and talented young filmmakers working in Ireland today. We recently had the absolute pleasure of chatting with the young Director about his career, projects, and aspirations for the future.
The Balti Club: You’ve had a pretty busy year, working with the likes of AJ Tracey and more recently the Hare Squead on their video for Loco. What’s been your favourite project to work on so far, and why?
Hugh: Towards the end of college last year I directed a mini-doc/promo video for an upcoming MMA fighter called Cian Cowley. There's a lot of bad press about professional fighters and I wanted to use those misconceptions against themselves in the piece. Cian begins talking about money being his main reason for pursuing MMA but we then see it goes beyond just any materialistic desires. We're introduced to his new born son Leo and we learn that what drives him is a paternal obligation to provide for his son. Being able to catch a glimpse into the world of someone so dedicated and determined was inspiring if I'm honest, and it definitely ignited an interest in me to try more documentary work in the future. Noel Murphy and Matt Rogan, who edited and shot it respectively, also work with me on a lot of the stuff that I've directed so I think it was great for us to transfer our dynamic on to a project that required a different approach to our music video work. It just kept on teaching us lessons which I think is why it's been one of my favourite projects to work on. Took us some time but it's finally finished and we're just trying to figure out the most strategic way to go about releasing it at the moment!
The Balti Club: Are there any artists or individuals in particular that you would like to work with in the future?
Well I’m planning on moving to New York by the summer (fingers crossed Trump doesn’t impact my hopes of getting a visa). There’s an infinite amount of musicians and artists I’d love to collaborate with over there but in particular I’m a huge fan of Letter Racer which is a collective associated with artists like Show Me The Body, Wiki, Sporting Life and DJ Lucas. They’ve an evident DIY ethos with clear undercurrents of hardcore punk and hip hop aspects in their music that I’m just really in to.
At the same time I’m just gonna knock on the doors of every music label and production company I can think of. Making music videos has been a great way of getting in to music I wouldn’t usually connect with. I think as long as I can find some aspect of someone’s music that I can find interesting I’ll be able to respond to it visually.
The Balti Club: Favourite filmmaker?
Hugh: Giuseppe Andrews
The Balti Club: Unlike a lot of music videos coming out these days, your videos seem to tell much more of a story, albeit abstract at times. Do you find that the particular song will influence your ideas for the visuals, or where do you get your ideas from?
Hugh: That’s a tough question. It’s hard to figure out where your ideas come from ‘cause when you get hit with one you’re too focused on the idea itself than what you were doing at the time or where it came from. For the most part I ideally meet up with a band and talk to them to figure out what the song is about for them, what they’re about as a band but also what the song will say to me. I also think it’s imperative to understand your audience, there’s certain things that’ll work for a rapper that just wouldn’t make sense for a folk singer you know?
An idea I had for an upcoming video came out of going to mass for the first time since I was a kid, the other week; I decided to try and participate with it as if I hadn’t grown up with a prior understanding of Catholicism. The more I watched it and the more I thought about it the more absurd the whole situation became. There was literally swarms of little old ladies lining up to consume their saviour delivered to them in the shape of a cracker. I mean the sense of community among everyone there was really quite heart warming but I couldn’t help imagine what other bizarre antics would go down at a mass if someone like Eric Andre was at the helm, which in turn is now something I’m trying to convince a band is a good idea for a music video.
It can be quite challenging to try and keep everyone in a band happy with a concept though, but compromise goes hand in hand with filmmaking I think, especially when it comes to dealing with a small budget. I might have a big idea but it has to be scaled back out of practicality. As challenging as that can be there’s definitely something rewarding about making something that feels semi-professional despite being made on a shoestring budget.
The Balti Club: Let’s pull it back a bit and talk about how you first got into filmmaking. I know you studied filmmaking in college, but what were the initial influences?
Hugh: I was always into art, writing and music so filmmaking was just the logical progression, but I don’t think I would have copped on to that if it wasn’t for my brother, Arthur. He’s a cinematographer and he’s been getting me on sets to work since I was about 15. I count myself very lucky to have figured out it was the path I wanted to go down at a very young age, and to have had been exposed to a certain level of professionalism so early.
My Dad had a lot to do with it too, storytelling was important in our house. When he was 12 he wrote a short story that won him a scholarship to secondary school, something he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise. He took us to the cinema and plays a lot, I can remember being brought to Waiting for Godot and being far too young to understand it. Regardless of how useless it was he had a hunger for information about everything and anything; he taught Maths, English, occasionally History and allegedly an Irish class or two. I don’t think I had a choice but to get caught in the crossfire of his tangents.
The Balti Club: Your works cover a range of themes, but the theme of masculinity in modern society is a recurring one. What is it that intrigues you so much about this theme?
Hugh: I think anything that is undergoing change is dramatically captivating, and I think right now what it means to be a man is something that is changing. We’re existing in a time period where we are still burdened by patriarchal pressures that might have made sense in our father’s worlds, but don’t fit in today. The notion of a man’s purpose to be a protector and provider is outdated, despite being a progressive cultural shift it’s one that is confusing to Little Micky Junior when Big Micky Senior is his role model. I guess as well what intrigues me about this theme is my first hand observations of the Irish man’s struggle with emotional expression and his tendency to use a range of substances as communicative lubricant. I see this in myself, my friends and I saw it in my Dad. I think for the most part I’m just trying to make sense of my surroundings and develop a better understanding of myself. I think if I’m going to make material that is to be anyway notable or relevant I need to be self aware of my place in the world and exploring masculinity for me has been the first step in that direction. In saying that, it’s not the only thing I’m interested in thematically at all, but I think as a writer especially in the very early stages of my career I’ll be able to produce stronger work if I’m discussing something I have a first hand understanding of.
The Balti Club: Earlier this year you finished your short film The Cyclops. Can you tell us a little bit about that project and how it’s doing in the festival rounds?
Hugh: Yeah so The Cyclops was my graduation piece from college. It’s basically about the relationship between two brothers in the shadow of their alcoholic father. Although it’s not in anyway autobiographical, it was very much drawn from my own experiences with my own Dad, he passed away suddenly from alcohol poisoning a month after I started writing the film. It’s difficult to watch it now for a number of reasons. It essentially became a vehicle for me to explore my own grief but when I look at it now it’s from a different stage of that grieving process I think, which is difficult. I’m still proud of it of course, but it is also something I made in college with the main objective of it to be something to learn from. We’re still waiting to hear back from some festivals in the New Year but to be honest I’m just delighted it got screened at Cork. I think because it was my first short it carried a lot of pressure with it and I really wanted to make this incredible thing, but now that I’ve made it and can see what worked and what didn’t work, I’m just eager to get the ball rolling on the next one.
The Balti Club: Guinness or Buckfast?
Hugh: Rate both
The Balti Club: With a lot of eyes on the Irish film scene at the moment, do you see yourself moving your focus away from music videos and more towards narrative dramas in the future?
Hugh: That’s the dream. Don’t get me wrong, I love making music videos but I really want to move more towards doing commercial work and directing drama. Realistically there’s no rules to making a music video but with trying to construct a narrative drama there are certain rules you need to respect and that makes it more challenging and in turn more rewarding I think.
The Balti Club: Coming into the new year, have you any projects coming up that you can tell us about? And if so, which one are you most excited for?
Hugh: There’s a few music videos and a fashion film I’m working on that I’m really excited about but I don’t want to jinx anything so I’m gonna stay quiet. I think especially because projects evolve so much from pre-production to post that I’d rather just let the finished pieces speak for themselves. I’m working on some scripts that I’d love to try and make over in New York, but if I don’t manage to get over there I’m going to focus on getting a short or two done in the new year here.
The Balti Club: First camera?
Hugh: Sony Ericsson camera phone.
The Balti Club: Like a lot of young men our age, we’re extremely influenced by our memories of adolescence and growing up, especially in and around Dublin. Do you think Dublin has helped shape the path you’re taking in life? Can you ever think of time that this city directly influenced your work?
Hugh: If I’m honest, no. I spent most of my teens a while out of the city, not quite the sticks but still about two busses away from the city centre so the closest town to me was Bray really. When I was in third year I moved schools to Newpark in Blackrock. It was far, like two buses far from where I was living but worth it. There’s very few schools in Dublin like it. It was founded initially as free education for the Protestant population of South Dublin but as it also was a co-education comprehensive it accepted kids from all ethnic, religious, social and cultural backgrounds. What this meant was that you were exposed to so many different people with so many different perspectives to what you might have grown up with, and I think that’s the perfect atmosphere to cultivate creative and progressive attitudes.
Whatever you were in to, the school for the most part supported it. It’s such a cliche but I didn’t realise how good we had it there until I left. Now that I think about it, nearly all of the music videos I’ve directed have been for artists who were or still are students there.
The Balti Club: Favourite place to have a drink?
Hugh: Bradys, Shankill.
The Balti Club: Thanks for taking the time to do the interview Hugh and we wish you all the best for 2017 and the launch of your website!
You can follow Hugh and his work via the links below.