With a short film nearly ready for release and a portfolio of music videos featuring artists as diverse as AJ Tracey, Jammz, Dah Jevu, Luka Palm and The False and the Fair, Hugh Mulhern is already one of the most sought after filmmakers in Ireland.
We discuss his unique aesthetic as well as his inspirations and aspirations.
There’s already been a good few projects this year, what’s been the highlight so far?
That’s a really hard fuckin’ question (laughs), well I think the biggest thing this year for me has been my graduation short film The Cyclops. I started writing that in October, we started shooting in February and we’re just about to picture lock it.
I’m just so excited about that, for me music videos are just about sharpening my tools, but directing narrative drama is what I actually wanna do.
When are you planning to put that out?
So the way that works is we’ll send it off to some festivals and hopefully it gets screened somewhere, and after it’s done the rounds it might end up online or something.
It’s really hard to know what’s gonna happen, short films are a weird thing you can’t really sell them to people, they rarely make money back, but it’s kinda all about getting your name out there as competent filmmaker.
Ah cool so about submitting it, what’s the process?
Yeah so basically it’s up to the film festival, they’ll watch it and if they like it they’ll screen and that means then it’s up for awards and stuff.
Yeah I’m really excited, Paul Purcell, who runs Glacial Industries, is letting me use that Black Dragons track by Rabit and Riko Dan, so that’s gonna be included and also Wastefellow is composing the whole soundtrack.
Sounds amazing, so can you give away any of what the films about?
It’s about the deterioration of the fraternal love between these brothers; Lip and Luka played by Sean Doyle and Dafhyd Flynn.
Their Dad’s a violent alcoholic and they’re both just trying to not be like him. Structurally it’s quite challenging though, there’s a lot of kind of jumping from past to present it’s really, really hard to explain, but if I could explain it properly I wouldn’t be making it I suppose.
It’s 14 minutes long at the moment. It’s definitely the project that I’m proudest of and it’s just of real emotional importance to me too so I’m just really, really excited to show people.
That sounds deadly; it’s cool that it’s coming out this year I suppose with Ireland being recognised so widely in terms of work in the film industry.
Yeah definitely, it’s been an amazing year for cinema, I went to a screening of ‘Room’, the day after they found out they got all those Oscar nominations.
Oh yeah I saw the videos of them celebrating.
Yeah man it was fucking crazy, and the film was amazing. I thought it deserved the Oscar way more than The Revenant. But yeah it’s such an exciting year, there’s so many people doing amazing things, especially music videos.
Does that seem to be a thing for people like yourself, where music videos are used to sharpen your tools?
I dunno really, for me personally I’ve always been into music and have listened to music accompanying it with a visual. I can find it hard to engage with music if there’s not a video to go along with it, that’s just the way I am. Sometimes I feel I’d actually be way more into a band if they had good videos.
Even a band like Young Fathers, I saw one of their music videos for the song ‘Shame’, and I loved it so much it ended up getting me really into the band. It accompanies the music so well and really drags you in.
Yeah true that’s a phenomenal video.
Yeah the performance, everything about it is just unreal. They handled the certain aesthetic they went for very well, a lot of people come off with that kinda stuff in an exploitative way or quite fetishising it but they done it really well.
Yeah that’s very true, and in terms of your own music videos, it seems hip hop is kinda the focal point of your stuff.
Yeah it’s kinda weird, I started off the doing my first video ever for a hardcore punk band called Crows who I fucking love I think they’re one of my favorite Irish acts. Basically I kept going to shows and filming and eventually cut it all together, it was full of mad shit. I got this huge dude to smash up a TV with his bare hands for 20 euro. This guy was enormous he was a really scary motherfucker so it worked pretty well in the video. I mean the footage is terrible, the video is fuckin’ shit, I was like 17 or whatever but yeah that was the start I suppose.
Then I moved to Shankhill when I was about 19 and literally around the corner from me was Isaac who is Bobby Basil in Dah Jevu.
We went to school together and we talked about shooting music videos, so my stuff with them kinda started from there. My whole circles of mates are all kinda into making music which has made it a good opportunity for me to make videos I suppose. Actually Luka Palm, that kid is crazy.
I made a video for ‘Pink Lady’, he wrote that when he was 15. I shot that over the span of two years, I was doing it for free so I kept getting bits done here and there and it really stretched out. Then by the end of it I was like, what the fuck you’ve actually aged. You went through puberty in this video. Then we threw in all this stuff of him as a kid to put together this really weird coming of age drama, a kinda ‘Boyhood’ thing.
Him and Kojaque are doing a track together which I’m doing a video for and I’m really excited about that.
Really looking forward to seeing that collab. It seems like there’s always a concept with your videos. It doesn’t seem to be simply about how it looks.
Yeah definitely, especially with the ‘Hawks of Nepythy’ video I done for Dah Jevu, I wanted to have some sort of a theme but not a narrative, cause with a low budget it’s hard to pull off a narrative really well.
So I went with this idea of them being a kind of disease and infecting people. All the stuff at the start all the weird fish stuff, we bought that off some Australian guy who goes around with a microscope looking at fish. And then the lads are meant to be looked at as outskirts of society invading society. It’s weird, bit hard to explain.
I’m shooting a video for Isaac at the moment, it’s shot in this post-apocalyptic type setting, it’s basically the end of the world and he’s looking for food. That’s the basis of the video; eventually he finds food and plants seeds. It’s really abstract though, we went to this abandoned building site behind my Granddad’s house, it looks mental. I think its better sometimes to focus on making things aesthetically pleasing rather than focus too heavy on a narrative, sometimes its good for the thematics to stay in the background. Saying that though, the video I did for Bald Apes was very much a story.
Which I liked but at the same time it can seem too easy, I like to make people think I guess. When you tell a story it’s got a middle, beginning and end or whatever, and that doesn’t challenge an audience when they’re watching it. But if you aren’t too blatant with what you’re saying and you kept it kinda abstract, you provoke thoughts from people a lot more.
Do you think it’s kinda indicative of modern hip-hop videos that everything is starting to get weirder and left-field art type videos almost?
Haha, yeah it’s almost like it’s stepped into this post-post-post modernism. It makes it really hard to put your finger on where hip-hop stands these days. Rejjie Snow is a good example, in his video it’s not about him in his area or where from he’s from like traditional hip hop videos.
It’s kinda him giving a performance with this character he has created, and I think it’s the same for a lot of artists these days.
I do really wanna move into other genres and explore other avenues. I’m trying to get a spec commercial made about this aspiring UFC fighter. In all my work I’m kinda interested in the idea of masculinity and the idea of what it means to be a man in modern society especially in Ireland today. Seems to be coherent in all of my work in my opinion. That’s what my graduation film is about as well.
OK I’m gonna ask you a real “interview” question now. Where do you see yourself a good bit down the line, in 10 years maybe?
That’s a very, very hard question. Realistically I’d love to direct feature length drama that’s my main objective. Obviously I’m really interested in music videos and commercial work as well. I just don’t know really. I’ve been thinking about trying to do a masters in the National Film School in London, but who knows.
There is amazing stuff happening in Ireland but I think if I wanna really get onto big budget stuff I need to go abroad. I dunno, I don’t like thinking about it (laughs). It’s a really hard industry to make it in you have to give it your everything, it’s all or nothing.
Do you feel you’re getting the sort of recognition now that will help you along that path?
Yeah it’s weird because I don’t know how it’s happened I’m real confused. Even this, being asked to come in here, has me like “why?”
It might not seem like a big deal to anyone else but it just feels strange to be asked to talk about what I love doing I guess.
Sometimes it’s just luck or whatever but I’m really grateful. I’ve been working at this for a while, my older brother is a film maker and he’s had me on sets since I was like 15. So I have been chipping away at it for a long time.
That must have helped in terms of meeting the right people?
Yeah I’ve gotten to see him and other really talented people work and I’ve learned a lot from that, and through ‘Welcome’ and stuff it’s been a really good way of meeting artists and people. Networking in general.
I got to do that AJ Tracey and Jammz video through Welcome. It’s a fun thing to do, putting on parties.
Amazing, well Hugh its been really good having you in. Really looking forward to the short film and everything else you have in store. Look forward to hearing from you again soon.
Haha, I feel like I’ve said nothing at all, thanks a million man.