Filmmaker Interview – JJ Barnes – Hollowhood

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I’m JJ Barnes, I’ma founder of Siren Stories, editor at The Table Read Magazine, a writer, an artist, a singer, and the co-creator of Hollowhood.

Away from work, I’m mother to two young girls, step mother to a boy, and ownder of Mollydog the Springer Spaniel, and Batman the tuxedo cat.

When did you first realise you wanted to make films?

I wanted to make films when I was in my tens. I purchased every book about filmmaking, movies and TV, and watched heaps of documentaries about the process. Yet, it appeared to be such an unattainable thing that I couldn’t say whether I really let myself want it properly. In my 30’s I chose to allow myself to pursue it seriously.

What is your favourite thing about films?

Stories. Film is stories in an alternate form to books. I love the wonderful way stories draw you in and make you feel, they make you need things, care about characters, and experience things you’d never get to. With stories you can go to space, you can battle beasts, get away from killers, or become hopelessly in love again and again, sitting tight for that first kiss.

With film, you become part of the activity. You see what the director wants you to see, witness the sentiments and feelings the actors perform, and be frightened or thrilled by the thing you’re watching.

What classes or research did you take to support you in your filmmaking career?

Nothing formal. I paid attention to experts I saw when we were making Gracemarch back in 2018, and read broadly about the art, however it wasn’t in a training setting, for example, a film school. A large portion of what I found out about filmmaking I really learned on the set of Hollowhood. Learning while at the same time doing means you make a ton of errors, however you truly get hands on experience that is indispensable.

What was your first film industry job?

Gracemarch. I wrote a short film, which was read by a lot of actors who loved it so we adjusted it. At first into a pilot of a television series, and later into a film script. We wound up with an extraordinary cast of actors and shot the first hour. Ideally we’ll have the option to get back on set and finish it soon, however meanwhile I’ve novelized the content so that will be out soon and could work up some energy (interest?) in getting the film finished.

What was your most recent film industry job?

Hollowhood. It’s an independent film made by Jonathan McKinney and I, with our Siren Stories business. We wrote it, produced it, directed it, acted in it, and sang on the soundtrack. I edited it, Jon scored it. We cast our loved ones, got by on a very tight budget to get the pieces of kit we could afford, and made it with no money or time, yet with heaps of love and enthusiasm.

Tell me a favourite experience in your career. Something that stands out in your memories and makes you want to find more experiences like it.

Being on the Hollowhood set. We stayed in the house we shot in, living and filming. We got up at crazy hours and worked with cups of espresso. We stayed awake after shooting to chat. We created a film family who loved performing the story we wrote.

Another mind blowing exeperience after the creation was when Francis Perdue at Scooter P reached us to say she accepted she could sell our film. Initially, Hollowhood went onto our YouTube channel and we didn’t thing it would go further. Yet, now, we’re streaming globally because of our distributor who trusted in us and allowed us this opportunity!

What was your toughest experience in your filmmaking career?

Two things. During Gracemarch, we were away from our kids and it was hard. It’s difficult going long periods without the children. Making Hollowhood was a lot more straightforward because we were in our home town.

With Hollowhood, the hardest thing was that lockdown arrived before we finished shooting, and we didn’t know how long it would last. We needed to edit the film while home schooling the kids and managing all the pressure of that time. I got Coronavirus and was in isolation for quite a while. It wasn’t the peaceful, focused climate that I think most movies are made in.

What inspired you to make Hollowhood?

One day, on a bus into town, that we were tired of hoping people would ask us films, so we planned to do it without anyone else’s help. First we contacted everyone we know to inquire as to whether they’d book time off work to act for free. When we had our cast, we contacted businesses about locations we could film in. From that point, we figured that our exceptionally low budget would be most ideal to a horror style. From that, we created the characters and the storyline for Hollowhood, using who and what we had.

What is the main conflict of Hollowhood?

The conflict at the core of the film is the connection between Olivia Harkness and Penelope Jones. They’re an alienated couple after Penny wants to go and work at CERN, and Olivia wants to remain in her old neighborhood. But they’re still in love, and Olivia trusts that a weekend with friends will allow her the opportunity to revive that love.

The other conflict is that once they show up in Hollowhood, creepy local people are chasing after them and staring at them, and soon people from their group begin vanishing.

How long did you spend in production?

A year and a half. But technically that was broken up by lockdown!

How long did you spend in post production?

We edited the majority of the film during lockdown, so a year and a half, then we had a couple of months to edit the last bit of filming.

Did you work with a writer, or write the film yourself? Would you do the same again?

Wrote it ourselves, I love writing stories so I would choose to do that again.

How did you find your cast and what made you choose them?

We asked our loved ones who might want to make it happen. When we found who was willing and available, and wrote characters in view of their looks and characters and how we figured what they could perform naturally and who might have the best chemistry.

How big was your crew? Would you choose the same size again?

The crew was mostly just me and Jon. I was on camera, he had the boom mic. We were also both on screen for a portion of the scenes, so we needed to get the actors to assist and point the camera or hold the mic. It was a lot of a cooperative work!

How did you find your locations?

My parents Squirrel Barn, and let us use it for two weeks rent free in the January. Then we contacted local pubs, the Green Man in Milwich and The Sun in Stafford. We told them what we’d be filming, and asked if they would let us film during closing hours and film.

Tell me some career goals. What would you like to achieve?

I would like to make more films with people I love as dearly as our Hollowhood cast who deliver their lines and work hard and be truly lovely people.

Tell me something you were surprised by, something you had never realised about being a filmmaker.

I enjoy directing! I’m not very confident about myself so thought I’d be much more nervous but have to admit, I LOVED it. I’m very visual and the stories I write playing out in my head. I got to make it happen for real.

What are words of advice you have for other aspiring filmmakers?

There isn’t a secret society you need to be part of to make films. All you really need is a camera, a script, and actors to say the lines. Point the camera, record the lines, stitch it together and you have a movie.

To make a film you don’t need to be a Hollywood studio. It can be you and your mates, a love for the art, a need to tell stories, and a readiness to work hard to accomplish your objectives.

Give me your social links so people can come and find you!