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Hollywood star Robert De Niro backs found-footage horror film Hollow ahead of Manchester release

By Alex Bysouth

It enjoyed roaring success across the States last year and now Hollow, a found-footage horror film written and produced by Manchester’s talented Matt Holt, is to be released throughout the country this weekend.

Alongside director Michael Axelgaard, 44-year-old Matt juggled full-time work commitments with travelling the festival scene, before the potential of their project was recognised by Hollywood heavyweights Robert De Niro and 28 Days Later editor Chris Gill.

Despite developing a love of theatre during his amateur dramatics days in Didsbury, Matt moved to London 12 years ago to pursue a career as a business consultant and his writing hobby inevitably took a back seat – until he came across director buddy Michael.

However, after completing a short film together four years ago, screening their latest masterpiece across Europe and North America seemed a long way off as the pair battled the strain of full-time jobs, attempting to utilise what little free time they had to create a feature-length film.

“It moved from being a passionate hobby to becoming much bigger than that, it’s taken up a large part of our lives since then,” explained Matt.

“It’s been pretty tough, lots of late nights so your social life suffers a bit, and obviously we had to take time off around the actual shooting itself.

“The shooting of the film was very quick, from coming up with the idea to having it shot was about seven months, and then we had to go away and gather people’s opinions and do the festival scene.

“We spent two weeks in the Suffolk countryside in the dark, we saw dawn every night we were filming, but we took that time off work as holiday.

“Although not much of a holiday if I’m honest as we came back completely and utterly exhausted, but it was very worthwhile, a combination of juggling time at evening and weekends.”

Despite some nervy moments Matt never doubted the film would get finished, as although working on a limited budget he felt they had something promising and was delighted to see the finished product on the big screen.

“It’s nerve-wracking seeing your film, you’re very worried how people might react to it, but it’s an amazing experience,” he said.

“Once you get this film, before it’s been edited down, you’re thinking ‘oh God is this going to work?’

“But I think every film maker goes through that, seeing what we call the first assembly, but then you think there is a diamond in the rough here ready to be carved out.”

And Matt admitted they stumbled across a great stroke of luck when the film caught the attention of Hollywood director Chris Gill, famous for his work on Danny Boyle’s blockbuster 28 Days Later.

“He tracked our project and asked if he could come and have a cut at it,” explained Matt. “He tightened things up and he had a particular style he wanted to bring and obviously he has super experience from his 28 Days Later work.

“It was amazing to see it on the big screen, it’s absolutely fantastic, the success that we had in the US had goes further than we could have hoped.”

Hollow was picked up for national distribution in the US by De Niro’s New York-based company Tribeca Films and was nominated for a British Independent Film Award ahead of its national UK release with Metrodome.

The boys were able to travel to the Fantasia festival in Canada and also to Tribeca studios in New York, where Matt was impressed with the enthusiasm of De Niro’s team.

“Unfortunately I think we just missed De Niro in the lift!” he joked, “But we are delighted with success we’ve had in the US.”

The film has also recently been sold to South America and is due to be dubbed in Spanish.

The inspiration behind the story derives from a New Year’s Eve break in Suffolk nearly ten years ago and Hollow is set in a small coastal village called Greenwich, where Matt and friends spent the weekend telling ghost stories.

“We went into the local pub, the kind of place they don’t treat strangers that kindly,” he said.

“But we bought the locals a couple of beers and they started telling us about the area, with old monasteries and ruins that had fallen into the sea.

“We started hearing all these ghost stories and over candle light, back in the house we were staying in, started telling the stories – it’s always stuck with me.”

And Matt admits the final scene was heavily influenced by a childhood memory from his Didsbury days, after a school friend reminded him of the time they spent in a rather spook Anderson shelter.

“Without trying to give too much away the four are stuck in a car,” he confessed.

“Anyway this guy had an Anderson shelter in his garden in Didsbury.

“As ten year olds we were out there when he started telling a ghost story of things scrapping on a roof.

“The next thing we knew we heard a noise scrapping on the roof of the Anderson shelter, so we ran out like scalded cats – of course he’d set me up, but many parts of the film are set around memories from that childhood in south Manchester.”

The story evolves as two couples head off for a weekend in a remote cottage, only for tales of exorcism and mythology to begin to unravel.

Likened to The Blair Witch Project because of its camera work and low budget, Matt is keen to stress the importance of character dynamics in Hollow – a concept neglected by some found-footage films – developing a relationship between the audience and its cast.

“One review said it was like a British Blair Witch Project, but we view that with caution,” he said.

“It was a pretty low budget in Hollywood terms, but we want people to view the film in its own right without worrying about the budget.

Matt was excited about bringing a traditional ghost story to a modern audience and believes Hollow really engages its viewers with the characters in the story.

“I love films from the 70s like The Wicker Man where there is a lot of atmosphere built up,” he explained. “It makes the horror much scarier.”

It takes talented actors to bring a found-footage production to life, and Matt was delighted with his cast that includes ITV drama Whitechapel’s Sam Stockman.

Despite working full-time in London, Matt is keen to one day return home to Manchester and believes with the likes of the BBC moving to Media City there is huge scope for media.

“I have some good film buddies in Manchester who I’m working on a couple of projects with,” he said. “There’s a groundswell of TV making talent.

“So in a way I’d love to experience some of that, I was very keen once we had a national release to get something going in Manchester.

“Hopefully we provide a story for other budding film makers up there, saying ‘look we came into this as industry outsiders and with no real track record, but we worked hard and it has come to fruition’.

“There’s always so much creativity up there and so much enthusiasm so it would be great if we try and spark some of that.

 “I’ve got a comedy horror set around Withington that I’ve coined and also a social drama, likely to be set somewhere like Moss Side, I’m looking to get back to my roots.”

Hollow enjoys a gala screening at the Stockport Plaza on January 26, hosted by Grimm Up North, before heading for release on DVD and online. Click here to book your tickets.

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Picture courtesy of david_shankbone, with thanks.

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