Corin Hardy is an award winning filmmaker and music video director with a distinct dark, beautiful visual flair that runs through most of his work.
Throughout his teenage years Corin gained valuable film set experience in art and costume departments on a variety of film, TV & theatre productions including The Royal National Ballet’s Dracula and Columbia Pictures First Knight.
Corin studied Special Effects at Wimbledon School of Art before making his award-winning stop-motion short film Butterfly in 2003. This led into directing over 40 music videos, beginning with Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know and Bedshaped and continuing with films for a mix of mainstream acts including The Prodigy, Biffy Clyro, Olly Murs, Paolo Nutini and The Rizzle Kicks as well as underground indies The Horrors, Dry The River, The Horrible Crowes – and recently the 9 minute crime epic for Devlin ft Ed Sheeran’s The Watchtower, all produced with Academy Films. His music videos have accrued over 120 million views and won numerous awards around the world.
He made his directorial debut with the 2015 horror film The Hallow, which he also co-wrote. He directed the 2018 horror film The Nun, a spin-off of The Conjuring 2 (2016) and the fifth film in The Conjuring Universe.
In 2020 he also directed four episodes from season one of Gangs of London.
When did you know you wanted to be a director?
I grew up in East Sussex and after watching King Kong (1933) aged about 6, I was terrified / fascinated / moved by seeing this giant monster on the screen. I didn’t become obsessed with horror movies until I was about 11 years old, but I was captivated by the fantastical (Indiana Jones / Star Wars / Hawk The Slayer), stop motion (Morph on ‘Tony Hart’ / Ray Harryhausen’s monster adventure movies) and ‘the other’ in films. Without knowing it then, some part of my inner brain was already deciding that I wanted to somehow facilitate a way of seeing these great monsters, like Kong or the Skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts exist, in the real world, through any means necessary. Those means came easiest to me through art, drawing and sculpture, and once my mind became opened to the world of ’80s horror – American Werewolf, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing and Alien – I began my foray into being a ‘Monster Maker’.
My like-minded group of heavy metal and horror loving friends would get together at the weekends and eventually during summer holidays, and we’d make short 8mm movie tributes to various slasher and zombie movies, normally entirely based around the best ‘special effect’ or gore effect we could muster. Sometimes I experimented with basic stop motion. The film that had the most significant effect on me, and caused my synapses to fully pop was Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II. This film was so inventive and creative and FUN (and scary) that it secured the deal that somehow, I wanted to make movies.
Once you knew you wanted to pursue a career as a director, what were your first steps in achieving this goal?
The problem was that I didn’t know what steps to take. I felt confident and comfortable making monsters through illustrating and sculpting so I stuck with art and design and the sculpture side of things, and sought out work experience opportunities in costume and prop making and special effects departments through my teenage years. I learned various techniques in mould-making, prosthetics, animatronics and costume until I went to Wimbledon School of Art where I studied a degree in Technical Arts Interpretation, which was as close to special effects and monster making as possible.
I enjoyed the course and got a lot out of it, but it wasn’t until the final day in 1998 when I left, that I think my course really changed, as my teacher Valerie Charleton, who had had a career in effects, collared me and challenged me on what I was planning on doing next – when I told her I was going to seek out work in Pinewood or Shepperton in a creature workshop, she shook her head and encouraged me to go and start making ‘my films’. It was a simple thing to say, but I needed someone to say it to me and it gave me the confidence to really try and do just that. Having not trained in film school, I still didn’t know how though. The kind of movies I wanted to make were grand, with epic sets and lighting and with swooping camera angles. I had written a short film, intended to be live action, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford that on a low-/no-budget, so the biggest setback was “how do I make that happen at all?”.
On contemplation I realised that I should play to my strengths in art and making, and although I had only dabbled in stop-motion, inspired by the likes of Tony Hart, Morph, Aardman, Tim Burton and Ray Harryhausen, I embarked on a mission, to make my first proper short film that I would write, direct, shoot, light, design and make the models, characters, props and sets for and animate and edit it myself. After some guesswork planning, I estimated I could do it within about two years and I successfully applied for a pair of small grants to help fund it, one was in association with Mental Health, as my film had a mental health theme and the other was an Arts Council completion grant.
Five years later my short 30-minute stop-motion animated film Butterfly was completed, all shot on 16mm film. A unique process that I know I will never experience again. I hoped that it would help demonstrate a semblance of the kind of films I intended to make. I also wanted to somehow get it in front of an audience. (Note – This was around 2003 so still pre-YouTube/easy access to online film posting.) I was overjoyed when it got accepted, first into Edinburgh Film Festival and then a series of other international Film Festivals, where it won various awards in the animated short category including Brazil and Brussels.
Off the back of the festivals I was contacted about directing music videos by a prominent London Music Video Commissioner and it felt like despite it being somewhat long-winded, my plan started to seem like it was working and it was a wonderful feeling. Knowing that the film was done and people were appreciating it; that alone felt such a relief.
What obstacles or setbacks did you face in becoming a director?
The setbacks for me, in that early period of striving to become a film director, were perhaps more to do with the amount of time I took to make my first feature, which was inspired by Sam Raimi. I initially hoped to do it by the time I was 20; then 30, but after eight years of development, I finally made The Hallow when I was 39. Looking back now, I think perhaps I could have got there sooner had I had the confidence to cut more of a direct route and not taken on so many different skill sets and experiences – also if I had possibly made a shorter film than Butterfly and shared the process more. During the making of Butterfly, I frequently felt so cut off – from the ‘industry’ and indeed the rest of the world – as I was shut away in a smallish workshop, painted black, for the best part of those five years so I needed to keep myself self-motivated.
I was constantly inspired by a number of elements; thinking back to King Kong and Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts, from the ’30s and ’60s respectively, I decided if they had managed to pull off these kind of effects then, without the aid of computers, that I should be able to make something at least half as good. I read Robert Rodruiguez’s ‘Rebel Without A Crew’ – an account of him making his first feature El Mariachi religiously and found it hugely inspiring. I got inspiration from music, both listening to it 24 hours a day whilst animating and forming my own band with close friends, as a way of having a ‘release’ from the mathematical frame-by-frame planning and painstaking process required in executing old school stop-motion. And finally, I suppose, the pure magic of receiving each 2 and a half minutes of 16mm film, every one or two months, was like watching pure magic occur, at my own hands – and I could see, that my monsters were coming alive, on celluloid. And that, as insane-making as the process of stop-motion is, in a way, was enough to keep going, until it was done.
So after getting Butterfly in the film festivals and finally catching the eyes of some actual people, outside of my close friends and family, I needed to head toward my first feature.
How did you develop your voice and hone your craft?
Because of Butterfly and the award at the Edinburgh Film Festival, I was able to get commissioned to direct my first professional music video (I had made a few for friend’s bands and my brother’s band during making Butterfly) for Keane, who then were just about to break into the big time. My video for their mega hit ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ was the first of around 50 over the next 10 years. During this period I used each and every one of them – including more for Keane, The Prodigy, Paolo Nutini, Biffy Clyro, McFly, The Horrors, Olly Murs, Devlin, Ed Sheeran, Dry The River and more, to experiment with story-telling, techniques, working with crews, band and actors, special effects, stunts and stop-motion and inadvertently making it the film school I never had, and it was all financed by various record labels.
The great thing about music promos’ is that by the nature of them, they have to be made pretty quickly, so after Butterfly, I relished the chance to create multiple projects as often as possible and found I could just about support myself after moving back to London.
The other significant things were, on the back of Butterfly, and videos for Keane, I gained an agent (Hugo Young at Independent) and was ‘signed’ to a production and management company who encouraged me to dream up my ideal first feature. This came in the form of a Yeti-based monster movie that is still something I look forward to making. I decided I needed to meet writers and started being sent scripts, and over the 10 years of making music videos I created, developed and co-wrote around five or six main feature projects of my own, in collaboration with writers and producers I met along the way, using my current adventures in music videos to kind of back up the project I was working on and use it as a way of demonstrating my abilities. “How are you going to work with actors?” I’d be asked frequently. So I would ensure the next music videos would involve a character based narrative where I could cast an actor and make sure that this was not an issue going forward. Realising late and reluctantly, that I needed to probably start on the smaller side of my feature ambitions, I concentrated on a ‘fairy-tale home-invasion’ movie that became The Hallow.
How did you get your first break?
There are many key moments I could account to ‘getting a break’ but the eternal mission to get a feature film financed truly became real when Robert Walak (then of Momentum Films) said ‘yes’ to backing me to direct The Hallow and put up roughly half the film’s budget. This was a significant moment and although it took the best part of another year to raise the rest of the budget (The Hallow was relatively small, but still, with a lot of complex and ambitious locations and monster FX, it was not what you would call a low-, low-budget) it was the movement that I felt, that made the ground shift, and I finally made my first feature a reality. It was quite a shock to the system when you’ve been dreaming about bringing monsters to life on the screen since you were 6 and then 12 years old, after seeing Kind Kong and Evil Dead II respectively.
In essence, all the work I had done up to that point; the monster-making, illustrating, storyboarding, experiments in music videos, narratives, a combination of FX and VFX, as well as costumes and on set experience subconsciously equipped me going into my first feature film. Something that felt like jumping off a cliff into an unknown deep water, only to find you kind of know how to swim, and you are able to keep afloat and eventually, to surf over the waves, whilst others crash over you, half-drown you, but you come up for air and get back on the board until you get to the beach. I think every filmmaker who embarks on that first film, realises their strengths and weaknesses, and everyone comes with a different ‘super-power’ in terms of the main element in their process that helps define the outcome of the strengths of that first movie. For me, it was no surprise, that the monsters were highlighted as the stars and I was pleased that that got recognised. Though I was also thrilled and proud, that the human stars – Joseph Mawle and Bojana Novakovic – were also praised on their excellent performances too.
From the completion of The Hallow, a series of unexpected and amazing moments occurred, one after the other in a relatively short space of time – The Hallow got accepted into Sundance 2015, I was offered to direct a new version of The Crow (a movie I was obsessed with in my late teens) and I suddenly had all the major US agents from CAA, UTA, ICM and WME flying over to meet me in Ireland, as I completed final VFX on The Hallow ahead of its Sundance premiere. Getting The Hallow made over the past eight years, and finally shooting it, had been tough as hell endurance, but also dream-like, as these things started to come into play around me. I guess that’s truly where things kicked off, in terms of an actual career starting as The Hallow toured 40 international Film Festivals and I headed to LA to meet The Crow producers in Hollywood, but that was just the start of so many crazy stories that took place over the next five years in filmmaking, eventually leading to me making my second feature at Warner Brothers about a demonic nun and directing my first gangster TV show on British shores, but I better wrap this thing up now, and save some for a rainy day…
TV Credits: Gangs of London (2020).
Film Credits: Butterfly (2003), In the Back (2012), The Hallow (2015), The Nun (2018).
Photograph: Boo Hunnisett