Interview: John Maclean on Pitch Black Heist

First making its mark at film festivals around the world in 2011, Scottish director John Maclean's Pitch Black Heist has since gone on to win Best Short at the 2012 Orange British Academy Film Awards.

Starring Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham as two men planning a robbery, the black and white film is a perfect showcase for the power of a well made short, packing tension, pathos and humour into its 13 minute run-time.

I spoke to John Maclean, ex-Beta Band member and one-time staff member at Edinburgh's Cameo Cinema, by email as he prepared to show Pitch Black Heist at an Estonian film festival, just ahead of its premiere on UK cable channel, Film 4, this weekend.

Jonathan Melville: When did you first get into filmmaking and how did you learn/refine your skills?

John Maclean: I started making the Beta Band music videos with a DVD camcorder the record company bought me. I tried to make them more like short films than music videos.

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Watch John's Squares video on YouTube

Where did the idea for Pitch Black Heist come from?

Watching a great film noir called Rififi years ago. There's a half hour bank robbery in which any sound triggers the alarm, so the film is silent. I thought of trying it with light triggering the alarm. Also I knew pitch black would be cheap to shoot.

At what point did Michael and Liam come aboard? Did their involvement help get the film made?

Pitch Black Heist producer Gerardine O'Flynn and director John Maclean (centre) pick up the BAFTA. (Photo: BAFTA)

I had made a previous short film called Man on a Motorcycle with Michael and it was a fruitful collaboration so he was on board straight away for PBH. Michael and I discussed who could play the Liam character while we were having a writing session and Liam's name came up.

How close to the script is the finished film? Is there anything you'd change about it in retrospect?

The finished film is pretty much the script. I had planned to cut the bar scenes in with the rehearsal scenes using flashback, which didn't work in the edit. Unusually there is nothing I'd change.

How did you ensure Pitch Black Heist found an audience?

The usual route - apply to film festivals and hope for the best. I hope as many folk as possible see it on the big screen.

What's next for you?

I'm writing my first feature now and plan to shoot, hopefully with Michael, this time next year...

Pitch Black Heist airs on Film4 on Saturday 17 November at 10.45pm, full details are on the Film4 website.

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Watch the Pitch Black Heist trailer on YouTube