Solihull secondary school teacher ‘bleds himself dry’ chasing horror movie dream

Lights, camera and bank balance – a secondary school teacher from Solihull has ‘bled’ himself into the unforgiving world of cinema.

But for first-time director James Mason, achieving a ten-year dream has been worth every penny spent and saved in his first two years on the job.

His horror short To Catch A Fish will have its first screening at Millennium Point on Friday before hitting YouTube later this month – but you can watch the trailer above first.

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To make his 30-minute debut, the English teacher and media officer at St John Henry Newman Catholic College in Solihull used online forums to find his production team.

Debut director James Mason fulfilled a ten-year dream by directing a short film – To Catch A Fish

James then shot the film at his parents’ home in Stratford-upon-Avon after casting his father Graham in the evil role of ‘The Gent’ and enlisting the award-winning acting services of former college pal Huw Brentnall in the lead role.

Estimating the film cost him £7,000 to make, James said: “While my friends saved for mortgages, I saved for the film. Whatever spare I had would go towards that.

“While it really left me dry, I was determined to be the sole financier and by focusing the spend on the team, I was able to employ a top-notch production team.”

Dad Graham walked the boards of Birmingham’s Old Rep Theater – where Laurence Olivier, Albert Finney, Derek Jacobi and Brian Cox all cut their teeth.

First-time director James Mason cast his own father Graham Mason as the villain of the piece in his debut short To Catch A Fish
Schoolteacher James Mason cast his own father Graham Mason as the villain of the play in his first short To Catch A Fish

Friend Huw was nominated Best Actor at the Rainbow Umbrella Film Festival in 2020 and, like James, is a former member of the Keele University Drama Society.

James shared his name with Huddersfield-born film legend James Mason, who made more than 100 films and was nominated for three Oscars, including a best actor for George Cukor’s version of A Star is Born in 1955.

Due to the language used in To Catch A Fish, James is not yet sure if he would be allowed to show his own film to students at the school – either for hours or after with parental permission.

But it will be released on YouTube later this month with the blessing of her mother who has a voiceover.

Friend Huw Brentnall stars in teacher James Mason's debut short, To Catch A Fish
Friend Huw Brentnall stars in teacher James Mason’s debut short, To Catch A Fish

“The budget was tight, as was the seven-day shoot itself.” says Jacques.

“During one scene, we had to stop halfway and allow my mother to finish her dinner at the table.

“As a director, it was kind of awkward to tell the crew that my mom had to eat her bowl of pasta before I could say action again!”

James’ leap into the film world follows the path blazed by Steven Knight who used his Oscar nomination for Dirty Pretty Things to open the doors to his Birmingham-based TV series Peaky Blinders.

Stars and filmmakers who have worked in Birmingham since 2015 include Oscar-nominated actress Glenn Close, legendary director Steven Spielberg and Hollywood star Tom Cruise.

To Catch A Fish will be available on YouTube later in January 2022
To Catch A Fish will be available on YouTube later in January 2022

What is the film about?

To Catch A Fish was inspired by The Twilight Zone and is the first part of an anthology series called The Unfortunate Tales.

Huw Brentnall plays a failing young writer named Noel who begins to realize that his desire for fame far outweighs his talent and work ethic.

In classic Faustian fashion, he is visited by a stranger called The Gent (Graham Mason) who promises him fortune and fame at a very modest but painful price.

Award-winning television and film writer Tim Prager, whose credits include Silent Witness and Dalziel and Pascoe, advised James during the editing process.

Tim said: “Making a film is always close to a miracle. What James Mason did by skimping and saving on his teacher’s salary, making each day last up to 26 hours, finding a casting talented close to home and an excellent professional team who believed in James and his project is simply exceptional.

“James chased his dream and grabbed it. His tireless dedication deserves to be celebrated as much as the film itself. Rarely can you say with confidence that there will be more to come. Starring James Mason, it’s a dead certificate.”

To Catch A Fish was shot using a professional Netflix quality RED camera – the type of technology used to capture Jennifer Lawrence’s outstanding role in Winter’s Bone (2010).

The film will premiere by invitation only on Friday, January 14 at the former Millennium Point IMAX Theater before it hits YouTube later this month.

Designed to be more of a “hair-raising” production than a graphic shock, it’s believed the film would be a borderline 12A/15 if certified by the BBFC based on its view of the language used.

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