Simon Hatt's Hammer Down

I love short films. They are a storytelling form that allows for interesting twists and turns on the familiar, giving filmmakers a place to hone their craft. Short films are where I first discovered filmmakers like Jason Reitman before they started making features. As the owner of a film website, I get sent a lot of short films and I’ll be quite honest: most of them are bad. But today, I want to bring your attention to a great new short directed by (full disclosure) my friend Simon Hatt.

You might reccognize Simon’s name as he is a producer on the Guardians of the Galaxy sequels, The Suicide Squad, and Brightburn. He started out as a director’s assistant on Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, and worked his way up to become James Gunn’s right-hand man. This short was filmed during Squad‘s Christmas break and edited on the weekends during the pandemic.

Hammer Down is a very confident directorial debut, telling the story of a young girl (Abigail Dylan Harrison) traveling with her truck-driving father (This is Us star Chris Sullivan, who yes, was Taserface in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) while he smuggles a mysterious cargo. This trucker western is The Professional by way of Indiana Jones, with maybe shades of Spielberg’s Duel – which is a weird mix for sure. The short has been making its festival run and it just played at the San Jose International Short Film Festival, where The Hollywood Reporter called it a “trucker movie with superhero spirit.”

With the pandemic in full effect, Hatt has graciously allowed us to exclusively premiere the short film online. You can watch it below, and read my interview with Simon Hatt right below that.

Tell us about your journey. You always hear in Hollywood to work your way up, but typically that’s not what happens. But for the last decade you’ve been climbing your way up the ladder from assistant to producer of big Marvel films. That’s quite a trajectory.

My first job in the business was operating the air conditioning on Gulliver’s Travels (the Jack Black version). I then worked as an assistant to a few different directors which really gave me a “front row seat at the opera”. I got to see the workings of every department and how the director collaborated with all the artists and technicians on the movie. It was an invaluable experience and has really informed everything since.

James Gunn then had me step into a producing role on Guardians Vol 2 and we’ve been working together since. As a producer I’ve gotten to work alongside some of the best in the business – Peter Safran, Chuck Roven, Kevin Feige, Lou D’Esposito and Victoria Alonso. I’ve learned fantastic things from each of them. They’re fantastic leaders with a huge variety of skills and qualities. I’ve been lucky to have a career surrounded by incredibly talented and generous filmmakers. A day hasn’t gone past where I haven’t learned something valuable.

But directing was always where I wanted to land so I just had to find a window to make something. So last Christmas I cancelled the festivities, went out to the desert and made Hammer Down.

While this short film definitely doesn’t feel like a true story, you can feel the truth behind so many tiny specific details in this film. How’d it come about?

As a kid I spent a good chunk of time in my dads truck, driving up and down England. I also watched Indiana Jones an unhealthy amount. Action/adventure was really in my bones. And on these road trips – any chance I got I would break away and explore a dingy warehouse or a rusted truck.. I guess I imagined myself to be my Dad’s sidekick.

So the world we’ve created in Hammer Down is rooted in that truth.

And emotionally speaking, these two characters are tethered by their grief and that comes from a real experience too. My mum died when I was young and I kind of got to know my father all over again. The guy who had always been my tough Indiana Jones figure was suddenly vulnerable and hurt. Chris Sullivan did a fantastic job of capturing that in 13 minutes.

The thing that strikes me immediately is that this short is so confident for a directorial debut. Any hopes or intentions to expand this into a feature?

Yes. I’m currently putting in the finishing touches to the first tale set in the Hammer Down world.. a feature film. It’s something I’m very excited about. It’s an intimate story of a changing family set on the frontier of America’s roads. Gas stations and junkyards and creepy diners.

And naturally coming from the world of blockbusters there are some unforgettable actions sequences for Hammer Down and Power Wheels. They’re a great team who I love writing for – and it’s really fun to subvert the idea of a what it is to be a mentor – how the person you think you’re meant to be looking after is really looking after you.

And yes, You’ll find out what’s in the truck.

Haha Any hints?

It’s not Marsellus Wallace’s soul. Or an Infinity Stone. Or the Ark of the Covenant. I’ve said too much.

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