Medusa Deluxe is writer/director Thomas Hardiman's first feature film, a one-shot murder mystery set at a British hairdressing competition.

Yup! You read that correctly. Plus, it has everything you want from a murder story—intrigue, a cast of larger-than-life suspects, and even a dance sequence.

Hardiman balances comedy and drama deftly in his first feature, while also keeping the camera moving and the action compelling. But essentially, he set an extra, extra challenge for himself by making this a oner with minimal hidden cuts in the middle of a sometimes highly reflective environment (after all, there are models and hairdressers galore, which means tons of mirrors). And even wilder, the film was shot in just nine days. Getting a basic movie made is often a miracle, but this is something else.

We spoke with Hardiman via Zoom head of the film’s wide release to learn more about how Medusa Deluxe was made and what inspired his stylistic choices.

Medusa Deluxe | Official Trailer HD |

Editor's note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Thomas Hardiman: That's The Birds, isn't it, the Hitchcock [poster] behind you?

No Film School: Yes, it is.

Hardiman: I have a real soft spot for The Birds. I don't know why.

NFS: It's so good.

Hardiman: It's so mad. It's such a bonkers idea. Because all of his films, they're not crazy, a lot of them. That's the only one, to me, that's like you watch it going, "What?"

NFS: It's kind of appropriate because I know that Hitchcock inspired this film, too, right?

Hardiman: Yeah, he did in places. It's funny. It's weird. Hitchcock, he's just this giant shadow over most of the film, isn't he? It's very hard to make anything without being inspired by Hitchcock. Literally, I was watching his first sound film. It's called Blackmail. It's 1929. I was just watching it the other day and it's got this sequence where the camera goes from floor one to floor five of a block in London. It's very clear that it's a set. He's literally built a staircase for what is essentially a 30-second shot with no dialogue where two people walk up the stairs and the camera raises with it.

It must've been so hard to do in 1929, especially if you're turning to whoever his production team were to say, "This is a 30-second shot. No dialogue. It doesn't necessarily do anything with the film whatsoever, other than build tension. But it's essential. I need you to build a five-story staircase so I can get this shot."

Then you're watching the film going, "Yeah. You were right. That's a brilliant, brilliant scene." He's incredible, aside from also being a little bit psychopathic in a lot of ways, which are unfortunate.

Kae Alexander, Kayla MeikleKae Alexander, Kayla Meikle in 'Medusa Deluxe' Robbie Ryan/Courtesy of A24

NFS: You can point directly to that as, I think, a reference for this film, with how tense it is and how active it is, and how visually stunning at many points it is.I'm sure you're getting this a ton, but why did you do it as a oner?

Hardiman: I've always thought about it as long takes, essentially. It's funny, actually, talking about that. We literally just talked about Blackmail, the beginning of the sound. When certain things with film come along, when color comes in, when sound comes in, and a lot of different technologies, people just always essentially see them as a fad for the beginning, and then start to realize there's a lot more going on. Obviously, Hitchcock did a one-shot with Rope, but the modern technology, the way you're allowed to do a one-shot now, it's a lot different from what it was then.

Suddenly, it's more possible than it was and you see one-shot films coming around. And I think people go, "Okay. That's that. That's done. That's the fad. We can move on." I just don't see it like that. I think it's completely different.

I think you have different media consumption going on nowadays. Like I was saying a second ago, my nieces, I watch them looking at hairdressing and makeup tutorials on YouTube, and they're very happy to watch an hour-long YouTube of a random teenage girl talking in her bedroom on a webcam. That's just the norm. That's why they exist. Like you and I are doing a Zoom right now, they'll do a Zoom at school, virtually. It's just a way that we're all getting used to inhabiting space or a camera with people. And I feel like for a storyteller, it's an incredible possibility. It's really exciting. It allows you to do things that you just couldn't do. You can change how a film works. You can actually genre-bend in a way that wasn't necessarily just possible previously.

I love Robert Altman. I love The Firemen's Ball, Miloš Forman. But these ensemble drama comedies, it's just something I've always looked up to. I love Slacker as well. When you're doing that in the sense of a murder mystery with long takes, the moment that you would cut or that you would say, "This is a red herring. This is a clue. I'm going to go over here now, I've dropped that," you can't do it. You're going to stay with the characters longer, and it suddenly becomes a character-led drama. It can be two things at once, and that's everything to me. It's all about that duality of being able to play with exactly what something is at any one time.

Lilit Lesser Lilit Lesser in 'Medusa Deluxe' Robbie Ryan/Courtesy of A24

NFS: A lot of people will watch this and see it as a challenge—"I want to do that now." How did you shoot it?

Hardiman: We're shooting on an ARRI Alexa. It's not the LF. I think it was a Mini. And basically, the film was shot in nine days, which is a little bit mental in hindsight, but felt totally normal at the time.

But we rehearsed it for a few weeks beforehand. Rehearsals started on, to be honest, just a Canon 5D Mark II, which I bought on eBay years ago. It could have been an iPhone. It could have been anything, but that was our rehearsal tool.

Then we started to bring in the Steadicam, and it's an AR rig Steadicam, so it's not just a standard. You've got the barrel roll effectively alongside the upwards and downwards and sideways movements. The camera's almost essentially a wand in the film, like a magic wand. It's able to switch its perspective and go above, below, to the side.

For me, that's a lot about looking back at the history of filmmaking, like Sidney Lumet when he was making 12 Angry Men. That film starts looking down on everyone, then halfway through the film it comes down to the same height as everyone, and then later it goes below. So it makes the room that they're in more and more claustrophobic. We're doing exactly the same thing as modern filmmakers at the same time as having completely different technology at our fingertips.

Thomas Hardiman, Luke Pasqualino, Lilit Lesser Thomas Hardiman, Luke Pasqualino, Lilit Lesser behind the scenes of 'Medusa Deluxe' Robbie Ryan/Courtesy of A24

NFS: There is a beautiful sequence at the end, with the stage and the lights, and I would just love to know more about what inspired that, and what the process on that whole sequence was.

Hardiman: Do you know what? The genuine inspiration, it's twofold. One's Freddie Mercury and one's Kanye West.

I really like Freddie Mercury. It's a strange thing, because I'm not actually a massive Queen fan, but there's something about Freddie and his solo album. It's Mr. Nice Guy. I find that era of Freddie incredibly interesting. When he was performing at that time and with Queen, he had this thing called the pizza oven, which was loads of PAR can lights all above the stage, like 100 of them. It was called the pizza oven because they're so stupidly hot. But when you see photos, the way that his sweat, the atmos, people smoking, the way it creates that stage life is so remarkable. Obviously, because it's Freddie, he can be wearing sequins, he can be in a Queen outfit, he can be in basically his pants ... I've always found them incredibly inspirational.

Then I saw Kanye ... he's creatively mad in an interesting way, at the same time as I'm aware he's got a lot of personal demons. I don't know him and I've never met him, but I find the way he thinks creatively genuinely incredible. ... I guess you go to art school, you're taught to always push the limits. Sometimes in other kinds of creative forms, you feel like people don't quite push the limits enough. Whereas it seems like anything he takes on, he needs to wreck it in an interesting way. When he started using the staging of similar lights, firstly he used them behind him and it illuminated him in a kind of silhouette. He used them behind him, then, when he went to Glastonbury, he basically created a ceiling of lights above him and he closed off the performing space to basically his height. I just had never seen anyone do that. I'd never seen an artist at his level think that minimalistically, actually. He's obviously into art. He's definitely referencing a lot of artists in that kind of staging.

I started to think about it in terms of it's similar to what Freddie was doing, but taking it to completely the next level. Eventually, he was flying on a platform of PAR cans, which again, it's remarkable what he was doing.

That was what I was thinking about for that sequence. Those were the things that were in my mind in the staging. Obviously, people haven't seen the film, so I can't go too in-depth, but it's also about figuring out ways to tell a story differently. This is a film that's trying to engage with every classic tenet of a murder mystery in a different way—and also filmmaking, actually. I'm trying to find other ways to tell stories and ways that feel modern and just contemporary. They reflect contemporary life. That's what I'm thinking.

Anita-Joy Uwajeh Anita-Joy Uwajeh in 'Medusa Deluxe' Robbie Ryan/Courtesy of A24

NFS: So this was your first feature, feature debut. What do you think is the biggest thing that you learned?

Hardiman: Wow, that's a massive question. The biggest piece of advice? I mean, there are just so many. There's one piece of advice that I don't think is necessarily something that I'm going to take from this one to the next one because I knew it before I got here almost. But I feel like for anyone stepping on the set of a first feature or a short film, knowing how you function on set is incredibly important. Things have changed dramatically on set.

When I started working as a runner, the moment of more direct directors, if that's the best way I can put it, were still around. Some people need to have an argument to get the creative juices going, which I've got nothing against. I'm not talking about it negatively. Some people work differently. I'm not like that. I like a collegiate atmosphere. I like people to be singing from the same hymn sheet and have a very in-depth understanding of what we're all trying to do.

I think that's a funny thing because you can't really understand how you work on set until you do it. But it's really important to build that knowledge over time and start to put people around you who understand how you function because that's essentially the entire brief of how to direct, isn't it? To have a particular way of working and understand it in yourself and understand why you're making certain decisions. I reckon I figured that out coming onto this film. It took me a few short films to understand the way I wanted to work on set. It is something I'll take from this film to the next, actually. This film clarified it for me. It made me go, "This is exactly how I want to work."

There are things that interest you and draw you towards stories. A lot of this film is around responding to the internet, actually, and trying to work out how that has changed how we tell stories and how we think about narrative. You have that moment on Twitter or Instagram or whatever you use, you'll go through a silly cat picture to something that makes you cry to something that makes you laugh. That's a different way of experiencing life from what previous generations had. Even though emotions are moving quicker and quicker, how does that reflect how we tell stories?

When you see films like Tangerine, Titane, and Everything Everywhere All at Once, to me those films are reflective of the modern experience, and they are engaging with storytelling, as someone who grew up on the internet, it feels like the way we inhabit the world today. That's what I'm interested in, and I'm probably coming from the same direction.

Darrell D\u2019Silva Darrell D’Silva in 'Medusa Deluxe' Robbie Ryan/Courtesy of A24

NFS: Any other advice you might have for beginning filmmakers?

Hardiman: I guess it's really fun talking about filmmaking, because do you know something? I've always watched old films. I'm sure everybody watches old films. But once you start directing and thinking about shot-making, you watch them in such a different way. You start to think about the geography of space in a different way. You start to think about the references people are pulling.

I was watching Beetlejuice the other day, and I like postmodernist architecture, but to see the transitions that house goes through, it's incredible. Then to think that Tim Burton, his reference pool back in the '80s, knew all these things that were going on.

It's a real joy to be able to engage with cinema like that, actually, to be able to go and watch something three or four times and start to pick it apart and be pretty forensic on it, I guess like a murder mystery.

I would encourage anyone to go back as much as they possibly can. I watched a film called Stage Door with Ginger Rogers the other day, and I think it's entirely a female cast. I think there's one man in the entire film, which given how sexist the world's been for the whole of history, but obviously, cinema in particular, especially around that period in the '30s, '40s, to see a film like that, to know that exists, even though obviously it's been pushed to the sides, unfortunately, I was sitting there just going, "This film is remarkable. It's unbelievable." I guess if anyone gets a chance to see Stage Door ... I mean, the ending is possibly a tiny bit dated, but the rest of the film is outstanding. The writing is on a completely different level. I'm just happy to get the chance to see things like that and think about how they influence me.