Mantaro – An interview with Morgan Quashie

What was the inspiration behind the story of Mantaro?

Mantaro is a short psychological sci-fi thriller about Alex, a young woman who discovers there’s a sinister side to the brand-new, all-knowing delivery service she signs up for. 

The first draft of the script was written way back towards the end of 2018, after a conversation I had with some friends about just how invasive modern technology can be with its tracking and data collection. Everyone’s experienced that phenomenon where you have a conversation about a product – for example, let’s say a water bottle – and then within the next couple of hours, you’re being served adverts on Instagram about every water bottle under the sun. The more you think about it, the more you realise just how creepy that actually is, our civil liberties being infringed upon, exploited, and marketed right back to us for profit. I just took that idea and pushed it to the extreme.

What was the best part of the process for you as a director?

The best part of the process for me as a director was, honestly, being surrounded and lifted by my collaborators. I have to extend major gratitude to my co-director, Sofia Falconi, as this film truly wouldn’t have turned out the way it did without her. The rewrites, the brainstorming, the meetings, the endless late nights after class going insane working on the same scene over and over again. I honestly can’t praise her enough. That goes for the entire cast and crew too – in times where I was lacking motivation, I was (and am) incredibly grateful for their dedication and enthusiasm. Additionally, working with my crew as an equal collaborator – instead of a ‘creative dictator’ as lots of people perceive directors to be – made the process so much more fun and fulfilling.

On reflection, what did you learn from this filmmaking process?

From the process of making Mantaro, I learnt the importance of stepping away and letting things marinate. As I said, I wrote the first draft of the script back in 2018, and I was originally planning on shooting this back in 2020 before I even thought about enrolling at Central Film School. That shoot got cancelled (twice) due to the pandemic, and the film is lightyears better for it.

When you’re wrapped up in the whirlwind of development, it’s very easy to lose the objectivity that’s so crucial to improving the film – you frequently miss the forest for the trees, rush into production before the script is ready, and the film suffers massively for it. Being forced to step away from Mantaro and return to it with fresh eyes months later made it much easier to highlight and fix story problems before diving into production.

How has the success of the film so far helped you as a filmmaker?

The success of the film at festivals has been great – especially winning the award for Best Student Short at TweetFest(!!) – but really what’s helped me the most as a filmmaker was the success of the shoot itself. Those three days on set in January last year were amazing, and the crew all bonded into a tightly-knit unit of filmmakers and friends. Despite Mantaro being a personal, extra-curricular project, those connections have carried forward throughout every module and every film we’ve worked on during our time at CFS. We’ve become a de facto creative collective, working together on each other’s projects and supporting each other in our professional developments – we were even colloquially known in our cohort as the ‘Mantaro Crew’, due to how frequently we worked together.

Having a group of like-minded filmmakers to bounce ideas off of, with their own unique skills, tastes and goals, has been invaluable to me as I mature as a storyteller and film professional.

How has studying at CFS helped you in your journey so far?

The most beneficial part about studying at CFS has been in being forced to work to a deadline. For me, being creative on-tap is always a challenge; I find I’m most productive in bursts when inspiration strikes, rather than a constant stream of output. So, being given briefs and deadlines and expectations has been incredibly helpful to me: it forces me to kick into gear and continue working, even if I’m not at my most creatively stimulated or inspired. It pulls me out of the rut of perfectionism I tend to find myself in (where I expect everything I produce to be a beautiful work of art immediately and ultimately, when it falls short, I get stuck and take ages to progress), and makes me finish the work.

What are the next steps for Mantaro?

Mantaro is winding down its run on the festival circuit, and is available to watch online now: