Mark Herman attended England's National Film and Television School in the hopes of working in animation. After spying the unbeatable accomplishments of fellow students like renowned animator Nick Park, the filmmaker decided instead to try his hand at live action. His thesis short, "See You at Wembley, Frankie Walsh," received a Student Academy Award and he followed with the 1987 short "Unusual Ground Floor Conversation." As a screenwriter, Herman spent two years in the BBC's employ, and he also had a stint as a lyricist, penning The Christians' British chart-topper "Ideal World." In 1992 the Herman helmed comedy "Blame It on the Bellboy" was released by Buena Vista, starring Dudley Moore and marking the writer-director's feature debut. Both a commercial and critical flop, "Blame It on the Bellboy" was hardly the breakthrough the filmmaker needed.
Success finally arrived five years later in the form of the sleeper "Brassed Off" (1997), the story of a brass band in a redundant mining town. While it seemed unlikely to hit, the talented cast of Ewan McGregor, Tara Fitzgerald and Pete Postlethwaite matched with Herman's smart dialogue and sensitive portrayal of non-cosmopolitan Britain made for a charming and uplifting experience, and a critics' favorite, earning several honors including a 1998 Cesar for Best Foreign Film. With a story that could easily have been dismissed as disguised sentimentalism if handled differently, Herman scored with the character- and dialogue-driven "Brassed Off." Through his direction, he used the landscape to underline significant themes and to set a scene with a minimum of tired exposition. Like the following year's hit "The Full Monty," his film depended upon its location as more than a backdrop for the action, but rather as an indicator of the origins of that action. Set in an England rarely seen, an England devoid of towers, palaces and guards, the film showed life in a coal mining town where the principal industry was threatened with a shutdown. Herman portrayed characters striving to retain a sense of identity, purpose and achievement in the face of the obsolescence of their defining livelihood through their contributions to the award-winning brass band, a bright spot in a cruel world, an arena where effort and talent is rewarded, as close to the ideal and far from the coal mine as possible. Herman's film bore his stamp, fortified by appropriately smart dialogue and the use of setting as an active character, creating a unified piece that conveyed his overall directorial vision.
Next up for Herman was "Little Voice" (1998), his adaptation of Jim Cartwright's play "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice," a vehicle for Jane Horrocks' bewildering vocal talents. The play, and Herman's film adaptation, featured Horrocks as a fragile, meek girl who barely speaks, yet is capable of belting out dead on impersonations of vocalists including Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey and Marilyn Monroe. Not long after he proclaimed his sympathy for anyone given the task of adapting the dynamic live performance into a screenplay, Herman himself was faced with the challenge. Horrocks was joined by Brenda Blethyn as her horrible and hysterical mother Mari, Michael Caine as washed-up talent agent Ray Say and Ewan McGregor in an uncharacteristic role as shy pigeon enthusiast Billy. To capture the wonder of the stage performance, Herman had Horrocks perform all vocals live. He also opted to play up the fairy tale aspect of the story, focusing on the magical relationship between LV and her deceased father, making Billy her hero and Prince Charming, and employing the brilliantly over-the-top performances of comical villains Mari and Ray Say. Herman used the broad contrast between the leads in lieu of strict character development to create an original film that capably translates the power of the stage. Set in a run-down seaside town in the North Atlantic region, a different landscape from the industrial "Brassed Off," but with similar socio-economic status, "Little Voice" took place in a town past its prime, inhabited by people with the same sentence. While arguably lacking the standard cohesiveness of "Brassed Off," "Little Voice" captured the spirit of the stage production, allowing Herman to create movie magic. He would again try his hand at adaptations, remaking the TV-movie "Dancing Queen" as a feature (in development as of 1999).
Director (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Wrote and directed the short "Unusual Ground Floor Conversation"
Wrote and directed debut feature "Blame It on the Bellboy", a comedy starring Dudley Moore
Was screenwriter and director of "Brassed Off", starring Ewan McGregor and Pete Postlethwaite
Adapted and helmed the screen adaptation of "Little Voice", based on Jim Cartwright's play "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice"; film starred Jane Horrocks, Brenda Blethyn, Michael Caine and McGregor
Wrote and directed "Purely Belter"; screened at the Directors Fortnight at Cannes