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16th February 2024
Holy Cow !
Title of film: Calving
Director: Louis Bhose
Production Company: Agile Films
Director Louis Bhose is renowned for bringing out the warmth and humor of the artists he collaborates with in music videos. Yet, his first written and directed short film, "Calving," presents a horrific, claustrophobic, and utterly gripping tale set in rural Ireland. It revolves around a strange calf being born that won’t stop screaming. The vet is called, but not for the reasons you might expect. Now that the film has completed its festival circuit, where it garnered numerous awards, including the Prix Canal+ at Clermont-Ferrand, "Calving" is having its online release today. We caught up with Louis to delve into his process of bringing his ideas into focus and exploring the thin line between horror and humor.

Turn around on the wild Irish landscape

It was five years ago, when you directed one of our favourite Loyle Carner videos ever, “You Don’t Know”. It’s amusing and full of warmth as Loyle keeps an eye on his real mother Jean while she’s out on a series of dining-out dates including one with the late brilliant Benjamin Zephaniah.

Then there’s your  really funny wonderful parody Forget Me for Lewis Capaldi where every shot fastidiously matches Wham’s original video Club Tropicana. And a slew of other music videos including Michael Kiwanuka’s Money, and another funny narrative for Maisie Peters… it goes on.

What was behind your decision to write and direct a short film that is the complete antithesis of your warm and comedic music videos?

Interesting! To me, it doesn’t feel like a huge departure, but rather a different avenue… I guess with music videos, I’ve always seen it as somewhere to ‘play’. Where you can try big, bold ideas – and for me, they’ve ended up veering towards the warm and amusing.

With ‘Calving’, I suppose I was trying to set something up that had a bit of duality going on – surface and subtext – and maybe that’s what led me to go further into the horror style. But to be honest, I didn’t give it all that much thought. A bit like ideas for music videos, something clicked and I naively went “ooh fun yes let’s try that”.

Vet played by Steven Mackintosh

What triggered the idea – did it come about through conversations, something you read – and how did you go about the process of writing Calving? While you were writing treatments for music videos, had you also been beavering away on darker and longer narratives?

I was spending a lot of time in Ireland, and reading a lot about Ireland, and England… And I wanted to write a film that felt like it dealt with these themes I was interested in, but in an allegorical way.

If I’m absolutely honest, I still see ‘Calving’ as somewhat comedic, with daft moments deliberately sitting alongside the unsettling. If that doesn’t come through, then I’m OK with it – it’s easy to forget that short films are a place we should be experimenting as filmmakers, trying things out and taking big swings. And when those swings don’t land, I feel like it’s maybe more valuable to the filmmaker than when they do.

Did you have any mentors and if so what were the guiding rules you learnt from them ?

I’ve actually always wanted a mentor! But never had one. What I do have is a group of director friends – some more successful, others earlier in their career – who are incredibly kind with their time. Who patiently read drafts, or watch early cuts, or offer quiet words of encouragement when you’re out of work and no-one seems to care about the little project you want to do. Without that network – which I’ve deliberately cultivated – I’m not sure I’d still be directing. It would just be too miserable.


Calving is set in rural Ireland. Did you have a background to do with farming?

In short, no. To elaborate, still no.

But I do have a father-in-law, a now-retired vet in Co. Donegal, who would occasionally take me along to a sheep caesarean, or to TB test some cows, or to check in on a tricky calving. It was these somewhat nauseating experiences – as well as just driving around the county – that inspired the idea.

How did your ideas of how the film would look change as you wrote?

I suppose it started out as a bit of a dafter topline. And then, as I developed the idea, it made sense for the story to lean further into some horror tropes: brooding wide shots, sinister characters, unsettling sound design. I wasn’t prescriptive about the genre or look before I wrote it, and I suppose in that sense the ‘writing’ and the ‘directing’ were quite separate.

The biggest change was probably when DP Murren Tullett came onboard. We chatted references, but then he had a clear idea for how it should look, and I was happy with that and so let him run with it.

Beefing it up

Was there a moment when you knew you had finished the narrative and it was time to focus on crafting the film? You’ve mentioned that you like to prep in detail your videos – was it the same with the short film?

That was maybe the trickiest bit – when to stop tinkering and say “this is it”. In retrospect, I probably could have developed it further – there’s a fine line between ‘abstract ending’ and ‘frustrating ending’, as reviewers on Letterboxd have been sure to remind me – but I think what’s important is that I felt like all the beats I wanted to hit were there, and so it was time to stop the writing and start the making.

And yes – as a big ‘prep’ director, I did maybe more on this short than I have on any music video. Location scouts, reference docs, abandoned shot lists… Myself and producer Hayley Williams really dug into the details. To be honest, that was maybe why it was so fun. It’s not a feature film, no-one is asking you to prepare a 20-page document on ‘curvy roads in rural Donegal’, but as you go through these processes and preparation, the idea comes into focus. It’s incredibly satisfying.

How did you rehearse with the actors – especially collaborating with the Vet, the actor Steven Mackintosh?

I’ve been blessed to work with very generous actors. Both on ‘Calving’, and the new short we’ve just finished, the actors were happy to put the time aside to rehearse, even if that meant entering a fragrant post-aerobics side room in a community centre.

With the film’s narrative veering towards the surreal, it was important to me that the actors felt like they were on solid ground. That no lines felt like confections; silly little ‘bits’ that they had agreed to recite on camera.

So a lot of the rehearsals ended up being discussions: on character, themes, and how we would film it. Steven – but also the other incredible actors Philip, Gerry and Liz – were incredibly patient with me. Allowing me space to consider questions, and offering up suggestions.

This experience, more than any other, was vital in reminding me how crucial it is to invest in your actors.

Mucking in on set

After one-day shoots on videos we’re assuming you had a longer time on location? Was it less stressful ?

Alas – that couldn’t be further from the truth. We had two days, plus a half day to capture the opening shot of the cow (I’m not sure there is such a thing as a ‘film-friendly cow’). We had to move very fast, and with locations spread out across the Fanad peninsula, I felt like we were always one tiny mishap away from dropping a whole scene.

But – as I feel like I’ve discovered in making music vids – sometimes, as carefully as production legends Hayley and Freddie planned our shoot days on ‘Calving’, you just need a bit of luck. The wind behind your back as you fly through your 24 slate day. The actors nailing a take with minimal rehearsal. Our prep helped, but for sure, we needed a bit of luck.

The sound design is a large character of the film. Was that always your intention? And how did you come up with the idea of a deeper mysterious tone than a high pitch scream?

The strange, pained ‘moo’ came very early on. I had a mockup of it that I would play on-set in each location, reminding our actors that this was a background noise that would force them to raise their voices – it was ever-present.

It really took on shape when Tom Jenkins came onboard. He nailed the low scream – taking our reference and running with it – and created the whole atmosphere. Sound is a huge aspect of filmmaking for me, and somewhere where I think it’s crucial to experiment: what feels right isn’t always what makes sense on paper. But really, I did very little, apart from stroke Tom’s dog and eat biscuits while he crafted the sense of dread in real-time.

Steven Mackintosh and Louis Bhose

You were a session musician for bands after you left school until you started directing music videos – your first video being for the band you played in for three years Bombay Bicycle Club. Now you’ve segued into making narrative films. What’s next?

I was very lucky to play with some very talented bands and artists. Live music is such a wonderful place to work – you get to travel, play shows, and foster a sense of family unlike anything else I’ve experienced. I never really planned on being a director – I really wanted to be the greatest bass player of all time – but after a few years of spending every day off getting excited by films and the idea of filmmaking, I guess it couldn’t just be a hobby anymore.

In future, I’d hope to keep making narrative work. We’ve recently finished up a new short – ‘The Cost of Hugging’ – that was as eye-opening as the first one. But with short films, there’s always the big, pound-shaped elephant in the room: more often than not, you need money to make your film. And while it’s entirely possible to make a film for no money whatsoever, it’s really hard to fund shorts. So it might take me another few years to find that cash – but I’ll keep making shorts. And, if anyone wants to read longer-form ideas from an unrepped director, my cup runneth over.


And finally, I should ask this, how important have producers been in developing your career?

It’s an interesting question to finish on. I’m someone that leans heavily on producers – be they EPs or production assistants. I need ideas knocked into shape, and a fair bit of hand-holding.

I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by extremely talented producers as my career’s got going – Katie Lambert, Hayley Williams, Precious Mahaga, Scarlett Barclay, Ynez Myers – all of whom I’ve leant on creatively. It would be interesting and illuminating for people to see the scrappy whatsapp-based ideas before they were poked at and developed by producers.

Maybe most crucially for me, and this is perhaps a hangover from working in live music, but I’m someone that needs to feel like they’re part of a team. Like it’s not just you, cycling alone on a tiny bike in a big scary forest. In the darkest moments – two hours behind, losing light, dehydrated, wondering why you ever embarked on this piece of shit – your producers are the ones who will save you. Listen to them and trust them. 

Louis on set




Louis Bhose website

Agile Films website



Written & Directed by Louis Bhose

Produced by Hayley Williams



Associate Producer: Freddie Barrass 

Executive Producer: Myles Payne 

Executive Producer: David Staniland


Director Of Photography: Murren Tullett 

1st Assistant Director: Freddie Barrass 

Editor: Jack Williams

Sound Design: Tom Jenkins

Colourist: Matthieu Toullet


Casting: Martin Ware


Art Director: Dale Lerwill

Edit Producer: Dan Breheny

Colour Producer: Leianna Campbell 

VFX: Chris Dunleavy

Conform: Stefan Issberner

Titles: Thomas Ormonde

French Subs – Florence Bhose-Lafon

Steadicam Op: Tim Hood

Gaffer: Carlo Mcdonnell

Focus Puller: George Barnes

Clapper Loader: Gerard Donnelly

Grip: Glynn Harrison

Sound Recordist: Guillaume Beauron 

Costume & Stylist: Laura Henderson 

Hair Stylist: Teresa Doherty

Make-Up Artist: Frances Mullan

Script Supervisor: Ciaran Mcglinchley 

Runner: Ellen Harte

Catering: Body Fuel



Gordon: Steven Mackintosh 

Niamh: Liz Fitzgibbon

Barry: Philip O’Sullivan

Kevin: Gerry O’Brien

Bartender: Deirdre Niclochlainn 

Guard: JC Bonar

Farmer: Seamus Carr 

Farmer: Miriam Murphy 

Farmer: Aaron O'Neill