Tom Hughes and Russell Owen Discuss Horror-Thriller Shepherd

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Eric Black tries to escape his past by working as a shepherd and moving to a desolate island in Scotland. He stays in an old rundown cabin with his dog, Baxter, while being haunted by memories of his dead wife. What begins as an internal struggle spirals into his external world. “It’s just us here.” He tries to reassure Baxter, although truthfully he’s trying to convince himself. The next morning Baxter goes missing; Black is not alone.

Shepherd stars Tom Hughes, Kate Dickie, with Gaia Weiss, and Greta Scacchi. It’s a production of Saban Films, written and directed by Russell Owen. Shepherd will be in Theaters on May 6 and available On Demand and Digital on May 10.

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Anticipating Shepherd’s release, Owen and Hughes chatted with Movieweb about what inspired the film and how its setting ties into the narrative.

Russell Owen’s Inspiration for Shepherd

Owen first drafted the film back in 2005 and shelved it for years, which he spent as a storyboard and concept artist, working for directors on TV commercials and films. He was eventually directing commercials when a producer spotted him. They agreed that if Owen directed a film for free, the producer would finance Shepherd.

“I remember putting it off for a couple of years before I met the producers and started making films with them. I pulled it off the shelf because a friend of mine had passed away. He had suffered from depression and had spoken to me about it a lot before, and I integrated a lot of his experiences, and the way he would describe it, into Eric’s character.” Said Owen. “I dedicated the film to him in the end. He informed a lot of the story.”


Owen relayed this sentiment to Hughes, who plays Black in the film. “I felt it was done with a sensitivity that you don’t always necessarily see in genre pieces. So, that got me very excited and emotionally connected to it. Then I started thinking about the practicalities of filming it and that it’d be on an island, being on my own and having to try and convey all of this story with none of the usual things you have like other actors and dialogue, and probably naively,” joked Hughes, “I thought, well, that’s the challenge for me!”

A challenge that was well accepted as Hughes turns in a remarkable performance. Viewers really do escape into his world, as I was often vicariously checking over my shoulder as though I too was the character on the island.


“I had something [the script] that felt very honestly depicted, particularly when I read it, it felt there was a delicacy to the mapping out of Eric’s transition through the film… that’s the thing I usually reach for. And then I also would get to explore this genre… it was very thrilling for me because it was almost like learning the genre from the inside out. In choosing parts, it’s the same three things. It’s the writing, you know, does the story resonate with me? Do I think it’s well mapped out? Do I believe in it? Does it take me somewhere? And then it’s the director. What are they like? Can they challenge me?” Said Hughes, commenting on what it was about the project that spoke to him.

Related: Exclusive: Theo Rossi Shares his Thoughts on Reprising Roles

Shepherd Takes Place on a Desolate Scottish Island

We see Hughes’ character spend almost the entirety of the film descending into madness while staying in the small and rundown cabin. Viewers get a sense that there’s something more to the place than is initially let off and more dauntingly, that there’s no escaping.

“The whole film is about atmosphere… It’s about somebody’s depression and state of mind, and it’s a decaying state of mind, so you’ve got to visually show that. I think people watch films to escape and to go into somebody else’s world, and the biggest challenge filming this was we wanted to go somewhere where people hadn’t filmed before… that landscape was ideal. It’s a character in the film.” Explained Owen. Even accessing the location proved to be a challenge as they had to go down roads and over bridges that they couldn’t drive trucks over. He added, “It really had a presence. It was majestic and amazing, but it was terrifying at the same time.”


Hughes added, “The outside setting, the island itself becoming a character and almost becoming the embodiment of his internal world, that aided and fueled me.”

Owen commented that he also has several other stories of a similar essence and that he loves exploring the psychology of a main character, which oftentimes results in attracting great actors to roles. “I think Shepherd as from script to screen, it’s exactly the film that I wanted to make, and I didn’t compromise… It’s been an amazing process for me.”


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