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In Conversation with Max Mir, Director of 'Walking Fernando'

Max Mir is an award-winning director who has recently moved to London. I met with him to discuss his latest film, his chance encounter with Javier Bardem, and what it’s like to work in the creative industry.

 

Walking Fernando recently premiered at Cinequest Film & VR Festival, an Academy Award-qualifying festival held in the United States. It tells the story of a travel agent who feels trapped by her monotonous 9 to 5. An uncanny encounter encourages her to break free from this humdrum routine—more specifically, an encounter with a talking goldfish.

 

The surprises don’t stop there: the goldfish is voiced by Javier Bardem, who recently portrayed Stilgar in Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Having appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and The Little Mermaid (2023), Javier is no stranger to the dangers of the sea. It is interesting, then, to see him play the role of a goldfish who yearns to escape the safety of his fishbowl.

 

Max Mir, the Director of Walking Fernando, states that the goldfish came into existence through a spur-of-the-moment decision. According to Max, the concept behind the film came about when he was in film school: while pitching a movie concept on stage, he noticed a lack of engagement from the crowd. “I was getting really, really nervous,” he recalls. “So I have no way of explaining why this happened—but, just sort of as a self-defence mechanism—my brain went 'and there’s a speaking goldfish!'"

 

After saying this aloud, he noticed the growing enthusiasm of his audience. “I remember people texting me afterwards, saying ‘Hey, where were you after the pitch? I wanted to talk to you about your project. The goldfish thing sounds really cool.’ So everybody was talking about how cool the goldfish thing sounded—and not how good the story was, 'cause the story sucked,” he laughs. In reaction to this, Max created a brand new plotline which revolved around the imaginary goldfish that had captured everyone’s hearts.

 

I asked him if he had a clear picture of how he wanted to visualize this concept, or whether he took a lot of suggestions from colleagues. Though Max has many ideas of his own, he likes to facilitate open communication between himself and the actors on set. He mentions how he was open to the actors making adjustments to their characters’ personalities, such as Evan Sokol’s choice to deliver his lines with extra flair. “In my original conception, [Evan’s character, the office manager] was very cliché,” he says. “What Evan brought to the table was really interesting.”


Since we’re on the topic of actors, I asked Max about how Javier Bardem became a part of this project. He tells me that it all began with a serendipitous meeting in Madrid: “We went to a bar, and he was there with Penelope [Cruz]. I remember telling my dad, like, ‘Please, can we go say hello?’ It was really exciting,” he recounts. After introducing himself to the actor and mentioning his future aspirations, Max receives the opportunity of a lifetime: “[Javier] said, ‘Oh my God, in that case, I have to show up in your grad film.'" And just like that, he had exchanged phone numbers with the actor.

 

Though Max wasn’t able to get Javier on board for his undergraduate projects, he decided to try his luck one more time; and that made all the difference. Max tells me that Javier responded positively to the concept of Walking Fernando, though he wasn’t fully convinced. During their first business call, the actor requested to see Max’s previous work before committing to the project. Fortunately for Max, his short film received Javier’s stamp of approval: “[Javier] hangs up; three minutes later, he sends me a voice note saying [he] loved it,” Max says. So if you needed a sign to ‘shoot your shot,’ this is definitely the sign you’ve been waiting for.

 

After filming numerous scenes and going through the post-production process, Max thought he had the final edit of Walking Fernando. Things took a turn after someone who had worked for Sundance Film Festival advised him to cut multiple scenes from the final edit. “Oh my God, he destroyed the film—but he had really good reasons, and in the end, it’s such a better film now,” Max admits. Now that the project is completely wrapped up, I ask Max why university students should watch the film. He notes that “it’s a story about wellbeing [and] work-life balance,” two things that students (myself included) tend to throw out the window during exam season. It seems that Walking Fernando will also resonate with those of us who need a reminder that there’s more to life than we think: “[The main character and the goldfish] form an unlikely friendship that makes them aware of the bad things in their lives, and from that point, they reconsider what the next steps going forward are,” Max says.

 

Max seems to know quite a lot about student life—and he also seems to know a lot about film—so, almost inevitably, I ask if he has any tips for young people who want to break into the film industry. According to Max, you should try sending emails directly to a company’s Head of Production—though it’s unlikely for the company website to share their Head of Production’s email address, so you’ll have to embrace your inner Sherlock and do some sleuthing. You’ll need to find their full name, and you’ll need to be familiar with the format of employees’ email addresses. For instance, you can try guessing the email address of a King’s Staff member by typing their full name followed by ‘@kcl.ac.uk.’ Though this may sound like a lot of work, Max would argue that it’s worth your time. “That’s how I’ve been getting Heads of Production to reply to me,” he declares. “The other day, I actually went to a person’s company to meet them.”

 

Max seems to know a thing or two about networking, and there’s no doubt that he’s passionate about his craft. Now that London has become his base of operations, it’ll only be a matter of time until he makes his mark on the city.


Max posts regular updates about his work on Instagram. You can also view Max's past projects on his website.

 

Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor

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