Can he see himself making a more commercial film at some stage? “I'm interested in making a movie that lots of people will see, yes,” he says. “But there are so few that are made by Hollywood that interest me at all. And it's difficult for me to see myself making anything on the terms that exist now. But it's not impossible. I didn't love the movie, but I'm glad 'Argo' won Best Picture, because I think at least they'll try a few other things in a similar vein. I wouldn't mind doing something like that.”

A keen soccer enthusiast, Hartigan describes his dream commercial project as being an “All the President's Men”-style thriller about match-fixing scandals in the World Cup. It's a long way from the world of “This is Martin Bonner,” but he cites David Gordon Green – an earlier graduate of Hartigan's alma mater, the North Carolina School of the Arts – as an example of someone unafraid to subvert expectations.

Indeed, Hartigan mentions Green's acclaimed 2000 debut “George Washington” as a film that was held up as a kind of aesthetic model to Hartigan and his fellow North Carolina students, who included Aaron Katz and Zach Clark. “It's the kind of artistic, strange, regional film that we were all encouraged to strive for. It's a very interesting movie. But being away from everything in this tiny town in North Carolina, you kind of have no choice but to kind of develop your own style, do your own things.”

That post-graduate discovery process, of course, led Hartigan straight to Los Angeles and, eventually, into the unlikely sideroad of box-office analysis – via a Craigslist ad. “I did what film school sort of teaches you to do: get a job as a PA and work your way up in the industry. But I hated being a PA. I hate working on sets if I'm not in a creative position. So I very quickly figured out that that's not going to be my route.

“I loved the box office stuff for a while because it was interesting. It's fun, and it's not hard. But all these companies were started before the internet, letting you know information which is now readily available. So there's another reason why I couldn't stay there forever. I worked there for five years until I quit. By the end of it, though, I was so burnt out from the depressing box office figures that every Monday kind of bummed me out.”

He tries, however, to keep his inner industry analyst separate from his identity as a filmmaker. “It would be detrimental to the products if I thought about the practical sides of things too early. I try to, as much as I can, make the movie only for me. Once it's near completion, then I start to worry about how it will be received, how to get it best received. It takes so long to make a film that by the time it's out, that bit of zeitgeist has moved on and nobody cares about whatever you thought people cared about.”

For now, he's happy to see “This is Martin Bonner” playing to theatrical audiences at all. “I think this is probably my last chance to ever have a movie play in a theater, unless I make a huge movie,” he says matter-of-factly. “I have been predicting for a while now that there's just no place for small movies in theaters in the very near future, unless something radically different comes along. I'll happily embrace VOD. So be it. But I did want to try and sneak this one in.”

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Guy Lodge is a South African-born critic and sometime screenwriter. In addition to his work at In Contention, he is a freelance contributor to Variety, Time Out, Empire and The Guardian. He lives well beyond his means in London.