Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The celluloid journey and the 9 to 5.

I'm currently in California, working at Apple. I'm thrilled. Truly. It's a great job, with great people. I get to do something I like for a company I've long respected and admired and believe in. And I can provide for my family. And that's what I'm doing now. So for the next while I won't be actively working on any projects.

I would like to make another film someday. But I'm not in the rush I was. And right now, I don't know what kind of film I want to make anyway. Before it was the hunger of wanting to get a film made that drove me, which probably wasn't a good thing. It was the film over the story. And it should always be the other way around. So right now, I don't have a story I want to tell. I have a ton of scripts, a few I like, some I've been working on for years, but I'm not hungry to make any of them anymore.

I'm happy not to think about it for a while. I'm sure I'll make another film someday. But I'm not making films at the moment. I'm not actively working on a project or seeking to work on a project. And I doubt I will be for some time, unless a story grabs me, and won't let go. Until then I won't be posting here. The blog will still be up, until such a time as I pick it up again. But I don't want to be posting random bullshit, or stretching for half interesting non subjects! I'd rather wait till the journey continues, until there's something to post about.

So, until next time, thank you once again for reading and following over the last ten years or so. Maybe I'll see you further on down the line. For now, it's the 9 to 5 for me, and that's OK.

Slán agus Beannacht.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Dole Day

I wrote this a couple of months before I left Ireland. I had actually forgotten all about it, just came across it as I was cleaning out my hard drive. I guess it sums up a lot of why I left Ireland. You can see a lot of stuff is annoying me, but over all I think it was a feeling of being trapped, held down and held back. Living in Ireland was constantly frustrating. This day summed it up, Dole Day...

By Frank Kelly

I zip up my coat. Throw my bag over my shoulder. Put on my hat. Tell my wife and daughter I love them and that I’ll see them in an hour or so. I’m off out to collect my dole. A weekly trip that allows me some time to walk, think and if the que allows, grab a coffee and maybe read a magazine or write in my notebook.
I close the door. Easy for most. Not on my falling down house. We’ve been trying to get this door replaced for five years, my grandmother for five years before that. Ten years in all. A decade. It’s a council house you see. And the council don’t like to stretch themselves. Oh, they’ll be fairly lively if you fall a week behind in your rent. But it takes them ten years to do one of the three things they agree to do in the tenancy agreement. 
So our front door is in poor condition. It swells with every degree in temperature. Making in nearly impossible to open or close. In our attempts to slam the door shut one day the knocker fell off. So now I have to hook it back in through the fixture to close it. It’s a hassle every time and makes leaving the house a chore. I don’t know how many minutes, hours, of my life the council owe me, but I’m sure it wont be put into consideration when tallying up the back rent owed.
I walk up the hill. Up the slimey muddy hill. Covered in mud from the careless motorist who drive down the footpath, ripping up the green and leaving a trail behind them like some giant rude snail I wish I could squish. I walk passed the row of houses. As falling down as my own. Where two young mothers stand and smoke and gossip. I pass hundreds upon hundred of soggy cigarette butts lying strewn about the place because they treat our street like their own personal ashtray. Makes me glad I’m moving in a few months. Makes me think it couldn’t come sooner. It was a nice street in my grandmother’s day. She wouldn’t stand for this. I’m just tired of it. And I’d rather sleep than argue.
I get to the top of the hill. Admire the brief view across the valley to the houses on the other side of town, and then turn. I pass the butcher’s that only opens on odd days. Face the bedsit where a drug dealer hung himself last year. A house made from the alley between two other houses by a money grabbing landlord, currently in the process of renovating it as cheaply as possible. 
I stand and wait for the traffic to break. Motorist don’t stop here. They’ll speed up to get ahead of you. It’s a dangerous place to cross. A woman was killed here a few months, crossing with her shopping, walking home with her dinner, mowed down by a speeding motorist who wanted to get ahead, get there five seconds faster. One life taken. One life ruined. Nether of them got to where they were going, never will. My grandmother was hit by a car on this street. Left paralised from the waist down. Still the motorists speed by. Obviously to the fact that their driving a ton of motorised steel. That if they glanced me they would tear me apart. Makes me glad I never learned to drive. Make me glad I’m not one of them.
I eventually get across. I pass the chinese takeaway. The owners live in the appartment attached. The drainage pipe to their sink flows onto the path. I resent having to skip over their dirty dishwater. I recent that they don’t take in their bins that block the foot path. I resent that their delivery people always park on the footptath making it impossible to get by. I resent their half sized car-park carved out of a lost garden, means that cars hang out onto the footpath and block passage. But they do make nice curry.
Down Palace street. The land of doggy dodo. Like Elephants going to the Elephant graveyard to die, dogs pilgrimage to Palace street to shit. It’s unbelieveable. But there are dogs on this street that I like. A friendly golden lab who comes to his gate everyday to say hello. His friend, a king charles, who stays at the door, but bows a respectful nod. An old dog we call Seamus, who’s owner is caretaker at the school down there. He sits on the steps and waits for him everyday. Though I don’t think his owner is very nice to him. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen old Seamus in a long time. Maybe he’s gone on holiday.
I cut across William St. It’s changed quite a bit since I was a kid. There was a shopping centre built on it at the end of the boom. Nice place. Mostly empty. Makes for a handy short cut, if not a somewhat expensive one for whoever built it. 
I exit onto Laurence st. I’m on town now. It’s bustling. Everyone’s out. It’s dole day. Possible children’s allowance day too. I hope not. Doubles the que. I pass familiar faces. Say hello. Nod across the street at acquaintences. Weaving through convoys of strollers and miandering toddlers. Pass the coffee shop at the bottom of the street where my wife worked for a year and a half. 
I cross the new pedestrian crossing, another game of cat and mouse for pedestrains and motorists. Blasse motorists glide through, oblivious. The amount of times I’ve seen people almost hit. I know some have been. I’d love to see those drivers caught. A cop in the right place at the right time… Oh wait here’s one, driving with one hand on the wheel while talking on the phone and doing exactly the same thing. Hopeless.
West st. is the main street. Bustling. Always. Bad buskers here and there. A girl with a weak voice, drowned out by everything. A college kid with his mates banging out bad covers of bad songs. An booze hound with a soleful voice singing ‘My Girl’ for the price of his next pint.
Scumbags and drug dealers. Little maggots skiding BMX bikes. Mothers with screaming kids. Aul fellas and their walking sticks. Aul one’s and their bus passes. St. Peter cathedral and bus full of tourist in to see The Head. Yes, we have the severed head of a saint in our main church. Life’s bunting clattering in the breeze.
I cross the street again to the post office. Good, the que isn’t too bad. I shouldn’t be long. A man in his sixties talks about finding work in Poland, how he’s leaving for three months, has to go to where the work is. Don’t we all. How times have change. A younger man. Tatoos. Shadows under his sunken eyes and a deep scar on his slack jaw. Fresh payment. For what? Who knows? Who cares? Nothing to do with me.
I hope I don’t get her.  I do. I pass my card through. She scans it. I sign the receipt. Then pass my rent card through and my bills. €70 on the rent. €80 on the bills. She’s always very pleasant when I come in on normal post business, sending packages, buying stamps. But when I come in to collect my dole she’s different. Cold. Rude. She doesn’t look up. Doesn’t make eye contact. Doesn’t smile. 
I want to shout, ‘Hey, look at me. I’m not a free loader, I’d rather by working, in fact, I do work, I write, I make films, I wish I could make pay, some day soon I hope to, until then I will work at it. Everyday all day. I won’t, I don’t, rest. When you clock out at 5pm I’ll still be working. When you have your dinner at 6pm I’ll still be working. When you sit down to watch your evenings TV I’ll still be working. When you go to bed, fall asleep, drift into dream, guess what? I’ll be up, at 2am, working and then up again at 8am when my 3 year-old daughter wakes me. I’m not a free loader. But go ahead, shun me, scorn me, think ill of me if it make you feel better. But I bet it doesn’t. Look up and smile at me. That might.’ But no. You won’t. You don’t.
Humilaition done for the day I head to the bank. €40 on a loan there. Then to the credit union €50 on another loan there. Leaves me with about €20 for the rest of the week. I feel the sting of panic. A rush of hot blood to the head. But I know I’ll get through. My wife buys the food. We wont starve. We don’t go out. We don’t go to the movies or even rent movies that much anymore. We’re not extravagent in anyway. Can’t afford to be. So we’ll muddle through. Till September. When we move.  I try to figure out how I’m going to afford to immigrate with my entire family with €20 a week after everything’s paid. But somehow, I will, somehow, I must.
Heading for home. I take a different route. Up and up peter st. I stop off in the St. Vincent de Paul nic-nac shop to see if I can pick up a little something for my daughter. I bought the entire Disney classics collection for less than a tenner on VHS in there. They look fine. She doesn’t know the difference. We’ve been enjoying them together in the unemployed afternoons. I’ll say one good thing for being unemployed, I’ve got to spend everyday with my daughter since she was born. I would never trade that. Not for the largest salary in the country.
I find some paper sleeved TV shows, The Wind in the Willows, maybe they’re more for me. Nostalgia lifted them from the shelf and happily paid the 20¢ a disc. Home again home again top of the hill. It’s sunnier now. I can see out to Monasterboice, and the rolling hills where the rain clouds still hang. I can see the hospital where I was born, the chruch where I was christained, the school where I drifted in and out of daydreams. And in front of me, my house, once my grand parents house, where I spent much of my childhood. My life in four walls. My life as far as the eye can see. All around me. The walls of the old jail soaking up every moment to preserve in memory, incase I forget.

The door opens and Georgie, our border collie, bolts toward me. They tell you dogs don’t smile. But dogs do smile. She circles the green. I like to see her run. Border collies should run. My wife smiles up at me. I hear my daughter’s tiny voice ring like a bell “Daddy, daddy, daddy,” and I meet her at the end of the path. She throws her arms around my neck and I pick her up. “I love you,” she says, “I love you too,” I say, “I love you three,” her newest joke, she cracks up. I laugh, my heart swells. I kiss her cheek. I kiss my wife. Place my hand on her growing tummy, our son inside, and say hello to bump. I call my dog. We all go inside. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


I reckon I'll be doing a bit of blogging from the road next week, so just wanted to test the blogger app. Nothing to see here, move along.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Manifest Destiny Time!

I've been meaning write a blog for a while now, seldom have time these days between the job and the kids (currently running around having tantrums behind me... I may not get to finish this right now) but I shall try today. Lot on my mind these days too. Life's journey has taken some curious turns of late. I'm not really sure what the next step will bring. Tomorrow I go back to work for my final 4 days. I put in my notice last week. Finally. Once finished we pack up the car and drive across the country to our new home in Seattle. 

We had been thinking about moving for several months, researching town and city after town and city, until we finally arrived at Seattle, and it just struck a chord with us, so we decided to go for it. It's a huge leap of faith, I've never been there, Maryann (my wife) has only been there once and as a child. We don't have much money, about enough to get us there, we have no jobs to go to and no place of our own. We'll be staying with friends until we get set up. I never really wanted to be in this situation, or to put our family on someone like this, you know, arrive in someone's home, two adults, two wild kids and a dog. But this is our window of opportunity, a chance to make a change and break free of the last year, and it's only because of the generosity of these people that we can do it. So we're doing it.

All trepidation aside, it feels exciting, like we're moving on to something better. I think this is how it should have felt when we left Ireland. But that was such an emotional wrench, there was nothing exciting about it. Then we landed here in Indianapolis, and pretty soon it started to shape up be to like nothing what we wanted, and that's how the year went. It was a struggle, we felt isolated, we were depressed, frustrated, lonely, homesick. Then came hardest Winter I've ever been through (The hardest Winter on record in Indiana, just incase you think I'm being soft!). We had trouble with medical insurance. We fought more than we had in the previous 6 years. There was fear, doubt, regret. Basically every bad emotion you can think of became our daily routine. It was exhausting and most of the time I felt like giving up and going home. But that wasn't really an option. We had given everything up back in Ireland. We left our house. We had sold most of our belongings. We would be going back to nothing. We'd be starting from scratch after a very expensive, really crappy holiday!

When I got the job it came as a huge relief, we had an income. It took away a huge amount of stress. But soon the job just added to the stress. Yes, it paid the bills, just about. But the hours were long. The over-time was outrageous and unpaid. I had the worst boss I've ever come across, a truly unhinged and vindictive individual, who nobody liked (soon to immortalised in a script... that's the trouble with pissing off writers! Fair warning). I worked nights, slept days and saw my family less and less, never saw friends, my days off were in the middle of the week, when everyone else was working. So after a couple of months of this we decided it was time to move on. 

Something else the job did was remove all time for being creative and writing. Over the year I frantically tried to get something going, get writing, find ways I could get another film made, I think I recorded about ten kickstarter pitch videos for various projects, only for reality to tap me on the shoulder and say "What about the rent, the bills, your medical insurance. You can't be making films silly man!" And ideas would be chased away. I think the biggest thing to for me to come to terms with was not having the freedom anymore to get a project up and running. In Ireland I could. It would be hard work, but it could be done. Here, it feels like it's less of an option. I'd like to able to make my living from film, for that to pay the bills. But I just don't see how that can happen. Film has never paid me. I've never done it for money of course. I've done it for the love of it. But after a while, with a wife and two kids, you realise Love doesn't pay the bills. The currency of this mad world is cold hard cash. And as one opportunity after another slips away, you begin to wonder if there are many more left.

I still want to make films of course, I haven't given up on the dream. I hope I never reach the point where I do. I'm just trying to figure out how I can survive and still make films. Maybe I can only make the odd short film. Maybe I'll have to work, save, and make a feature film every two or three years, something small, that only takes a couple of weeks to shoot with a small cast and crew. I don't know. Even that seems way out of reach at the moment. But we're in flux again right now. I'm surround by packing boxes and thinking about getting set up in a new town. It'll be months before I can even think about all this again, and who knows what will happen then. Maybe some new opportunities, new ideas, new inspiration from a new town. God knows Indianapolis has provided me with enough material for a long time to come.

I had started looking at making 'Float' into a film, I even announced it would be my next film, but then I started getting quotes from people and the budget start going up and up and up... and I thought, there's no way I can get that kind of money now! I'm a nobody, nobody saw my last film, so who's going to give me $1,000,000 for this?!?! So I started looking at a more personal, smaller project, 'Pipe Dream', the story of how I built a half pipe at the side of my house back in the 80s, getting back to 'Emily's Song' territory. But that's set in Ireland, and I'm moving west! I haven't given up on either of them, they've just been push further back. I still want to make Float, but that might be three films away, 5 years away. I would love to make 'Pipe Dream', but how to I get to a point where I can raise enough money to make the film and then leave my family here for a month while I go back to Ireland to shoot it?! If reality taps me on the shoulder again, I'll break it's finger.

I've been talking to my wife about an Irish Film Society since we landed here last year. I wanted to get one going here, but never found the time. As part of that I'd like to set up a mentorship programme to encourage filmmakers, not just young filmmakers, but discouraged filmmakers, that 40 year-old who's been slogging it out for 20 years and is on the verge of giving up. Finding them, bringing them over here, for a week of film, education and encouragement, to reinvigorate them and inspire them, then lead them into a mentorship programme that guides them through a production. And sending American filmmakers to Ireland, to experience Cinema from a different perceptive, to work with Irish directors and actors. It's been on the cards for a while, so hopefully there's something there, some interest and support (finance!)

I guess I'll see what Seattle brings and where we are in a few months. I think I just need a solid surface to pitch from. I don't have that at the moment, so everything else is uncertain. I need a base! And a place me and my family can put down routes. You know, I really do wish it had worked out here for us, that we felt at home here. I really don't want to be moving all over again! When you've moved around the world, the last thing you want to do is move across a continent so soon! And their are so many great people here. People gave their time, encouragement, furniture and even money to help us get set up. I'll be forever grateful to them. And we really hope we're not offending them in someway by leaving, like we took what we could get and then bogged off somewhere else! It's not like that. It just didn't click for us here. It hasn't felt like home for us, and we realised after a while, it never would. I really don't know if it's going to be any better for us in Seattle, but we have to try. I moved to this country to give my kids a better life, and I'm going to keep moving until I do find it. So on we go, westward.

Our Route - 2300 Miles, 5 days, through 9 States, in a mini-van, with 2 kids under 5 and a dog!!!

Sunday, September 07, 2014


Here's a random post about feet. As I sit and write this my feet are itching like crazy. The skin in cracked and sore and I have water blisters on them. Gross, I know! They're not too bad really, just really really friggin itchy!!! I used to have great feet. Smooth skin, good shape, I was proud of my feet, I even thought at one time of becoming a foot model (not really). Then I made Derelict and my foot model career ended before it had even begun.

We spent 7 days in a dark, dank, dusty warehouse. I wore an old pair of Asics Gel, because the only other pair of shoes I had were leather boots with a heal that made a lot of noise, and I had to be able to run after the camera without making noise. They were long days. I was on my feet for 14 to 18 hours a day. And my feet got ruined.

By the end of the shoot they looked like they had been dipped in acid, the skin was so bad. I don't know what happened, or how it happened so quickly, but they got destroyed. It took about 6 months for them to recover, and for the cracking to heal. But they have never been the same. I really don't know what I did to them. But I guess the moral is, look after your feet. Invest in a good pair of shoes before you go on a shoot. And rest them, take breaks at work, get a directors chair! Bathe them in water when you get home. Moisturise!

Might sound crazy, might sound like more trouble than it's worth, but your feet are two of the most important tools you'll need on a film set, no point ruining them. And trust me, you don't want cracked itchy feet, they will drive you nuts! Sometimes my little toe gets so itchy my visual image of relief is to take a chisel and hammer it off!!! So, yeah, look after you feet.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

More Soon.

You may have guessed from the lack of activity over the last couple of months, the journey has stalled. I set about pricing 'Float', and as the quotations came back the budget soared toward the Million Plus mark. I began to realise that perhaps this particular film was outside of my reach for now. But that's OK. The script still needs work, and there is a lot of planning to do. So I'd rather give it the time it needs. I haven't given up on it. But it looks like it won't be my next film after all.

Instead I've turned my attention to a much more personal story, and something that's in a much lower budget range! I'm not going to say anymore than that for now because life is so busy at the moment. So even that project is on hold! Though plans are afoot and I have started putting some things in place.

It's hard remaining creative and making plans when life is in such flux, as it has been to for past two years for me and my family. And looks like it will continue to be for the next little while. But hopefully not for much longer. Hopefully soon I can start putting down roots, and have a firm footing to start working again.

Please keep watching this space. I haven't stopped. I haven't given up. I'm still writing, thinking, planning. And hopefully soon, I'll start DOING again!

What a strange year it has been. More soon.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Final Thread

When Crowdfunding blew up with Kickstarter back in 2009 I got very excited, I thought, Finally! A way to make my films. And I became truly inspired very quickly. 140 came out of that. Without Kickstarter and this new doorway, 140 wouldn't have happened. So, 140 became on of the early kickstarter project, back when it was small, back when the 5 people working there would drop me a line, and would make it project of the week. Now look at kickstarter, it just hit $1billion in pledges!!! Incredible. But what happens then is you feel a little left behind, a little small and for the last couple of years, especially after making Derelict and it not doing very well, I've felt very despondent and cast adrift as a filmmaker, storyteller and artist. It's made me wonder if I have anything worthwhile to say or anything good to add to the world.

I can't tell you the amount of times over the past two years I've sat down and recorded a kickstarter pledge video for one project or another. Sometimes it's something brand new that I'm really excited about, other times it's older favourite projects I've been carrying with me. I recorded a video two days ago in fact, but like all the other's, I deleted it right after. I've lost faith in myself. That just the truth of it. I don't know how to make films anymore. Which is why I haven't made one in a couple of years. I don't know that I ever did know, but I had enough belief in myself, enough tenacity and enough 'movie fan' in me to push through the doubt and get something done.

These days I see a lot of the people who were involved in 140, some first time filmmakers at the time, go on and do great things, far surpass me in their pursuit of a career in film. And yes, there is a little bit of jealousy there, I wont lie! But can you blame me?! I've been harbouring this hunger since I was nine years old and as others with less experience succeed and I continue to fail, it's a hard pill to swallow. BUT, at the end of the day, I'm truly excited for these people and I wish them only the best, which is why you'll always see me excited about their kickstarter projects and posting about them.

The flip side of Kickstarter became the deluge of people trying to get funding, and like many of you I'm sure you find your facebook feed filled with people asking for support, and after a while it just becomes noise, you don't know where to look. For a while I wondered if crowdfunding has lost it's value, and that excitement it began with, and has just become an annoyance to be ignored. I thought that for a while. I thought crowdfunding was dead. It wouldn't last. And again, when recording those videos that thought, along with the doubt, popped into my head and I just didn't see a point. Plus the fact that you get critics, I remember being stopped in a line at the post office by a friend, who asked me what I was thinking by putting up a crowdfunding drive for a film right before christmas! I've been called a beggar in my local newspaper! It all goes in and only serves to stop me doing what it is I want to do.

But the thing is patronage has been around as long as art has. Would the Sistine Chapel exist without a patron? And crowdfunding has existed for a long time, as Yancey Strickler, CEO of Kickstarter, says in this video, Alexander Pope crowdfunded the translation of The Iliad into English! So I do think it's valid and I don't see it as begging. It's on Opt-In opportunity to support. And the people that give to these project, aren't grumpy arseholes who just like to gripe, they're passionate supporters of the arts who want to see good people do good things and contribute to a better form of art.

What's sad is, a lot of the people I see gripe about crowdfunding are exactly the type of people who could benefit from it, people who've struggled to get their work made, who, like me, have faced rejection after rejection from the likes of the Irish Film Board, and others, and who have been criticized for just wanting to create film, or art. We live in a society of contradictions, it's not acceptable to build a career in any art form, you have to GET A JAWB, get health insurance, buy a min-van and drive the kids to soccer practice, to FIT IN. But at the same time, these philistines demand entertainment. WHO DO YOU THINK MAKES THIS STUFF??? Elves?!

I'm going off on a bit of a tangent. But it's all this stuff that's stopped me from making films. Admittedly I've had a hectic year, new baby, immigrating, but even since landing here, a place where dreams are suppose to happen, the land of hope and opportunity, I've felt less hopefully and seen less opportunity than ever to continue making films. And again, just like two days ago, when I feel that urge, that bright spark lighting the darkness, the birth of an idea, that before would grow into a film, it is now instantly extinguished.

I wrote a little blog about wanting to make a western a few weeks ago, right after I hit publish my very next thought was "never gonna happen!" - i mean how the hell am I going to make a western?! Where the fuck is that money going to come from? How am I going to get to a place where I can make a western? What about the practicalities? The kids? The rent? The Bills? Where are we going to live and how am I going to pay for all that while I'm off gallivanting in the desert?! So, end result, give up on that idea. And these days, that's how they all play.

So, I don't know what the answer is. I was once at the forefront of this movement, now I'm lost in the dust. I'm not sure what I'll see when the dust settles. But I feel like it will be a baron land of half build houses amid the ruins of others. That's how I see my career in film, so-called career, one that never really became a career. Now, I know you'll just think I'm moping and depressed and I'm sure you're groaning and thinking "Whatever, get over it," but this is just what's in my head, and what's been in my head for the last two years. So lump it. This blog is about a filmmakers journey, this is where I find myself right now.

Conclusion, I don't have one. Keep working as the night shift in a warehouse. Paying the bills. Getting health insurance. I guess it's how most people live. I guess for some of us, dreams stay dreams until one day you just don't dream anymore. For now though, there's a enough of a shred of hope that keeps me thinking that wont happen, but I'm waiting for the 'ping', the sound of that final thread snapping. Before there was always a way to make a film, right now, I can't see one.

I still have ideas, while in Indianapolis I had an idea about a documentary about the town, from an outsiders point of view, about discovering it from various view points. I want to make another film, a have a story for another crime thriller called '6 Past The hour', Maryann and I talked about writing a TV script based on our immigration, we still mention the Irish Film Society of Indiana from time to time though less and less, and I'd still like to look at doing a community based filmmakers group and mentorship programme for young filmmaker, perhaps a cross atlantic exchange programme with Ireland and specifically Drogheda... so you see, the ideas are still there... but they're behind a giant wall and I don't know how to get them out anymore.

Monday, March 03, 2014

One Thing.

If I learned one thing from directing Derelict (above all other films I've made) it's this:

Until a movie is made it doesn't have a voice. As the Director you are that voice. You must speak for the movie. The movie will tell you what it needs, a thought in your head, a whisper in your ear. You have to listen to it. People will try to shout over that voice. The will want to make their movie. But it's not their movie, the movie belongs to itself and you are the guardian of it until it can speak for itself. Your job as director is to be true to that voice and that vision.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Go West Young Man

I've always wanted to make a Western.

When I was a kid watching Westerns forged much of my love for film. I saw Rio Bravo (above) and El Dorado early on, The Searchers was an early favourite, my Dad introduced me to Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid and Shane. And there were all of Clint's films, Ford's films, Anthony Mann, Howard Hawks, later Peckinpah and many many more. My favourite films in recent years have been western, in my opinion the best two films of the last 20 years have been Open Range and Jesse James (below).

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
When it came to my end of year project in college back in 2000, my degree film, I chose to make a Western. I grabbed samples from Pale Rider and The Outlaw Josey Wales and called it Dark Rider, it was a 3 minute piece, and as with every film I've ever tried to make the "Powers that be" said I was mad and tried to talk me out of making it, and as with every film I've ever mad I ignored them and went and made it anyway.

In that year I watched over 100 Westerns, studied the west, the history, watched documentaries, drew pictures of ghost towns, and really just fell in love with the genre wholly and completely. I also got to know the West, the people, real and fictional, the harsh realties and the romantic side of it. I've always loved that truly unique part of American history, as short lived as it was, it has such potency.

So I want to make a Western. I'm going to make a Western. And just like in my college days I'm sure everyone will now tell me I'm mad, and that no one watches Westerns anymore, there's no money in it, and blah blah blah. Well to hell with those people. I'm not a filmmaker because of the money. If I was, I would have given up 10 years ago. I'm a filmmaker because I love film and I want to tell stories, end of discussion.

So I have an idea, no script yet (hopefully I'll find the time to do that somewhere soon), but the story is there. Right now, its called 'Esperanza' and anyone that want's to help me make it is more that welcome to join me. And damn those who say it can't be done, damn them all to hell!

Ps. Esperanza is the Spanish word for Hope.

Me on the porch of the Meade Hotel in Bannack Montana, writing down some ideas for a Western a few years back.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Far Side of the World.

Here I am. In America. The USA. The US of A. We made it. Intact. Barely. A long trip. Especially with two kids and a dog. Tiring. Stressful. Emotional. A flight into the abyss. Regretting. Doubting. Every step. Every mile. Unsure. Is this the right thing to do? Stepping so far outside our comfort zone at times it felt like being lost in cold dark space. And it's not a nice feeling. Immigrating is hard work. It may be the hardest thing I've ever done. It's tested me on every level of my being. Stripped me bare. Exposed me. Left me raw and ragged and rung out. But we're here. Still here. We made it. We came through it. And we're getting settled. Things are coming together.

It's different. Not what I thought. We've only been gone for two and a half weeks. I've been away from home on holiday for a lot longer than that. But it feels different. It feels bigger. More permanent. I never felt far away from home when I was away before. But now I feel far away. And I feel the tug. It's going to be hard work. There's a long road ahead. Work would be good. That'd be a start. As the days and weeks now go by at speed and money runs out and bills starts to come there's a violent need to find work. I would like to continue making films. I would like if film was related to that work. But is has fallen off the priority list. Survival has pressed pause on creativity.

It's interesting. In the summer before we left we got rid of the TV at home and I talked about how I suddenly had this clarity of thought. I was forming ideas far quicker. Filling my notebooks with fully formed stories and ideas for scripts that were ready to go. Since I arrived I haven't had a single idea for a story or a single thought toward those previous stories. Right now I don't see how I would or could make a film here. But I know that's temporary. I know it will come back. I know I need to do what is right and best and necessary for my family to help us survive, settle and live here.

To that end I have decided to leave behind a lot of the projects I was working on at home. Not all of them. But some I had been hanging onto for years that weren't going anywhere. I want to see what comes. When I do finally settle into my environment what that will bring. I have always found that my stories come from my environment. So I think I need to discover and understand that before I can continue.

I've decided to give Derelict away for free too. I'm fed up of getting rejections from film festivals, distributors and the Irish Film Board. Being told it's not good enough. Being told there's no audience, or no audience would like this. So the hell with all them and to hell with the traditional way to market and to hell with money. It's free. It's yours. Watch it. Share it. Like it. Hate it. It's up to you. It's out there now. In fact IT'S RIGHT HERE!

One last thing, HERE IS the last interview I did with LMFM. It was recorded the day before I left Ireland. I talk about why I chose to leave.

Thanks for reading. More soon.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Back to the Shop

One thing that will stop you from doing the work you need to do to get to where you want and need to be, is paying too much attention to what the other guy is doing. You want to get somewhere in life, you need to put your head down and work. It's all about the work. It has to be about the work, because it's the work that will stand. Not excuses, not what you meant to do. What stands in front of you and your audience is the work.

I think I worry to much about what other people do. I look at the runner ahead of me and then I lose my footing, my confidence, my stride, I wonder if there's a point. There is a point. There's always a point. But so much of it is psychological, being in the right frame of mind. Accept your strengths and weaknesses and do the best you can do. You can only do the best you can do. And the next time, after you've learned a little more, you do a little better. And in time, with experience and persistence, you may find you've got to where you wanted to be. Or, most likely, you've arrived somewhere completely different and it's better than anything you could have imagined. The runner in front is in front because he's put the leg work in. You want to get to where he is, pass him out, put the hours in.

We're humans, we're naturally nosey. We want to peak through the neighbour's curtains and see what they're up to. I mean, is there anything more thrilling than the neighbours having a blistering row?! It's better than a movie! You stop your movie to listen. Some people take it too far of course. Those people are called stalkers and they get in trouble with the law, have restraining orders and sometimes go to prison. But now, in this strange age we live in, we've all been given a free license to be stalkers. It is now socially acceptable to approach someone you may only be acquainted with and relay everything they're are doing in there lives. The first time it happened to me I was shocked, disturbed, worried. I thought, how the hell does this guy know all this about me? I hardly know him, in fact, I don't even know his name! Then is occurred to me. Facebook. I give it all away for free. I've invited them in. And then, part of you needs to feed that, to keep updating, to keep giving. In the future I think you'll find privacy in a museum along side dinosaurs.

On the flip side is the watching. Seeing what everyone is doing. For me, sometimes, if someone gets a little ahead, a little taste of success, there is jealousy. I'll admit it. There's no resentment, generally I'm happy for the person, it's more to do with disappointment in myself and that I haven't achieved that, that I'm not up there. I guess in someways it's a good thing. It's a reminder that I still want it. But it's also detrimental I think. To be bombarded with this running commentary, daily, hourly, minute to minute. I need to live my life. There is enough rejection and failure in this world for artists without having a page, or two, where you can check in daily to feel even more disappointed in yourself.

It is self fulfilling. It's no one's fault but my own. If I didn't look I wouldn't see and I wouldn't get annoyed about it. The carpenter who spends his time looking in the window of the other guy's shop, wondering why he's selling more, is missing the point. Get back to your own shop. Put your head down and carve something.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Our House.

The film post done. Now for the personal one. As time ticks on and our exodus looms ever closer I'm thinking less about film and career and more about memories and family.  I handed in the notice on our house last week, which gives us three weeks left to pack up and move out. No big deal you might think, but this house has been partly my home since I was born. I was brought home from the hospital to this house. Four generations of my family have walked these creaky chip board floors, my grandparents, my parents, me and it's the house I brought my own children home to.

It's funny, when I first moved into this house, after my grandmother was taken into hospital, it was only supposed to be temporary, a few months, a years tops. I had not yet met my wife, but she was just about to call me from half way round the world. I was sitting on a box in the living room, unpacking, when the phone rang. It was Jeff Sparks from the Heartland Film Festival telling me I had won a crystal heart award. Before he hung up he said a Maryann Koopman would be calling soon after to go through details with me.

She did. Little did either of us know but the first time we ever spoke was in the same spot we would, a year later, have our first kiss, it would be the same spot I would put an engagement ring on her finger, the same spot we would lay our first born to rest on her first night home. Everything changed after I moved into this house. I had been in limbo for many years. Moving around. Drifting through a fog. Trying to figure out who I was and where I was going and all that nonsense twentysomethings do. But when I got here, to this house, where I had so many happy memories, everything slowed down, stopped, became quieter and clearer and things began to fall into place. Life, began to take shape.

But I suppose there comes a time when you have to move on, there is no choice. This house was never meant to be where I stayed. When my wife came to live, it wasn't where we wanted to make our home. When my kids were born, it still wasn't. It's their home, yes, but I think it's given us all it can. It has problems, it needs fixing, we can't afford it, the council wont do it, and if we had the money to buy it, we probably wouldn't buy this house I'm sad to say. So we're moving on. That of course is not to say that my memories, my families memories, are not soaked into these walls. And maybe the council will come in next month, after we're gone, and do for a stranger in a week what the would not do for four generations of our family, but it will still be our house. It will always be, Our house.

Just as Drogheda will always be my home. Just as Ireland will always be where I'm from. Just as being Irish will define me as much as my passion for filmmaking and writing. The bones of my dead rest in her soil. My blood is soaked into the pavement here. I've broken my bones out of her tress and on her unforgiving concrete roads. Of late however, those same roads have proven to hard to walk. And given no promise of a destination that would allow me to promise my family the kind of promises a father should be able to make to his children. I want them to have a better chance than our government has set forth.

To that end, I'd like to say, Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore and of course, those who have gone before, Bertie, Biffo and the whole sorry lot, you have stolen my children's future from them. I always thought, growing up, that my children would be Irish, have Irish accents, be soaked in and made of Ireland, but they wont. They will be of Irish heritage yes, they will be Irish, but they'll grow up American. The culture that shapes them will not be the one that shaped me. And, in many ways, they will be different people because of that. But I'm happy for them. I'm excited to see who they become and I will love them regardless, they will be who they are meant to be. But a part of me will always hold melancholy the fact that they could not grow up where I grew up.

Now, the above might make it sound like I'm miserable about moving and that I don't want to. I'm not. I do. I'm excited about this move. I've long had an affinity with the United States. I grew up on American movies and American sitcoms. I was obsessed. I studied American cities in our encyclopedias. I loved American cars. I think I knew the American presidents before I knew the counties of Ireland.  I couldn't wait to get there. As soon as I could, I did, on a J1 visa, back in 98, to San Francisco, and I loved it. Sure, I got a heavy dose of reality. Life is no sitcom, no matter where you are. But I did spent the Summer working in a clothes shop right beside the main location for Nash Bridges! I would see Don Johnson and Cheech Miran every morning on the way to work! I loved it. It got into me. And stayed.

When Maryann and I met we just clicked. And while I was of course a professional and a gentleman at the festival in 2006, our friendship and romance couldn't help but bloom. We were swept away in it. And of course, being a whirlwind romance, on opposite sides of the world, between a unemployed Atheist artist and a conservative Christian girl, lets just say we had our doubters. But Love, as they say, conquers all. And it did. All doubt. All prejudice. All hopelessness. And there were plenty of hopeless moments during our time apart. We found we couldn't be apart. And as soon as we could change that, we did.

Maryann moved here on January 1st 2008. Full of hope, dreams, romance. A few weeks later the recession was announced and most of that went out the window. I had to close my production company. All prospects dried up. Maryann took whatever work she could find, including working as a dishwasher. We struggled well below the poverty line for a long time. We managed to get back on our feet, but we never rose much above the poverty line, only hovering slightly above it, always living hand to mouth and God forbid something should go wrong, an appliance break, an unexpected bill land, we needed new shoes, we would be set back for months... I'm not kidding either! I feel like I'm heading into Dickens territory here, but it's just how it's been.

It's time to leave that behind. Start new. Start from a blank page and paint a new, brighter picture of our lives. Start living for us and for our kids. Start building. Getting out of this five year-old rut and never get in another one again as long as we live. So although there is sadness and nostalgia, the reality is, there's nothing but hope, nothing but enthusiasm and excitement for what could be. I'm under no illusions, I know it's going to be hard work, but I'm more then willing to put it in. I'll miss Ireland, I'll miss my home, I'll miss this old falling down house. But not as much as I'm looking forward to building a new life.
Our house as we have lived in it with a pic from the early 80s of me, my Dad and my Sister.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Happy to go. Sad to leave.

I'm excited about going to America. But I'm sad about leaving Ireland. For many reasons, but seeing as this is my film blog, lets talk about the film side of things.

I had hoped, and indeed tried, to get another film made before I left. Wasn't to be. Another little boy arrived, my wife got sick and had a recovery ahead of her and of course, we're immigrating, which is coming up fast! I started packing up the house a month ago, my god I'm glad I did! SO much stuff it's ridiculous! So, with all that, the idea to make Ghoster, do one short or another and shoot a documentary, all fell by the wayside.

This was probably a good thing. Films are ALL consuming and will always, without fail, take more time, money and soul than you planned to give. But I am sad I wont be making another film here, at least not for a while. I have so many ideas, ready to go scripts and the hunger to do it. Plus there are so many great and talented people I wanted to work with and those who I have and wanted to work with again. Actors whose faces pop into my head when I think of an idea, "That's a good idea," I think, "With this actor playing it, it could be great!" I get excited and I start writing. But recently, I've had to stop myself.

On the set of DERELICT
with John Lawlor.
Today I sat in a cafe in town, Stockwell Artisan Foods, a lovely place run by lovely people. The kind place you can sit for an hour over the same cup, watch the world pass you by. Of course, Drogheda is the kind of town where I'm guaranteed to meet at least 10 people I know in the space of that hour (while I'm at it I have to thank the guys, especially Gwen, for showing there support for my films over the years. They've donated cash, spot prizes and always had a word of encouragement to give.) So I suppose it's fitting that while sitting there today I hashed out the idea for a new film, possible my next film, and began to think of it as an American film.

Me and Patrick O'Donnell
Late one night on DERELICT
Of course it was hard not to mentally put Patrick O'Donnell and Steve Gunn in the two roles of the first scene, getting annoyed with each other, pushing each other's buttons and delivering awesome performances. Followed by - "Well maybe, if I just..." but no, I can't (sorry lads) it's just not possible. I mean, it's July already! September is going to come around fast! I barely have time to pack!

I'll be very sad to leave behind the kind of talent I've gotten to know over the years here. The friends and associations I've made. It's been an interesting journey these last few years. I started out this naive dreamer, and somehow, I think I've managed to remain that! I've always been a dreamer, since day one, that wont change. Perhaps the naive part will, but it's still in there, getting me into trouble!

Rehearsal with Patrick O'Donnell for DERELICT
A brief run down of the last fews years, it start in 2000 with graduating animation college and then going to Australia. I wont go into too much detail, chances are your heard it before! It was on the flight to Australia, via LA, that I decided I would no longer pursue animation and instead go back to my first love, film. So coming back to Ireland I had a feature script I wanted to make. Never did make it, but it lead to a writing partnership with Thomas Kennedy, a partnership that taught me a lot, but more than anything, allowed me to write. Practice!

We had been writing for a couple years but hadn't made anything, didn't really know how. So I went off and made a short film called The Girl in the Window, it was terrible! It wasn't really a film, I never wrote a script, just storyboarded it. It was only ever meant to be an experiment. It was a ghost story, and I wanted to try and get some scares. So it was a mechanical piece, which is why it failed, lacked heart. But the scares worked! So a worthwhile experiment I thought. It was after doing that Thomas said, "Well, if you can do that, why can't we make a film?!" And Emily's Song was born.

Emily's Song has been my most successful film to date. Screening at nearly 30 International Film Festivals. Winning several awards and being sold to RTE and Channel 4. We shot that in 2005, finished in in 2006. 7 years on it still pops up on TV once in a while. We hit a wall after Emily's Song. Even though it was good, and doing well, we were still getting rejections on other projects and doors were not opening, as we naively thought they would.

I got bored of this so set out on my own. Still writing with Thomas all the while. But I made Bill, For Short, a personal documentary about my grandfather. It was never meant to do anything, it was just for me, but it really connected with people. Screened at 5 film festivals and was picked up a sales agent. Then came Slán agus Beannacht, that was a film that was close to my heart, but it didn't do too well. However, it eventually sold to RTE and was broadcast. Then came 140. A film that took over my life for a year or more.

140 was a fantastic project to work on. It was exciting. A great feeling to get such positive feedback and to see a little idea I had grow into something so big. I'm really proud of that one. It was an experiment, yes, but a successful one I think, that really taped into what people were thinking and feeling at the time. It started to do well, it was getting into festivals, had won the Bronze Palm Award at the Mexico International Film Festival, and people really seemed to dig it.

Then Ridley Scott announce Life in a Day! Basically the same idea, but with Ridley Scott. Kinda stole my thunder, and right after that all interest died.

Q&A at Droichead Arts Centre in Drogheda for DERELICT

Me writing Ghoster in Indianapolis
First draft wrote in one week.
I set out to make my first feature film. I started with Ghoster. But the interest wasn't there. So I moved on to Derelict. While I was getting Derelict up and running I made a film called Raise My Hands with Elliot Kotek and Scott McDermott. Hands went on to screen at 15 prestigious film festival around the world and is still going, a surprise project that did really well. So then Derelict came along, my first feature. And that almost brings us up to present day.

Derelict was shot in a week. A tough week. I wont go into it because it's well covered in this blog. But it took a long time to finish and as I type I'm still trying to get it out into the world. Meantime, just when I thought I wouldn't get to make another film here, I got an offer to help a local group called Ablevision to make a short film. It turned out to be one of the most positive and rewarding experiences I've ever had making a film. That was Joe & Sarah and I was so lucky to be a part of it.

Me with the Charming and Talented
Philip Reeve
That's seven films in all. During all this time of course Thomas and I wrote several feature length scripts, a TV show we worked on with a production company for a while, and a feature film too. They all fell through and we eventually stopped. I myself have written countless short film scripts, a couple more features, even a novel or two! I've also had the chance to make bigger films with well known people. During that time I met some lovely people, and some not so lovely people, who then tried to make the lovely people not like me very much, but the lovely people stayed liking me, even though the chance to work with the lovely people went away. All that experience taught me was not to try and make other people's work, stick with your own! So, a decades work, 90% of which was rejected.

PUCA - Rejected Short Film

It's always been a struggle and it's a struggle to face so much rejection. But I feel very lucky to have been able to make the films I have. I guess it's part of the game and to survive and thrive in this business you have to role with it. I think could spend and equal amount of time bemoaning my station and attacking those that have turned their back on me or rejected me and my work, but I don't want to. I guess they don't deserve it and I don't want to be that person anymore.

I have let me frustration get the better of me in the past and maybe that has harmed my chances. I don't know. I certainly know my enthusiasm has harmed my chances! Jumping the gun from time to time. So, stands to reason it should work both ways! But I've always worn my heart on myself, and sometimes I forget that this forum, and others, are public and people do indeed read them, and perhaps some of those are the right, and indeed the wrong, people. I'd like to make a change if I can, and start afresh in the States by not doing that.

ANGELINA - short script I love that
hasn't happened (yet).
I will always wonder if I'd stayed would that chance have finally come in. Would I have got the chance to make a bigger budget film. The type that gets a theatrical release, that has the support and funding of a production company, and by the powers that be. Or a chance to direct some TV? Or just get to make some of my short films, or indeed, feature films. I don't know. I'll never know. After the last year or two, the answer has been a resounding NO, and it has been the fuel behind me leaving (as well as family). But I think - no, I know, if I was getting to make my films I probably wouldn't be going.

My dream has been a very pure and simple one, and it's been one I've had since I was 9 years-old. To make films. That's all. Let me make my films. I've found out that for every person wanting to make a film there's a committee of people trying to stop them. I don't know why that is. Is it the universes way of saying only it creates, not us? So it sends all it's force and might to stop us! But we push through anyway. We fight and sometimes we get it done. Sometimes we don't. Then of course you come up against the everyday and practical preventors. Bills. Rent. Life in general.
We have to eat.

As I've gotten older my dream has decreased in size. I once wanted to be the next Speilberg, Tarintino, Scorsese... those days pass quickly, like a train you were too late for, or perhaps never meant to catch. Instead, after a while, your biggest hope is that you just get to keep making films, whatever size they are, that they remain and they don't fade into memory or pass-time. That somehow, they pay the bills. And in end all you want to be able to do is pay the bills, so you can create your art, tell your stories and make your films. But again, the world in its wicked wisdom, conspires.

The Wolf of Nevermore
Potential for production in USA
That's my hope for the future. I haven't been able to make it work here. I hope I can in America, for it was America that gave me this dream. It was American films I grew up on. Back to the Future lit the spark that became the hearth of me. Tell me, is it a coincidence that my greatest acting hero was, and is, Jimmy Stewart and that my first film award for my first film was presented to me by his daughter? And at that same festival, I met my wife. And it's with my wife I'm now going back to America, with two beautiful children in tow. I don't know. Makes you wonder. Makes you hope.

So here's hoping. I know I wont be able to do it straight away. I'll need to pay the rent and look after my family. For those that don't understand the film thing, please know that my family always come first, no matter what. It's just that I have this thing that's made me Me since I was a child. It's so deeply a part of who I am, how I think, what I'm about, that it simply can't be taken away or stopped. It's in there. Like my bones are. Try and take my bones out, see how I operate - not that well I'd imagine. Think of it the same way.

It's been a great journey thus far. Ireland has proved to be a hard place to make films. I don't know that America will be any different. I just hope I've built something here and I'm able to leave a bit behind, and carry some with me too.

To end I would like to say Thank You to everyone who has helped me make my films here in Ireland. To all the Crew members, to the great Actors, to the people who have donated time, money, equipment, food and belief. To the town of Drogheda for letting me play in your streets. To the local press and media for always giving me coverage and making me out to be more interesting than I am! To the people who went above and beyond the call of duty based on some mad idea that sprang out of my head. I truly do hate to leave you. I truly do wish you could all come with me and we could keep making films together. I had so many films I wanted to make with you. Thank you all for putting up with me, thank you so very very much. I simple cannot repay you, except with eternal love and gratitude.

And most of all, thank you to my family, for always being there and for being my greatest supporters, no matter what, they've been through it all, since I was 9 and they had to sit through Back to the Future 500 times (I'm not joking either, FIVE HUNDRED TIMES).

Me writing on the porch of the Meade Hotel in Bannack Ghost Town in Montana, USA.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


About making a film In The Dark.
by Frank Kelly
All photos by Fiaz Farrelly.

Derelict is a dark crime thriller, it tells the story of a group of desperate men who kidnap a bank manager and his family. One of them takes the manager away to rob the bank. The other stay behind, we stay with them for the next hour and a half. It should be simple, sit and wait, but as they start getting on another's nerves, tension rise and when they realise their is someone else in the building, watching them, things become very complicated.

The film was shot in Ireland, for a budget of €7000 over 7 night in a filthy 200 year-old abandoned mill. Frank Kelly directed a cast of eight and crew of eight through a week a high tension and pigeon droppings. You can see the film now by renting or buying at Distrify:
Inline images 1
DP John Lawlor (left) and Director Frank Kelly (right) discuss the next shot.
John Lawlor was the first person on the project, he came on a year before we shot. We've been friends long before we ever worked together. John was a down hill mountain biker, who competed at international level. When he retired from competitive racing he picked up a camera and started filming races. Later teaming up with california based Clay Porter the two would start creating documentaries together, including 3 Minutes Gaps and the forth coming Wont Back Down, about the life of Steve Pete, the sport's most successful rider. For me, John was the only choice to shoot this film. I wanted a documentary style, and I wanted someone with an eye for movement and someone who had the strength and stamina to shoot a feature in 7 days. Having someone with such energy, and a having a close friend on set, really made my job a lot easier.

Inline images 2
Steve Gunn as Davey-boy has some tea in between takes.
This was a difficult night. We were shooting a rape scene. With dark material everyone's a little bit nervous about it, a little bit freaked out by it, but we're also professionals and we all know it's not gratuitous, it's serving the story. Steve is an actor who breaks the scene up into beats, he looks at the mechanics of a scene first and then brings the emotion. I found that very helpful, especially in this scene, it took the focus off what we were shooting, made it a bit more mechanical, at least when blocking. But in the end you have to bring the emotion to it, it has to be truthful and between himself and Elaine Reddy, who played the victim, we got there.

Inline images 3
Director Frank Kelly adjusts the light.
I designed the lighting set up myself. We played in one large room at the top of a 200 year-old mill. It was cold and dirty and suited the film perfectly. I decided early on that the kidnappers have scoped this place, they've set up the lights and they've made a safe hold for themselves. Being painters, they have workers lights, so that what I used to light the main area, then off to the sides I lit the dark space with shaded 150 watt tungsten bulbs, which gave a very stark direct light. It was quite a theatre like set up, set the lights, play under them. But it lead to problems, shadows on the walls if we moved in front of them, which we did a lot because it was hand-held and we were following actors around. Then lighting continuity on characters was a problem, when cross shooting you would have one face in shadow and the other washed out. So there was quite a lot of tweaking involved. But in no-budget filmmaking you do what you can with what you have!

Inline images 4
I Bless This Gun - Gerry Shanahan as Daniel.
I've worked with Gerry on three films, he always delivers. He was also armorer on the film. On films of this scale everyone will work several jobs, usually you leave the actors to the acting and not distract them, but when armorers were looking for silly money to rent weapons Gerry stepped up with his collection of blank firing weapons. They made quite a bang! 

In the first draft the gang were all crocks, despicable people. Producer Elliot Kotek suggested making them regular guys, down on their luck, looking to make a quick buck. I liked that idea, so went with it. There were several more drafts and I landed somewhere in the middle. But Gerry as Daniel, remains the regular guy, in way over his head.

Inline images 5
Catherine Wrigglesworth as Louise.
Catherine came highly recommended from a director friend, Jason Figgis, he had worked with her on his version of A Christmas Carol he had just completed and a film entitled Railway Children. I met with her and really like her energy so cast her without rehearsing her.

It was a case of bring your own costume, so when she pulled out leopard skin pjs and polar bear boots I knew she was going to bring that energy into the character! Both of the women had to sit tied to the chairs for the entire week. Because of the way I shot, all handheld, long takes and following the characters around the room, they would always be somewhere in shot, even if sometimes the edit doesn't show it, so they had to remain seated for the duration. It was a tough week for them.

Inline images 6
Actor Michael Bates as J talks through a shot with Frank and John.
John and I were shoulder to shoulder for the entire movie. I like to be beside the camera and right up looking at the actors faces, rather than at the monitor, though I will of course check the shot. This was the climax of the film we were preparing for here. It was extremely tough because it involved all the cast, several weapons and a lot of back and forth between the characters. All the dynamics that had been created individually were all now landing in a group. So it was tough for all of us to keep that balance. Plus, this was the first thing we shot, before we'd found our rhythm. We were all ready for bed at mid-night, but still shot to 6am. Emotions were high that night and I wondered at the end of it if I hadn't bitten off more than I could chew.

Shooting a feature film in 7 days is an intense experience, one which I would not hasten to repeat. We had a week of rehearsal before hand and looking back now, if I could change one thing, I would probably have made the rehearsal time shoot time and spent more time blocking and rehearsing on set, so we weren't so rushed. The thing about shooting a feature in 7 days is that, yes, you have a feature film in the can in just one week, but you don't get to spend the time you might need on certain scenes. My advice, if you can, push for more time on set. Spend an extra month getting the money you need to rent the space and equipment, because when you're in the edit, you'd pay more if you could go back and get the coverage you missed.

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Setting up the final shot.
Luckily this shot doesn't give anything away! But it gives a good idea of the space we were working in. It was dusty, cold at night, muggy in the day. It smelled bad. The day before we filled 35 refuse sacks with pigeon droppings, as well as a few dead pigeons. We didn't realise, but in the windows, which were blocked up, there had been placed sacks of droppings from a previous clean up. So when the sun came out in the day it would bake the contents and omit the most fowl odour you can image. This pungent, stale, old sock smell would permeate the air! It was bad. But I supposed it all leant itself to the discomfort the characters were supposed to be feeling.

Otherwise it was a great space to work in, it was perfect for the film and brought with it a great deal of atmosphere and production value. When you're shooting on such a low budget you really have to find clever ways to elevate the film. One thing I find where a lot of low/no-budget films fall down on is production design. People tend to just film where they can, in their own apartment, in a space a friend of a friend has access to. But you have to ask yourself, does it fit the character? does it make sense in the story? and does it look good on camera? Elevate your film where you can. Go the extra mile, even if that means literally walking an extra mile to get to a better location. Always ask yourself, Is this the best I can do?

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Elaine Reddy as Mom, Kate and Catherine Wrigglesworth as daughter, Louise.
As I mentioned, Elaine and Catherine were tied up to the entire shoot. Elaine showed me her arms at the end of the shoot, they were covered in bruises from the chair. I know it was tough for them, and Elaine was called on to perform some highly emotional scenes, often after having been sitting for hours! The schedule chopped and changed so much. So the experience for both of them was a lot of waiting and sitting around and then suddenly being called on to scream and shout. But I think it went that way for everyone. 

Patrick O'Donnell for example, came in at the last minute when the actor playing Tone had to pull out. The other actor had been on the project for months and we had lengthy discussion about the character. He was working stunts on Asterix 3, which ran over, so he was forced to pull out. Steve Gunn actually suggested Pat, he came in on day 3 of rehearsal, and arrived on set on the Sunday, expecting to have a relaxed day of blocking, but instead got handed 30 pages and told to learn them we were shooting in 2 hours! He pulled it off. 

Michael Bates, who plays the lead character of J, booked a job in the middle of the shoot, so I pushed in back to the Sunday and forward to the Saturday. But Michael still came to set, he would go shoot his commercial, then drive 50 miles to our set and shoot through the night. That's how committed everyone was to the project.

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The AM - Michael Bates, Gerry Shanahan and Steve Gunn in between takes.
Yes, Steve is in there, if you look under the white blanket in centre shot. While everyone was committed, people still got tired. This shot was taken at 3am. We were all upstairs shooting, I seldom saw the break room, the actors probably saw too much of it. By that I mean there was a lot of hanging around, not that they were taking it easy! Here Michael has finished up, he's relaxing with a coffee, Steve and Gerry are waiting to be called. I felt terrible all the time leaving the guys wait, and knowing that hours were drifting by. But I also knew I had no choice. I just had to concentrate and focus on what was right in front of me. That's all you can do as a director. As Oliver Stone said "You make a movie an inch at a time." It's so true. And on shoots like this, take Steve's lead, grab some shut eye whenver you can!

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The stage.
In the centre of this shot we see what the whole story is about, a sack of cash (actually it was a sack of movie magazines! I could find fake cash. And we certainly did have real cash.). I would often come up here on my own, just to go over the script. When the cast and crew weren't there it suddenly became a very quiet, even dead, space. But there was something creepy about it and I had nightmares long after the shoot about it. In the dream I would go up to get something I'd forgotten and suddenly the lights would go out. I would be plunged into darkness, and there would be this presence, a feeling I wasn't alone. One night a week after the shoot was done, while still asleep, I reached out and turned the bedside lamp on. My wife asked me what I was doing, I answered "We need more light for the shot," and went back to sleep.