Friday, February 10, 2017

Fall Back

You have to give people a chance. You have to trust them. But above those two, you have to let them fail. And then from their failure, guide them. Don’t chide them, allow them to recover, to learn and then give knowledge. Encourage, guide, trust, follow - at a distance, allow them to take the lead from time to time. Talk to them, and more than just small talk, get deep. Find out how they’re doing, what they want. 

Most people won’t offer that up, they won’t want to rock the boat. You don’t want to tell your boss you’re unhappy and frustrated in case he tells you there’s a line of people outside the door who’ll happily take your place, and maybe if that’s the type of boss you have you might want to reconsider you place of work. But that’s my point, environments should be created where that conversation is allowed to happen. where people can feel secure and can grow. If you allow that kind of freedom, trust, encouragement, communication you’ll find people who want to grow. 

Instead, in my experience, what you get are people who shut down, close off and only do a fraction of what they’re capable of. They become enclosed and guarded and spend most of their energy and focus either wanting to be somewhere else, or actually looking to be somewhere else to be. It doesn’t create a healthy place to be. I’ve had bosses, managers, whose technique is to boss and bully, push and shove, to break you down so they can build you up. Those people are usually just assholes and shouldn’t be in a position of managing people. 

In all of those situations I’ve watched one of three things happen, if not all three, their employees don’t do a good job because they are being mentally bullied and become unfocused and uninspired and don't want to pitch in, they just leave, or the manager is demoted, moved or fired. It never works out in the end. Another type is the uninspired manager, the one who has little to offer, no guidance, or their guidance is inane and completely pointless, filled with menial tasks and busy work. These people are just idiots, who drain the energy and enthusiasm of their team, and again to the point of losing said team. I

’ve had both of these kinds of bosses, I don’t last long working under them, or they don’t last long. I see them moved around. They talk the talk, but they soon get found out. When Ive been in that position myself, usually when I’m making my own films, I try to keep the set relaxed, collaborative and focused. I want it to be an enjoyable experience, where people feel part of something fun and special. I am of the opinion the making films should be fun, it’s a privilege, most people on a set, especially an indie film set are people in the process of chasing their dream, I’m never going to be the one to tread on that. But I think that kind of enthusiasm, collaboration and respect should exist everywhere. 

It’s rare. I haven’t seen in it in a long time. I saw in my last job with my co-supervisor, Bill Hope, great guy, but we worked under a couple of managers who fell into the Bully category. So, I left. I had a teacher called Simon Rangeford back in Drogheda, that only good teacher I ever had in 20 years of education. He inspired, encouraged and guided. My Dad was a good boss, I worked with him as a painter, but as a father, he couldn’t be beat growing up. A real decent bloke. Taught be to follow my dreams, told me to stay focused, ignore those who would put me down, the ones I’m talking about here, told me not to settle, which why I never do. And he showed me how to do it all with humor, a smile, and with kindness. My Mam too, a smart lady, who never took shit from anyone, including me! Someone who was fair, kind and supportive. 

They both had my back, and I always felt that. And I think that’s the key, you have to have people’s back. And they have to know that. If you’re behind someone, and they know you’re there for them to fall back on, they will appreciate that, they will trust that, they will be encouraged by that and they will be less inclined to fall. Because with all that behind them, they will want to show you that they can stand on their own.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Here's the Proof.

Greetings from Ireland friends! So, we completed our Proof-of-concept for 10 Days in December! We shot for just one day up at Millmount Museum in Drogheda, a beautiful place to shoot and wonderful staff, who were so accommodating.

Here's a little Thank You poster for the Seed & Spark Backers:

It was a long, cold wet day. We had fog in the morning, some sun (with freezing tempatures) for a couple of hours, then the wind really picked up, the clouds rolled in and then the rain started. Not to mention the fact that we were shooting on the day before the shortest day of the year! So there was the light. Then only thing we didn't have, which might have been nice actually, was snow! But we got through it, and we got it in the can.

I am now looking forward to... first, relaxing and spending Christmas with friends and family... and then, getting back to the States to edit this and share it with you. And of course, using this to help us get the big one off the ground!!! 

My huge thanks to the fantastic cast, Grace Fitzgerald and Graeme Coughlan for be absolute troopers and braving the weather without a complaint, total pros, while the crew were all nicely wrapped up in North Face, hats and Gloves, they had to look all trendy with none of that because of the silly director! Thanks to a great crew, a bunch of really nice, professional, folks who just got stuck in. Thanks to Millmount, Betty Quinn and Richie Quinn for helping us get set up, and all the staff for being so friendly and accommodating. To Gwen and Orlaith in Stockwell for the food. To Colin Browne and Film Equipment Hire Ireland for the gear. And to all the Seed & Spark backers who funded the projected and helped us get this shot. It's a dream come true for us. 
The biggest thanks of all from me has to go to my wife, producer and co-writer, Maryann Koopman Kelly, she's really the one behind this project. When I was thinking about making something new she said "Why not do 10 Days" and I said OK. And she stuck with the project, and pushed the script overstep of the way in an effort to make it better.

Here are some pics from the shoot:

Two things that are truly unbelievable: 1. The amount of gear you need for a one day shoot. 2. That it all fits into the back of a Nissan Micra!

Millmount in Drogheda, our location for the day. Truly great staff accommodated us for the day, they were fantastic.

Early morning, crew gather at 8AM.

Actor Graeme Coughlan (Will) surveys the location for the day.

Crew tech check on the equipemnt, shooting on the Arri Alexa.

Here we go...

First shot rolls on 10 Days in Decemeber and it's a beautiful shot of Drogheda.

Conematographer Ivan McCullough and Director Frank W. Kelly discuss shots.

The Jib is rigged.

Shooting on Cannons... producer and co-writer Maryann Koopman Kelly gets in out of the wind!

Actors on set! Grace Fitzgerald and Graeme Coughlan brave the cold, troopers and absolute professionals.

And that's a wrap folks.

I should have something to show you in a couple of months. I think you're really going to like it. It's just one scene mind you, but hopefully it gives you a sense of what's to come, and makes you as excited about as we are about it.

And one last thing, it was such fun getting back behind the camera, being on set and being with such a great cast and crew - really good, friendly, hardworking individuals. I have missed it. It's been far too long. And I wont lie, I was nervous about it, somewhat stressed and a little unsure if I could still do it. But it all came back pretty quickly, and as soon as we got going I just enjoyed myself! So thank you all for allowing me to get back to doing what I love, making movies!

More soon...

Monday, November 21, 2016

Don't Hate. Create.

In 4 weeks I go back to Ireland and finally start cameras rolling on 10 Days in December. Albeit a proof-of-concept, it is a start. Maryann and I have been working on getting this project off the ground for almost 2 years. This one is difficult on many levels. First, the logistics. This film is set in Ireland, we live in California. Second, the time, we work full-time jobs, we have two young kids, our days start at 6:30am, and we finally get to sit down to write at about 9:30/10pm. So it's taken a while to get to this point. Third, it's personal. This is out story, about how we fell in love. So trying to keep a distance and tell a story that isn't just a nepotistic walk down memory lane, but an engaging and compelling story, has been a challenge.

But there was a fourth challenge, one I didn't even realized had been a factor until recently. But it had been there all along. It was an anxiety I had been carrying around, distracting me, annoying me, worrying me and it came in the form of many things. Chief among them, Donald Trump, but also the war in Syria, the refugee crisis, further terrorist attack, mass shootings, the protest at Standing Rock, Brexit, the Irish election (if that really what it was), and on and on and on. Evey time I turned on the news, or looked at Facebook there was something else, and with it a sense that the thread our society is hanging by was beginning to fray. A foreboding that something was going terribly wrong in the world, getting worse day by day and that there was nothing I could do about it.

When I looked helplessly, desperately, at that young boy on a beach in Turkey, at the young boy in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo, one drowned, one covered in dust with a gash in his head from the latest bomb that hit his city - this is what happens if you leave, this is what happen when you stay, I saw utter hopelessness. And a shared feeling of hopelessness, as I sat in my comfortable apartment, my comfortable life, with my own children of the same age as those poor kids, living happy, healthy, safe lives. I don't feel guilt over that, don't get me wrong, I feel nothing but gratitude, I feel lucky. But I wish there was something more I could do than donate to a charity. Where I feel ok for a second, but then I wonder where that money actually goes? To the shiny fliers and postage they start sending me every month, to the staffed phone calls and emails I start getting asking for more... the feeling is short lived. Did I save a life? Or pay for years subscription of fliers? - It only adds to the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. What can I do?

Then on this side of the water, we have the ugliest, most vile, election I can remember in my lifetime. It was embarrassing, distasteful, disgusting. I had no interest in either candidate. I suppose there was a lesser of two evils, one more tolerable than the other. A case of better the Devil you know than the Devil you don't. But what choice is that to have? I tried to escape it, ignore it, but it was impossible. You get drawn in again and again, and in the end, it just sucks the energy out of you, all positive thought and hope for the future, gone. But how do I have an effect? How do I change anything? I can't even vote, in this country or in my own. Hopeless. Helpless. What can I do?

Tonight I found the answer to that question. No, I didn't find it, it was here all along. I just remembered it. I can do what I've always done - I can create.

I can build something, write something, draw something, paint something, sing something, I can create. I can put something good into the world. I can gather my ideas, my energy, my friends, the goodwill of strangers, an audience, belief, hope, goodness, laughter, joy, and put it all together to create something new, positive, wonderful and put that into a room, in front of people, to remind them that this world is not falling apart, not so long as we keep building and creating and believing and giving and hoping and of course, loving.

We can't turn our back on what's going on in the world, I'm not talking about ignoring all this, we need to shine a light on it. But let us not allow it to drag us down, to dampen our hearts, our spirit, our resolve to keep going. Let us rise up, stay true to who we are, what we believe in and create. Do more today than you did yesterday. Make that call. Write that page. Sing that song. Believe in yourself and do the things you were meant to do. Because that is what the world needs right now. That nagging doubt inside you, the one telling you you're not good enough, you can't do this, you'll never amount to anything... that's the energy that's alive and thriving in the world right now. It's called fear. And what happens when you let fear in? It cripples you, stops you from doing anything. But what happens when you remove fear? You create.

We've been made afraid. We've been told we're wrong, we're not good enough, to conform and be silent, to live in a box and watch a box that feeds us this shit over and over. We fall for it because it's comfortable, but the human body was not designed to be comfortable. We were not designed to sit. We were designed to run. And yes, running is painful, but what happens when you sit? You get fat, you get sick, you slow down, you stagnate, you die. What happens when you run? Yeah, you get strong. So start running, running toward the thing that fear is telling you will never reach. Because fuck fear, you will reach it, it's simple physics, you move toward something, you reach it. It's just hard work. And what happens when you work hard at something? You get better, you get stronger.

Now is the time to step up. Now is the time to plan, to start putting things into action. And it doesn't have to be life altering, you don't have to quit your job, even if you hate that job, you don't have to sell your house or move cities. You just have to stay true to you, and listen to you, and believe in you and do one small thing everyday, one page, one drawing, one song, one kind word, one phone call to someone you haven't spoken to in a while. Sounds hokey? Sure it is, it's a fucking Frank Capra movie, but it's hope, it's love, it's putting good into the world. And here's the crazy side effect of putting good into the world, not only do you make the world and better place, but you feel better too. Much better than you do after a night of ranting about Donal Trump on Facebook!

To the creatives reading this, this is a rallying call - Let's create. Let's build stuff. Let's paint stuff. let's write songs. Many of you are doing it already, and fair play to you, keep it up, you're heroes, your efforts are worthwhile, just keep going. And to those doubting yourselves, and I include myself among you, step out of the shadow of the fear that surrounds you, because that's all it is, not a wall, not a cage, only a shadow, step away, into the light and create.

Maybe we can't rescues those fallen in Syria, we can't predict when the next terrorist attack will comes, we don't know what the next four years of Trump will bring, but don't be hopeless, don't feel helpless, because it is not hopeless, you are not helpless, so long as you keep dreaming and believe and building the world can be a better place. So...

Don't hate. Create.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Wonder Boy

Today we lost a great director, a great storyteller. I'm deeply saddened by the loss of Curis Hanson, he was one of my favourite directors. It was 1997, October, a cold wet rainy evening and I went to see LA Confidential. I wasn't sure what to expect, this was pre-internet days remember, my phone called people, that was it. I discovered three things that night: 1. A Masterpiece, 2. One of my favourite movies, and 3. A director named Curtis Hanson.

Without realising I had already seen a couple of his films, and they'd stood out to me, his two previous actually, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and The River Wild. But LA Confidential was something else. Then came Wonder Boys, an absolutely delightful film, a surprise from start to finish, and a film I just fell in love with. 

(Career Best Performances all round)

Performing a hat-trick, 8-Mile came next. I don't have to say much about it. A Rocky Rap movie with Eminem. It worked perfectly and his ability to tell a story, effect emotion and be energetic was masterful.

Then came In Her Shoe, I think a largely forgetten movie, or fobbed off as a chik-flick, it is so much more than that. It tells the story of the complicated relathioship between two sisters and their mother, with pitch perfect performances from Toni Collete, Cameron Diaz and Shirely McClaine. It's old, simple, calssic Hollywood storytelling.

I have yet to see his last three films, Lucky YouToo Big to Fail and Chasin Mavericks. And I haven't seen his earlier work. But that just means I have many more gems to discover, and I can't wait to discover them. I hope you will too.

Curtis Hanson, and directors like him, are the reason I want to make films. When I see their movies I am inspired and invigourated, I'm filled with the joy of being told a great story by a great storyteller. And there's no better feeling.

We are all storytellers, the whole human race are storytellers, we crave to be told a great story, which is why film is so essential. And today we lost one of our greatest storytellers.

RIP Mr. Hanson.
Thank you for your films.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Shaking The Dust Off

I haven't been blogging much of late. It's all been on social media, as we work on our Seed & Spark campaign for a 10 Days in December proof-of-concept. We've hit the campaign trail again, this time we're looking for $3000 so we can shoot one scene from the script.

Why a proof of concept? Well, who has the time to read a full script anymore?! No one, that's who. But they might watch a really well made, beautiful looking, 2 minute scene from a film. The kind of thing that would make them want to see more, read the script and get behind our project.

So we're going back to Ireland in December for a family holiday. It will be the first time in over 3 years since we have been back. We can't wait. So we decided while we were there we would try to do this and start camera's rolling on a project we've been thinking about for 8 years, and working on for a year and a half!

The campaign is going great, we are one/third of the way through and already two/thirds funded! And the great thing about Seed & Spark is that if you get to 80%, you get a green light and can collect all the contributions given so far. Of course, we are still aiming for 100%, which I believe we'll get to.

I don't want to count my chickens, but if we go over there will be a couple of extra things we can do. First will be to but more money into the teaser, this might mean a better camera, more lights, more time! If we go further over, we are thinking about a table read, gathering the actors together around a table with a script and taping a first reading of the script.

This would also be hugely beneficial, I've done it with all my scripts, even the unproduced ones. It gets the actors familiar with the work, with each other, it helps me see what's working and what's not, where things can be trimmed, or where things need more time. It would of course cost, getting everyone into the same room, renting a room, printing scripts, feeding people etc. So we'd probably have to get to $4000 to be able to afford that. But again, I'm not counting chickens! It be great if we could, but the main focus is the proof-of-concept.

It's been great working on this again. We got the script finished a few months back, and then sent it out to industry professionals. The reaction was positive, with constructive criticism, a lot of which we took on board. But it did knock us off track somewhat. We began to look at turning the script into a much bigger project. Something I do believe can work, and would be great, but it just took the wind out of our sails. It was not the project we set out to do.

We tried to jump right on it, but I Maryann wasn't into it, and every time I sat down to work on it I felt the energy drain from my body. We stopped working on it. I became very discouraged. Then one night I watched 'Swingers', one of my favourite indie films. I hadn't seen it in years. But it brought something back to me, the ethos of doing something small, personal and sticking to a vision, no matter what anyone else says. Something I always tell myself to remember, but often find myself swayed from, trusting my own instincts.

I decided we would make the film we set out to make.  The one whose vision was clear in my head. As soon as I did all that energy came back. I thought about doing the proof-of-concept and getting back to the script, as it was, but making it better.

So, that's where we are, in a much better place, resolute in our direction and sure of what we want this project to be. It is our story and will be our most personal film to date. So we want it to be ours, and not be swayed or pushed in one direction or another because it might be more "by the book" or "Marketable". And I can feel that's going to be the challenge as we go forward. We're taking a risk with this one, it might not work, it might be the last chance I get to make a film, but it's our story and we want to be true to it, it's the only way we can make it.

So, have a look at the campaign, watch the video, read the story, check out the incentives, get behind us, join us, follow, share like, RT! We're going to get this film made and we can't wait to show you.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Let's See What Comes

Unfortunately we're not going to get to make '10 Days in December' at the end of the year as hoped, or at all, it's taken a new form, one that's going to take a lot more time to write and produce. But, I would still really love to shoot something soon. It's been far too long. So trying to think of something small, doable, either something I have, or something new. But struggling to land on something.

After we completed the 10 Days script, it felt like we'd come to the end of a marathon. But instead of being congratulation and awarded a medal, we were told that we had two more marathons to run, starting now! So we tried, but 2 miles in, the tank was empty.

I'm struggling a little bit with this one. It's not coming as easily. The story is there. It's our own story after all. But it's trying to make it work as a feature, all that story, all those years, into a film. I can see 10 Days clearly as a feature. I can see the American part of the story clearly as a feature. I'm struggling a bit with the 5 years in Ireland part, and very much so with putting those three together as one film.

I think my confidence as a filmmaker and a storyteller is low. I'm feeling drained, somewhat burnt out. Either in need of a holiday from the lot of it, or, a good solid chunk of time just to write and nothing else.

Last week I left my car in for a service, I had planned to take the train to work and come back later to pick it up, but the guy said he could have it ready in an hour. So, I found a nice cafe and sat with a coffee and wrote in my note book. That's something I haven't done since I left Ireland. And back in Ireland that's something I had done every day for ten years. I filled the things.

Depot Cafe, San Carlos
That process was a gift, and perhaps one I took for granted. It gave me time to think, imagine, dream, relax, get away from the world. It was a form of mediation. Dreaming in the day. Amid the bustle of daily life on the town. And as I sat in that cafe by the railway tracks I felt it come back. Things started to flow again. I started to think, imagine, dream, relax and get away from the world.

It made me happy. I realized it was still in there. I could still find ideas. I just can't find the time anymore. That's the problem. I miss writing. I miss the flow of it, and the discovery along the way. It's such a joy to write, and discover, and be lead by an idea, a story, characters. To hear their voice, to witness your own story grow, but feel as though you're a conduit for it, as if it's just passing through you, from some magical place on the way to the page.

I think that's my problem with the new story. I don't have the time to focus on it. To let it flow.

I would like to shoot something soon, something small. Either a short, or a low budget feature. I'm under no illusion mind you, having done this a few times before, there's usually nothing small or simple about any film! Derelict, for example, took a full year to get to production. A week's shoot, sure, but the most intense week of my life. Followed by another year of finishing the film.

But I don't want the fear to stop me. I've seen it stop other filmmakers. People who make their first film, and get burned, and say they want to make another film, keep writing, but then stop themselves, and just never get anything else done. I can feel that a little bit. It's been a few years. I've been out of the game. It's hard to step back in. And this time I want it to be right. I don't want to waste my time, or anyone else's. I need it to be good.

But, I don't want that to stop me either! Striving for perfection, when I should just be doing something. Get something done, and out, and onto the next one. It's hard. You add an entirely new situation to the one I had back in Ireland, it's hard. I could make films, I had free time, and family who could watch the kids. Now I'm in full-time employment. My wife works full-time. We have two young kids, one in full time care, the other in school. Life is much more full, it leaves very little room for extra circular activity, in fact, I know exactly how much time, an hour at the end of each night, if I'm lucky, if I'm not too tired, if the kids will go to bed, if I have the energy to stay up a little longer and not mind being tired at work the next day.

I don't mean to moan, if it seems like I am, or rant, which I know I am. I'm lucky. I live in California. It's sunny everyday here. I can pay the bills. I have a job for a great company. I can think about making films still, it's still an option. I hope. And not being shot at, yet. I just want to get to the film part. It's all I'm passionate about. It's what I've wanted to do since I was 9 years old. I'm 39 now. So that's 30 years, going after one thing and one thing only, with life, like a linebacker, wrestling my to the ground every time I try to break defense.

But I still hope to break through. And I would still like to shoot something soon. It won't be our story. Oh, that's coming, I can promise you that. But we need to sort the script and find the money. In the meantime, it's back to my roots. Me, an idea, a camera. Let's see what comes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

10 Days - Update

Hi there,

Hope you're well. It's been a while. Sorry about that, I've been busy, besides work life and family life, Maryann and I have working hard to complete '10 Days in December', and I'm happy to say we did just that. The first draft of our feature film is completed. However, we are not shooting this version. We've decided to expand and extend the story. So, we are going to keep working on the script and moving forward with a bigger story.

This story has been in the background since we started. We were, perhaps, just a little too daunted by the scope of it to act on it. But we have come to the realization that we need to act on it, this is the story we need to tell. And now is our time to tell it. 

I won't say anything more. I often jump the gun on these things and give away too much too soon. Let's leave it as a surprise. Suffice to say we are very excited about it, we think it's a universal story, and one that will connect with a wide audience. 

That means '10 Days in December' is not going ahead as it is, and we will not be shooting this year. We are disappointed by that, I would love to be back in Ireland this year, shooting a film. But we'll be back next year, with a new title and a new direction. Have no doubt, we have not stopped, we are still writing and it's still full steam ahead. 

Thanks to the readers for your great notes. And thanks to you for your continued supported, and belief in us and the project. 

More soon! Lots more!!!

All the best

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ben Wheatley on Down Terrace and an Ethos for Indie Filmmaking

As I get ready to go into production on my next film, my third feature length film (second dramatic feature)  10 Days in December, I was going back through some old emails, notes, pieces of advice and I came across an email from director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field in England, High Rise). I was about to start making Derelict and feeling a bit of pressure. I was in Dublin, I remember it quite well, because I was on the way to a meeting at the Irish Film Board about funding the project (the would eventually reject my application) and I picked up a copy of Sight & Sound.

There was an article about Mr. Wheatley and his forth coming film, Kill List, which hadn't been released yet. It was also largely about Down Terrace, his debut feature film. Everything about this film sounded so familiar to me, the experience, the scale, the budget, the schedule, the location, it was like he was talking about Derelict

I got very excited. Quick stepped to Tower Records, the guy scoffed, never heard of it, prick! So hot tailed it to HMV, "Yep, over here," said the clerk and lead me right to it. Soon as I got home that day I watched it, and re-watched it. It was fantastic. A brilliant brilliant film. I loved it. It did so much, with so little and dispelled a lot of doubt for me. I finally felt like I could make Derelict with what I had.

So I decided to drop Ben an email. I talked about my own project, and how much I enjoyed Down Terrace, he got right back to me with a very encouraging email and some really great, and simple advice. Going back over it I thought it was worth sharing. So, I asked permission to share, and he agreed. So, here is some worthy, practical advice from Ben Wheatley, director of Down Terrace, Kill List, A Field In England, Sightseers, High Rise and the forth coming Free Fire.

Ben Wheatley - Director
On Prep: 

"I cant believe how little prep we did... No read through with all the cast, No rehearsals, No storyboards, no shot lists. I was on an advert so didn't do any prep beyond looking through the house with Laurie Rose (dop) the day before."

Personally, I wouldn't recommend this approach, and I'd imagine Mr. Wheatley wouldn't now either,  in fact he ended the email by saying: "so it can be done... with little prep... not that id ever do it like that again ;)" - but it goes to show what can be achieved once you have a good script, a strong director, strong cast and crew, strong vision and passion. I have to imagine that going in they had a good sense of what the piece would be, a feeling of what the tone of the piece would be, because the tone of Down Terrace is so strong.

On Production:

"One thing i did have was Andy Starke producing. He kept the whole thing under control. We really didnt feel any pressure..."

This is vital in my opinion, having someone on set, that's not you, taking the reins of the production. Someone who can be trusted to take care of things while you concentrate on the creative side. I've never had this, not fully anyway, I've always produced my own films, so I'm worrying about budget, and gear rental, and contracts, and lunches... and it definitely detracts from what you can give to the film. Try to find someone who can handle all that stuff, that's not you!

On Set:

"We had nothing to lose and nothing to prove. It was great. I think that freedom helped the performances no end. The actors just lived in the moment and i didnt over block them. They did their thing and Laurie (Rose - DOP) and i worked out minimal coverage.

I think this attitude it vital to a healthy production, don't think too much beyond the movie you're making, give your all to it and be true to it and be in the moment. "Nothing to prove and nothing to lose" should be every independent filmmakers production mantra. This method of not blocking, letting the actors just be and the DOP find them is known as Induced Documentary style, it was something that William Freidkin developed in films like French Connection, giving the film a much more realistic feeling.  (Click on the link above for a really cool video essay on Freidkin and this style.)

On Style:

"Down Terrace also benefited from aggressive new wave editing. Dont like a line or a performance? Chop it out. Never leave anything bad in the film. Embrace jump cuts. Cut out cliche as if its cancer. Never let the characters say any exposition."

Simple, but great advice. As I'm editing my latest script this is something really worth remembering. And as soon as you cut that stuff out, you'll find you script, or film, instantly gets better. Trust your audience, they're smart. Treat them like intelligent people and give them an intelligent film.

This short and concise email really helped me get ready for Derelict. And has helped me again as I edit 10 Days in December. I hope it helps you with whatever you're working on at the moment. Thank you Mr. Wheatley for the advice.

"Fuck the system!"
                  - Ben Wheatley, 2011

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

No Rules

First rule of film is there are no rules. OK, there are rules, and it helps to know them, but once you know them, you can break them. There is a cinematic language, there is a way of doing things that makes sense, and it's best to understand that, so you don't spend a lot of time and money making crap, which will only delay you in the long run.

Here are some links to people who know what they're talking about. Filmmakers and teachers alike. People who taken the time to understand the craft of filmmaking, and it is a craft, things go together to make a final, finished product, and the more you study, the stronger and more beautiful the finished article will be:

Billy Wilder

This interview is a little dated, the questions are badly dubbed, and the sound isn't great, but if you ignore all that, everything Billy Wilder says is pure gold. Lots of great anecdotes, but also great advice about writing, and who better to learn from that one of the all time masters.

Every Frame a Painting

Short essays by film buff Tony Zhou, these little films are very well put together and really get you thinking about film form and how cinema works. They're energetic and inspiring.

Criterion Collection Closet

Strange one, but I love movies, and I love DVDs and Blu-rays. They might seem outmoded now, but for me it's the tangible aspect, and the instant access memory. When I see a wall of my DVDs, I can grab a box, or even just look at the title on the side of the box, and instantly access that movie in my mind, and everything it means to me, everything I learned from it. When it's on a hard drive I can't to that. The connection from our hands to eyes is important, it's in everything we do, especially as filmmakers, as people who make stuff, we use out hands and our eyes in sync. I like watching great filmmakers do that same thing, I love watching them light up as they talk about their favorite movies and it's good for suggestion of what to watch. I've discovered so many great films from these suggestions.

Stanley Kubrick

This short speech when Stanley Kubrick received the Life Time Achievement Award from the DGA says a lot, he even manages to redefine a thousands year old myth. - here's something to think about as well when think of Kubrick, who we all agree is one of the all time great cinematic masters: In 1953 Stanley Kubrick made the not-so-great "Fear and Desire", 3 years later he made the brilliant "The Killing", a year after that he made his first masterpiece - "Paths of Glory". 4 years, from wannabe indie filmmaker to legendary cinematic master. Vision and Persistence pay off. Don't give up. Keep at it. Believe and be better. Build Better Wings.

When I'm gearing up for a film, or feeling somewhat stagnant, these are the people I seek out, listen to, learn from. But for me, doing is learning, and nothing will be greater learning experience then going out and making a film. In the meantime, you should start to get yourself ready, and if you're in the waiting place, in between productions, it's important to keep the mind sharp, to remember and to be inspired.

I always think you need to surround yourself with the artifacts of you craft, find a space, a room, a workshop, a studio, and office, a corner of the bedroom, and fill it with books, and images, and scripts, and pencils, a notebooks and thing you can see and touch and go to. These things are time capsules, instant access memory folders, feeding you and reminding you. And part of that is constantly seeking to feed that hunger to create.

And of course there are many others things you can do to be a better filmmaker,  that don't involve the specific study of film. For one, read - read, read, read, anything and everything, not just books on filmmaking, in fact, read as few of those as possible, there are a couple of good ones, but mainly they're just other people's ideas of how to do it, what you want to do is find your own way of doing things. To that end, read, live and think. If you read, you will think, your imagination will be set alight, your mind expanded, you will be taken on a journey to places you did not expect, or could have gone on had you not opened that door.

Not only is it important to open the door and take the journey in you mind, but it is important to do that in real life too. Open the fucking door and take a walk. Get out of the house.  Get out of your head. We have these bodies so we don't have to stay in our heads, we can move around, spending too much time up there will drive you mad. Walk the town, the country road, the mountain pass, let nature blow the cob webs out, you will be refreshed and reinvigorated. Listen, listen to nature, to people, eaves drop on conversation, you don't know where they might lead.

Listen to music, see a concert, see live music, feel it. Go to a gallery, look at art, face to face, not on a fucking computer screen, stand nose to nose with a great work of a master and study the brushstrokes. Remember that Rembrandt stood where you're standing now with a brush in his hand and painted it. His breath were yours now filled the air, and touched the canvas. Living as you are and being present. Be present.

Get a job. Sorry, I know, t's not what an artist wants to hear and I'm not your Dad! But, the dole it's a drain on the soul. Believe me, I know, I was on it for years, thinking it was what I needed to have the time to make films. But you're being paid by the succubus that is the government to exist, and only that, endowed but indebted by them to jump through whatever jobs-bridge free-work scheme they can come up with to remind you that they own you for this measly pittance they put in your hand one minute, and take out the next. A job will give you more money, give you a sense that it is your money, give you a sense of pride and purpose and give you wealth of stories. Think about it.

I mean, aren't all your best stories the one's about the shitty job you worked, aren't all your best characters the ones you worked with on those shitty jobs. You won't be there forever, I promise, because you've got enough ambition and drive to get you there. Build your craft, in the morning before work, on your lunch break, in the evening,  read and write and shoot on the weekend. All the little pieces will eventually build your dream into a reality. Life, and what happens in it, will always be your biggest source of material and inspiration.

Friday, February 19, 2016


'10 Days in December' Character Bubbles

We all live in our own bubble, but we move in and out of other people's bubbles. It's important to remember that when building characters and writing a story that has an ensemble cast. So it's not just focused on the main plot, but has sub-plots and well rounded supporting characters.

Here's a little technique I just invented. A visual character relationship breakdown. Just for me to be able to stand back and quickly look at how characters interact. We have Will and Lucy, the main characters, in the centre, they interact with all the supporting characters, both individually and as a group. Some characters don't interact with other characters, others only interact with everyone... and so on.

For me, each overlap represent a scene, and a different dynamic in the relationships. You will also notice that outside the interaction is a space where there is no interaction, representing a whole other life that these characters are having beyond this story. While the film happens within the Red circle, it's a reminder that these characters have their own stories and they bring them with them when they enter our story, making them fully rounded characters.

There are also satellite characters, those who do not effect the plot, but create a more vivid and real world around our characters.

It's easy to get caught up in what the main protagonists are doing, and have that be the only thing that's going on. But it's important to remember the world they're in and the relationships they have, it all effects who they are and how they behave. And in this story in particular, my friends were very important to me and to Maryann, they represented me, my life and the world I lived in, and made it very attractive to Maryann. For her she saw a warm, friendly, welcoming place that she wanted to be a part of.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Waiting Place

My biggest stumbling block as a young writer, wannabe filmmaker, was my own lack of confidence, and need for validation. I had a need for someone to tell me I was doing a good job. If you wait around for that, you’ll get nothing done. Confidence and validation (if you need it) comes after the fact, so do the work first, then worry about it.

I decided not to continue with animation once I graduated in 2000. Instead chose to pursue my first, and one true love, film. I always wanted to write and direct. So, I wrote a feature script and set out to try and make it, with no clue how to. Remember, this was 16 years ago, right before the digital age, it was about to hit, but we were still well and truly in the film world. I started this blog then, "Celluloid Journey", that’ll tell you! I was confident I would be moving forward in film. To that end, it was much more difficult to get a film made, much more expensive, you had the cost of stock to worry about, which was not only the price of film cans, but also processing and telecine. Thousands to consider before you ever thought about putting pen to paper!

But I let that get in the way, plus I felt like I needed to be guided and told my stuff was good enough to warrant that kind of effort and expense. I never really got that. Admittedly I found a writing partner who I wrote with for years. We wrote a lot of really great stuff together, but only ever made one short film. We never could get passed that writing stage. I’m not sure why, a lack of time, money, opportunity or maybe just a lack of a “Just Do It” attitude. I often wonder how things might have been different if I hadn’t sought advice and just gone and made that first script. I can say one thing with certainty, it would have been terrible film, but it would have been a film, a feature film, made 4 years before I would eventually make my first short film. 

Funny thing is, when I finally got round to making my first feature film, 12 years later, it was very close to that original script. That one was call Blood/Dirt/Money, my feature was call Derelict, and both were came thriller. I think I would have learned a lot that first go round, as much as I learned 12 years on doing my first feature film. Of course, I learned a lot anyway, working with Thomas taught me a lot about writing, and attention to detail in the script. He’s great at pushing it, and questioning things, and not brushing things under the page. It has to work, and be unbreakable. You’ve got to be able to come at it from any angle and it still works. I also met my wife because of Emily’s Song, so I wouldn’t be married to her or have my two beautiful kids with out it. 

But I wish I’d had more of a “Just Do It” attitude all the way along. Whenever I’ve pushed it, or taken a chance, a risk, and gone for something, even though it’s been frightening, and fraught with struggle and some sacrifice, it’s paid off, and life has improved. So I would say to you, just go for it, Do IT! Don’t ever wait for acknowledgment, permission, validation, just concentrate on the work and only the work. If you’re inspired to tell a story in a certain way, then do it, write it, don’t tell anyone about it, keep it secret until it’s ready and then go out and make it. 

Gather your cast and crew. Pick up whatever equipment is available to you. If you can’t afford a Red, shoot it on your phone. Even if you feel it won’t be good enough, make it how you can, because it'll be done, it’ll be a film, it’ll be in the world. And you'll move onto the next one, and the next one and eventually you can afford the Red and things begin to look better and you now have the experience and you've learned all those lessons and perhaps you've built up a reputation and people want to get behind you now.

If you wait around for the big one, it’ll probably never come. Get on the road in whatever banger you have, you’ll pick up a better vehicle as you go, but go, go go go, now! Time is short and running out. The time is now. So go make your film. Start today. What are you waiting for? I can’t tell you exactly what you’re waiting for… You. No more excuses. Get It Done. Your audience is waiting.

Friday, January 01, 2016

So You Wanna Make a Film in 2016 - Here's How!

The 7 films I've made using this method.

This post is actually from 2012! 4 Years ago!!! Eek! I think I had just finish Derelict! Double Eek! Now I know I'm not a very active filmmaker, and I haven't made a film in a while (life happens), but I believe on the info still stands, and it comes from years of practical experience and getting small films made. 

This is for people starting out, young filmmakers making their first film, dipping their toe into the pond for the first time and might be finding it hard to find those simple, practical pieces of information to just get started. It's a daunting prospect, so here are some helpful hints that should help you take those first steps.

First, I should mention, I don't make money at it, and if you go down this road chances are you wont make money at it either. I make my own films without support or financial backing. I've never made any profit making films. I've sold a couple yes, and I have made some money, but I've only ever broken even once. In saying that, I don't do it for the money! And I'm sure you don't either, so, I'd be happy to share with you how I get my films made. 

Here’s a 10 point breakdown (I go into much more detail below):

1. Get the script right.
2. Get people you know and trust involved early on.
3. Get a good cast.
4. Makes Sure people are committed.
5. Raise some funds, but don't worry too much about it.
6. Schedule you film.
7. Set a Date! Move toward it.
8. Feed people.
9. Communicate with people.
10. When directing, be assertive, confident, sure and put yourself in the centre of the room. You're the leader. You're the reason everyone's here. Remember that. 

OK, so here we go!

In putting a film together it begins with the script, as you know, I think this is the most important and crucial stage. It's so easy to get excited and run in all guns blazing without a finished or ready script. What will happen is your film will being to fall apart, you might get it shot, but in the edit, everything you should have spent time on in the writing will be become all to apparent. It's worth spending time on the script, besides, that’s the only free part of the process! So take advantage!

Me writing the yet-to-be-produced "Ghoster"
When the script is ready and you want to start putting it together I would begin with a crew, people you know and trust. They don't have to be professionals, they don't have to be the best in the world, but so long as they know what they're doing and understand what you want. Try to find a DOP first, a good sound recordist is important (sound is KEY, especially at this level, you can get away with a lot visually, but if you have bad sound - your film is ruined!) - the rest of the crew will come as you move forward. 

I would suggest keeping it to a skeleton crew, 8 - 10 people. At this level, everyone's going to be pitching in and doing multiple jobs. But I would say some important jobs (aside from camera and sound) would be continuity, you really need to have someone paying attention, taking notes and pictures, because if you're shooting out of sequence it can very quickly get out of hand. An Assistant Director, 1st AD, someone to watch the clock, keep things moving and make sure everything and everyone are in the right place at the right time, someone who can take away the distractions and allow you to concentrate on directing and be creative.

Patrick O'Donnell and I in rehearsal on "Derelict" 2012
Then begin to cast. You may know some actors already? Do any suit the parts? Maybe friends or colleagues have worked with actors they like? Meet with them, tell them about your script, see if you like them and could work with them. Make sure you see their work too. A mistake you don’t want to make is getting someone just because they're interested. This goes for crew too. I've done this before and if they're bad it will damage your film and make it less believable. It will also be a nightmare to edit. You still need good people. You still need to do the best job you can, even if it is on a tiny budget and even if everyone has agreed to work for free and/or on deferral contracts (where you agree to pay them the daily minimum at least if and after the film goes into profit). They’re signing up to work, not hang around for a week. That being said, most people are eager to work, and if they've said yes it's because they want to work and believe in your project, and you.

Speaking of budget, if you want to shoot an independent short film, or even feature, you can do a lot with goodwill (people giving their time for free) - couple of things to remember, if people are working for free talk to them, let them know what's going on, let them know they are appreciated and thank them for their time. But don't let them get away with not working. If they are going to commit to helping then they need to help and not hinder! You can do this nicely and easily with a speech at the start of pre-production and again at the start of principal photography - something to the effect of "Thanks for coming, you're appreciated, but we have a tough week ahead and I need everyone to help me make a film we can all be proud of..." kind of thing. If someone is taking the piss and just getting in the way don't be afraid to ask them to leave.

Feed people!!!

Very important. In your budget make sure you have money to feed people, it's only fair! A well fed cast and crew are a happy cast and crew. A table with plenty of snacks, cookies, bars, plenty of fruit and sandwich making stuff, lots of water and tea and coffee. And one hot meal a day. Perhaps making soup available daily too. You can tell them there will be food, snacks and a hot meal, but perhaps suggest getting breakfast before they come and having dinner at home. Save yourself some cash.

Base Camp - Derelict
Schedule your days realistically. I would suggest starting with breaking your script up into locations, even if in a house - shoot in one place until you have all the shots are got and then move on to the next location. It's easier and less time consuming that way. (Unless of course you're going handheld and following people in and out of rooms, it doesn't apply then) 

Again, if people are working for free, try to keep the shoot short, a week, two weeks max. If people are giving up their time their probably making financial sacrifices or passing up other opportunities, be conscious of that - but don't let it distract you, again, if they're committing to you then they've made their choice. But it's only fair that you don't ask too much of people, you might lose some good will otherwise. Ways around this if you're running over is to pull people aside and let them know what's going on, keeping people informed helps more then you think it will, or paying them, even if it's a small amount.

OK, back to budget and how to raise it.

1. Community fundraiser:

Have a fundraiser where you live. Find a venue, put on a comedy, rock, table quiz night. Charge people a small amount at the door €5 or €10, and then sell raffle tickets while the entertainment is going on to win sponsored prizes (you'll have to have local businesses donate prizes, this is also easier then you think... you will get people who will rudely dismiss you, which is humiliating, but you'll get more people who'll gladly help) I made €1000 for a short by doing this.

2. Auction:

Do you have artist friends? Do you know prominent artist? Have them donate work, set a reserve, which they get (if sold) and agree that you get the profit of the whatever is sold (some may even give you all the money) Go to a local gallery, art centre, something like that and ask them if you could host the night there, put on some wine and a light buffet. 

note: You will have to spend some money to do this. The old Spend money to make money. You will also have to do a lot of leg work to get people in the doors. Advertise. Posters. Try and get on local radio. People are also pretty good about sponsoring this stuff, just ask, the worst they can do is say no.

3. Online Crowdfunding:

This is becoming increasingly popular. I've used it twice with great success, on two films, 140 and Derelict (my current film) Kickstarter is an American site and only available to American users, for now, but you should have a look at the pitch videos and other projects just to see how people put them together and how they pitch them. IndieGoGo is similar site you can sign up to from anywhere ( in Ireland). And I believe there are others out there now. 

Again, you have to push it and put the leg work in, no one's just going to just show up out of the blue and give you cash, you have to shout about it, get on facebook, twitter - It doesn't matter if you hate those sites, you want people to get behind the project you have to let them know about it and social networking is the best way to do that. We’re in the age of digital media and social network, it’s only an advantage to the independent filmmaker, use it… again – It’s Free!!!

You will need some cash, for food, some equipment rental, travel expenses, insurance and things that will inevitable pop up during the shoot. But you can make a film for next to nothing if you're clever and tenacious enough. You can get a descent short for €2000 if you want to put a little cash in to be sure. Don’t be a afraid to ask for things, for sponsorship, for free stuff, water, food, equipment, you never know what you might get.

With regard to equipment, lights, cameras, all you may need - get in touch with a local rental house, tell them what you're doing and ask if there is a way they can help, either by giving you a discount or by lending stuff for free off season, often places will do this, if they're cool they'd rather help out a young filmmaker then see the stuff lying there. After all, you may be a very good future customer and you're going to go to the place that helped you out first!

But I would say, don't let money stop you from making a film. If you want to make a film, you should. If you believe in it and start it, the money will come. Often, when people put money into a project it's not because the believe in the project so much, it's that they believe in you, and like to see people doing something creative and positive. So go do it, start it and it will happen.

It's a tough road, no question about that, and at some point you will ask yourself why you started it, I still do! But it is also very rewarding, and once you've made this film you're just going to want to get onto the next one.

Here’s a 10 point breakdown:

1. Get the script right.
2. Get people you know and trust involved early on.
3. Get a good cast.
4. Makes Sure people are committed.
5. Raise some funds, but don't worry too much about it.
6. Schedule you film.
7. Set a Date! Move toward it.
8. Feed people.
9. Communicate with people.
10. When directing, be assertive, confident, sure and put yourself in the centre of the room. You're the leader. You're the reason everyone's here. Remember that. 

Two bonus points:
Be nice to people.
Put some money aside for the wrap party!!!

Hope that helps you somewhat! As I said at the start, everyone’s journey is different so you may find your own ways of doing things. Tap every resource you have, you’ll get there.

Couple of books you should read to: Digital Filmmaking by Mike Figgis and Producing With Passion: Making Films That Change The World by Dorothy Fadiman and Tony Levelle (which is about making documentaries but so much of how to get a film up and running applies). Two of the best books I’ve read on how to make a film, because they’re practical, simple, constructive and inspirational. 

Addition: Funding - When looking for funding go to you local Council, they usually have an arts fund, ask about it. Some other organisations you may not expect may also have arts or education funds, some charities do, ask around, you might be surprised what you find.

Addition II: Equipement - What do you need? Camera, sound recording devices, lights. If you have no money, shoot on your iPhone. Seriously, the iPhone 6s has 4k recording now. With a 64gb memory you can record up to 20 mins of 4k footage. That's more than enough. You may need a lens adaptor, and an app to strength your cameras capability, but it's possible. You also have the Movies app on you phone, so we're basically walking around with a HD movie studio in our pocket, use it! 

Check out Filmic Pro to expand your phones capability.
Check out Moondog Labs for lens adaptors.

You use what you can. However you can get it made, that's how you do it, the most important thing that the script is good, tight and concisely telling the story you want to tell.

By all means ask around, if you know someone who's willing to loan you a RED, sure go for it. But be prepared to post it too. Do you have the capabilities to edit 4K? Think about that too, if 1080i will do, and you can cut it on your home computer yourself, then that might be the way to go, instead of painting yourself into a 4k corner that you may never get out of!

You may not chose to shot with lights, using available light, it is possible of course, just be clever about it. Can you write the script around available light, set scenes in the day instead of the night? Close to a window? If you make these decision early on in the script writing stage you can incorporate them into the design of the film and indeed the story. It will also save you a lot of time trying to block on the day.

I'm not an expert on sound, except to say it's vital. I tend to hire a good recordist and have them hire the equipment they need. Before the shoot we discuss the script, and ideas for each scene. See if you can find a good recordist, or go to a rental house and ask advice. You can find out a ton of info online, but I'm old school, I like getting out and talking to people, the people who do this everyday.

Addition III: Post-Production - This is a big one. Something I missed out on back in 2012 because I had just started on post-production for Derelict and quite honestly, I wasn't prepared for it and it harmed the release of the film. So, lesson learned, and lesson shared.

Make sure you are prepared for post-production at the very beginning, it is as important, if not more important, as the shoot. This is where you will finish the film, and realise the vision you set out to make. You will edit it, color it, composed the score, export it to however many formats you need to and then market it, put it out into the world, get it to festivals, get it distributed, or sold, or streaming somewhere. You are after all making this film to share with an audience, the trick now is to get it to the audience.

So part of your budget needs to be set aside for all that. Don't forget it just so you can get the film shot, if you don't have it, then you're not ready. Trust me, there is nothing worse than getting lost in post for a year or more. You need to keep the momentum of your film going all the way to it's release.

If you are thinking about crowdfunding, take a look at Seed & Spark, it is a newer crowdfunding platform that is solely for film, but not only can you raise your funds, but they offer a distribution platform too. So as you build your audience while you're raising funding, you hang onto them, and present the film to them when it's complete.

Entering Festivals:

I would recommend getting it to festivals, don't just put it up online, I know you're excited to share it, but there are often rules, which include not publicly broadcasting your film before sale. If you do, you may rule yourself out of festivals and sales. 

Getting it into festival can give your film some prestige, making it more commercial and sellable, and a more attractive prospect for other festival. Aim for the big ones first, a big premiere at a prestigious festival can really help your film. And awards don't hurt either. I know we're not in this for awards, but whatever gets your film in front of an audience. 

Once your film is ready, get yourself over to Filmfreeway and start entering, Film freeway is great, very user friendly, and a useful sliding scale so you can set it to your budget, even if your budget is $0, it shows free festivals. You can also look at Short Film Depot, it's an older site, but I've used it since making Emily's Song over 10 years ago.

So go on, go make a film in 2016, send it to me when you’re done! And don’t forget to enjoy yourself! You’re living your dream after all.