Continuing the series Irish Women in Film, Caroline Farrell interviews Lisa McNamee.
Lisa McNamee is a Dublin based film and theatre producer. She is currently Head of Production for Planet Korda Pictures, a production company which specializes in broadcast documentaries. Her current projects are See You at the Pictures! a documentary on cinema-going in Ireland for RTÉ and No Party for Billy Burns, a beautiful fiction feature about fantasy, loneliness and cowboys… She is also developing a new play about Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka to be staged in 2013 in cooperation with Fire & Ice Theatre Company and graphic artist Stephen Kane.
Lisa, tell us how and why did you get started in the business?
I’ve always loved being able to lose myself in a great story. To me that’s one of the best things about working as a producer. When you find a script that’s really wonderful, that completely draws you into its world, that’s a brilliant feeling. That’s what attracted me to film in the first place. That and the ridiculousness of it. When you are working incredibly hard to bring fictional worlds, characters and relationships to life, it often feels as though what you’re doing is very strange. Before I started working in film, I watched loads of behind-the-scenes videos of complex set builds and fictional worlds and fell in love with that process. It’s that fantasist element of film that’s always appealed to me.
I started in film the same way most people do, working for free on friends’ projects, building up a portfolio of films and gradually moving on to better financed projects.
Did you have any formal instruction, or are you self-taught?
I did a semester in the New York Film Academy, but my primary degree is unrelated to film (Classical Civilization & French). Other than that it’s just been on the job, and lots of research.
What and/or whom have been your seminal influences?
I grew up on westerns, sci-fi and period drama and I’ve never fallen out of love with those genres. The one bone I would pick with the Irish industry is that there is rarely the budget available to really take a risk in these kind of genres. I think that’s a shame.
Who are your current favourites / influences?
I loved Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. It was so beautiful. Weirdly, I’ve never seen any of his other films so I think it’ll be a few weeks of trawling through his back catalogue of delicious oddities.
I’m really looking forward to watching Lauren Greenfield’s doc The Queen of Versailles about the collapse of the artificially mega rich in the U.S.and I was just given the animated film Max & Mary on DVD (after many dropped hints) so will be hoping for another favourite animation there.
Fantasy dinner party guests? Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around your dinner table.
Erika Hníková – Czech director of an amazing (and funny) documentary film called ‘The Match-Making Mayor‘ about the attempts of a mayor in a rural town to get the townsfolk to marry and have children. He has a megaphone. It’s brilliant.
Richard Pryor (Comedian)
Bill Bailey (Comedian)
Shaapi Khorsandi (Comedian)
Sarah Millican (Comedian)
Four comedians at dinner = constant one-up-manship
My boyfriend (We live together and I’m sure he’d be quite pissed off if I told him I was inviting a bunch of really entertaining people over and he wasn’t invited!)
What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?
I’m just back from the Fleadh (Galway Film Festival) and I’m so delighted to see so many wonderful Irish films on the festival circuit at the moment. I think that the quality and variety of films on offer from Irish production companies at the moment has never been higher. As I said before, I’d love to see Irish crews working on types of films that we don’t really get to make here. Although, with Vikingsand Game of Thrones shooting here at the moment, as well as Ripper Street and similar programmes, hopefully it’s only a matter of time before we start attracting period/fantasy film projects on the same budget scale as in other countries.
Can you pick out the highlight of your career so far?
I can’t pick one highlight I’m afraid. I get two really great days that I always remember on every film. The first time that I sit down with a director to discuss the project and the film’s first screening. They’re both usually really memorable. That first meeting is where every mad idea and possibility for the project is thrown on the table, realistic or not, and forms the basis of months of schemes and planning. The first screening is always such stress, and such relief. It’s always a blur, but the excitement of the experience stays with you. Those are my two highlights of each project…unless there is a big set build, in which case the highlights expand to include seeing first drawings and final stages of the build itself.
What is your ultimate career goal?
My ultimate goal…Hmm…at the moment I have two. Firstly, to get a great distributor for No Party for Billy Burns and secondly, to get a personal project I’ve been developing made next year.
Thanks, Lisa. Final comments?
If you’ve got a cinema-going story you’d like to share, get in touch atwww.seeyouatthepictures.com. If you watched John Wayne and co. as a kid and thought ‘Awesome!’, check out www.facebook.com/billyburnsmovie for some real cowboys.