ISSUE 133 – The Producers

The Runway

Everyone knows how essential a good producer is – but what do they actually do? Film Ireland got producer VANESSA GILDEA on the case.

Most times when you tell someone that you’re a producer, the first thing they ask is ‘What exactly does a producer do?’. The reason the question is so often asked and why the answer is so complex is that producing can encompass so many facets of the filmmaking process – it’s almost impossible to define succinctly. But we decided to give it a go anyway and talked to four established Irish producers working across a variety of genres: Macdara Kelleher, Martina Niland, Cathal Gaffney and John Murray.

Macdara Kelleher is managing director of Fastnet Films. He produced the award-winning feature film Kisses (an Irish/Danish/Swedish co-production) and was also selected as Ireland’s Producer on the Move for Cannes in 2008.

Martina Niland is a producer with Samson Films and among her many credits are the multi award-winning feature Pavee Lackeen and the Oscar®-winning film Once. She has also worked on Carmel Winters’ new feature Snap.

Cathal Gaffney established Brown Bag Films with Darragh O’Connell and currently executive produces. Brown Bag has been twice nominated for an Oscar® for the short films Give Up Yer Aul Sins and Granny O’Grimm and they also make several international animation series.

John Murray is managing director of Crossing the Line Films and has produced and directed over 100 documentaries. He has a passion for adventure, exploration and travel docs and recently produced The Yellow Bittern, the Liam Clancy documentary.

How would you define what a producer is and does?
MACDARA KELLEHER: Start with an easy question why don’t ya? It’s almost impossible to answer that, there’s so many different types of producer out there. Sometimes you originate the idea or come up with the initial concept or sometimes a writer/director comes with an idea and it’s your job to realise that. In one way you could say that the producer is the person who brings the project to life. Some days you’re a lawyer or an accountant and some days you’re creative, it’s hard to define…

What training or experience really helped you become a producer?
MK: I started working on films when I was about 18. I think just being around films and filmmaking gave me a good understanding of how it works. If you’re shooting a film in the North Pole, and you haven’t done it before, no amount of training or experience is going to prepare you for that. Every time you do a co-production with a new country it’s a whole new set of rules. It’s kind of like a game of chess, you’re always developing new strategies.

What’s the most unusual way you’ve ever funded a film?
MK: I funded one with credit cards, I wouldn’t recommend it. Sometimes you might come across a private investor who happens to be a philanthropist but it doesn’t happen very often. Also, taking private money for features and promising to give it back can be a dangerous process. In America they’re quite canny about funding, largely because outside of tax credits they have no public film funding like in Europe.

Do you find raising finance the hardest part of producing?
MK: It depends. If you have a director that people know or you have a great cast attached then it might not be so hard. If you’re working with a first-time director it can be difficult, but in that case you have to set the budget to an achievable level. Budget levels are coming down across the board and that’s proving difficult.

What has been your proudest achievement as a producer?
MK: To be still at it, I think. I’ve been doing it for ten years now. I’m still at it and I’ve kept a company going. The film that I’m most proud of having made would definitely be Kisses.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 133.


ISSUE 133 – Him & Him

Ken and Andrew

It’s a year since director Ken Wardrop and producer Andrew Freedman won the Best Feature Award at the Galway Fleadh for the beguiling documentary His & Hers. JAMIE HANNIGAN talks to the filmmakers about dealing with sales agents, their festival strategy and getting that cinema release.

JAMIE: It’s been a good year for you since His & Hers premiered at Galway: did you make any special preparations for that screening, invite lots of friends and family?

ANDREW: The run-up to that screening was a very manic period for us, because the film was only just completed in advance of Galway. So, first and foremost, we were very nervous about how the film would go down, how the audience would react, because… Well, we had a few friends and family there but because of the slot we were given, the vast majority of people would be members of the industry, members of the public, and we had no control over that. But we thought, fair enough, let the film do the talking and see how it goes. We were nervous, to the point that Ken didn’t even watch it during the first screening…

KEN: And I haven’t watched it.

ANDREW: …and you haven’t watched it since!

What was the reaction? I mean, you presumably came in at the end…

KEN: Well, you may have not heard the drama. We had to stop the screening because the frame-rate was wrong on the projector. The first fifteen minutes would have been interfered with, so we stopped it and restarted. I had been rung from Andrew in the meantime to say that this had happened, so I’d obviously had a hernia down in the Yacht Club. I was expecting the worst when we came back…

ANDREW: At the end of the film, you really didn’t want to go in. I said, ‘Listen, the reaction was good…’ And when we went in, we pretty much immediately got a standing ovation, which I have to say, I haven’t seen at Galway before. That was the best endorsement of the film, so far. Because once that happened, we entered into other festivals with a lot more confidence. Also, although we weren’t really aware of it, the amount of members of the industry from all over the world who were actually at Galway – you don’t really think about it, but you see them again and again when you start to go on the festival circuit. They were all there and they all saw the film, and we were getting phone calls from Sony the next day, and phone calls from bigger distribution companies, wanting to get copies of the film. Which is something you just don’t really expect in Galway, in Ireland, for it to have such an immediate knock-on effect.

When did you encounter your first sales agent?

ANDREW: Well… The sales agent side of things took longer to develop, because although there was a lot of interest and everybody wanted to see the film, it didn’t necessarily mean that they wanted to jump on board. So the sales agent thing was gradual. In the end, we settled with Andrew Herwitz of the Film Sales Company in New York because he responded very well to the film and he was really passionate about it. And he seemed like the right person to bring the film to Sundance, which was our major international premiere.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 133.


Issue 133 – Opening The Door

The Door

NIAMH CREELY talks to filmmaker Juanita Wilson about her Oscar®-nominated short The Door which explores the legacy of Chernobyl, and finds out just how helpful the nomination has been for her debut feature As If I’m Not There.

NIAMH: The Door had a very impressive festival life. Was there a point when you realised it was really taking off?
JUANITA: Yes. Well, The Door kind of started slowly. It got mentioned in Galway. And then it won an award in Cork. The first festival that it won Best Short in was Foyle, which was fantastic. And literally on the same day, it won Best Short in Bilbao. That was kind of, ‘wow, okay!’ In two parts of the world at the same time, with a programme of international shorts, and it’s won! Every award after that was an absolute bonus, but particularly the Academy nomination, the access to the audiences in the States and the feedback from there as well.

How do you go about qualifying as a short for the Oscars®?
Well there’s two ways you can go about it. One is to win one of the Academy-affiliated festivals. As it happens both Bilbao and Foyle are affiliated. Winning at either of those would have qualified The Door to be on the shortlist, which I think is about 70 films. And from there the Academy select the 10 and then they select the 5. But you can also screen it in LA for a couple of days in some cinema and I think that will qualify the film.

So the nomination really opened up the American audience for you?
Well, I’ve watched this film now kind of in different parts of the world with people who speak different languages. I watched it in Macedonia, in this tiny little town called Strumica. The people there couldn’t speak English or Russian – they couldn’t understand the dialogue or the subtitles. But the feedback afterwards was incredible. It also won Best Director at the Grand D’Or festival in Poland, which I would say is steeped in the European tradition of cinema. So then to be able to go to America, LA, the home of Hollywood, and get the feedback we got there was amazing. Perhaps it’s the lack of dialogue that makes it universal.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 133.


Issue 133 – Five Ways Two Kill You're Script

Broken Pencil

Film Ireland gets some not-to-be-ignored advice from James Bartlett, story analyst to the Sundance Institute amongst other illustrious organisations…

Living in Hollywood and working as a script reader and story editor, I know that studios, agencies and production companies receive hundreds of scripts per day. The market in Europe may be less intense (and less well-funded), but either way, someone like me is going to be the first person to read your script.

Over 10 years of script reading I have noticed the same 13 mistakes appearing time and time again in scripts. These ‘red flags’ are all a reason to say ‘No’, and I devised the lecture ‘Hollywood Screenwriting: Jumping The First Hurdle’ to help writers by talking about these 13 mistakes, looking at screenwriting competitions and the industry as a whole so that they’ll have a more sellable, professional product. Whether you’re a new writer or an experienced professional, everyone makes these mistakes – believe me!

Spelling and Punctuation
It may seem obvious, but 75–80% of scripts have this problem. You call yourself a writer and want to be paid to write, yet you can’t spell? Or you don’t know the correct usage of ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ or ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? Remarkably, ‘loose’ and ‘lose’ are always incorrect, and Spell Check is simply not enough.

Frank is slumped on the coach, polishing off a bear. A dozen bears are strewn on the coffee table, a one man party that didn’t go so well.

The writer means a ‘beer’ of course, yet Spell Check reads ‘bear’ as a word. I’ve even read scripts where the very first word was spelled wrong! Try reading your script from the end to the beginning and keep checking, because there’s never any excuse…

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 133 – Get into film

Get into Film

So you’ve decided your future lies in film. But where to begin? Film Ireland’s Charlene Lydon talks to some up-and-coming Irish talent about where they went to college and what they learned there…

There are many schools of thought on the pros and cons of studying film. Some of the greatest filmmakers of our time, such as David Fincher, Peter Jackson and Steven Soderbergh never went to film school. Many are of the opinion that you can’t teach art – you either have it or you don’t. Modern technology has become so compact and so cheap that the ‘learn by doing’ philosophy is more feasible than ever before. Anybody can pick up a camera and shoot some footage, anyone can use a simple editing programme on their laptop and anybody can upload a video to YouTube.

In the past, many people went to film school simply because there was no other way to access equipment. With that no longer being the case, what are the benefits of going to film school? If nothing else, an education in film will help you decide where your strengths lie. Without actually trying it, it can be hard to know if you’re actually suited to directing. Or what about producing? Or screenwriting? You get to try out a variety of roles, gaining insight into how a crew fits together, the importance of each crew member’s role and, most importantly, the job that best suits your skills.

And apart from finding out which way you incline, if you’re interested in certain filmmaking skills like editing or cinematography you can absolutely reap benefits from formal training. You might be full of interesting ideas but without the knowledge of your tools, there are no guarantees you’ll ever reach your full potential. Training in a college gives you the chance to get familiar with the industry’s rapidly changing technologies.

And now, the other benefit of studying film in a structured way. One of the secrets to succeeding in film is getting to know people. Word of mouth is an essential part of getting jobs in film and building a reputation is hugely important. Film courses are a great place to meet the future filmmakers of Ireland and start a New Wave together. Students often find themselves forming production companies together after college or working on each other’s films. It’s always good to have a pool of talented, dependable crewmembers for future projects and college is a very, very handy way to do this.

So read on to hear what successful Irish filmmakers have to say about the place they learned their trade and, you never know, you might learn a thing or two…

How to Choose the Right Course for You

There is a vast array of courses on offer in Ireland, both technical and academic. Technical courses are best suited to those interested in working as crew or in directing their own films. The focus is on practical work and while there will usually be some written work, a large part of your mark will be for project work. The academic study of film will suit you if you’re interested in becoming a film lecturer, a cinema programmer or a film critic. These courses focus on the history and theory of cinema. If you enjoy watching and discussing films, but are not so keen on making them, then this is the direction you should take.

Some courses contain elements of both technical and academic studies. These combination courses are quite broad and will allow you find the areas that suit you. If you know you love film but you’re not sure what you want to focus on then this is the option for you.

Filmbase is one place to find this kind of film training. The film and video training courses are for new and emerging filmmakers as well as practising film professionals. Course lengths vary from one-day to five-day, weekend courses and evening courses ranging from 6 to 10 weeks. This means they’re open to those in full-time work who want to explore a particular area or to film professionals who want to update their qualifications without having to take too much time off. It’s also an opportunity to find out where your strengths lie before you commit to a degree or a diploma or before embarking on a career in filmmaking. Filmbase is an Apple Authorized Training Centre, and all tutors who teach Filmbase courses are film professionals themselves, which brings an authenticity and practicality to the courses. For a full list of the training available at Filmbase, visit

If you want to try film but are afraid of taking the plunge with college fees, why not check with your local vec. They offer a range of lower cost certificate and diploma courses around the country that can lead to further education and will, at the very least, provide you with a substantial portfolio of work.

So, whether you on the post-Leaving Cert precipice, you feel like a career change, or you just fancy a new hobby, there is something there for you.

Ballyfermot College Of Further Education
Nicky Phelan – director, Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty (short animation, 2008).

What was the most important thing you learned during your time studying film?
I studied animation in Ballyfermot, where we did a lot of life-drawing and sketching out on location. It taught me the importance of observation – seeing what gives an expression or gesture its meaning, what elements of someone’s physicality tell you about their personality in terms of movement and presentation. All the details that go into making a set feel real and relevant to the world you are trying to create – observation and attention to detail, I suppose, two important lessons.

What was your first project and how did it go?
The first film as such I made in college was a group project, made on paper with pastel illustrations. We were happy with how it turned out, but I haven’t seen it in a long time!

What have you learned that college couldn’t teach you?
Lots of things. Experience is the best place to learn. I think something that comes with time is realising that to make something feel really emotional, it helps to bring your own personal experience to it. It’s sort of intuitive anyway, but it is an important question to ask yourself in terms of relating to your characters and world. You have to look at your story, characters and the world you are creating, and bring your own memories or experiences to them in some way. It all translates to an audience. I also did an amazing course through Screen Training Ireland with Bruce Block on visual storytelling, which was incredibly helpful and is something that I still refer to.

If you could tell students one thing, what would it be?
That while it’s a tough industry to get into, if it’s what you want to do, keep at it. Make films on your computer at home, do whatever, and keep at it. The more you put into the work, the more you’ll get out of it. If it starts to feel too much like hard work, you should probably do something else.

What would you change about film education in Ireland?
It might have changed by now, but in Ballyfermot I think we could have benefitted from a mentoring system – some way in which those working in the industry mentor students. I think having access to people with the technical know-how and experience would help the students improve production values and increase their chances of reaching wider audiences.

Do you think academic film study can inform technical ability?
Yes, to a certain degree, but there’s nothing like experience to inform technical ability.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 133


Issue 133 – Documentary Longinotto Style

Kim Longinotto

Ross Whitaker took a trip to Guth Gafa film festival to talk to an extraordinary documentary maker, Kim Longinotto. The director tells us about her unique approach and the difficult decisions she’s made whilst making her films.

Guth Gafa is fast becoming one of Ireland’s most enjoyable festivals. Locked away in the north west corner of the country, it is delightfully small yet perfectly formed and screens some of the world’s most exciting documentary films, always with the filmmaker in attendance.

One of this year’s undoubted highlights was two screenings and a masterclass with Kim Longinotto, whose marvellous films have been gracing festivals around the world for over thirty years…

Kim Longinotto refuses to be unequivocal. She has done these masterclasses before and as she begins to speak to the group, she is just a little careful about what she says. ‘I promised myself I’d never do one of these things again,’ she says with a smile.

But everyone here is glad she didn’t stick to that promise.

Longinotto has a way that she likes to make films and it has served her well. For many years her films have been greeted by critical and audience acclaim and she was given an Outstanding Achievement Award at this year’s Hot Docs. Major awards at festivals like Cannes and Sundance and a European Film Award prove the world likes the way she makes films too.

No cutaways

Generally speaking, Longinotto doesn’t use interviews in her films, uses little music and rarely uses any kind of voiceover. She never wants to ask her subjects to repeat anything or act in any particular way and she doesn’t shoot cutaways. But she doesn’t want people to think that she is against these things, she just doesn’t want them in her films. She is at pains not to generalise about how films should be made.

‘What we all do is make films that reflect who we are,’ she says. ‘What you make shows so much of what kind of person you are and how you see the world and you just have to go with it really.’

Longinotto’s personality seems reflected in the films that she makes. She seems unassuming, quiet but confident and very open. You can see how the subjects of her films might warm to her.

In her films, she doesn’t tell the audience what to think but instead creates a narrative with complex, human characters. She does all her own cinematography but she is not a fly on the wall, rather she’s another person in the room. The audience becomes a witness in the world she portrays rather than a passive observer.

‘It’s a different kind of information that you’re getting. I remember sitting through documentaries that were on before a fiction film and everyone used to talk through them because documentaries were the boring bit where you were told something and it was supposed to be good for you somehow. What I’m trying to do is make a story where you’re being drawn into a world and you’re watching a story unfold and you stop thinking about what type of film it is and just follow the narrative.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 133


Issue 132 – Breaking (Down) the Budget

Breaking (Down) the Budget

Low-budget can mean anything from a few hundred grand to small change and some pocket-lint. But no matter the size of your lump sum, what’s the smartest way to spend your money in low-budget filmmaking? Conor McMahon talked to directors Brian O’Toole, Paul Ward, Eoin Macken and himself…

Budgets are strange things. From the few films I’ve produced, I’ve always found them difficult and frustrating to put together. It’s impossible to tell how much most things will cost. How do you know how much footage will be shot or how much food will be eaten? And without accurate figures, how can you ever make a definite budget? I’ve also found it odd that on bigger films a budget is put together when they don’t even know exactly how it’s going to be shot, or how the director plans on staging certain things. But in the end, a budget is something you need to get things moving, to convince people it’s possible so you can secure finance.

The other thing about budgets is that a lot of people won’t talk about them. They don’t want people to know how much their film cost. And it’s understandable. If you’ve made a film for 100,000 and you say it cost 500,000, chances are you’ll probably be able to sell it for more on the market. It’s often only at the very lower end of the spectrum that people will proudly declare that their film cost a week’s wages, and use that as a selling point. The zombie film Colin that was shot earlier in the year was apparently made for £40. Another example would be of course El mariachi, which used the fact that it only cost $7,000 as a selling point.

In the age of digital filmmaking it’s easier than ever to pick up a camera and go out a shoot a film. But how much money do you need to do it? The answer is often whatever you have and whatever you can get…

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 132 – Production Design

Production Design

Conor McMahon talked to big-budget production designer Ray Ball about why he loves being in charge.

So how did you get into production design in the first place?

I did art and model-making in Dun Laoghaire. You have to make a decision whether you want to design your own work or get other people to make it. I much prefer designing the stuff myself so I did the course. There are a few ways to make it into the art department. Traditionally it’s either as a graphic designer – so you’re good with computers – or to be a good draughtsman and then you work your way up.

So that’s what this industry is like for college leavers?

After college, you will end up working as an unpaid apprentice or something like that. You have to grovel, grovel, grovel to get onto the jobs. That’s the way I did it, anyway. It gave me confidence and also something for my portfolio. Then I started getting offered low-budget things. But you also need to learn to start saying ‘no’. Because you’ll always be popular when you’re free. I went through a year-and-a-half of working for free on everything. And then I got a lucky break. I remember going for The Coalboat kids and the Pickaroonie. I rang the producer and asked for work experience. A few weeks later I get a call saying, ‘Someone’s dropped out, can you come for an interview?’ I ended up designing it. It was my big break.

So is there enough work out there to keep you going?

Last year was a very bad year. There were lots more documentaries and art departments don’t get hired for that. It’s supposed to be a good year this year. But then The Tudors is finished. A huge mass of people who have been working on that for the last six years are all now out of a job.

Would projects like, say, the Film Board’s Signatures, keep things ticking over?

Oh yes, definitely. Signatures are a really important thing now. Because January, February, March every year, there is pretty much nothing else.

So what do you look for in a project?

If I like the script, I talk to the director or the producer and I find out what the budget is. On a short, €1000 for the art department is doable, plus vans and labour on top of that. I mean now everyone says, ‘Do a Once’ but you can’t expect that formula to happen everytime.

So where does a production design budget go, mainly?

There are two main ways you can spend your budget. You can buy and rent stuff, or you can get five or six people to sit on the internet and look at and things like that. They’ll source everything for free. I would much rather make a job rather than give the money to the shops...

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 132 – The Dark Arts

The Dark Arts

Concept artist Olwen Foy shares the journey from creature conception to film.
‘You don’t understand what you’re dealing with. A perfect organism. It’s structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.’ – The android Ash from Alien, written by Dan O’Bannon in 1976.

The way in which Ash admiringly describes the alien to the horrified crew of the Nostromo is a pretty perfect description of the artistic brief for the vast majority of horror and science-fiction creature designs.

Most concept artists today start at the beginning with the script and whatever descriptive lines or character dialogue have been provided. This indicates to the artist the nature of the creature that they are dealing with. From aliens to man-made monsters, from robots to zombies, somebody at some point in the production must begin the process of realisation of the creature, from page to finished glory. This conceptual process takes many forms. Often, a director or designer will employ a concept artist to create a bespoke piece based on a brief or will reference an existing or historical piece of fine art.

An emotional response
The route of this art is particularly intriguing. Filmmakers have always had an intrinsic relationship with the world of art, and fine art has a rich history of visual, psychological and emotive truths. These tend to work well when applied to film creature design, provoking an emotional response and enriching the experience of the movie audience.

Many of the most memorable, iconic and potent creatures in film history were designed or influenced by fine artists. Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) creature was designed by the Swiss master-surrealist H.R. Giger, who was in turn influenced by Salvador Dalí and Zdzisław Beksiński. Giger’s designs actually existed in his book Necronomicon (1977) before Alien’s script had even been conceived and were originally illustration’s of H.P. Lovecraft’s demons. The strength of his artwork was a key factor in convincing the studio, 20th Century Fox, to finance the film. H.R. Giger’s artwork has subsequently been used in the remaining Alien franchise, Poltergeist II (1986) and Species (1995). In Adrian Lyne’s psychological horror Jacob’s Ladder (1990), the horrific post-Vietnam war demon-visions were inspired by the violent treatment of the figurative heads of Francis Bacon…

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.

To see more of Olwen’s work, please visit or email

To see more of Ben’s work, please visit


Issue 132 – His Cup Runneth Over…

The Cup of Tears

One morning, filmmaker Gary Shore woke up to discover his trailer The Cup of Tears had earned him an invitation from Hollywood to make his own feature. Conor McMahon talked to Gary about living the dream.

So how did you get into filmmaking?

Well, first I was in Galway for three years. Then I saw the stuff coming out of Dun Laoghaire that was technically really good. It really pushed me to up my game, technically speaking.

I got into Dun Laoghaire and went there for a year. After I left I started doing music videos. It really was in music videos that I started learning how to use green screen. I went out on a shoot one day on an island off Croatia and we had such bad weather that I swore I wouldn’t do anything again outside a studio. And because I can do all my own matte paintings, if I don’t get the right sky, I can paint my own sky and create my own landscapes. I’ve done everything since on green screen. I’m very fortunate that I can draw.

When you came out of college how did you get into advertising?

Advertising was hard to get into. I had to get into music videos first. When I was in Dun Laoghaire, I went to the Berlin Talent Campus and picked up a flyer of a production company over in Slovenia – they were looking for directors. It said on the flyer that they did work with Sony, Warner Brothers, etc. So I spent six months pitching for jobs, and doing different music videos. When you’re working on a proper music video and the pressure is on, you’ll learn more in two weeks than in four years at college. Advertising came later because I needed to build up a showreel of music videos first. Recently, I signed with Anonymous Content, which is David Fincher’s company. Then I signed with Knucklehead in the UK and I’ve just finished shooting the adidas Predator World Cup campaign.

Initially I worked outside of Ireland because I wanted to learn my tools properly and I wanted to screw up outside the system properly and then come back in when nobody knew me. No one knew me within the film scene because I had operated outside of it for the last few years.

Is it a lot of pressure working on big-budget commercials?

The biggest pressure is on yourself because you want to make the best job you can. The best thing to do is stay focused on your own job and just use your intuition. I have the advantage that I can storyboard so there’s no one else to go through. What I see in my mind goes down on the paper. If you can stick to the boards you’ll hold on by the seat of your pants.

Your short trailer, Cup of Tears, how was it created?

I’d been doing music videos in Slovenia, and I got to use a lot of green screen. I wanted to try and adapt Japanese animation into live action. What I really liked about manga and anime was the directing style. The action and movement. Not the googly-eyed kids with big heads. It was stuff like Ghost in the Shell, Ninja Scroll and Akira that really caught my imagination. What I was basing the style on was the limitations of Japanese animation. Disney would have beautiful, graceful movements of character, but in Japan they didn’t have the same resources. They’d, for example, use the camera to create the movement or they’d have lips moving, but not the body moving. And a style developed out of that. What I wanted to do with The Cup of Tears was take that style, take those sensibilities and limitations and adapt it to my own work. It’s almost like stop-motion, in a way, but with live-action…

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.

To view the trailer for The Cup of Tears, please visit


Issue 132 – What do you do with actors?

Directing Actors

Actor/director Vinny Murphy talks about directing actors.

In this article, rather than give a ‘Tips for Directing Actors’ list I would like to try to take the subject seriously, just for a laugh.

As an actor, before I ever directed, I was often asked by directors for advice on directing actors. I was shocked by the questions they would ask. ‘What do you do with actors?’ they’d say. ‘I’ve heard they have their own language you have to learn,’ they’d say. A lot of these people had been to film school and some had made a few shorts already. They seemed to be dealing with some strange alien life form. I’d ask what had they done with these strange ‘others’ before: they either couldn’t remember or they said they’d done nothing – basically they didn’t know what had happened. It still holds true today that colleges spend very little, if any, time on this obviously extremely important aspect of filmmaking. It seems to be the last thing anybody making their first film ever thinks about. ‘The director got sucked into the camera’ is an old way of saying the director didn’t deal with the actors and, from what I hear and see, there are still directors getting sucked into all sorts of old and new cameras all over the country.

Why does this happen? I think the main reason is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of this ‘other.’ It’s much easier to talk to the DOP  because you’re talking about tangibles. The job of a director is so huge and so full of pressure that it’s very tempting to look for excuses when something isn’t working. It’s great, you can say ‘the actors just aren’t getting it, what’s wrong with them?’ and hey presto! If those useless actors aren’t getting it, what can you possibly do? The point is that it’s the director’s responsibility to create a situation where the actors can do their most interesting work. It’s not just when you talk to them, it’s the entire situation the actors find themselves in. If that responsibility sounds both huge and vague, then welcome to the world of film directing!

Question: How do you direct actors? Answer: ‘I don’t know.’ – Jim Sheridan

What Jim Sheridan meant was that he doesn’t have a technique that fits any situation. Every film is different, every actor has to be worked with differently. It’s much too personal an activity to be able to apply broad strokes. The worst thing an inexperienced director can have anywhere in their head is the notion: ‘They’re actors, they should be able to do anything.’

My favourite bad move by an inexperienced director is where they go over to the actor, talk at them for five minutes (or more, which is worse!) and walk away with a satisfied look as if they’ve just completed their part of the bargain and now it’s up to the actor. For a start, an actor can’t really take in that much information in one go. The actor is not looking at the script the way a director or a script editor looks at it. If I look at a script that I am about to script edit, I can read it and understand it very clearly. If I am given the same script because I’m going to be acting in the filmed version of it, that’s a horse of a different colour altogether…

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 132 – Sparkling Perrier

Cillian Murphy
Niamh Creely talks to Cillian Murphy about the art of acting and coming home to film Perrier’s Bounty.

So how did you get involved in Perrier’s Bounty?

Well, Mark O’Rowe also wrote the script for Intermission and Alan Moloney and Stephen Woolley produced both of the films. I remember that while we were shooting Intermission, I was hanging out with Mark and he told me he had this other story he was working on which involved three people on the run – a father and a son and this girl – and it had this weird metaphysical aspect to it as well. I was very intrigued. Then a few years later Alan Moloney sent me the script and I thought it was great. Very unusual, as Mark’s writing always is. It has elements of the gangster genre, the road movie genre and elements of the Western as well, particularly in the showdown at the end between Brendan and I. It’s not giving anything away to say that because it’s inevitable. So I was very, very taken with it. His language and his dialogue are so beautiful and tough but always bordering on the poetic, you know. It’s a real gift to speak it. He writes Irish males very well – I identified with Michael [Cillian’s character] to a degree. So with that and then the aspect of working at home again, the whole package was very appealing, really.

About your approach to acting: you say that you’ve sat on a train and just stared at people because you’re interested in their mannerisms. Do you see acting as something that is instinctual or something more constructed?

It’s very difficult to talk about this stuff. When you begin to take it apart or investigate it, it all becomes foreign very quickly. Because what we are paid to do is to convey how people feel in situations, as a result you inevitably end up observing people. A lot of the things you see from day to day on the tube in London, you could never put that in a film because you’d be told you were hamming it up. However, elements of that can find their way into how you make characters, tiny little idiosyncrasies that are away from yourself, you know. But I definitely believe that most of it is instinctual. It’s that sort of electricity between two people in a situation. Any time people see something that appears forced or contrived, they very quickly lose interest. Even if there is just one scene in the film where that happens, people can switch off and you lose them. So it’s very important to rely on your gut feeling.

You have both theatre and film acting experience. Do you think that someone can be more suited to one or the other?

The two definitely require different skills. I mean, you can’t really play the nuance to 1,100 people. But on screen you can play the nuance. And therein lies the difference, I think. Learning how to do that can only be achieved through experience. I never trained as an actor, I very much learned theatre acting just by acting. I had about five years where I did only theatre and I was lucky to work with great people – the Corcadorca Theatre Company and Druid Theatre Company and Garry Hynes. When you work with good people you learn at an accelerated pace. With the film side of things, I began again by getting small parts, learning the technical side of things and how it impacts on performance. So hopefully by the time you have your first significant role in a film, you feel reasonably confident, rather than just being thrown in at the deep end – that would be terrifying.

It would. So how transferable are theatre-acting skills to screen-acting?

Well, the beautiful thing about theatre is you have four to five weeks rehearsal, which is a luxury you never get in film. To have the first week just to sit around talking about the character and the play and the arc of the characters is a huge luxury. It’s my favourite part of putting up a play – the actual rehearsal period. So in that respect it’s hugely valuable in learning how to develop a character. If you do enough of that you must acquire some sort of a shorthand version when you go to make a film. For a film I would always give myself, on my own time, a three- or four-week period alone in the attic just finding out things about the character – little details, you know…

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 132 – Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien

Jimmy Murakami

The renowned animator of The Snowman revisits the American concentration camp in which he and his family were interned in this new documentary. Dermod Moore spoke to the director, Sé Merry Doyle, one of the producers, Vanessa Gildea, and to Murakami himself.

‘I was 9 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. That was when the shit hit the fan for all Japanese people in America. My family, alongside 125,000 Japanese-Americans, were forced to evacuate their homes and were interned in concentration camps, west of the Mississippi. We ended up in Tule Lake, in Northern California, a dry, arid lake in the middle of nowhere. The War Relocation Authority hastily set about turning the desert into a prison. Our family had no choice but to settle in. Our new address was Ward 3, Block 24.’

These words open Loopline Film’s latest feature documentary, Jimmy Murakami: Non Alien. They are spoken by the eponymous narrator, the animator and director of such masterpieces as When the Wind Blows and The Snowman.

For most of his life, he has kept these early memories to himself.

Luck, a certain kind of continuous encouraging serendipity, played a large part in the making of this film. A former animation student of Murakami was told the whole story about ten years ago, and got a grant to write a treatment for a documentary. However, it contained only a brief mention of the concentration camp. The BBC turned it down, because they were already making a film about another animator at the time. The real story had been missed.

Sé Merry Doyle: I remember how this film started for me. At the 2007 Galway Film Fleadh, I saw Linda Hattendorf’s The Cats Of Mirikitani, a film about an 83-year-old homeless artist who was interned in Tule Lake Camp. Jimmy, an old friend of mine, was in the audience, and I remember asking him if he identified with it, because it was about a Japanese-American. He got quite emotional about it. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I asked him. He said, ‘I was in that camp’.

Jimmy Murakami: The coincidences were all there – the artist in the film was called Jimmy M, he painted, he went to the same camp, although he was a lot older than me. I got very emotional because it was my past coming back.

SMD: I was shocked. He’d never told me. But I didn’t jump at it then, I let it go. It got a little seed going, but I didn’t push at it. However, when Jimmy told me he had started doing paintings about that period in his life, encouraged by his wife Eithne, I flew out to his house. I got excited, Jimmy was being active rather than passive about it, and it was visual. I brought a camera with me, we shot a pilot, and I immediately sensed this could be a great story. That’s a good year and a half ago…

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 132 – Equipment Review

SQN - 5SB Series II

SQN, based in the Isle of Man, have been manufacturing broadcast quality audio mixers since 1980. Their mixers have earned the title ‘industry standard’ over the years from many sound-recordists working in the film and television industry. SQN mixers are renowned for their reliability, ruggedness and ease of use. The SQN-5SB Series II is no different.

At first glance the build quality of the mixer becomes apparent. The outer casing is made from aluminium and the end blocks holding the panpots and connectors are milled from a solid aluminium bar, making it quite robust. Aesthetically, it is instantly recognizable as an SQN product, with the familiar rotary control knobs that are designed to be pushed with the fingertip and not gripped as such. This is a stereo mixer and has two analogue meters on the front panel which are virtually unbreakable. This is indeed a rarity on modern audio mixers as other manufactures opt for light emitting diodes or a digital display. They provide a twin peak readout and as this is the ‘B’ model the unit is equipped with Peak Programme Meters (PPM) – BSI/BBC scales. Other meter options are available. The right channel meter has a suppressed-zero battery voltage scale activated by a front panel push-button.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.

Filmbase recommends the QN-5SB Series II audio mixer, which is currently available to hire from Filmbase, for all professional shoots. 
For further information please contact or phone (01) 8815101.


Issue 132 – Spotlight – One Hundred Mornings

Ciaran McMenamin as Jonathan in 'One Hundred Mornings'.

Ross Whitaker talks to Conor Horgan about his award-winning debut feature.

Conor Horgan is a man in a hurry. He squeezes me in for a chat in a Dublin café the day before he is due to fly to the Slamdance festival in Park City, Utah, where his debut feature – One Hundred Mornings – will have its North American premiere.

For his first film to be chosen for Slamdance is a creditable achievement in itself but over the coming days the film makes a substantial impression at the festival, where it receives a Special Jury Mention and is described by Filmmaker magazine as, ‘Achingly humane and stringently observed’.

One Hundred Mornings was one of three films green-lit by the Catalyst Project to go into production with a €250k budget. The other films were the festival favourite Eamon and the as-yet unreleased Redux but the scheme was also responsible for incubating other fine films like His & Hers and Savage, that weren’t funded by the project itself but were developed to the point that production was almost inevitable, and were ultimately successful.

What comes across so strongly in conversation with Horgan is just how much he enjoyed making this intense, moving film. His eyes light up when he thinks back to the process, holed up in a Wicklow location for four weeks.

Bleak film, happy set
‘The film is quite bleak, you could say, but the set was the happiest set I’ve ever been on. Perhaps that was a reaction to the material. We were a group of people doing something that we believed in and believing it was something we could do well. There was a strong feeling amongst the cast and crew that we had the potential to make a good film.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 132 – On set report – 'Parked' in Ireland’s Coldest Winter

Sound mixer Dan Birch at Pigeon Hse carpark, photo by Stefan Godskesen

Alessandro Molatore reports from the set of ‘Parked’, a new feature starring Colm Meaney.

During Ireland’s coldest January for 25 years the last sight local walkers expected to see was a film crew shooting in an exposed Dublin Bay car park. The four-week shoot for Parked kicked off with six days in the coastal car park in the centre of Dublin’s expansive, semicircular bay. The area is essentially industrial, dominated by the two tall chimneys of the electrical power station that are a distinctive landmark of the nation’s capital. Exposed to all of the elements – gale force onshore winds, rain and snow, sand and sleet – it makes for an inhospitable shooting environment, but one that suits the story perfectly.

Acting legend
The fiction debut of documentary director Darragh Byrne, Parked centres on Fred Daly, a man who returns to his hometown after spending many years away and has nowhere to live but the car he arrives in. Fred is played by Irish acting legend Colm Meaney. ‘Fred doesn’t like to be an outsider,’ comments Meaney. ‘He very much wants to blend in. He wants to be part of something but he is not quite sure how to do it.’ A proud man, whose life has shrunk to a series of mundane routines, Fred’s world is opened up by the arrival of Cathal, a chaotic, dope-smoking 21-year-old who also pulls up in the car park and makes it his home.

Producer Dominic Wright explains, ‘Parked reflects a very real way of life for many people. The global economic crisis means there are lot of people out there in a similar situation to Fred who find themselves suddenly with no job and no real home to speak of, looking for a way back into society. The “mobile homeless” is a very real phenomenon. Parked could be anyone’s story.’ Colm Meaney agrees, ‘This could take place anywhere. It’s a universal story. There are people living like this all over the world. I don’t think this is particularly an Irish reality.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 132 – Get into Shorts with Shortspace @ Filmbase

shortspaceClare Creely introduces the new screening space that’s about giving your shorts legs.

Over the last couple of years applications for the short film award schemes administered by Filmbase has risen dramatically. Hundreds now pour in every year, competing for funding for the Filmbase/RTÉ Short Film awards, which has been running for over two decades, the Filmbase/TG4 Lasair scheme for the production of Irish-language shorts and the Arts Council/RTÉ-funded RTÉ Dance on the Box scheme for the production of short dance films. Filmbase has also run other schemes on an ad hoc basis, for instance the Filmbase/Setanta Sports Short Documentary award in 2008.

Competition is fierce as these short film schemes are limited in the number of films they can fund each year. However, their popularity lies in the fact that they act as a steppingstone for filmmakers embarking on their filmmaking career. They offer an opportunity to make your film on a budget (ranging from €10,000 to €22,000, depending on the scheme) rather than having to beg, borrow and steal to make your masterpiece out of your own pocket. The funding also enables filmmakers to engage other professionals to work on the project too – unless your friends are happy to be runners/DOP/sparks and your granny doesn’t mind being gaffer for the day, this is invaluable! Also, the team at Filmbase offer support and guidance throughout the process thus (hopefully) ensuring that the job at hand is never too daunting and that any problems are ironed out.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 132 – Film Critics and the Feel-good Genre


Andrew Legge tells us how the critics are failing us.

The Choirboy opens in Luton with Khalid Hashemi, a taxi driver and strict Muslim, beating his sensitive twelve-year-old son Ahmed with a vacuum cleaner handle. His wife jumps in front of the boy in protest as their older son Mohammed slinks out to the local Islamic youth club.

Ahmed’s life changes forever when he meets Mr Wilkinson, master of the Christian Choral Society. Wilkinson shows Ahmed’s class a video of his choir. Ahmed, transfixed by the haunting voices, auditions with Wilkinson, moving the old man to tears. He joins the choir, concealing it from his father Khalid. His voice blossoms and Wilkinson selects him to sing a duet alongside Ahmed’s new friend Rob Griffith in St Paul’s cathedral.

Rob’s father, a BNP candidate, finds out about Ahmed. He confronts Khalid with a mob of skinheads. Khalid, more enraged by his son’s disobedience than the yobs, storms into the rehearsal room, wrenches Ahmed from his seat and beats the child across the head with a crucifix. Meanwhile, his brother Mohammed joins a radical Islamic group and plans a bomb attack on London, coincidentally to take place on the day the boys are to sing.

Later, as they are leaving for London, Ahmed escapes back to the choir. Khalid chases after in his taxi. The climax of the film takes place in St Paul’s. As Mohammed straps semtex around his torso and chants verses from the Koran, Ahmed prepares for his biggest moment ever. The film ends with the police shooting Mohammed while Ahmed and Rob sing before a packed audience including Griffith and Khalid, both men moved to tears.

The Choirboy took me ten minutes to make up with its stock characters and clichéd themes. Wheel out the usual suspects: Pete Postlethwaite as Wilkinson, Dame Judi Dench as a grumpy but warm-hearted patron of the choir, Ben Kingsley as Griffith and Anthony Hopkins as a police chief with Bill Nighy thrown in as his incompetent assistant for comic relief. ‘Discover’ a genuine Muslim kid in some ghastly Bradford estate. Add a mishmash Eastern-meets-Baroque score and we have a bafta wetdream. It’s so simple it directs itself. Show the Dame the above synopsis and the director can skip the shoot and meet the cast at the BAFTAs.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 132.


Issue 131 – Happily Ever After?

Photo: The Storyland winners with Hardy Bucks, director Chris Tordoff and writer Martin Maloney enjoy a well-earned break in Sweden.

RTÉ’s Storyland competition was no fairytale: success required a huge amount of hard graft. However, for those willing to put in the effort, Storyland did grant some filmmaker wishes: recognition, networking opportunities and the golden egg – funding. Angela Nagle reports.

In a year of crippling industry cuts to RTÉ some unlikely new Irish stars of the low-budget webisode were born. Readers are more likely to have heard of Hardy Bucks than the scheme that launched them, but RTÉ’s Storyland project produced nine original web shows, ranging from sitcoms to psychological drama to high-concept post-modern thrillers, exposing new talent on an unprecedented scale with virtually no editorial steer. Ditching traditional media promotion for viral marketing strategies and online audience participation, it is, in many ways, part social experiment, part funding scheme. All of this cost RTÉ just €230,000 which, put in perspective, is roughly a third of Pat Kenny’s drastically reduced salary, which also fell prey to the recession-time budget cuts.

RTÉ development executive Eilish Kent came up with the concept, based upon her many years of experience as a commissioner and, in particular, her involvement in sourcing new talent through short film schemes. ‘The idea behind Storyland was to encourage programme makers to start thinking about the audience more. Because of the episodic format and your reliance on the audience to keep you recommissioned, it really forces you to think about your audience. What I often found with commissioning short films was that the projects you’re presented with as a commissioner are what people think you want as opposed to what they want to make. They often don’t think of an audience or, if they do, that audience is a festival audience who are filmmakers. We had been looking at the crossover of people coming through the schemes and into TV and we felt that they weren’t naturally progressing to TV drama. They tended to move into feature films or to emigrate and we wanted to see what we could do to get them to think in terms of TV drama. When we look at the follow-through of short film schemes we’ve done in the past, you could count on two hands the number of writers and directors who’ve made it to TV.’

First launched in October 2008, Mark O’Halloran was chair of the selection panel and helped advertise the scheme by appearing on the website and outlining the competition. From 122 applications, nine projects were commissioned to make one episode each and these went up on the website in March 2009. With all nine projects on the website, the public could vote for their favourite and at the end of every month the shows with the smallest response would be ‘voted off’, leaving the remaining teams to make the next episode with the same €8000 budget per episode.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.

For more information on Storyland please visit


Issue 131 – Beyond the Cutting Room

Mary Sweeney working on 'Tender Mercies' in New York, 1982. Photo by Norman Buckley

Mary Sweeney, long-time editor and collaborator with David Lynch, talks about the transition to directing with her first feature Baraboo.

This photo of me was taken in 1982, in the New York cutting rooms of Tender Mercies. I had recently survived several months as a sound apprentice on Reds, a boot camp of a New York editorial job, under the magnificent Dede Allen. As a sound apprentice I was buried on an entirely different floor from the revered Picture Department, in a bin-filled, windowless room I shared with four other apprentice sound editors. We reconstituted trims, ran out for cigarettes, labelled thousands of reels, made coffee and reconstituted more trims. On the rare errand to the Picture Department, I might catch a glimpse of Dede through a cracked door, hunched over her upright Moviola, trims flying, assistants hovering, a magician over a cauldron. Her complete focus, intensity and dedication to the alchemy of her commanding art was an inspiration – no, more than that – a drug I was dying for a shot of. That will and desire is what reaches out to me through time in my regard in this photo. The details in this image leave me nostalgic for the delicious mechanics of the film cutting room; the squawk box, synchronizer, rewinds, Goldberg reels and 35 mm film! I’m left nostalgic also for the labour-intensive camaraderie of those days.

Best-kept secret
Editing was, for decades, the best-kept secret power base in the filmmaking process. No sexy stars, no lights, camera, action; just a darkened room with one or two creative people massaging all that was in the can into mobile, musical, magical works of visual art. Directors and editors were forgotten in those dark rooms, left with the luxury of time to consider, to explore, experiment, reject and try something else with the available material.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.


Issue 131 – A Haunted Look

Ciarán Hinds and Conor McPherson - Photo by Hugh O'Conor

Fresh from his Tribeca Best Actor win for The Eclipse, Ciarán was reunited with Conor for another collaboration: Conor’s new version of The Birds at the Gate Theatre. Film Ireland’s guest editor caught up with them for the low down on the film.

Hugh O’Conor: You’ve known Billy Roche, the writer, for a long time. With The Eclipse, was it a question of trying to find something to work together on, or did you read his short story and think, this could make a film?

Conor McPherson: Well, there is something about Billy’s work that I will always love. From the very first time I read his stuff, the worlds were so real to me, I wanted to go and live there. And so I had that sort of soul connection with Billy and we became friends over the years. He told me he was writing a book of short stories and that it was taking a long time – seven years. He was emailing me them as he was finishing them off and one of them was called Table Manners, set during a literary festival, about a guy who is married and has kids and becomes obsessed with this woman, this poet. He begins to stalk her and his life goes completely out of control for a few days. Billy and I had already worked together before; I directed one of his plays, Poor Beast in the Rain, at the Gate. I said to him, ‘Why don’t we look at turning this into a film?’ So that was how it began. I started getting the bus to Wexford and we sat up in his little office. His kids are grown up and moved away and his wife Patty would be making us dinner. We would be up there…

Ciarán Hinds: Getting cosy…

CMcP: Getting cosy. His dog Ringo was there. Billy sat at the keyboard and we started developing it. And it was years we were doing this, on and off.

HO’C: The supernatural element wasn’t in the short story at all. Was that something that you arrived at together?

CMcP: When Ciarán and I were working on The Seafarer in New York, I decided to introduce a supernatural element. Because at the time we had shown it to a few people, like Film4 and BBC Films, and nobody wanted to know. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to make this a genre film somehow.’ And of course it was staring me in the face, why isn’t there a supernatural aspect to this? But it was actually my wife Fionnuala who said to me, ‘I’m warning you, if this guy is married and has kids and he’s falling in love with this other woman, women are going to find it hard to trust him and like him. Why don’t you kill his wife?’ And I thought, ‘That’s brilliant!’ Because if he is available, we will love him and he can also be haunted…

CH: And in grief, I suppose, as well.

CMcP: Exactly. And everything just fell into place.

CH: I hadn’t actually read the story. The soul of it is radically different. The way the guy was – and I love the story that he wrote – it was quite hard on male attitudes. He was a bit of a chancer.

CMcP: That could be why we were having a problem getting people interested in it. Because they were like, ‘Why should we care about this?’ It was a dirty…

CH: …murky world there.

CMcP: Yes, it’s hard. It’s about a breakdown. They were like, okay, thanks but no thanks. Having said that, even then when we introduced the ghost element, it wasn’t like it got any easier. But something I learned on The Eclipse is to keep the screenplay very short. In films I don’t think there is much room for a whole lot of story. There is no time. The image is so powerful, you’ve got to let it tell the story.

CH: It’s interesting, because when I read it for the first time, we were in New York and I was getting to know Conor. I knew that in between the lines there was a whole different psychology going on that would be developed. So I had this initial faith in what it was, even though to begin with it sort of slipped through my hands. Usually when you get a script, you’re going, ‘Oh that’s clear.’ But with this it was, ‘What is in there?’ I showed it to my agent and he was like, ‘Ummm… uhhh…’ I said, ‘I don’t think you really understand. I don’t really either.’ But there are some things you go on because you have a sense of… something else.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.


Issue 131 – London Calling


Alright. You’ve had your big breaks: you were the back-end of the orange caterpillar in the latest Meteor ad and second punter from the left in the pub on Fair City. Nonetheless, it looks like the emerald isle will all too easily contain your talents. But what about our real rising stars? Does a talented actor have to leave Ireland in order to make it? Niamh Creely investigates…

Interview with Aidan Turner

When did you realise you wanted to be an actor?

When I got my first pay cheque, I think. I remember slowly coming to the realisation that people were going to pay me for what I was doing, which at the time seemed ridiculous.

Of TV, film and theatre, which do you work in most and which is the most reliable?

Over the past couple of years most of my work has been in TV. When I left drama school in 2004 I started working in theatre but there was never any master plan. I just wanted to get as much experience as I could, as quickly as I could.

What are the advantages of being in London?

I don’t think there are any ‘advantages’ to working in London as apposed to Dublin. There are more opportunities to audition for projects in the uk because there’s more happening there but then there are also more actors going for the same roles so that kind of evens things out. It depends on which country you want to work in. I wanted to live and work in the uk for a while so that made my decision an easy one.

Were you reluctant to leave Ireland?

I wasn’t reluctant to leave Ireland because it never felt like a permanent move. I was going where the jobs were taking me. But even aside from that I love London. I like spending time there.

How easy is it for Irish actors to find work in London?

I can’t answer that one. Every actor who makes the move has a completely different experience to the next one. Some find it easier than others and find work quickly. Others have to wait a while. Such is the nature of the game.

Have you felt the impact of the recession?

In the sense that a lot of projects have been put on hold or scrapped because of funding issues due to the recession. I’ve been quite lucky, though. The last two years have been busy for me.

Would you ever consider moving to the US or back to Ireland?

The next job for me could be in either one of those places. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a flight.

The full article (including interviews with Andrew Scott, Eva Birthistle, Katie McGrath, Kerry Condon, Peter McDonald and Ruth Negga) is printed in Film Ireland 131.


Issue 131 – Business of Acting

Illustration by Dan Gaynor

How to get ahead in acting? Gordon Gaffney talks to the Gaiety School of Acting, actor’s agent Maureen McGlynn and casting directors Thyrza Ging and Maureen Hughes.

There are a huge number of actors available to work in Ireland at any one time. According to Amy Dawson, coordinator of the Gaiety School of Acting, 16–20 actors graduate from their full-time course each year, with another 90 or so graduating from the one-year part-time course and a staggering 1500 or more from their 10-week acting courses throughout the year. A recent casting seminar in Filmbase attracted 300 applicants and there are about 500 actors’ profiles on the Irish Equity website, which is only a fraction of the total number out there. With such a large supply of acting talent, it’s crucial that you go about securing work in the correct manner and avoid common pitfalls with the three most important weapons in an actor’s arsenal: the cv, headshot and showreel.

Casting director Thyrza Ging has cast the feature films Satellites and Meteorites and Savage and the television miniseries Prosperity, and is also guest tutor on the Acting for Film and TV training course in Filmbase, giving advice to actors on the business side of acting.

So you’ve photographed yourself in the mirror using your phone, is this enough?

‘Your headshot is your calling card,’ explains Thyrza, ‘and the most important thing with a headshot is to give a true and fair view of who you are as a person. Some photographers say, “Please don’t smile” but if you are a very smiley person it isn’t going to be a good representation of who you are.’ Prices for professional headshots range from €80, where you may just receive your photos on a CD, to €200, which may include multiple A4 copies and personalised business cards with your headshot and contact details on them – very handy for schmoozing opportunities at industry drinks receptions, glamorous film festivals and in the Filmbase basement.

‘It’s very important to get it right, and for you to feel comfortable in front of the camera,’ Thyrza continues. ‘I recommend actors to at first play around with a digital camera in the back garden because it is important that you feel comfortable in front of the camera before spending hundreds of euro on a shot. The standard in the Irish industry and the uk is a black and white A4 photograph. In America it’s colour, but a lot of actors here, especially red-headed actors, get colour shots done.’

Have all casting directors embraced the information superhighway? Some common sense research will help. ‘A lot of casting directors will say it on their websites if they want you to forward a hard copy and not an email – or vice versa. If you do send a hard copy in, I would recommend that you put the headshot and the CV into a ring binder sleeve – it makes life easier for the casting director. Personally, I prefer email.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.

Special thanks to Dan Gaynor for his illustrations. You can see his work on


Issue 131 – Absolutely Critical

Donald Clarke, caricature by Tom Galvin

The professional film reviewer is critical of film but are they critical to film? David O Mahony talks to The Irish Times’ Donald Clarke.

Say what you want about the current state of the film industry, but there is certainly no shortage of choice out there; more films are released than ever before, on a dizzying array of platforms. Faced with this surfeit of content, how do we make informed choices about what we watch? The internet is an untrustworthy cacophony of opinion, so it falls to the professional film critic to navigate a path through the dross.

How has the role of the ‘proper’ film critic (or indeed a critic of any artform) evolved in a climate where consumers’ attention spans are continually eroded by the snap judgments of the popular media and social networking sites et al.? Do we read the review, or the star rating?

The answer, sadly, to the second part of your question is ‘too often the latter’. Most critics loathe the star-rating, but, being realistic, admit there’s no escape from it. Very frequently, somebody will rant about you giving a film too many or too few stars, but, when you press them, they are unable to mention a single specific point made in the text. Maybe that’s the reviewer’s fault. Who knows? That said, I think – though people are besieged by reviewers on the net – many filmgoers do still pay attention to newspapers and magazines. It’s to do with getting to know a voice and learning its owner’s prejudices and preferences. Even if you hate a critic in a paper, by reading him each week you learn to calibrate his assessment. There is just too much noise on the internet and it’s hard to stick with one reviewer long enough to know what he or she is about. They’ve generally vanished a week later anyway. In fact, writing old-fashioned, lucid, longish reviews probably helps a critic distinguish himself or herself from the majority of online critics. Not all of course. There are many brilliant writers on the web. The problem is finding them.

Are there practitioners of the art of film criticism that have inspired you?

Oh certainly. It is painfully obvious to bring up Pauline Kael, but I do so anyway. I have always liked her and not just because Alan Parker hates her guts. She was asked, when retiring from The New Yorker, what she was most looking forward to. She replied: ‘Never having to see another Oliver Stone film.’ She sounds like my kind of woman. When I was a kid, my parents got The Observer every week and I read Philip French with enthusiasm. I still do. Like Roger Ebert – who’s too easily pleased – he went off for a while in middle-age, but has come back a bit. Funnily enough, the newspaper critic I most savoured on film only did the job for a short while. When Adam Mars-Jones was at The Independent he wrote beautifully about movies. I very often disagreed violently with him, but always enjoyed the review. That’s a real measure of good critical writing, I think. Who else? J. Hoberman, Colin MacCabe, Kim Newman, Geoff Andrew and Mark Kermode all have their virtues. The current king, however, is the mighty Jonathan Rosenbaum. I still try to stand by David Thomson, but, since he went gaga for Nicole Kidman, that’s been a difficult position to hold.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.

Special thanks to Tom Galvin for his caricature of Donald Clarke, you can see Tom’s work at


Issue 131 – Work You Can Bank On


Adam Lacey chats to Voicebank, and Irish agency for talented talkers

There are probably a large number of us who spend some of these cold winter evenings lolling about our sitting rooms, mocking the sleazy tones of ‘yer man from that ad’ or encountering Ben Dunne on the radio doing it all himself in a decidedly odd manner. The truth is, underneath what seems like the simple job of reading a brief script for an ad, there is a bustling industry that provides a tidy earner for those in the undependable world of acting. As Deborah Pierce, an owner of Voicebank – one of the main Irish companies used by businesses and other clients to find voice artists – tells me: ‘Of course the recession has affected everyone but things have certainly picked up for us here since August. We fill the gaps of what the clients need. We’re kind of like a shop in that regard.’  And it seems that the ‘creative’ aspect of certain thespians frequently needs to be curbed in a business that demands straight script-reading and little improvisation.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.


Issue 131 – The Irish New Wave

Photos: Stills from 'His & Hers', 'Swansong', 'Zonad', 'Savage', 'The Mill', 'The Man Inside', 'One Hundred Mornings' (left to right, top to bottom).

Guest editor Hugh O’Conor revels in the current abundance of excellent Irish film.

It was a strange feeling. A strange, spooky, unqualifiable feeling. I was on my way to the Galway Film Fleadh to see the premieres of six new Irish features, as well as a whole slew of new Irish shorts, and I was genuinely, palpably excited. What the hell was going on? Maybe it’s just gas, I thought. But I was wrong. It wasn’t gas. For here’s the twist – advance word on the six films in question, as well as the shorts, was really, really good.

Okay – that’s happened before, you say, and they’ve still mostly turned out to be rubbish. But this was different. These filmmakers were part of a new wave of Irish talent and had notched up great work already. We were all waiting to see what they had come up with, and we were pretty sure that this time we weren’t going to be disappointed. When has that ever happened before?

It’s long been an easy target, the Irish film industry, and for much of the time the spirit of weary disappointment in its criticism has been largely justified. But it seems that things really have begun to change. And it may sound strange in the current climate, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that our film industry is in the most exciting state it’s ever been. The record number of Irish films selected to screen in the recent Toronto Film Festival is just one example. That a small film like Eamon, made under the Film Board’s Catalyst Project scheme, can earn a rave review in Variety can only be a good, exciting thing.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.


Issue 131 – Not Just Another Bee Movie


Ross Whitaker puts the spotlight on Colony.

Ross McDonnell – co-director of Colony – meets me in Dublin fresh from the Toronto International Film Festival, where the buzz around his debut feature was great.

Colony may be one of the most aesthetically beautiful documentaries of the season, as well as one of the more urgent and intelligent,’ wrote Variety.

‘The movie constitutes a satisfying addition to the blooming, buzzing field of social issue documentary,’ wrote The New York Times.

In addition to the compliments of the newspapers at Toronto, McDonnell has recently heard that his debut film will also play at IDFA, one of the world’s most important documentary festivals. But, despite these successes, his biggest concern at present is that he is smashed broke – welcome to the world of documentary filmmaking.

One hopes, though, that the financial challenges of making documentaries won’t discourage McDonnell and his co-director, Carter Gunn, from pursuing future projects in the medium. This is a mature, intelligent, informed piece of work from two young filmmakers who clearly have more to give.

Bee Gone
Colony is one of a number of bee movies that are emerging at present. These documentaries are prompted by the clear and present danger facing bees as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) leaves landscapes of empty beehives across America and beyond.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 131.


Issue 130 – Reviewing Antichrist

Lars Von Trier
Lars Von Trier

Rod Stoneman on how, with the sensation caused by Lars von Trier’s latest effort, some critics have shifted the emphasis onto the reviewer and off the reviewed.

Bryan Appleyard’s review of Lars von Trier’s film Antichrist in The Sunday Times (Culture section, 12th July) provides some indications of the contemporary roles of both European arthouse filmmaker and critic: two versions of ego performance are on display and mutually reinforce each other. The director deploys the same tools of precise self-marketing as he did when he launched Dogme95 and meanwhile the broadsheet film reviewer builds a discourse around the film to position his exaggerated negative opinions as a definitive judgement.

The filmmaker
Lars von Trier created Danish dogme with its ‘Vow of Chastity’ – a series of semi-arbitrary rules and a fetish for authenticity. The freewheeling style involved a high degree of improvisation and a roughness in the arrangement of materials; its proposal that its aesthetic was not to have an aesthetic, was of course disingenuous. It had a high impact as a new national brand and was a very effective marketing ploy – strengthening the impact of a ‘new wave’ of Danish cinema and bringing a momentary constellation of energetic directors to the foreground internationally. As the most prominent filmmaker in the movement, von Trier became a positioned persona; both within Denmark and in world cinema he is a celebrity, allowed to (expected to) behave ‘badly’ or provocatively within the sub-category: artist. Paradoxically, the statement in Rule 10 of the dogme Manifesto: ‘The director must not be credited… I am no longer an artist…’ only serves to reinforce his auteur status. His public persona has been cultivated as a product and his phobias (having to drive from Copenhagen to Cannes as result of his fear of flying), his tantrums and rows with actors capture media attention and reinforce the image of his ‘difficult’ talent. The more difficult, the more talented.

He is deliberately aware of the implications and effects of the arrogant and provocative comment he made in defence of Antichrist at the Cannes press conference. When pressed to justify his film by Baz Bamigboye of the British Daily Mail, he replied: ‘It’s the hand of God, I’m afraid. And I am the best film director in the world. I’m not sure God is the best god in the world.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 130.


Issue 130 – Festival Tactics


When’s the right time to plan your festival strategy? Before you’ve even begun your film. Palm Springs Shortfest film curator and festival strategist Kathleen McInnis shares the secret to festival success.

Upon the (very) successful celebration of the Galway Film Fleadh’s 21st Anniversary, I was asked to write a forward-looking essay on film festival strategies for independent filmmakers. It is particularly fitting that as one cinematic institution reaches ‘adulthood,’ we reach out to filmmakers and ask them to do the same thing – be adults about the destiny of their work and their careers.

It is an unusual paradigm to propose to those creative talents who are unused to – and often untrained for – self-determination regarding their work. Filmmakers will often tell you the greatest challenge was in getting the film done. Exhausted by the end of production, many filmmakers can barely summon the strength to finish editing and mixing sound before collapsing with well-founded joy about ‘finishing’ the film.

But they are hardly finished.

In this, our brave new filmic world, a filmmaker is not ‘finished’ until the current project has fulfilled its destiny. This now can mean anything from theatrical release (a cynical ‘ha’ should be inserted here), to broadcast, to VOD, to pay-per-view, to mobile download, to internet distribution (using that word quite broadly), to DVD, or to niche marketing to ‘known or any and all unknown universes’ – which is my favourite contract phrase currently making the rounds.

What once was the job of distributors and agents and managers and producers is now oftentimes the domain of the filmmaker. Gone are the days of easy negative pickups and three-picture deals. Gone also are those brilliant arthouse cinema circuits, a screening at which could springboard a film’s life and a filmmaker’s career. What remains for the filmmaker, then, is to ply his wares and increase his profile on the global film festival circuit.

There are currently, by generally accepted estimates, 3,000 film festivals worldwide. Of these, only a few dozen have the kind of profile and prestige to offer filmmakers 100 percent bang for their buck. Another few can offer their filmmakers a decent, if not complete, percentage of return. The rest? Well, the rest can do little more than offer films a way to be seen by audiences around the world in a theatre, as they were intended. No small change, that. But with submission fees, postage and deliverables costing an average of $75 (approximately €53) per application, applying to just one percent of the world’s festivals could easily translate to enough money to add more shooting days to your schedule, real catering to your menu, or even a day’s work from a top-level actor.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 130.


Issue 130 – Draft and Polish

Christopher Hampton
Christopher Hampton

Christopher Hampton, Academy Award®-winning screenwriter, playwright and director gave a screenwriting masterclass at the Galway Film Fleadh this year. At the event, which was sponsored by Northern Irish Screen, Martin Daniel, Professor of Screenwriting at the University of Southern California and international script expert, talked to Hampton about his approach to writing screenplays.

MARTIN DANIEL: Has there been a progression in the way you approach a plot, how you outline your stories – has that changed over the years?

CHRISTOPHER HAMPTON: There is a great difference between one script and another, in how long a script will take you to write. But in general, I do try to prepare a script very carefully so that by the time I come to start writing it I may have spent three, six or nine months just figuring out the best way to do it. Now that doesn’t mean planning little details because that tends to kill the spontaneity. But planning the bones of it, what happens, what will happen next, what is going to happen at the end and how are you going to prepare for the end – somewhere in the middle or at the beginning?

Getting all that scaffolding up is really important to me. And then when I come to write, I write as fast as I possibly can. And I know everybody has their own methods but my superstition or theory is that the amount of energy you pour into a script is somehow visible out the other end. And that if you write a script in a white-hot intensity this will have a beneficial effect on the energy in the finished product.

This may be nonsense, but up until recently (I have got a bit more sedate now), I used to get about half way through a script and feel that I knew where I was going and where it was going and how long it was going to take to finish it. Then I would go abroad and sit in a hotel room until I finished it, which was usually a week or ten days. I would just do nothing but write all day and as much of the night I could bear, writing the thing until I got to the end of the first draft. And then there is all the time in the world to mess about with it. And somehow that method of writing a script became a ritual really, I suppose. And that’s the way I have always tried to do it.

So the preparation, the outlining stage – what form does that take?

I have a big notebook and I list all the events, a précis of the plot on one page and on the other page I put striking images and moments or incidents or themes or things that catch my attention as I go along. So that you have the plot of the narrative. And you have the fireworks that you’ve discerned within the source material. So that’s the first stage and at the end of that you have twenty or thirty pages of text. Then I do a very rough outline of what scenes will follow in what order.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 130.