Niamh Heery, Director of ‘A Tiny Spark’

Dr Karen Doyle

A Tiny Spark is an award-winning documentary which follows both the story of three people who have had a stroke and the scientists leading research in this area at NUI Galway.

Director Niamh Heery tells us the story behind the film.


The idea for A Tiny Spark came about when we were talking about submitting to Science on Screen, the Galway Film Centre/ CÚRAM scheme that eventually funded it. Our producer Caroline Kealy had attended an information session and had been really interested in the work that Dr Karen Doyle was doing in the area of stroke. Her and her team are collecting the actual blood clots that caused strokes from thousands of patients all over the world and analysing what is inside them. It is quite a tangible, visual thing they are doing, which when it comes to making a film about science is a definite plus. When we visited the lab in NUI Galway we were struck by the arrangements of the clots that were laid out on slides. To me each one almost had character. Some red, some pink, some skinny, some frighteningly large. And when they were magnified by 2000x these tiny little things began to look almost like vast deserts and valleys. 

I started researching stroke survivors’ experiences and found a number of incredibly scary and dramatic descriptions of what happened to people when they had a stroke. It’s such an indescribable thing that the people who had experienced it spoke about it in almost visually abstract ways. Initially,  I wanted my partner, Animator and 3D Artist Eric Dolan to work on explanatory visuals for the film, illustrating how strokes affect various parts of the brain. But after hearing the patients describe a stroke like that we decided to expand the animation and use it to show this surreal thing as the patients described it. So for instance when one participant spoke about ‘being lost in time’, Eric animated that dark, helpless feeling. We see calendar pages flying about just out of reach, a hospital bed where the sun and moon rise and fall repeatedly on a frightened patient. I was keen to incorporate the clot imagery into the animation, so we textured the animation backgrounds with magnified blood clots. The clots are literally a part of the visual story the whole way through. The animations took about seven weeks and a mix of 2D and 3D animation techniques were used. 

I also spoke to our DOP, Kevin Minogue, early on about how to approach the key moment when a stroke happened. In each contributor’s story, these moments are etched forever into their minds in sharp detail so I wanted to try and recreate this. We shot on RED, which allowed us to shoot a good range of slow motion with a decent sized frame. Kevin told me about ‘lens whacking’, the practice of just holding the lens barely in place as you move the camera, letting light crack and flood into the body in intervals. It replicated pain, headaches and disorientation in a really nice way, so after some tests we used this approach when filming the three ‘stroke moment’ reconstructions.

The interviews are the backbone of the documentary. When interviewing the scientists, I took a very sequential approach, making sure that they told me in plain language exactly what the project was, step by step. Once we had that we could talk about how exciting the project was in terms of the results and how they could inform real, life-changing medicine.

Each stroke survivor interview was very different and had to be taken at its own pace. It is such a life-altering, painful thing to happen to a person and their family. I was keen to get to that real emotional place but also to explore how it had made them stronger and changed their perspective on big-life questions. 

When coming to name the film, I remembered how one of our participant’s doctors had described her strokes as ‘sparking off inside the brain.’ This tiny bunch of cells, a blood clot, is ready at any moment to fire and create massive change inside a person. When thinking about the journey our participants are on, it also made sense. They have such strength and perseverance in understanding that recovery is about tiny victories every day towards a better life. And going back to the research – it’s the spark and ingenuity of this small lab in Galway that could one day lead major change for millions of patients around the globe. As Dante said, ‘From a tiny spark, a mighty flame can grow.’


A Tiny Spark screened on RTÉ One on World Stroke Day, Tuesday 29 October 2019 and is on the RTÉ Player for the next month



Rob Kennedy, Writer / Director of ‘The Unquiet ‘


The Unquiet is a psychological horror film about Ruth, a woman who wants a child more than anything—yet she’s unable to conceive. When her mother begins to suffer from dementia, Ruth becomes her full time carer. This adds extra strain to Ruth’s marriage, and her husband moves out. Desperate to have a child and save her relationship, she prays to her father’s spirit for guidance, but something else answers…

Rob Kennedy takes us behind the screams of his latest horror, which screens at this year’s IFI Horrorthon (24 -28 October).

We shot The Unquiet with a skeleton crew: I directed and operated camera, Andrew Mahon did the lighting, and Billy Keane recorded sound. Vicki Walsh handled production management, recruiting her sister, Sophie, for the job of clapper loader and their mother, Susan, for make-up. We shot the film over the course of three nights in the winter of 2019. 

My last film (Sit Beside Me) was more of a rollercoaster horror experience. This time I took a different approach—less camera movement and no jump scares. One of the big decisions I made was not to use any music, a challenge for horror. But it’s easy to jolt an audience with sudden bangs and musical stings. Instead I enhanced the natural atmosphere and let the unnerving silences stand out. This seemed to suit the tone of the film more. 

Katie Doyle—a former child actor and veteran of TV adverts—recently returned to acting, appearing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the New Theatre. Katie took the role of Ruth above and beyond what was on the page. Beryl Phelan, a longtime collaborator of mine, played Ruth’s mother. Rounding out the cast, I’m thrilled to introduce young Robbie Hart in his first film role. We only hear Robbie’s voice, but he makes quite an impact. 


The Unquiet will screen at this year’s IFI Horrorthon (24 – 28 October) in the IFI on Sunday, 27th October—along with Rob’s last short, Sit Beside Me. You can buy tickets here


The Unquiet will also be available to watch online from this Halloween. Check out @robkennedyfilm on Instagram for updates and behind the scenes shots.


Gerard Walsh, Director of Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah)’


Gerard Wash’s short documentary introduces us to Farmer Michael, a Galway-based, divisive character getting millions of views online. But his creator, Stevo Timothy, has a past with far more twists and turns than anyone would expect.


Ahead of its screening at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, Gerard tells Film Ireland about how the film came together.


Documentaries were always something that I enjoyed watching but I never thought I would make one. Feature films have been my goal for over ten years and after directing 3 I decided why not! Let’s give it a go.

I have always been interested in telling people’s stories through small profile pieces and just putting them online so I was really going into the documentary blindfolded. Learning each day.

In between work and personal projects I enjoy asking interesting people that I encounter if I can document their story or talents and just put it out there. It helped me with my filmmaking and storytelling and I would always learn something new.

I still don’t know if it’s a selfless or selfish thing to do because I enjoy taking a peek into other people’s lives. The goal for me is always to help the subject with some sort of release or maybe just help them show off their talents.

I started this with a YouTube channel over 5 years ago called “LIVESETS” at the time. I would contact bands and singer/songwriters and just shoot one-take live performances. But after a while I wanted to do profiles on people from all walks of life. From barbers and sportspeople to comedians and grieving mothers.

Eventually I was approached by Stevo (Farmer Michael). I had worked with him a few years back on a promo video for a pub in Galway and after that, asked him to play a small part in my film South, so there was a bit of a relationship there.

He was looking for someone to create a short video about him and his life so I agreed.  When I sat down to interview him I really wasn’t expecting him to tell me the things he did. I felt Immediately torn on how to tell his story.

On one hand, it is a story of success, redemption and prevailing through art. I think that’s the story he wanted me to focus on originally.  But on the other hand, it’s a story about a terrible tragedy and something that could change a lot of people’s’ minds on how they feel about Stevo as a real person and not just his character.

After the first interview I realized that the story was bigger than I originally thought so I decided to spend more time exploring his life. I shot more days over the course of a year and wanted to see different sides of Stevo. I wanted an ending, I wanted some sort of redemption. For me, redemption needs to be shown over the course of time, it needs to be earned and I wanted that to come across in film.

If I’m being honest I was just looking for an honest way to tell the story and I’m not 100 percent sure I found it. The cut of the film as it stands has an ending, I think it works the way I indented it too, for now,  but I would eventually like to explore the idea of a longer film, hopefully we can acquire some funding for a feature-length version.

I always had a the goal of letting the viewer decide how they feel at the end and not forcing my own opinion on them. I could have easily sugar-coated Stevo’s story and tied it up in a nice little bow but there is no way I would. I have laid out as much as I could and I think that’s my responsibility as a storyteller.

If people are expecting to see a film based on a comedian and his hilarious exploits, they may be in for a bit of a surprise with this film. It is a story about a comedian, but also a story about a man with an extraordinary past.

I’m really looking forward to hearing people’s opinions and views after they see the film, I could be over-thinking everything and it’s entirely possible that I may have my head up my hole with my analysis of the film. But let’s see how it gets on.

Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah) screens as part of the Irish Talent: New Shorts 1, Documentary Irish Talent: New Shorts 6, Fiction programme on Wednesday, 10th July at the Town Hall Theatre at 12:00 as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh.

The 31st Galway Film Fleadh runs 9 – 14 July 2019.



Maureen O’Connell, Writer/Director of ‘Proclaim!’

Maureen O’Connell takes us behind the scenes of her short film Proclaim!, which is now available to watch online.

Behind the Scenes Images: Marta Gomez Seanz and Joby Redmond

I came home from London in late 2015. I had trained at RADA for 3 years and had tried living in London as a poor actor for 2 years afterwards. It was punishing. When I returned, I wanted to be involved in any production that was about 1916. Everything was cast or in production already. So, I started about my own project.

Initially, I wanted to make a short film about Cumann na mBan as my grandmother, “Nell O’Sullivan”, had been an active member. I began research in October 2015 and found that it was difficult to shoot a simple story about the Cumann na mBan but I stumbled upon the story of how the proclamation was printed. It was a great story:

Three Dublin printers summoned by Connolly to print 2000 copies of the proclamation in one night and in secret to be proclaimed by Pearse in the morning and their struggles to achieve this. They didn’t have enough type, wax or paper but with ingenuity, they did it.

It was just too good a story that had never really been told or indeed, dramatized before.

Although, my Granny would have been in Limerick at the time of the Easter Rising, I decided to insert her into the story just as a hat tip to her. I make a cameo appearance in the film as my Granny.

I shot Proclaim! over 5 and a half days in February 2016. I was the producer as well as the director so I had to be super organized. I had wonderful support from the cast and crew, though. They were a really patient and easy-going bunch. This made things a lot easier for me.

I had done some of my research at the National Print Museum and they informed me that if I had wanted to film there that they would let me use the old printing press and they’d print off proclamations for me for the film. I don’t think they thought I’d take them up on the offer but I contacted them and they were so helpful and friendly. I featured the two printing volunteers from the National Print Museum in the film itself as a thank you to them, Freddie Snowe and Alfred McCormack.

On the first day we shot for just a few hours at Mary’s Pub in Wicklow Street. It was a good idea to begin lightly as it settled the nerves and got the creative juices flowing. It was a great location and the owners were absolute legends to us for allowing us to shoot there.


The next day, I shot in the wonderful Joyce Pharmacy, Sweny’s; off Pearse Street. They were so good to us. Initially, I had asked for only a half day to film in their shop but we ended up needing the full day and they let us have it! This was an incredible kindness as, it was, like every other location we shot at, free of charge. Sweny’s became the famous Co-Operative Baby Clothes Store from which Connolly printed his subversive socialist newspapers – and the very first Irish Proclamations. Thanks to the staff at Sweny’s and to our brilliant production designer, Joby Redmond who did an outstanding job.

Shooting outside the GPO was the best day, for me. I had contacted and asked if they had any extras who wanted to be a part of the film to play people listening to Padraig Pearse proclaiming. I said it was unpaid but they’d get coffee and tea, etc. I sent a picture of the type of costume they’d have to wear if they wanted to be in it. I didn’t expect any of them to turn up, to be honest. But all of a sudden, I started getting emails from them individually. I emailed everyone back and told them the schedule and what time to be there at – Café Kylemore, O’Connell Street, 9am – and thanked them… a lot!

Again, I didn’t expect them to turn up.

Forty people in 1916 costume turned up at Café Kylemore at 9am. I couldn’t believe it! I had a 14-foot jib crane with our camera on the end on a remote head, Michael O’Kelly in full Pearse military regalia proclaiming the proclamation and 40 costumed extras… and I didn’t even have a permit. I’d only asked the Garda Sergeant at the local Garda Station for permission and had told him, I’d have a tripod and 10 extras. It was awesome!

In fairness, the Gardai who were there helped us out so much. We only had enough crew to do specific jobs but no one to look after our bags and equipment under the GPO pillars. But the Gardai looked out for our bags and so we shot the whole proclamation scene in 3 hours in front of the GPO on a very early rainy February morning in 2016.

When I conceived the script, I knew how I wanted to shoot it. Lots of shallow depth of field, quick and sudden pans and sharp edits to give the feeling of tension and pace but also to get right into our characters’ faces and feel the emotions with them and to go on their journey.

I also wanted to track and move the camera as much as possible to give a sense of urgency; the printers had to get their mammoth task done fast with no time to spare. I also used lots of racking of focus back and forth between characters, but I racked focus very fast back and forth, again, to bring a sense of urgency.

I shot it to be black and white and had it graded. I wanted to bring out the lines in the printers’ faces, to be able to see the ink and dirt in the crevices of their expressions.

I really enjoyed working with Cian Moynan the DOP. He is a painter and really understood what I wanted from the outset. He did an amazing job especially considering he and I had never worked with a 14-foot jib crane before and our only practise of it was taking it out and assembling it the night before in my sitting-room trying to make sure we knew how it worked!

I had written the Street Urchin character into the film so that I could use her songs that she sings as a way of linking scenes and also as a kind of natural soundtrack at points during the film. In pre-production, I selected the songs I wanted Laura Murphy (Street Urchin) to sing, with ‘The Parting Glass’ being the most important. I also sent this song to the other actors in the cast as I wanted them to sing it with her in the final part of the film.

We recorded these songs separately at my house in my sitting-room. Laura sang them herself and then, the rest of the cast joined her for the final chorus of ‘The Parting Glass’. I was delighted with what they did with the song and how it brings us through the film to the final scene of the proclamation being proclaimed.

I was initially going to use a heartbeat running throughout the film again to raise tension, but when I tried this in post-production, it didn’t work as well as I had imagined. So, I decided on the use of bodhrans to give a rhythmic sense of a heartbeat throughout the film. I worked with the amazing composer Joseph Conlan and he created the beautiful instrumental soundtrack.

I cast the actors mainly from the website Film Network Ireland – it has since become a Facebook Group. All of the actors were outstandingly brilliant and so lovely to work with. I was blessed! I rehearsed them all at different times at my own home and did a rehearsed reading with all cast and crew. It was exciting to see and hear it come alive.

I played the part of my own Granny, “Nell O’Sullivan” and I remember standing on set in Sweny’s Pharmacy, in costume, and getting ready to act and at the same time giving directions, thinking quietly to myself, “What am I doing?!” My legs were shaking but I was wearing a long skirt and no one could see that – if only they knew!

I had a tiny budget of €1200.00 starting out. I then used my rent money to pay my way through the shoot. After editing it, I set up an indiegogo crowdfund to finish it as professionally as possible with a sound-design and grade. I’d no idea what I was doing and had never done a crowdfund before. I needed money fast though to try to finish it in time for the Galway Film Fleadh submission deadline, so I took the shortest campaign one can choose; 15 days. If you hit your target, it takes another week to go into your bank account. I asked for €2000.00.

I pushed it as hard as I could on social media and emailed everyone I knew and had ever worked with. I knocked on the doors of every local business. We managed to raise €2836.00 to my utter surprise!

I got it finished but regardless, the Fleadh did not select it in the end. However, it went on to win many awards and got selected for festivals both national and international securing many nominations along the way.

I’m really pleased with Proclaim! and I think everyone who worked on it is too which is great. We worked so hard and I think it shows. No one was paid. It was all voluntary. Like the printers who printed the proclamation are legends, so too, the cast and crew who made Proclaim! are legends.

And I salute my cast and crew and thank them from the bottom of my heart. I hope anyone who watches it hereafter enjoys what we all worked so hard to make!


Watch Irish Short Film: Pernicio

In Pernicio, a young man explores his attitude towards life and death when his suicide plans are interrupted. David Fox tells us how he made the film.

Pernicio is my grad film from my final year in the National Film School in IADT, Dun Laoghaire.

The idea for the white ‘execution room’ sprung to my mind some time in 2014. I think there had been a lot of debate surrounding assisted suicide at the time, and my mind began to wonder what it would look like if it was a walk-in clinic and you could kill yourself as easily as buying a Big Mac. The idea began to snowball and dragged capitalistic ideas with it with the multinational corporation that would make money off people’s desires to kill themselves, and lo and behold I had the basic idea for a film.

I sat on the idea for about two years before I put pen to paper, a process which I think worked in my favour on this project. It evolved and developed in my mind for those two years, and when it came to pitching for my final year project in college, this was the idea that was itching to get out.

I finally got on to developing the script in early September 2016. I knew the theme of suicide had been overused and almost trivialised in student films, so I wanted to stray away from those clichés as much as possible. I think I went through 11 drafts of the script in the end.

Dave Fox, Director

The way it works in the NFS is that you get allocated a week to shoot your Grad film at the start of the year, anytime between late January and late April. We were allocated February 6th – 12th. We had one week to shoot it and maybe a couple of days here or there to get pick-ups if we needed.

We held open auditions just before Christmas 2016 and my leads walked through the door and sat down in front of me, something which I genuinely did not expect to happen, but each one of them struck perfectly in-line with the characters. I met with Eoin O’Sullivan (Gary), Danielle Galligan (Sam), Mark Lawrence (Doctor) and Aidan J Collins (Receptionist) about half a dozen times before the shoot. We rehearsed scenes, explored different routes and found our favourite direction before began shooting. That was something that proved to be invaluable to me; I did most of my directing off-set. Two weeks before the shoot I locked the script – finally.

Cast & Crew

We shot 5 days over a week-long period. The big white ‘execution room’ took a full day to build and light properly and we had about 8 hours to shoot everything and tear it down again the following day, which was terrifying and exciting.

Alfie Hollingsworth was my cinematographer and we clicked really well on this shoot. I asked him about the room, how we would light it properly, how to not make it look like a student-film-looking set and how we’d avoid shadows in the jib shots. He came up with the idea of lighting the room through a 16X16 silk which we hung over the set, a brilliant idea. This, coupled with the brilliant production design of Fiona Mitchell gave us the ethereal white light in those scenes that I wanted.

We actually pimped out a super old sound editing hardware that we found in the film school and put some tubes and lights on it for the machine in the middle of the room. If you look closely at the close ups of the machine you can see ‘treble’ and ‘bass’, something which became a lot more apparent when we were screening in cinemas, but I’m hoping no one notices on their first watch.

Our other locations included my bedroom, The Dublin Dental School (the reception scenes), Dollymount Strand, the Dart, and the Lexicon in Dun Laoghaire, all secured by my producer Laura Gaynor. The Lexicon was a brand new building at the time and I thought it had a real retro-futuristic look to it. We VFX’d the Pernicio ‘P’ on the side of the building, with the help of Robert Gaynor. The shoot went very smoothly overall, except for leaving our Data Wrangler behind in the Golf Club on Bull Island, who we only remembered when we had gotten into town – sorry Robyn.

Dani during final scene

Conor Donoghue edited the piece, and did an excellent job doing so. I sat back from the project for about a week and let him do an assembly cut of his own accord. We knew soon after that we had a film. We got really lucky with the sound mix, as our mixer Janneke van Nijnanten was doing work experience down in Ardmore studios on the sound stage. She showed Steve Fanagan what she was working on and he said he would be help us out with a 5.1 sound mix, and generously he gave his time for free. Not many student films can claim to have a professional surround-sound mix so that really adds a whole other dimension to the film when it’s screened in the cinema. Darius McGann put together a brilliantly emotional and poignant original soundtrack too.

Everything came together well in the end. We were well organised, believed in ourselves but also, we got really lucky with a lot of things and a lot of people helped us out on this film, to whom I am extremely grateful.

Student films are hard, everyone is learning, people can be unsure of themselves, and other people can let you down. I’m happy to say no one let us down with this film, everyone outdid themselves. We set ourselves a goal to make a student film that didn’t feel like a student film, and I think, and hope, we achieved that.



Leticia Agudo: Director/Co-Writer of ‘Refuge’

Image: Jaro Waldeck


Leticia Agudo talks to Film Ireland about her film Refuge, which tells the story of a young Irish man in an unfamiliar European city who gets help and refuge from an illegal immigrant, a young man like himself. For one night, they’re equals.


The realities of the current refugee struggle are documented and fictionalised in different ways. The normal view is: THEY want something/everything from the US – help, food, asylum, money, protection, jobs. It is a one-sided relationship, normally “they” are not considered to have anything to offer.

In a very simple and mundane way, even, I wanted to turn this idea on its head; what if the “European” needed help from “the refugee”? What if the resources and facilities we take for granted as we move through the world with ease – backpacking in Thailand, long weekend in Marrakesh, getaway in Barcelona – are stripped away and we haven’t bothered to learn the language, the ways, the place, even in a country within our own “safe zone”? That shift in perspective is what Refuge explores.


Directing approach

Given my experience directing documentary, I wanted to enrich the film with the actors’ real-life experiences over a given dramatic scenario, using the background of Seville, passersby and everyday life to insert our little “drama” into. Bobby [Moloney, co-writer] and I wrote a scenario with a brief description of each scene, to work the build-up and structure in the story. I then worked with the actors on location so they would improvise the lines, approaching every situation through their own perspectives. I had the idea to cast the “refugee” from someone who had lived through a similar experience. The South of Spain has had a constant stream of people coming from North Africa for decades, and so I enlisted the help of the refugee integration society Fundación Sevilla Acoge to find someone who would like to take part.



For the Irish cast, we held two casting workshops where I gave the actors parallel scenarios to those in the script to improvise on. I never use the actual script or ask for prepared monologues for casting, as I’m looking for how an actor interprets character and situation, how they react to other actors and take direction. From the first audition, Cork native Tommy Harris reacted with the energy and the innocence I was looking for in the character. For the character of the illegal immigrant, I gave Sevilla Acoge a profile (age, English speaking, similar experience). Cletus Fonony had a great contrast between a very strong presence and a delicate manner, which would flip audiences’ expectations. He liked the idea of embodying the character; he wouldn’t have wanted to take part in a documentary about his exact story, but he liked the idea of drawing from his experience as someone else.


Beg-borrow-and-steal production

Going back to film in my native city of Seville, we had my family and friends’ support and resources for this no-budget short, sleeping in their spare rooms and getting the occasional home-cooked meal. We were a tiny crew of 4: producer Paul McGrath (also sound recordist and extra), co-writer and associate producer Bobby Moloney (+ camera assistant and extra), DOP Jaro Waldeck and myself (also playing a cameo). We walked every inch of Seville, scouting out locations and testing shots. We basically test shot 80% of the film in the three days prior to Tommy’s arrival, as sequences like the robbery and chase were tricky and finding the perfect location for the first encounter between the characters and the “refuge” took some time. We put poor Tommy to work as soon as he got off the plane, running through busy Seville streets and even getting stopped by locals reacting to what they thought were real-life situations! We never disguised the fact that we were filming, but Jaro’s discreet DSLR rig and Paul’s clip mics, meant we could be fast and unobtrusive in our environment. On the other hand, Seville people are very reactive towards crime and they’re very fast on their feet stopping and chasing culprits!

Actors Cletus and Tommy didn’t meet until the evening before they had to work together, so in the process of making the film, they got to know each other and their backgrounds, and explore those first awkward moments of nascent friendships in and around the film. They were both extremely adaptable and intelligent, reacting naturally to situations and filming conditions. I’m happy to say it was a great collaborative production, an intense and very enjoyable experience.



Because of its history, Seville’s architecture is a mixture between East and West, with strong Arabic influence in the buildings and the culture. This added to the layers and the relativity of cultural and national identity, which is one of the themes that interest me as a writer and director. In relation to visuals, the autumn and early spring are the best times in the city light-wise, when the pinks and the oranges highlight the buildings’ own reds and oranges. It’s a city of visual contrasts, where the streets are always full of people strolling, eating, drinking, as in the rest of the Mediterranean.



It was dis-proportionally long for a fiction, in relation to the amount shot and the intended length of the film. Bobby and I edited the film, dividing in two and it took a while for Paul and us to be happy with the structure and, for me, with the rhythm, which is crucial for a short film. This was slow moving but it had to work, like any short, like a piece of music. Paul did a incredible job with After Effects in things as radical as removing one of the actors from a shot because we were flagging his presence too much. Bobby also did an incredible job of editing and sweetening the sound, and for the grading, we returned to our favourite, Eugene McCrystal, with whom we had worked before.

Finding the right music was also more challenging than I expected. At pre-production, I really wanted to use a song that Antonio López was making for Sevilla Acoge about immigrants, and after talking to him, he had the idea to compose a new song based on the themes of the film, which he sang in Spanish. I decided to go with very little music in the end, to counterpoint certain moments, which we sourced from the West One Music group.

Even after I thought we were picture locked, after sage advice from a shorts programmer, we cut another 3 minutes off the film, including two beautiful shots of the Irish character enjoying the city of Seville, which were two of my darlings, but they didn’t do anything else to the film.

I’m interested to see how an Irish audience reacts to the subject matter and to the style of the film. Roll on IndieCork and Kerry!


Refuge screens at IndieCork in Programme 3 of the Irish shorts programme @ 12.00pm on Saturday, 14th October.


Refuge will also screen at the Kerry Film Festival in the RECALL short programme @ 4pm on 20th October and at the Brest European Short Film Festival, where it is the sole Irish representative screening in competition, on the 8th and 9th of November.


Brian Stynes: How We Made ‘Penitent’

In between cups of tea, Brian Stynes tells Film Ireland about Penitent, his first foray into features, which screens at the Underground Cinema Film Festival.


Brainstorm, brainstorm, cups of tea, brainstorm. I had just finished shooting my last short film (1914 Street) and I looked around at the small crew assembled in my tiny flat and blurted it out: “I want to try a feature”, silence, I hadn’t even started to edit the short but I knew I wanted to put the experience of the many short films  to bigger use. “We can do it, if we break down the individual scenes, and shoot it like a lot of short films, we can do it”

So that’s how it started; hadn’t even got a story but that’s where the cups of tea (and brainstorming) came in.

Partner in crime, Michael Linehan who had always been a fixture in the short films was well versed in writing screenplays, that coupled with my laziness and ear for a good story, was the basis for many meetings where we would take an idea and expand on it.

Initially, the story was just about a paroled man dealing with the guilt of killing a child accidentally until we researched and discovered that this would not warrant a custodial sentence, there would need to be intent, or, if the person was under the influence, in which case it would be a case of dangerous driving causing death.

We learned a lot while researching the ins and outs of laws, well, laws pertaining to our story but that was great – we could now embellish, add layers to the story and lead character, we discovered as we wrote, I say we, meaning Michael wrote while I scratched my chin and said “no” a lot. Writing actually became very easy due to the central complex scenario, ie. a man goes to jail for having contraband in his car; contraband was discovered during a garda search of the car; car was involved in a fatal accident; driver had just received some very bad news, and was not aware that the contraband was in the car. That set-up alone allowed us to introduce the satellite characters, which adds even more complexity yet still keeps the central idea as its driving force, a man dealing with an unforgivable crime.

I knew from the start that Penitent was going to be bleak with a no hope ending, I didn’t shy away from this because I know there are people living who have had to deal with this very situation and I feel it’s important to show how helpless and hopeless a person finding him or herself in this predicament will feel.

Script finished,  I begin the task of breaking it down into scenes for budget requirements, I don’t know any producers so I have to do it myself. Script broken down, big excel sheet with all the requirements complete, I start making the phone calls, emails, letter writing to get locations, crew, services, stuff in general. Then I cast, After years of making short films, I tend to stay with people I like, added to that, I will approach actors that I have just seen in a play and ask if they would test for a role.

Cast and crew in place, locations acquired, shootings begins on January 30th 2016. It would continue until March 2017 and I’m editing as I go. I like to edit early on in case I want to do a re-shoot, which happens a few times. The biggest concern is continuity – a shoot over that length of time will be a nightmare, but, if I shoot all scenes with satellite characters in one go, it will only leave the central character to worry about. Michael, who plays the lead in the film,  was very diligent with hair/beard growth, what clothes he wore for what scenes – another good reason to edit as you go, Michael can see what he was wearing in a scene leading to current scene.

Guerrilla-style would be an understatement. We shot the lead character in prison (Spike Island) while tour guides brought visitors into the cell we were shooting in. On two separate shoots, members of the public tried to intervene in the action that was being filmed, an off-duty doctor pulled her car in during the filming of the car accident scene and rushed over to the actor playing one of the paramedics, while a scene where one actor was hitting another actor saw a passerby trying to stop the fight despite multiple cameras and sound equipment highly visible. I had a gut feeling we were getting good footage!

We had a screening for cast and crew and their reactions said it all. They hadn’t expected the film to be this good – an insult and a compliment all rolled into one, but I was happy with the result. Penitent is not an easy watch by any means and whatever problems the characters are going through are still there at the end of the film. No neat bows, no answers given. Just as in life.


Penitent screens on Saturday, 2nd September as part of the Underground Cinema Film Festival 


Buy tickets here 


The 8th Underground Cinema Film Festival takes place in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire from August 31st to September 3rd.