Eleanor McSherry reports from the Kerry Film Festival Short Film Market panel with Michael Creagh, who received an Oscar nomination for his short film The Crush, and Sundance winner Jim Cummings (Thunder Road) in a discussion on their journeys in short filmmaking so far. This discussion was chaired by Festival Director Maeve McGrath.
Jim: Just so you know, (in relation to the clip screened) I am not a dancer or a choreographer. It was all filmed in one shot and I practiced it a lot but the audience in the film didn’t know what I was going to do.
Q: All in one shot that is amazing.
Jim: I was working full time at a comedy club and on the drive to work I came up with a monologue for an actor, so effectively I did my rehearsals in my car. I used a voice memo app to record what I was doing and the good stuff I came up with I transcribed into a script.
Q: Michael, your film got shortlisted for the Oscars, can you tell us a bit about that.
Michael: Well, it is a very Irish narrative. We were also self-funded. It was totally our own project. I wrote it on the train in a notebook – jotted it down. I feel you need to do at least one short film before you leave your thirties. I felt I just had to make this short film. We all have these projects we really need to do but we just have to stop talking about it in the pub and get out and do it.
We began by chasing the money to make it while scribbling the script at night. The idea was little but it grew and I didn’t need to force it – it was easy to get it. It took only a couple of days to write. The script ended up slightly different from the original idea. Great ideas set you on fire. You can’t wait to get them down on the page. ejected ideas, on the other hand, don’t usually see the light of day.
Q: How hard was it to get into the head -pace to act in the film?
Jim: it was miserable! I had to get into the mind frame of the character but also find the humanity in him. We had no funding for the film but didn’t really need it. I tried to tell a traditional story about a funeral, which is a classic structure.
Q: What was your route to the Kerry Film Festival?
Michael: We had success in the Tribeca Film Festival which really turned the whole thing around. Up until then we had had some rejections. It hadn’t, at this stage, played in Ireland, which was worrying. After America and Tribeca, there was a domino effect… very fast it was in demand. Then came Foyle Film Festival and the Oscar route. At that time Foyle was the only festival to offer this. This finally opened many doors for us.
Jim: When we got accepted to Sundance, we knew nobody. We had firstly been too late for the normal dates on Withoutabox, so we found the programmer on twitter and persuaded her to let us in the back-door. We got a waiver for the last date and had to pay a late fee but it was worth it. Then our next problem was that we didn’t have the rights to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’. We had to get onto Park City and try to persuade them to let us use the song. You are supposed to have this sorted out for festivals but we didn’t. So in the end, after getting nowhere down the traditional routes, we wrote an open letter to Bruce and posted it online. They got back to us and gave us the rights for one year, we had to pay €1000 and had to take down the open letter. It was a bit scary there for awhile but it was worth it.
Michael: We are in talks with Network Ireland – it’s the dream to get a distribution deal.
Jim: Online is such a different route to distribution. Sundance cost us €3000 just to go to the festival. You don’t make short films to make money. We just wanted people to see the film.
Q: After the year, that you agreed, for the rights to use the song ‘Thunder Road’, what will you do?
Jim: We have to take the film down from the internet.
Q: One take for your shoot Jim – how long did that take?
Jim: We had a couple of takes. The actors gave some great reactions to the piece. It’s five minutes of a monologue and every take I had to restart again, which was tiring.
Q: Michael, what was the journey like to the Oscars?
Michael: Let me just clear one thing up firstly, I did not wear a Dunnes Stores suit to the Oscars, despite the rumours! I wore one alright to nominees lunch. But for the Oscars we got a suit from a tailors in Balbriggan and I still have it.
Q: Was it a great feeling to have been there?
Michael: It’s all a bit surreal really to be honest. It definitely opens doors. We suddenly got meetings with the Irish Film Board, which we couldn’t get before. Things were way slower without. It is scary though, your life goes into a flux. It’s a strange rollercoaster but in a good way.
Jim: Sundance is a strange place to win an award and for awards. To get it though leads to acclaim and more accolades, it definitely opens doors. It can lead to serious production offers. There is a lot of interest suddenly in you but you still have to still generate stuff – you can’t just sit and admire your achievement, instead you still have to work. You still have to make more movies. It does put you on a path though which is good.
For further information on Michael Creagh and The Crush follow him on Twitter:
The Short Film Market Panel Discussion with Michael Creagh & Jim Cummings took place on Saturday the 22nd of October, 2016
The Kerry Film Festival took place from the 19th to the 23rd of October 2016.