In Conversation with Paul Duane

paul-duane

This episode of In Conversation features writer, director and producer Paul Duane.

Paul’s directing credits include Barbaric Genius, Very Extremely Dangerous and Natan and he was named one of Variety magazine’s Ten Directors to Watch in 2013.

In 2008 Paul set up the production company Screenworks with Rob Cawley, which recently produced the successful RTÉ series Amber.

Paul also co-produced In a House That Ceased to Be, the story of Christina Noble, which was released in cinemas earlier this year and screened on RTÉ. The film won the George Morrison Feature Documentary IFTA Award.

 

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‘Don’t You Know Who I Am?’ Due for Release

olaf

 

The short film Don’t You Know Who I Am? is due for release next month. Shot in Galway last November, the film stars Larry Love, the lead singer of Alabama 3, as Rick Rossi, a new arrival in the West of Ireland city of Galway. He’s grieving – trying to recover from the sudden death of his best friend, also the lead singer in his band: the outrageously successful Fragrance Free. He’s been told that Galway people don’t care about celebrity. It turns out that they don’t – but they also really want to make him aware of that fact.

Don’t You Know Who I Am? is directed by Paul Duane (Barbaric Genius,Very Extremely Dangerous) and written by poet, writer, journalist and broadcaster Olaf Tyaransen.

The film, produced by Screenworks, features soundtrack music by Alabama 3, including an exclusive new song ‘Don’t You Know Who I Am?’.

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Paul Duane Named by Variety among Directors to Watch

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Irish director Paul Duane has been named among Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch.

After making a name for himself directing for television, Duane directed the acclaimed 2011 documentary Barbaric Genius, charting  John Healy’s rise from homeless wino to chess prodigy and award-winning author. He followed this with the exhilarating Very Extremely Dangerous, his road trip portrait of the gun-toting wildman of rock, Jerry McGill, who died earlier this year. His latest film is Natan, co-directed with David Cairns, the story of one of French cinema’s forgotten pioneers

 

The Dec. 17 issue of Variety will include profiles of Duane as well as the 9 other directors chosen by Variety, as listed below.

Amma Asante (Belle)
Clio Barnard (The Selfish Giant)
Anthony Chen (Ilo Ilo)
Ben Falcone (Tammy)
Maya Forbes (Infinitely Polar Bear)
Aron Gaudet & Gita Pullapilly (Beneath the Harvest Sky)
Dome Karukoski (Heart of a Lion)
Justin Simien (Dear White People)
Gren Wells (The Road Within)

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Interview: Paul Duane, director of ‘Very Extremely Dangerous’

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Jerry McGill spurned a rock’n’roll career for a life of crime, robbing banks and running from the FBI while touring incognito with legends of country music and appearing in movies. After three jail sentences, aged 70 and suffering from terminal cancer, he announced his return to recording. Very Extremely Dangerous follows a heavily armed McGill and his long-suffering fiancée Joyce through four states as he stole whatever’s not nailed down and charmed his way into and out of trouble.

Film Ireland spoke to director Paul Duane to find out more about his compelling film and the “original rock and roll outlaw”.

Very Extremely Dangerous turns the camera on Jerry McGill, a pill-popping, crime addicted, gun-toting, rock’n’roll renegade. Not only did he not play by the rules, he burnt the rule book and urinated on its dying embers. Missing in action for the last decade, Paul Duane’s 2012 documentary follows McGill at the age of 70 as he attempts to return to recording music and perform his music to a live audience again.

McGill died earlier this year at the age of 73 leaving behind him a reputation as the “original rock and roll outlaw,” and described by Robert Gordon, the film’s producer, as “a really gruff charmer…If you didn’t like his sweet talk, he’d show you the muzzle of his gun.”

McGill was a singer, songwriter and guitarist who recorded for Sun Records, releasing one single in 1959, ‘Lovestruck’. Yet already by this stage in his life McGill had become a notorious criminal – claiming himself that he was arrested 97 times for various offences, including armed robbery.

Under the pseudonym Curtis Buck, McGill spent most of the ‘60s and ‘70s on the road – bringing crime with him – with country star Waylon Jennings, who described him as “crazy” and wrote that “While I was singing, he’d go find the girls, and if we needed drugs, he’d go find the dope.”

By the late ’70s McGill had disappeared from the music radar, spending most of his time being arrested, tried, and occasionally convicted, for crimes that included possession of illegal weapons, drugs and attempted murder.

Duane’s interest in making the film that would become Very Extremely Dangerous began when he received an email saying that McGill had surfaced after a ten-year vanishing act, was suffering from terminal cancer and wanted to make a return to recording. At that stage, “I’d really only 2 sources to go on,” recalls Duane, ” one was Robert Gordon’s book It Came from Memphis, which had quite a lot of stories and legendary stuff about McGill, stories told by people who had known him in the ‘50s and ‘60s and the early ‘70s. The other was the William Eggleston’s Stranded in Canton, which has scenes of McGill that turn up in Very Extremely Dangerous where you can see what sort of a person he was.  It was all second or third hand information.”

Duane made contact with McGill in Alabama and was one of the first people to speak to him for a while. “Jerry hadn’t spoken to any of the Memphis heads who knew him way back. So I sort of tracked him down. That was a strange feeling. Nobody else had heard from him in many, many years. From there we had a couple of long conversations on the phone.”

Armed with little ammunition, Duane headed over to meet McGill. “It could have been a wild goose chase – it was a big risk to go to the USA never having met this guy and start filming and then see if it was something worth chasing further.”

After watching the film it certainly was worth it. Maybe not quite what was first imagined though. Duane recalls how originally he had “certain aspirations. I enjoyed The Story of Anvil very much and liked the notion of maybe someone missing their opportunity to become a star and having a second go at it With  his undeniable charisma and openness on camera plus the added pathos that he was under a death sentence from cancer there seemed to me to be the ingredients there for what could really be a redemptive, positive and funny, sweet story of this guy rediscovering his musical abilities after 50 years of living a very, very difficult and dangerous and illegal kind of life.  That was our initial idea. That was how we pitched it to ourselves – but it didn’t quite work out that way. “

As the film testifies to, McGill was not an easy subject to engage with. His erratic behaviour and drug addiction gave rise to abusive behaviour and threats of violence toward his fiancée, Joyce. McGill’s on-screen behaviour proved so problematic that Duane was forced to end proceedings when things came to a head. Duane admits reaching that stage during filming when “two things became clear to me – no audience would stay with our story beyond the point we’d reached, Jerry’s behaviour had crossed a line; and I wasn’t willing to go with him on this journey for another step.”

McGill’s sometime producer and song-writing collaborator Jim Lancaster has said about him that “He was an outlaw down to his soul.” What’s interesting about the documentary is how much this outlaw seems to be a constructed image that McGill plays up to. Duane admits that McGill was indeed charismatic but “clearly unreliable and can be problematic to be around. Part of the reason Jerry was excited about the film was that he always wanted to be a star. Point a camera at him and he starts to perform.”

Welcome to “Jerryworld”.

“When you’re entangled with someone who is playing a game and how far they can go and being goaded on by the presence of the camera to do more and more, you wonder whether the principle of observing this person is making them do the things they’re doing and maybe if we stopped observing him he’d have a more normal life and wouldn’t damage himself and other people. Also there’s the fear of ethically being in some way responsible for his behaviour. And also the fact that I personally couldn’t take it anymore – at a certain point as a human being you just go I can’t be involved in this any longer. And also as documentary filmmaker one of the most difficult things, one of the most indefinable things you have to have – no one can teach you – is knowing when you’ve reached the end of your story. When you’ve filmed the scene you know is the end – that’s when you walk away.”

Very Extremely Dangerous is not about being judge, jury and executioner. It’s a film that asks more questions than it answers, perhaps the most important being how do you decide about a person. Asking Duane about looking back now on the whole experience, he’s quick to focus on the positive. “My best memory of Jerry, and the one I want to hang onto, is the last time I saw him when he came to Memphis. We had a sneak preview of the film – the film’s first screening – and he travelled to see it. We had agreed it see it before anyone else. We sat in a hotel room and watched it – by this stage he was off his painkiller addiction and was living a much more moderate life – he was shocked and horrified by what he saw but he was able to take it on the chin and say, ‘Look it’s an honest portrayal of how I was at that time. It’s difficult to watch but thank you for doing it.’ He sat through it again with an audience that evening and it must have been very, very difficult for him to sit there in a room full of people while you’re threatening to break your girlfriend’s jaw on screen. But he sat through it and came out the other side and people applauded him at the end, which was maybe a surprise to him because I think they understood that even just by being there showed a certain amount of moral courage and I was very proud of him. Proud of the way he responded; proud of the way he didn’t shirk or blame or attempt to evade responsibility for his actions. That’s the mark of a real man – at that point he showed himself to be a grown-up and much more so than I’d ever seen from him in any of his behaviour before then.  That was the real Jerry – his fiancée Joyce always makes the distinction between Jerry McGill and Curtis Buck – Jerry being his alter ego and the guy who is the devil incarnate and Jerry, who is genuinely a sweet, nice, loving, kind, creative guy. Thankfully I got to know both of them before he died. It’s a real shame he went the wrong way and became a criminal because he had all the positivity to be pretty much anything he wanted to be. He has a lot of positives and a lot of negatives and they’re all there to see on the screen in the film.”

 

Very Extremely Dangerous is in cinemas now.

 

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Cinema Review: Very Extremely Dangerous

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DIR: Paul Duane PRO: Paul Duane, Robert Gordon ED: Colm O’Brien, Fiona Starogardzki

A prominent sub-genre of the wider musical-documentary field consists of a quest or travelogue in which the filmmakers rediscover and redeem some gifted musical talent omitted from the success-obsessed mainstream of musical history. Into this uplifting niche fall such films as Searching for Sugarman and The Buena Vista Social Club. It would be odd, however, if the filmmakers who set out on these journeys always came up with subjects who fitted neatly into this happy frame. By focusing on Jerry McGill, director Paul Duane has found a subject who cannot help but derail this intended upward arc. McGill was a contemporary and acquaintance of Elvis who enjoyed a hit record in 1959, but subjugated whatever musical talent he once possessed to drugs, thrill-seeking robberies and violence—while these may be the kinds of activities to be celebrated in song, they play havoc with the cultivation of a successful musical career. Despite being diagnosed with life-threatening lung cancer, having the attention of a documentary crew and the chance to record his music once again, the 70-year-old McGill reverts to the anarchic outlaw behaviour that ensured his career never took off in the first place, and pisses all over his chances of making his longed-for comeback.

Narrating the film, Duane recognises that the expected redemptive narrative will not be possible in this case, and the film shifts subtly so that it almost becomes a revelation of the romantic impulses and patterns that must operate in redemptive musical documentaries to repress, obscure and elide awkward realities like the subject’s fecklessness, ego and stupidity in order to come up with the pre-scripted happy ending. The wit, charisma and talent we charitably attribute to McGill at the outset are gradually chiselled away as he abuses trust, alienates his friends, threatens violence on his long-suffering girlfriend and indulges in absurd prima-donna preening. He betrays the same mix of sentiment and selfishness as some deluded crank auditioning for the X-Factor. Duane does a very good job of undercutting the overworked redemptive narrative, it is just a shame that that the very last scene grasps for a sense of uplift, by which time I was hoping that Jerry would return to the obscurity he had originally merited. In an earlier moment, the hopeless old peacock is seen purchasing some bling in preparation for a dismal comeback gag. He settles on a piece of jewellery that reads “2pac.” Ol’ dirty bastard would have been more fitting.

TonyMcKiver

85 mins
Very Extremely Dangerous is released on 16th October 2013

Very Extremely Dangerous – Official Website

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‘Barbaric Genius’ now on VOD and DVD

barbaric

Paul Duane’s  feature documentary Barbaric Genius is now available to buy worldwide on DVD and VOD at the film’s website, www.barbaricgenius.com.

The Grierson-nominated documentary tells the remarkable story of London Irishman John Healy and his journey from alcoholic and homeless criminal to chess prodigy and bestselling author.

Barbaric Genius was produced by Duane and Mary Carson for Screenworks with funding from Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board and RTÉ. It is being distributed by Wildcard Distribution.

 

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‘Natan’ to screen at Edinburgh International Film Festival

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Paul Duane’s Natan is set for its UK premiere when it screens at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, which takes place 19 – 30 June.  Natan will screen on 23 & 29 June.

The film tells the story of Bernard Natan, a man who changed the face of European cinema before coming to an indescribably tragic end. It is a remarkable document of the untold story of French cinema’s forgotten genius.

It was recently screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Check out the film’s trailer:

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JDIFF 2013: Natan

 

The 11th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (14-24 February 2013)

Natan

Fri, 15th February
IFI 1
18.10
65mins

A new documentary from Paul Duane is a reason to enter into the cinema with the buzzing anticipation that you are about to encounter the fascinating life of a character whose story burns up the screen. His documentaries thrive on figures rejected by those who shape history, and seek to restore their extraordinary presence into the public consciousness.

After his compelling portrait of John Healy, the wino-turned chess champion, turned literary celebrity in Barbaric Genius and the punked-up thrills of Jerry McGill in Very Extremely Dangerous, Duane now brings us Natan, a remarkable tale of a pioneer of French cinema who was written out of its history, written maliciously back into it and now, with Duane’s latest documentary, Natan’s life has been re-written in an attempt to bring fact to bear upon fiction and bring truth to a myth that had become history.

Natan addresses the forgotten history of a man who shaped the French Film industry in the 1920s and 30s. What little is known of him is a web of viscious scurrilous lies. The documentary, expertly written by David Cairns, provides a ridiculously fascinating portrait of how the reality of the man who was a pioneer, technological visionary, director and producer of over 60 films, proponent of the business model of control of production, distribution, and exhibition, and one-time owner of Pathé, the world’s largest film equipment and production company, was deconstructed and mangled into a cauldron of lies, his reputation and achievements stained as he was cast as a monster, a Jewish swindler, pornography peddler, Pathé pillager, fraudster and – animal lovers , look away now – duck-buggerer.

Most tragic of all is the shocking details of his death – a victim of the anti-Semitism of France in the 1930s.

The film is constructed around some amazing research and remarkable archive footage (of Natan’s films and Natan himself, plus archive footage that provided the “evidence” for the false allegations) and interviews, including Natan’s granddaughter, interlaced with David Cairns’ ingenious use of a voiceover narrative, which personalises the film’s subject and brings a rewarding immediacy to the film’s core, including a deviceful use of a Papier-mâché head, which is always good to see.

Here is a story that needed to be told and needs to be seen – let’s hope it gets the distribution it deserves.

Steven Galvin

 

Check out our exclusive interview with director Paul Duane in the current issue of Film Ireland magazine, available now.

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JDIFF 2013: Preview – Natan

 

The 11th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (14-24 February 2013)

Natan

Fri, 15th February
IFI 1
18.10
65mins

David Cairns and Paul Duane’s absorbing documentary investigates why Bernard Natan’s name has been erased from the history of cinema, despite dominating the French film industry through the 1920s and ‘30s?

Paul Duane writes:

How did the man who, more than any other, paved the way for a French national cinema come to be completely forgotten, especially so in France? How is it that what little attention is paid to him centres on his alleged career as a pioneer and performer in early gay and BDSM porn? Why was Bernard Natan’s name erased from the history of cinema, despite the fact that he dominated the French film industry for most of the 1920s and 30s?

David Cairns and Paul Duane have excavated an extraordinary tale that aims to rewrite the history of European cinema. The man who brought sound cinema to France and Cinemascope to the screen before the word existed, the French equivalent of Cecil B de Mille, came to an end so shockingly tragic that it seems unbelievable. Rumours and lies have swarmed around his story for decades but this documentary finally brings the truth to light.

From the maker of the Grierson award-nominated portrait of writer John Healy, Barbaric Genius, and the award-winning music documentary Very Extremely Dangerous, Natan is simultaneously a visually experimental murder mystery, an inspiring portrait of the birth of cinema and a savage history of French bigotry in the 1920s and 30s.

Paul Duane and David Cairns will attend the screening

Natan is a Reel Art film. Reel Art is an Arts Council scheme designed to provide film artists with a unique opportunity to make highly creative, imaginative and experimental documentaries on an artistic theme

Book tickets here or drop into the Festival Hub in Filmbase in Temple Bar.

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Cinema Review: Barbaric Genius – Film of the Week

DIR: Paul Duane • PRO: Paul Duane, Mary Carson  ED: Ian de Brí, Colm O’Brien • CAST: Frank Boyle, Dick Fitzgerald,  John Healy

Bloody Hell. That’s quite a documentary to watch when you are still recovering from the night before.

John Healy, whose parents were from Sligo, was a homeless alcoholic living in London who only stopped drinking when he was introduced to chess in prison by his cell mate, a notorious burgler nicknamed ‘The Brighton Fox’. He went on to play chess to international level before writing an award-winning autobiography, The Grass Arena ,which went out of print for a number years due to him threatening to kill his publisher.

Now that’s an interesting subject for a documentary. After the screening I went out and bought The Grass Arena. I can’t really critique the filmmaking aspect of this documentary as from about two minutes in I was glued to it. I guess when you pick such a fascinating person to make a documentary on you are most of the way there.

The ‘row’ he had with is publisher, almost 20 years on, is water under the bridge and the publisher appears on camera to give an unintentionally hilarious recollection of events containing quite possibly the highest number of contradictions in the fewest words spoken.

Director Paul Duane and Healy himself took part in a Q&A at JDIFF 2011 chaired by Dr Harvey O’Brien of UCD. Healy recalled that when The Grass Arena was published he thought he was getting away from the psychopaths that he was hanging around with when he was drinking, only to discover that the real psychopaths were in the middle class, who he discovered, ‘don’t like listening to problems unless they are their own’.

Paul Duane described Healy as vulnerable and open and the two became friends over the long period of filming. Norman Brock, who wrote the screenplay for Bronson, and does some of the voiceover on Barbaric Genius is scripting another adaptation of the book, the first one made in 1992 was directed by Gilles McKinnon and starred Mark Rylance as Healy.

Talking about alcoholism and the use of the term ‘wino’, Healy said there are many types of alcoholic, those in the drawing room, those in the pub, and the ‘wino’ ‘who would attack another human being if it furthered them to drink’. When he discovered chess he said that’ drink dropped out of his mind’ and that he didn’t give up the drink, drink gave up him.

When Paul Duane was asked why he made the documentary he said he wondered ‘why is this man being ignored for so long, why is he being surpressed?’, after watching Barbaric Genius I was thinking the same thing myself.

Gordon Gaffney

Barbaric Genius is released on 25th May 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGfrAzs5rms

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‘Barbaric Genius’ doc on the life of John Healy, writer of ‘The Grass Arena’, released exclusively at the IFI May 25-29

 

Barbaric Genius a new documentary on the life of John Healy, writer of ‘The Grass Arena’ is released exclusively at the IFI from 25th-29th May 2012.

Paul Duane’s feature documentary Barbaric Genius tells the story of John Healy – wino, chess prodigy, author of a classic memoir, and forgotten man. Once a media darling for his charisma and aura of violence, he’s spent the past twenty years living in extraordinary isolation, embittered and angry.

Healy was born into a London-Irish family during World War 2. Hounded by violence at home and on the streets, he took refuge in drink and spent the ’60s as a street wino and a mugger. Then, learning to play chess in jail, he became aware of his own potential.

Sobering up, he went on the tournament chess circuit and caused controversy and sensation not only with his unbelievable ability, but also his volatile and sometimes belligerent personality.

As he began to realise his own formidable intelligence, he entered the world of literature with his 1989 memoir, The Grass Arena, and became a celebrity – and that’s when things started to go wrong…

Filmmaker Paul Duane says: ‘I had been a fan of the book on its initial publication, and had tried to buy the film rights in 1991. When John Healy re-surfaced after fifteen years of total obscurity, he agreed to take part in a film that would try to explain how he managed to go from the gutters of Camden to Hollywood, then back again, and what happened? How did he destroy his career, why were his books removed from the shops and destroyed?.’

This is a story that encompasses almost every aspect of the human spirit, from violent intoxication to transcendent spirituality. It also provides a remarkable picture of the hidden tensions in British life around class, privilege and education.

Barbaric Genius is presented by Screenworks in association with the Irish Film Board/ Bord Scannán na hÉireann and RTÉ . Its cinema release has been supported by Bord Scannán na hÉireann.

John Healy and Paul Duane will attend the opening night screening at 19.20 and will take part in a post-screening Q+A session.

Tickets for this limited run are available now at the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or www.ifi.ie

Read Gordon Gaffney’s review of Barbaric Genius from JDIFF 2011 here 

 

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JDIFF: John Healy – 'Barbaric Genius'

john-healy

DIR: Paul Duane PRO: Paul Duane and Mary Carson ED: Ian de Brí and Colm O’Brien

Light House Cinema, Smithfield, Saturday 19th February 2pm

Bloody Hell. That’s quite a documentary to watch when you are still recovering from the night before.

John Healy, whose parents were from Sligo, was a homeless alcoholic living in London who only stopped drinking when he was introduced to chess in prison by his cell mate, a notorious burgler nicknamed ‘The Brighton Fox’. He went on to play chess to international level before writing an award-winning autobiography, ‘The Grass Arena’ ,which went out of print for a number years due to him threatening to kill his publisher.

Now that’s an interesting subject for a documentary. After the screening I went out and bought ‘The Grass Arena’. I can’t really critique the filmmaking aspect of this documentary as from about two minutes in I was glued to it. I guess when you pick such a fascinating person to make a documentary on you are most of the way there.

The ‘row’ he had with is publisher, almost 20 years on, is water under the bridge and the publisher appears on camera to give an unintentionally hilarious recollection of events containing quite possibly the highest number of contradictions in the fewest words spoken.

Director Paul Duane and Healy himself took part in a Q&A chaired by Dr Harvey O’Brien of UCD. Healy recalled that when ‘The Grass Arena’ was published he thought he was getting away from the psychopaths that he was hanging around with when he was drinking, only to discover that the real psychopaths were in the middle class, who he discovered, ‘don’t like listening to problems unless they are their own’.

Paul Duane described Healy as vulnerable and open and the two became friends over the long period of filming. Norman Brock, who wrote the screenplay for ‘Bronson’, and does some of the voiceover on ‘Barbaric Genius’ is scripting another adaptation of the book, the first one made in 1992 was directed by Gilles McKinnon and starred Mark Rylance as Healy.

Talking about alcoholism and the use of the term ‘wino’, Healy said there are many types of alcoholic, those in the drawing room, those in the pub, and the ‘wino’ ‘who would attack another human being if it furthered them to drink’. When he discovered chess he said that’ drink dropped out of his mind’ and that he didn’t give up the drink, drink gave up him.

When Paul Duane was asked why he made the documentary he said he wondered ‘why is this man being ignored for so long, why is he being surpressed?’, after watching ‘Barbaric Genius’ I was thinking the same thing myself.

Gordon Gaffney

‘The First Movie’ Report

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Six things I've learned while making the Film

John Healy

Filmmaker Paul Duane has made a documentary about the colourful life of author John Healy (The Grass Arena), which will show next Tuesday on RTÉ One. Paul shared some of the lessons learned during making the film.

Six things I have learned while making the Film:

1. DON’T BE AFRAID TO PICK UP THE CAMERA YOURSELF

I started filming four years ago, out of sheer fascination for John Healy’s almost unbelievable life story. I started out as a conventional director, with a full crew. But after that, every time we shot we seemed to have less money. So eventually we were down to two people, and I was operating the camera, despite my massive discomfort with the idea of having to take responsibility for arcane things like white balances and ND filters. Then, as always seems to happen, just when you think you can’t shoot with fewer people and less money, you end up shooting with fewer people and less money. I ended up doing camera AND sound for the last few days of the shoot. And that was when I finally cracked it and got the best material I ever got, the stuff I’d been trying to get all along. The material I got with the crew was good, don’t get me wrong. But if you want to get to the truth about your characters, if you want to see what they’re like when there’s not a bunch of strangers hanging around farting and scratching themselves in their living-room, try filming as a one-man band.

2. DON’T WAIT FOR THE MONEY

We started shooting in 2007 thanks to the immense generosity and vision of Adrian Lynch, of Animo Productions, who allowed me a crew for a day to shoot something that we might be able to use to raise some production funding. I cut a promo – a very bad one, more about that later – and we failed completely to get any funding from anybody, anywhere. A while later, after I’d managed to convince the Irish Film Board to give me enough development funding to shoot more material and cut a better promo. I decided that the best way forward was to go for broke and use the development money to shoot as much of the film as I could. So, digging into my own pocket to supplement it when cash started to run low, I shot for as long as I could and got 75% of the documentary in the can before there was a penny of production funding in place. Later, this turned out to be a real plus when it turned out that we were going to be strapped for cash when it came to finishing the film – I’d shot so much, we were able to fill in the blanks with relative ease.

3. DON’T TRY TO MAKE THE PROMO A MINIATURE VERSION OF THE FILM

The first promo I cut was like a mini-epic, covering as much of John Healy’s life as I could in five minutes. It was comprehensive, it was packed with images and stories, it was dull and it gave away far too much of the story. At the excellent promo workshop run by the Stranger Than Fiction Festival, critiques boiled down to ‘Why would I need to see the film? I know what happens now.’ So I cut another, completely different promo that was designed to make whoever watched it ask me questions like ‘What happens next?’ and I took this to HotDocs and the Sheffield DocFest, where it helped me to land heavyweight co-producers in the UK and USA. Watching a lot of other promos for a lot of other documentaries really helped. Some of them are better than movies.

4. DON’T EXPECT YOUR CO-PRODUCERS TO CARRY THE CAN

As I said, I ended up with two heavyweight co-producers, Oscar-winners, and that was a tremendous ego-boost at the time. Suddenly we were talking about serious budgets for the film, UK commissioning editors were taking our calls, and festivals looked upon us with lustful eyes. Then it became apparent that the way I felt about the film and the way the co-producers felt were widely divergent. When it comes right down to it, every film is really produced by one person or team, and co-producers are sort of loosely clipped on, until contracts and funding arrangements marry them in perpetuity. If those funding arrangements fail to come off, and the momentum you’re looking for doesn’t suddenly lift your project into the stratosphere, don’t be surprised if the co-pros quietly drop away in the night and you’re back to your original core team, and a rather reduced set of production circumstances. If the situation was reversed, and you were the last one to get to the party, you’d be doing the same thing.

5. YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH A LOT IF YOU HAVE A REALLY, REALLY GOOD EDITOR

Your footage can be great, or it can be – it usually is – a very mixed bag. You will be very very close to it, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. The most important accomplice you can get at the final stage of production (and more so than in drama, the edit is where documentaries are made or unmade) is an editor who brings fresh eyes to the material and helps you see it as an audience might, rather than through your own exhausted, besotted eyes. In this case Colm O’Brien took on the project at a stage where I had almost lost faith in the idea that we even had a film at all here, and helped find a way through the extraordinary maze of John Healy’s complicated, sometimes bewildering life. A good editor is not necessarily the same thing as an editor who does what you ask them to do, in fact more often than not you’ll end up fighting doggedly to keep a scene you’re in love with, only to agree with them in the end that your beloved darling is best filed in the Deleted Scenes bin. That’s what DVD releases are for, they give you hope that someday, somebody will watch all your dear deleted darlings.

6. USE SOCIAL NETWORKING AS A FORCE FOR GOOD

I’m on Twitter, I hate Facebook, but both of them have their place in the struggle to get your film made and seen. The film has a (poorly maintained and rather neglected) Facebook page which will hopefully at some point provide a nexus for people who like John Healy and his work to find out more about screenings and other useful information. But it was due to Twitter that I ended up, at the ragged end of production on the film when money and enthusiasm were just about gone, discovering a London-based producer of great experience, Astrid Edwards, who was also a huge fan of The Grass Arena, John Healy’s unique and extraordinary memoir. She offered to help me in whatever way she could, so for our final London shoot I had a very overqualified ‘production manager’ helping me out for peanuts. Other admirers of John Healy found their way to me via the internet and will hopefully prove useful as we build an audience for the documentary. But you have to engage with the world of social networking in a non-cynical way, as nothing is more obvious than a hit-and-run artist trying to carpet-bomb the Net with info about their latest project, without taking the time to engage with the people they’re theoretically addressing. That gets nobody anywhere. You might as well push leaflets through random strangers’ front doors.

John Healy: You Have Been Warned is on RTÉ1 at 10.15 pm on Tuesday, 11th January 2011.

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