Watch Short Film: Let Those Blues In

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Let Those Blues In is a portrait of Paddy Smith, one of Ireland’s best blues harmonica players, who, after a stint in Chicago’s Cook County Prison, used his passion for music to conquer his demons.

Speaking to Film Ireland, director Paul Webster says, “The producer of the film, Shay Casserley, is a school friend of Paddy’s and they had been shooting together for about a year when they invited me to come on board as director. As a result, there was a fantastic resource of footage already built up. We spent a lot of time listening to Paddy’s stories about his life as a Blues musician, there were so many amazing stories, we couldn’t fit them all in. I was fascinated to hear how he ended up in Cook County Prison,which is one of the toughest jails in America. Paddy’s alcoholism took him to some pretty dark places and we follow him there in the film, but overall I think it’s a really positive and hopeful film. I think that’s why it has resonated with so many audiences, especially in immigrant communities in America and England.

“I have always been interested in the power of music and this film is a testament to that. It’s amazing to see how Paddy has used music to turn his life around and now he helps so many people who are in the same situation he was in. As he says himself, ‘If I could do it, anyone could.’ ”

 

 
Winner of Best Short Documentary in association with RTE at The Sky Road Film Festival, Clifden, Co. Galway – October 2015.

Galway Film Fleadh 2015
Sky Road Film Festival 2015
The Charlie Chaplin Film Festival, Kerry 2015
The London Irish Film Festival 2016
The Boston Irish Film Festival 2016
The Chicago Irish Film Festival 2016
Craic Fest Film Festival, New York 2016

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Documentary on the Refugee Crisis in Production

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Conor Maguire and Paul Webster have just returned from Lesvos , an island off Greece, where they were shooting footage for a documentary on the refugee crisis.

Paul Webster says, “We were moved by the accounts of thousands of people crossing the treacherous sea between Turkey and Greece, but there seemed to be extremely limited media coverage, so we felt we needed to just get there and listen to the people on the ground. We launched a funding campaign with a modest goal of €3000, which we raised very quickly and we left for Lesvos in mid-March. We spent 10 days on the island interviewing as many residents, volunteers and refugees as we could.”

The filmmakers are currently editing the documentary, which initially was to due to be a short but, as Paul explains, “the story is still unfolding and there is a lot of potential for a feature documentary.

 

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Short Film: Watch ‘Stuama’

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Paul Webster’s Irish language short film Stuama was the winner of the Físín Pitching Award at The Dingle International Film Festival and went on to screen at a number of film festivals in Ireland and America.

The film tells the story of David, a young man who reluctantly travels to the mountains to spend time with Tadgh, a reclusive man he has never met before. Over the course of the story we discover why David has come here and what the two men have in common.

Writer/director Paul Webster told Film Ireland that” I wrote the script for The Físín Pitching Award, which is competition run by the Dingle International Film Festival. The fund was worth €5,000 plus a further €1,000 worth of equipment rental to make an Irish language short film. When coming up with the idea, it didn’t feel natural for me to write people speaking Irish in their everyday lives, I wanted to make the language a part of the story. Like many Irish people, I hadn’t really used my Irish since I left school, I wanted to have David, the main character in this same position. The character of Tadgh, the reclusive former prisoner, was inspired by a man who frequented a bar I worked in as a teenager. He had been in prison and told me stories about his time there, prison was also where he learned Gaeilge or as it was often referred to, ‘Jailge.’

 

“The story was partly inspired by the large amount of car accidents, often fatal, that occurred around the town where I grew up. It was the height of the Celtic Tiger and many teenagers could afford cars that previous generations couldn’t, lots of young people of my age were killed on the road at this time. So many lives were ruined on the road and it was something I felt hadn’t been explored in an Irish film to date. In writing the film, I wanted to explore what it would be like for someone facing a prison sentence for their involvement in a road death. Guilt and fear and how we deal with those feelings emerged as the main themes of the film.

 

“I enlisted the help of producer, Eamon de Staic to help with the pitch and we made our presentation in front of a panel of highly regarded  industry professionals at the festival in Dingle. It was quite nerve-wracking, but we prepared and practiced answering potential questions on the drive down from Galway and this really paid off as we were pretty comfortable fielding questions after the pitch. Hearing Stuama announced as the winner was one of my proudest moments, it was fantastic to get the money to make the film, but equally important was the confidence boost that winning such an award gives. The festival in Dingle is amazing, you get such a sense of warmth and encouragement from the organisers, they love film and Físín is their great way of nurturing new talent. “

 

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STORYLAND 4

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The info session for Storyland 4 is fast approaching, so Paul Webster surveys the web-series landscape.

With the announcement of Lucky Run as the winners of RTÉ’s StoryLand competition earlier this month, it seemed like a good time to take a look at the web-series as a medium. Is it the future of filmmaking, or does it even have a future? From my own experience and by talking to other filmmakers I tried to weigh up the pros and cons of the web-series.

Recently we released the final instalment of our A Dog’s Life web-series. It’s a four-part series in which we play ourselves and it chronicles amongst other things our adventures as filmmakers. When we first started making films under the banner of Fake Dog Films about four years ago, Youtube was increasingly being used as a way of getting movies out there. One day we went out and shot a music video for one of our favourite French bands, My Diet Pill. We shot it in one evening, edited it in another and then sent them a link. The band loved it and started promoting it amongst their fans. In no time we had nearly a thousand views. Although in the grand scheme of Youtube that might not seem that much, it was just great to see that people were watching it. Also they could share their feedback on our work. The advantages were obvious.

At this time we were also looking at other filmmakers who were doing the same thing. One group in particular was Blame Society. They were making very funny series for the web on a very low budget. Their most famous being Chad Vader, a comedy about Darth Vader’s lesser-known brother who was the manager of a grocery store. Another group was the guys behind Smosh, a Youtube channel which turned into an internet phenomenon. They were two guys making videos and web-series in their bedroom and became one of the most subscribed to channels on Youtube. Before they went to college they had a legion of fans, a website and a merchandise shop.

It is easy to get bogged down in the competitive nature of Youtube and chasing views. So many of the most popular videos on Youtube are just clips of people’s cats or dogs doing silly but adorable things. You do have to keep in mind where the films will be shown, but it is more important to make films that you can look at in a few years and still be proud of. However, now there are good alternatives to Youtube, the main one being Vimeo. It consists of mostly user-generated content and is geared towards people looking for more artistic, perhaps more professional, material.

It is important to remember where people are going to be watching these episodes, most likely crouched over a laptop in work or at home. It’s a different animal to TV where people are sitting back comfortably. For this reason, you have to think a lot about the timing. It can be difficult to fit all the material you want into 6 or 7 minutes. This makes you more selective and is especially good for comedy as you are only using your best work.

So far, this has generally been a comedic format. Many of the successful applicants to StoryLand – RTÉ’s web-series strand have been comedies. However, Lucky Run – this year’s winner goes against this grain. It is a gritty, suspenseful thriller with just the right amount of comic relief.

Does this indicate that internet audiences are maturing? Can you get the sort of edginess associated with independent film, working with this sort of format? I asked Eilish Kent – the creator of StoryLand, about the more dramatic web-series. Eilish commented, ‘We look for the best quality and don’t differentiate between genres in our selection of series to commission for StoryLand. We have tended to receive an overwhelming majority of comedies, which is reflected in the final commissions so it was good to see a drama series win out this year. There is definitely more room for short form dramas and thrillers online. If a series is good, audiences will pick it up.’

StoryLand is quite unique. There are some similar examples of this sort of format online, one being Channel 101. It is a website where filmmakers submit pilot episodes and the viewers decide which series they would like to see more of. However, this is completely independent. StoryLand is different as it was established by a national broadcaster. Will other networks follow RTÉ’s lead? Eilish says, ‘We haven’t come across something similar anywhere else to-date. Earlier this year StoryLand was presented at INPUT an international conference for broadcasters and the related response was very positive. I believe that a number of broadcasters are exploring a model based on StoryLand. We see StoryLand as a wonderful way to get more stories and more diversity of views to our audience as well as developing talent.’

So what is the future for StoryLand and indeed the web-series in general? ‘We want StoryLand to work on two levels, the first is to engage audiences with good stories, characters and entertaining shows, and the second to help develop creative producers, writers, directors, cast and crew who think episodically and who will cross over onto longer form content. In the very near future I don’t think viewers will differentiate between platforms. At the end of the day audiences look for quality content and aren’t that concerned whether it was made for the web or TV, they just want to watch good stories that are well told.’

The web-series will continue to be used as training ground for new talent. More and more young Irish filmmakers are using the format to hone their skills and develop a full body of work they can present. Some filmmakers who were unsuccessful in their applications to StoryLand, decided to go it alone and make their series anyway. One such group was the talented gentlemen behind Life Coach. Life Coach is a web-series about John, a well-meaning but socially inept young man who enlists the help of a life coach. After amassing almost a hundred minutes of viewing in 7 episodes, the filmmakers then had to take on the task of promoting the series. They developed an interesting and thorough strategy. As well as using all the usual social networking sites and media outlets, they tried to use other techniques to get people interested. Giles Brody, writer and star, talked of one these ideas, ‘I tried to write a life coach tip for every day from the launch of the first episode to the finale which was fun.’

I talked to the director, Barry Richardson about using the internet to get people to watch your work. ‘The thing about the internet is that, even though it’s great that you can put your own stuff up really easily, it’s incredibly competitive. People can go online and watch anything, you can get the latest HBO show as soon as it’s aired in America, so you’re up against basically everything. That’s why, as much as you do to advertise your stuff, you have to push your friends and family to spread it around and hope that word-of-mouth gets more people interested. I think the success of Hardy Bucks and The Rubberbandits has made people a bit more interested in checking out what people are making on the cheap around the country though.’

So it’s hard work, but the future is bright for the web-series and indeed internet oriented filmmaking. The slogan of Channel 101 is ‘The unavoidable future of entertainment.’ This may be a slightly overly- optimistic thought at this time, but there’s no doubt this type of filmmaking will not go away anytime soon. Emerging filmmakers will continue to use it as a tool to get their work seen. As of yet, there have not been many stars crossing over from web-series to the big time, but it seems inevitable that this will change in the very near future. It is clear that how we watch and engage with entertainment is changing rapidly and irrevocably. Filmmakers are adapting to this change, but hopefully the best parts of quality film and television production will not be lost in the progression to the internet.

RTÉ will be launching StoryLand4 at an information session in RTÉ at 7pm on Wednesday, 6th July with a submission deadline in September.

Paul Webster is a writer and co-founder of fakedogfilms.com

 

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