Billy Burns is a would-be cowboy lost in the dreary fields of Cavan. Stranded at home with his grandfather and ridiculed around town for his innocent ways, Billy works for the local ranchers, saving his money for a trip up to the big city, maybe to never come back…
Director Padraig Conaty tells Film Ireland how he went from playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas to writing and directing his debut feature No Party for Billy Burns, which premieres at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
I studied animation at IADT Dun Laoghaire. Honestly, I spent most of my time there playing Grand Theft Auto San Andreas with my friends. It gave birth to a love of gangster rap and country music. With little hope for my drawing abilities after college, I drove diggers on sites during the boom years, which was an ideal job as it gave me plenty of time to think about film ideas. I saved my money and bought a Panasonic HVX 200, cutting-edge equipment at the time for the aspiring low-budget filmmaker.
The first thing I filmed with it was a slow-motion shot of some old friends standing outside a pub drinking pints, smoking and telling lies to each other.
There was always a whiff of the Western around the way men would speak to each other back home. I think it was passed down from John Wayne to my father’s generation when they watched all them Cowboys as kids. It permeated the cultural gathering – a certain swagger in how you would outwit your neighbour.
I was very lucky to meet a young upstart around the village, Kevin McGahern – also a veteran of the animation degree. We were both fascinated with the characters and stories around our hometown, though we had enough distance from it to develop our own outlook on the world.
Kevin liked Cowboy films more than me. When nearby town Arva held its inaugural American Truck and Wild West Country Festival, Kevin was the only person who dressed up as a cowboy. Little did he care as he made his way around the town, firing off imaginary shots at the local Garda Sgt, who even pretended to get killed. I said at the time to Kevin’s girlfriend Siobhan, “that’s a great character for a film.”
Eight years later, No Party for Billy Burns is about to take its first breath at the Galway Film Fleadh. We filmed it over two blocks of ten days at the tail end of 2011, which makes it almost 6 years now since production began. I assembled a bright-eyed crew of friends whom I had been working with in the Dublin Indie scene at the time, co-ordinated by producer Lisa McNamee.
I had a lightning quick and trusty DoP in Tommy Fitzgerald, and my Mam rustled up the best dinners I’ve had to this day on any film set. There were over forty actors, mostly local. The budget was raised through table quizzes, horse racing nights, fundit.ie and a little help from Cavan Arts Office.
It’s tough making the no-budget feature film. The editing was the real ordeal for me. It’s something I would advise anyone with that hazy-eyed dream to pay lots of attention to. I am grateful to the time it took though, as it made me mature enough to appreciate the substance of the story I wanted to tell, and I never lost that original belief in the uniqueness of the character Billy Burns.
No Party for Billy Burns screens in the Town Hall Studio on on 13th July 2017 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh.
The 29th Galway Film Fleadh runs 11 – 16 July 2017