It’s Not Yet Dark is a documentary about Simon Fitzmaurice, a writer/director, husband and father who is completely physically incapacitated with Motor Neuron Disease, and who is about to shoot his first feature film.
Gemma Creagh talked to director Frankie Fenton about the story behind his moving, life-affirming film.
What drew you to Simon’s story?
How it happened was Lesley McKimm and Kathryn Kennedy were producing My Name is Emily, which is Simon’s film, and they were looking for finishing funds and wanted a crowdfunding appeal. I had just done one for a film I’m making called Reactivate about Climate Change so we met up. I discovered that they were talking about Simon, who was married to Ruth O’Neill, who I grew up with. Soon after that, they asked me to make a promo to see what I thought a film about Simon would look like. That combined with fact that I grew up with Ruth and that there was that personal connection made it feel like a good fit.
What was it like filming a filmmaker? Was there much micro-managing?
I thought there would be, but there was actually zero, which was fantastic, except for the odd time when Simon was telling me to put the camera down. But he was amazing at letting me get up-close and personal. I think he understood that I was directing a film while he was directing a film. He was very kind about not asking me for cuts and not forcing advice on me.
The film has a strong visual narrative and his life is so well documented. Where did you source all the footage?
Originally, we didn’t actually have any footage of his past so we had to come up with differing devices to tell the story, including reconstruction and using obscure macro-cinematography as well as drone footage. However, in the first week of the edit Simon generously donated a hard drive with about 10 – 11 years-worth of footage from his life. In that footage, from year 1, we could see Simon filming his friends and his family. As the years went on and things progressed, slowly the camera was put down and eventually was picked up by his children and his family and the camera was pointed the other way. So you could see this transition over time quite literally, which obviously completely changed the course of our film.
With such amazing footage what was the editing process like?
We were very lucky to have one of the country’s finest editors, Dermot Diskin, come on board and he was able to lend a strength of storytelling and a pace to the film. It became a process of eliminating what we wanted to talk about and things that we didn’t want to talk about. In the end, we felt that the love story was the strongest arc within Simon’s story. With documentary there are hundreds of routes you can end up going up and down but it’s important to try and keep it simple and straight. So it was that love story that stood out for us.
And how did Colin Farrell get involved?
He was a big fan of Simon’s work and they became friends. We were discussing whether we’d use Simon’s computer voice to narrate the film when it was put to Simon how would he feel about asking Colin to do the job. Weirdly enough he liked the idea of a Hollywood A-lister doing his voice! It was phenomenally brilliant. Colin has a certain way of speaking Simon’s voice that nobody else I think could do so well
This was your directorial debut. What did you learn from the experience?
A huge amount. Everyday was a learning day. Obviously it was my first experience directing and I got to see the entire process from picking up the camera to doing a Q&A at the end of the premiere. More to the point though, there’s a huge amount I learnt that I now want to apply to future projects.
It’s Not Yet Dark is in cinemas from 13th October 2017
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