In Con, we follow successful filmmaker and actor, Con Keogh, as he leaves rehab and prepares to reunite with his estranged father after 25 years. He agrees to participate in a documentary following his every move and with emotions running high the production takes a few twists and turns.
Below, Bertie Brosnan gives us the lowdown on his latest feature, which will premiere at the Kerry Film Festival on the 21st of October, 2018.
Development & Pre-Production
One thing I want to make abundantly clear from the beginning is that producing a feature film for 7,000 euros in total (from idea all the way to screen) is not easy. You have to think outside the box. The point is this: you have to be prepared to do what it takes and be relentlessly resourceful.
First things first, you have to know your budget. In our case, I knew for a fact that I had 3,000 euros cash to work with for the production budget – this was an investors stake (I would pay him back when the project was starting to bring in money). I could put in around 1,000 euros of my own cash for extra production money. And, I had faith in an Indiegogo Campaign that I had planned to raise for the post-production money after the shoot. I am reasonably good at fundraising small amounts through crowdfunding campaigns, so I gambled on the few grand coming through once we had the film shot.
Secondly, you have to be utterly realistic as to what you can shoot and who your crew and cast will be with the money you have. Think of it this way, “What can you really do with 7,000 euros of a full production budget?”
Here’s how my mind worked: 1/3 on the Cinematography/Editing; 1/3 on the Sound Recording and Mixing and 1/3 on the rest of Post-Production and Production Expenses.
Simple as that, I had to find a way to complete every area of the production for the money we had, it helps that you develop your entrepreneurial spirit!
This brings us to what I could film for such little money: I had a few scripts in the works, but I knew that none of them were feasible on such a micro-budget, so I had to compromise. I knew that I would have no lights, no gaffer, no prominent actors, no special effects or anything that would cost a significant amount. I also knew that I wouldn’t have many shooting days, so the turnaround had to be very quick. What this did to my producer’s brain was quite weird actually, it began to take a story I was thinking about years previously where a local celebrity shoots a movie about himself and his name was Con Casey. I started to visualise a film that was breaking the third wall and a run-and-gun or guerrilla style film. What we ended up with was by definition a “Mockumentary” or “Fictional Documentary” – the latter term I prefer.
Writing the screenplay
After spending time in the film industry and working on the scene as a filmmaker and actor, I knew the independent biz and how it operated. I also knew about alcoholism or addiction through personal experiences and family members and friends. I also know about loss of loved ones to cancer and how that can affect the mind. So I wrote what I knew as the old saying goes and thus Con was born. The film is an interweaving of prominent social issues into one specific premise, i.e.
The story of a relatively successful filmmaker and actor, Con Keogh, who leaves rehab and takes part in a documentary to reunite him with his estranged father after 25 years.
I felt that shooting “mockumentary” style would be doable and cheap; but, I hate the term “mockumentary” and prefer fictional documentary or in our case a straight drama with some light humour. Our screenplay and ultimately the film came from what was necessary and feasible rather than the other way around where debut filmmakers put incredible amounts of pressure and strain on themselves financially. I will never do that to myself!
Lesson 101 – do not go into significant debt for your first film! There will be plenty time for that!
Filming a tiny micro-budget feature film
Shooting Con was a dream because I acquired some actor friends and new actors to come on board and help out. I didn’t have the money to pay actors. Having people on board that were supportive and wanting to create a film for themselves was key to keeping the costs down. Of course, there are huge arguments against “free” labour with artists, but I stress that everyone involved wanted to create this film and get the credit. I have myself been involved in many projects for free because I wanted the credit and understood that there was no money involved. In total there were only three people in the crew:a cinematographer, a sound recordist, and an assistant director.
I shot Con in my hometown of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland and regarding costs, this was vital because all the locations were free, and most of them were in the family. I have many contacts in Tralee, and I used local businesses and apartment complexes to house the actors and to support the film. Tralee is a small but commercial town, so it was a novelty for most people to know that a film was being shot here. Our footprint was so low we could manoeuvre all over the town and in and out of locations very quickly; all this helped with the style of Con, very naturalistic and “fly-on-the-wall”.
We were blessed with the weather also as we shot during the most prolonged heat-wave in recent memories in May 2016. It lasted several weeks, and our shoot happened right in the middle of it. In Ireland, we experience a lot of rain, and this was always a concern for us. If anything it was probably a little too bright at times, but for the most part, our lighting consistency was good. Because it was a mockumentary, we could get away with a slightly edgy look or a rough and ready style. We shot 4k, and in hindsight, it wasn’t necessary, but hey, you live and learn. But, the images are insanely crisp so maybe it was a good thing. Shooting HD with a micro-budget is much more suitable and efficient in the editing room, timewise.
Equipment & locations
We used a Panasonic GH4 owned by the cinematographer, Brian O’ Connor. I highly recommend this camera for newbies to filmmaking because you can shoot beautiful images and it’s a very mobile camera. I shot another short film, Last Service with Brian on this camera too.
The key to filming on a tight budget is locations, and how far they are apart. I like to think of a “Nucleus of Locations” where you have Unit Base in the centre and every location within a few miles of that base. I learned this trick on my short film Sineater. which is currently distributed with Shorts TV and SoFY TV worldwide. The more moving you do, the more expensive everything is. Simple as that. We shot Sineater in one night and Con in eight days. Preparation is key. Visiting locations beforehand and nailing the shot composition for the most critical moments in a scene. Once you know what you are doing before you arrive on set, it makes life so much easier. I have worked on sets where the director is arguing with the DoP, and there is nothing worse than that.
Working with actors
Rehearsals with the actors are essential when possible. I am a great believer in playing to people’s strengths. I like knowing what actors are good at and feel comfortable doing and using that to save time and effort. Actors are beautiful beings – usually. I love actors as I am one. I enjoy the creative process of speaking about the character and working on the dissection of a scene. If you do not know what I am talking about – I urge you to take acting classes and understand how actors work. The most prominent skills I have is the ability to express myself to actors. One of the most influential elements to Con is the realness of the piece. People think it’s real at times. All I did was use what actors had already in their consciousness and exploited that – in a nice way. Everything I did was to save time, hassle and to make sure we got a quality story. The acting was very strong and much of the feedback confirmed that.
Brian O’ Connor and I edited the film right away after shooting. I don’t recommend that, but we had to do it. I made a deal with Brian for 20 days, so I had half of that for filming and half for the post. It worked out a treat. I hired an old colleague for Color Grading – Phillip Morozov who coloured all my pieces, and he did a fine job. I was able to get a bulk deal for Con and two short films. You have to be a lean entrepreneur if you are to create films on a budget.
People told me to spend two years on a screenplay, to wait until I get a 100,000 euros, wait for a certain actor, or find a shit hot producer – how long will I be waiting? Will I still be alive?
I get things done. That’s how I learn. This is my film school. I have never paid for film school. I produce my films as my experiments. Films should be experiments. Experiments in creativity.
To get back to the post-production, we finished the edit and colouring, and I hired a sound mixer and designer, Nikki Moss and we finished the mix in Gorrila Post Production in Dublin. I obtained a cool track Bright Stars from a band Exit:Pursued by a Bear. I know these guys well and was always a fan so they were delighted to be in the film.
I managed to get so much for free because most people are just awesome and the others gave me great deals. I am eternally grateful for the help and the people I met along the way.
Con will screen in the Killarney Cinema at 7pm 21st Octobers as part of the Kerry Film Festival
Bertie Brosnan (Brackenmore, Sineater, Jacob Wrestling With The Angel) wrote, produced, directed, starred and co-edited Con while Brian O’ Connor (Con, Message, The School) shot and edited the film. Con was coloured by Phillip Morozov (Sineater, Jacob Wrestling With The Angel, Con). Sound Design was by Nikki Moss (Patrick’s Day, Charlie Casanova), Music by Bensound www.bensound.com & Exit: Pursued by a Bear.
Starring in the film are Owen Barton (The Crown and the Dragon, Soulsmith, Lift), Jean Law (Fair City, The Guarantee), Michael O’ Sullivan (Jacob Wrestling With The Angel, Remembering Yesterday), Cristina Ryan (Red Room, Zenith Protocol), Tadhg Hickey (The School, Ronanism), Laura O’ Shea (Narcan), Aidan Jordan (Striking Out, The Clinic) and Bertie Brosnan.
Review # 2: http://onefilmfan.com/indie-film-review-con/
Review # 3: http://www.themoviebuff.net/2017/09/con-nr/