From left, Sean, Andrew and Mark McGinly in an undated photograph.Credit: Sean McGinly/HBO
James Bartlett caught up with filmmaker Sean McGinly to talk about his documentary ‘Brothers Lost: Stories of 9/11’
Sean McGinly is a writer and filmmaker who will celebrate his 50th birthday in October, but back in 2007 he wrote and directed Brothers Lost: A Story of 9/11, a memorial documentary that interviewed 31 men from 25 families who also lost brothers on that day.
Sean’s father gave him $30,000 to make it, and several friends helped out, with everyone working for no money on a year-long process; about four months doing interviews, then another six months editing.
“My brother was named Mark Ryan McGinly. He worked at Carr Futures on the 92nd floor of the World Trade Center. In some ways, in the years since then, nothing has changed. I love him and miss him and wish he was here and find it so upsetting that he was murdered. That his wonderful life was taken from him.”
As for his family roots, Sean explained that his father is Irish/German, his mother Irish/Italian, but they were both born in America, as were his grandparents.
“The McGinly’s came over in the 19th century, we think. My only direct connection to Ireland is my maternal great grandmother, Francis Ryan. She came to the US in her later teenage years and spoke with a brogue. She won the New Jersey state lottery in the 1970s – it was much less money back then! – smoked Marlboro Reds, and watched the Philadelphia Phillies every day on her rocking chair until she died at 92.”
According at least to Ancestry.com, the name likely originated in Donegal, and was the Anglicized form of Gaelic Mag Fhionnghaile, deriving from the personal name Fionnghal, which is made from fionn (meaning “fair”) and gal (meaning “valor”).
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Northern Virginia, Sean has lived Los Angeles since 1994, where he lives with a “great woman” who has two children that are both 8 years old. He’s only visited Ireland once, in 2000, when he accompanied his father and uncle to Dublin.
“I mostly found myself thinking about my ancestors when I was there, and how scary it must have been for them to leave. And that I was grateful to them for doing so.”
On that week-long trip, he was trying to put a film together with comedy actor Paul Rudd:
“He was performing in Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey into Night, so my father, uncle and I decided to hop over to London. I remember the character played by Charles Dance insisting that Shakespeare had to have been Irish. It was very funny, but after having spent a week in Ireland I thought maybe he was onto something.”
Rudd did star alongside Donal Logue and Adam Scott in Two Days, the script Sean directed and co-wrote, and it was another in a long line of films in a 25 year career during which he’s made student films and no-budget films, and written for the studios and for the straight-to-video market.
But one experience still stands out:
“In 2008 I caught a break and got to direct a bigger film I’d written called The Great Buck Howard. I got to work with John Malkovich, Emily Blunt, and Tom Hanks, among others. And on the crew was Tak Fujimoto (Oscar-winner for The Silence of The Lambs). Shooting that film was a pretty amazing six weeks.”
As for relaxing, Sean says that “the perfect day for me is to be prepping a film or shooting a film or editing a film; there’s never really a time where I’m looking forward to a break so I can go lie on a beach or go hiking or anything like that.”
He does admit to enjoying watching baseball and basketball, finishing the New York Times crossword every day (except Saturdays), and says he used to play a lot of poker, but now limits it to maybe 15-20 times a year.
Soon Sean is heading to New York.
“I go there every 9/11 with my father, because they announce all the names of the people who died and it’s important to us that we actually are standing there when they say Mark’s name. He was 26 when he was killed. It’s hard to believe he’d be 46 now.”
Originally from London, James Bartlett spent five years living in Belfast before moving to Los Angeles in 2004. As a freelance journalist he writes for the LA Times, BBC, Atlas Obscura, American Way, Hemispheres, Discover Hollywood, ALTA California, The Guardian and the Belfast Telegraph, and his “Irish Movie News” column runs in several Irish-American newspapers. He is the author of two Gourmet Ghosts alternative guide books to the history, crime, ghosts and best cocktails at L.A. bars, restaurants and hotels, and his upcoming true crime book, The Alaskan Blonde, examines a sensational 1950s murder and sex scandal that begins in Fairbanks and ends with a suicide in Hollywood. He blogs at GourmetGhosts.com and can be found on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram @GourmetGhosts