When did you realize that filmmaking is what you actually want to do in life? How did you start your journey in the industry?
I think from an early age I knew I wanted to tell stories. I just didn’t know what format to do that in. I spent a lot of my life writing stories before moving into videogame development as I felt that was an incredible opportunity to tell an interactive narrative. I quickly grew frustrated with the limitations of linear narrative within that medium so I returned to writing short stories. One of these won a bunch of awards. That was Ensnared which would go on to become my first short film. A person I was working with at the time, helping with PR & Marketing, suggested I write and direct Ensnared, so I did and I caught the bug. Clerks really inspired me as a film-maker because it showed me that you can actually just go out and make a compelling and entertaining film without needing a massive studio budget behind you.
Do you believe in film schools? Why?
I don’t believe in Film Schools… but at the same time, I believe that like most things you learn a lot more from doing. I mean, I get that some film schools are more practical and give people access to gear and talent and all that stuff, but to me there is nothing that can prepare you for being on set. I learned so much going and being on other peoples sets when I first started out. I wrote a 5000 word breakdown of my experience as third assistant director and script supervisor on Andy Stewarts award winning short film, Remnant. It was honestly far superior to the course I did back in Limerick, Video Production and Manipulation. I say that if you have the experience of film school – fantastic, but don’t just presume that means you are more valuable on a set. Everyone on set is treated the same – at least on the set’s I’ve been on and that’s usually down to experience – not just education…
What is your best memory from your own experience in film directing? Any memorable moments, events, etc.
I think the first time we shot the “Cross Body” shot in The Three Don’ts. We had never done a stunt anywhere near that level. I just remember the fear in the lead up to it and imagining everything that could go wrong. We basically had a guy launching himself at three other guys, down a hill… at night… in the middle of nowhere. I will never forget the joy I felt watching that shot on the monitor. It just lived up to everything I had imagined when I wrote that part of the script and it always gets a huge laugh at screenings. I think another memorable moment was at the Canadian Premiere of The Three Don’ts – just watching a non-native crowd react to the work was a hugely wonderful feeling and really inspired me to get out and get to work on the second feature film right away 🙂 I think the thing I enjoy most about film-making is finding my film family. Just working with people that I would gladly get up and work with again anytime, anywhere!
What do you find the most challenging in filmmaking?
Trying to acquire any kind of sufficient budget. I make a lot of horror films, which require a large amount of special effects and make up, making them more expensive to shoot than say Drama films. Even though horror films always make a lot of money internationally it can still be exceptionally hard to gather investors and production partners for horror films. I think to make horror you really have to make something incredibly unique, which is also incredibly challenging. In terms of a technical level, I would say acquiring strong audio is much more difficult than getting beautiful visuals. We primarily shoot on a RED Scarlet Dragon in 5K with over 9 lights. So that never worries me. But even with the right equipment, Audio seems harder to find people with the adequate skillsets.
How do you find inspiration and new ideas for your films?
Majoritively from my own life experiences. Films like The Sad Ones, Ghosts and The Cheese Box are all based on real world events that had an effect on my life. However, I also gain ideas from discussing and brainstorming with friends – that was how The Three Don’ts was born. I think another area is my love of Irish culture and using that in new and meaningful ways within the narrative of visual media. I feel that I did this with films like Retribution and am aiming to do so again with my second feature film, The Perished. I think we get ideas from everything around us. Going for a walk. Dwelling in our own thoughts. Reading a book. Reading the news. Everything. Don’t limit your opportunities for storytelling and you’ll never be without inspiration.
How would you describe the job of film director in five words?
Share your vision with everyone.
What do you consider the most important personal qualities of a good film director?
Organizational abilities are a must, however, you must also be a people-centric person. The ability to speak to and relate with people is fundamental to someone directing actors. You must also understand the different aspects of film-making ie. lighting, camera, makeup to be able to relay details to the heads of department. A good director is able to keep a level head even in the face of absolute chaos. An ability for quick thinking is a must as you will likely need to change things up on the fly. The ability to be objective about your work in the edit suite is a huge one. You need to be able to watch the film not as the director, but as a passive observer. If you’re looking at a shot and you’re unwilling to cut it because you know how much time and effort went into it, you’ll likely make poor decisions. A good director is capable of always thinking of the betterment of the film, even if it sometimes goes against their own vision.
Who would you name in your top 3 list of film directors? Why do you find them outstanding in the industry?
Kevin Smith: I think the reason I so admire Kevin Smith is twofold. One because I love the idea of his journey – a guy making low budget films with his friends in his workplace. Telling fun, relatable stories that resonated with an entire generation and live on to this day. The second reason is that when he got tired of the “hollywood” way of making movies, he broke away and found a way of continuing to make the films he wanted to make with Red State & Tusk. I think he seems like the type of person who values the people that came up with him and he’s someone I would love to meet and have the potential to work with in the future.
Wes Craven: Wes Craven is known for many iconic horror films such as Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, but I think the reason he is one of my idols, is that he came from absolutely nowhere in the early seventies. His first few films “The Last House on the Left” and “The Hills have Eyes” were brutal and unflinching and existed outside of the studio system. He was one of the first horror auteurs. Almost twenty years later he was able to parody the tropes of horror films in Scream, horror tropes that he himself helped create throughout the 80s. Wes’ back catalogue is exceptional – even, or maybe especially when he was given less to work with. It’s this tenacious attitude and the ability to defy the system that I adore this director and mourn his loss to this day.
Joe Lynch: Joe Lynch has personally inspired me as a filmmaker when I met him at Frightfest last year. This was before I had seen his latest film Mayhem, starring Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving – a film that became my top film of 2017. Joe is the type of person who has seen every facet of the industry including it’s worst sides on his 2012 film, Knights of Badassdom – due to studio interference and production woes. Yet still he absolutely adores film-making. He’s a walking encyclopedia of film knowledge and he loves every step of the process – in spite of all the bad he’s seen. Joe is a personal inspiration as it was him who encouraged me to get out and make my second feature film. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
What would be your advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Never stop. Never give up. Only make the compromises that make sense to bring your vision to life. Fail often. Fail hard. Learn more than you ever will, as fast as you can. Tell stories that mean something to you.
Did filmmaking teach you something important that you would never learn without it? Any important lessons, insights, etc?
As someone who suffers from incredibly bad Anxiety, I found that directing has really taught me how to deal with unexpected issues. I find that the ability to remain calm in the face of complete and utter disaster is something I would never be able to do if I had not learned to do so on a film set. I think the only insight I would give is something acclaimed film-maker Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2, Mayhem) once told me. He said at the start of the first day of shooting get up and write on a piece of paper “Congratulations, you got through the first day. You can do anything!”. When you get home that evening, no matter the hardships, that piece of paper will give you the energy and confidence to tackle the next day with everything you have.