Monday, January 08, 2018

It Is What It Is.

Comes a point when you realize no one gives a crap about you. Outside your own circle I mean, outside your family. In the big bad world, no one gives a crap. 

Everyone else is the star of their own movie, and you're just a supporting character, an extra, background. To that end, no one is ever going to step out of their spotlight to help you, to offer advice, to standby and watch you step into their spotlight. Some people will even go to great lengths to stop you from advancing, for fear you might take that spotlight away from them. 

The only way to move forward in life is to take control of your own fate. There is no "What will be will be" no "if it was meant to be it will be". I don't believe that, I believe if you want something, you go after it, you choose. You don't wait for a bunch of random, seemingly connected events to maybe fall in the right order, and if they don't then... "Oh well, guess it wasn't meant to be."

A phrase I've heard a lot since coming to America, one I never heard back in Ireland, is: "It is what it is". I heard it the first time in Indianapolis while working nights. My manager would say it all the time. Every time we would get screwed with a ridiculous amount of work. When the bosses were taking on way more commitment than we could handle. Rather than stand up to it, argue against, ask for help or more workers, it was just a shrug and "It is what it is". And I've heard it everywhere since. I hear it at work, at the end of a 14 hour day, "It is what it is!"

I mentioned this to a co-worker the other day, he ask what the Irish equivalent was? I thought for a second, and the only thing I could think of was: "Would you ever Fuck Off!" You see, back home we never took it lying down. We would argue, fuss and fight, we moan, we complain, we plot revenge against the manager who made us work 20 minutes over our scheduled time... be we never shrug and say "It is what it is"

It's an acceptance of fate and station that hands over the control of your life to someone else, someone who doesn't give a crap about you, someone who's the star of their own show, where you're just an extra, background, nameless. 

It's a new concept to me, and the reason I've always done my own thing, in film, in work, why I tried to build something back in Ireland. Wether it be to make films, hold screenings or exhibition, why I tried to create community programs. 

But when it wasn't working there, I immigrated, and it when it wasn't working where we first landed, why we moved across the country again. And it's why I will go on to make my next film against all odds. Even though I work a demanding full time job, as my wife does, while we look after the kids, pay our rent and bills and loans and credit cards and car payments, just like everyone else, seemingly with no extra time at all. We will do it, my wife and I, because it is not what it is, it is what you make it.

Do not hand over control of your destiny to someone else, someone who doesn't even see you, with a shrug of your shoulders and "It is what it is", that phrase are the handcuffs that chain to the gate, while everyone else passes through.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Permission Slip

The key, the true key to making a film (or anything you want to do) is not waiting for permission. I’ve stalled so many projects, or not made others, waiting for permission. From who? The Irish Film Board, from producers I’ve reached out to who aren’t getting back to me, from readers, from financiers. Waiting for validation, for someone to tell me my script is good, to go ahead and make it. That may or may not come. So don't wait for it. Get your script right, and get to work and go.

Don’t wait for funding from the IFB, you’ll be jumping through hoops for a year and maybe end up empty handed. If a producer isn’t getting back to you, chances are they don’t give a shit about your script. Busy or not, if they liked it, if they were excited about, they’d be on board. Besides, they’re more than likely putting 100% of their time into their own project, which is what you should be doing. Don’t hang around for those people, give them a week, send a follow up email, give them another week, move on. As for readers, take their comments with a pinch of salt, don’t take it personally, if the same problem keeps coming up, you might want to address it. But they’re coming from their life perspective, they have their own thoughts, ideas, ways they’d tell the story, be careful they’re no telling you how they would do it, that’s no help. Be true to you and the story you want to tell, trust your instincts, not theirs. Financiers? I don’t even know who those people are.

Figure a way to get it made for less money. Or, start out with a small idea, you’ll can still make a feature, but keep it contained, be smart, be resourceful. Use what you have to hand, who you have to hand. I did it on Derelict, I made a feature film in one week for €9000. My downfall, the script wasn’t solid enough. Get that right! Don’t rush that part. Then get the film made, get it out to festivals. But quickly move on to the next one, don’t wait and see how this one does, be at work on the next film while this one is doing the rounds. Crowdfund for a little more, maybe five or ten grand. Just get that script right and keep going.

You’re sitting on a great script right now, waiting for permission, waiting for validation, someone to say this is the next Reservoir Dogs, or Little Miss Sunshine, or whatever, you’re waiting for money to come from somewhere, you’re waiting for a funding application deadline, waiting waiting waiting… let me tell you, waiting doesn’t get shit done. Waiting just creates more waiting. Get up, get out, get started. Film is all about momentum. Start today. 

So, what’s the plan? How do you get this off the ground?

Sure, you’re going to need money. Can you shoot it for the money you have? You’re broke. Can you get a grand together? 2 grand? I bet you can. Small crowdfunding campaign. Local event. I’ve written about this before, you can scroll down and find my advice on that. But the point is, you can do it. Is the script you’re sitting on a bigger budget? Does is have car chases, expensive locations, a big cast? How about putting that one further down the line, don’t worry, you’ll get it made, but let's start smaller, a solid two handed drama. A single location crime thriller. A love story set around your town. Lets show everyone you can handle the character based drama the big script needs.

Shoot on your iPhone. "But I'm a purest,” I hear you say “I want to shoot on a real movie camera,” this is where I slap you in the face... you’ll be waiting a long time to afford rental on a RED or and ARRI, shooting in 4K and then posting that stuff. And haven’t we already talked about waiting. Your iPhone has a good camera. You can buy third party video apps to boost it’s capabilities. Take a look at Filmic Pro for example. Just get the sound right and you’re away.

Story is what’s important, this is your training ground, this is where you test everything about yourself as a filmmaker, your creativity, your resourcefulness, your tenacity, your capability. You’re going to learn so much, and everything you do and learn here will be a tool in the toolbox you’ll carry throughout your career. And let me tell you, years go by quickly, I still feel like I’m 25 and starting out… I’m 40! How the fuck did that happen?! You’re going to be asking yourself the same question if you don’t get up off your ass and do it for yourself.

One thing I’ve learned for sure in my 40 years on this planet, no has your best interests at heart but you. No one is going to give up their time and money and months and years of their life so you can shine, you want something done, you have to have to have to do it yourself. Be self-reliant. It’s the only way you’re going to get your films made. You have to trust yourself. If you can’t trust yourself and rely on yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to later on. You need to do this to prove to yourself and others you’re capable, you’re committed, you’re competent, and worthy of investment. 

But all that’s secondary. Right now, it’s about you and your film and getting it made. And if you still need permission, you got it, you have my permission, go make our movie. You still need validation, you got it, you’re good enough, you’re story is good enough, trust yourself, believe in yourself, go make your movie, and then make another one. Let’s not get hung up on the first one.

Start now, make a list of everything you have to hand, everything with in reach, physically and by phone. There’s a film there. You just need to see the puzzle pieces and start putting it together. It’s going to be hard, it might take longer than you’d hoped, but it’s there, it’s possible, it’s real. Your film is a destination in the future. Waiting at the station isn’t going to bring the destination any closer. You just have to board the train. You already have the ticket. Just step on and go. Go. Go, I mean it. Your destination awaits.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

It's been a busy month...

Hey Guys, guess what? We’re making a movie! Yup, bet you didn’t know that?! Well, if you’ve been reading this blog, following me on twitter or Facebook for the last 3 years you probably do. But I thought I’d remind you, maybe let you know that we’re still working on this film, it hasn’t been abandoned, it is part of our every waking thought on a daily basis, and our enthusiasm for 10 Days in December has not wained in the slightest.

Teaser Poster
This has been a busy month for us. We finished the proof-of-concept, we finished the latest draft of the script, at work I was in the thick of production, given the launch of the iPhone X, I’m also programing the shorts for the San Francisco Irish Film festival which is this week and… um… oh yeah, we’re having a baby, like, any day now!!! So yeah, it’s been a busy month!

Im looking forward to taking some time off! (What’s that like I wonder?!) But to the end of the year my plan is... to plan! I’m not resting on my laurels, I don’t have any laurels, well, I have a few from my early days of filmmaking, but I haven’t had any for a long time. So, we need to get this one off the ground.

We want to shoot as soon as possible. One option we’re looking at is to shoot the first act first, here in the States. Act one happens about 2 months before the rest of the film and is set entirely in America. So we can raise enough funding to get that in the can, and then use that to help raise the rest of the funds need to shoot the rest of the film in Ireland.

It’s one option, ideally we want to shoot everything together and have all the money we need. But we probably will shot the American section and Irish section with a gap in the middle. We just want to keep the momentum going, and do what we can to make this film a reality.

We’ve had really great reaction from this draft, those we let read it are excited and enthusiastic about it. And even though we didn’t place in the Nichol Fellowship this year, we had some nice comments from on of the readers:

"I really enjoy the conversations about Christianity and Atheism in this tale. I didn't expect a love story to get this deep into religion and dating partners with different beliefs, but I was pleasantly surprised at how it was a central theme in this narrative. The story takes us past the surface level infatuation between Will and Lucy and provides more substance for their relationship.

I also really enjoy how prominent Irish culture is in this script. We get a great sense of this small town and also feel the holiday spirit. The setting really adds to this storyline, producing a classic Christmas story with a European twist. In addition, I think the characters each add something special to this project. From the Chipper and his wife to Sheila and her deep conversation with Will, they all move the plot a little bit forward.”

Academy Nicholl Fellowship Reader 2017

I’m glad they connected with it. Thing is, this draft was a year old, and I almost didn’t send it in, I just wanted to enter because I keep missing the deadline for this competition. I kinda wish I’d waited. But I didn’t know that next draft would take a year! So it’s encouraging that an earlier draft I knew wasn’t ready still connected in the right way. And of course, every time we finish it and send it out to readers, we immediately see things we could do better! There maybe another draft to come!

Grace Fitzgerald as Lucy
We are approaching producers at the moment, hoping to connect with someone who will be willing to help us mount this production. Someone in Ireland, it’s hard to do it from here. We’re too far away. We’re not on the ground. The thing about being there last year is we were so easily able to connect with people, gather some momentum and excitement, get the ball rolling. It was a reality and it started happening. Over here, we’re thousands of miles away and 8 hours behind. Hopefully we can figure that part out.

Something I would like to do is get back to Ireland myself at some point for meetings and a full cast table read, to help shape the script. Maybe before the end of the year, if baby and budget allows! 

But key for us now is to get this film off the ground, to keep the momentum going, to create something good, great, sweet, charming, funny, romantic, heartfelt, heartwarming, a beautiful Christmas love story you’re going to want to take out every year and watch with a loved one. Because we already love it, and we know you will too.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Script to Screen Without a Bean

Script to Screen Without a Bean
How to make a film on a tiny budget and with limited resources

Frank Kelly

Emily’s Song
Bill, For Short
Slán agus Beannacht
Raise My Hands
Joe & Sarah

Script, Pre-Production and Preparation:

It's often hard to give advice, for two reasons, One: everyone's situation and journey are different. Two: I still feel like I'm starting out and haven't really achieved what I hope to. But I will tell how I make films and how it works for me. Take from what you will.

I have to be honest right off, I'm not actually IN the film industry. I'm very much on the outside as an independent filmmaker. And I’m not and Independent filmmaker in the same way Hollywood independents are, for example, Quentin Tarantino was considered independent on Reservoir Dogs, which had an $11,000,000 budget. My budgets are in the €2000 to €10,000 range. I make my own films without support or financial backing. I’m truly independent.

One of the downsides of being that independent is that you can often feel cut off. I won’t lie, it’s a tough road to travel. So fair warning. But if you’re like me film is a love, an obsession, a vocation. You live and breathe it. It is inevitable. You are going to make films, no matter what. So hopefully I can offer a few tips, some advice and tell you what I’ve learned along the way to help make your road a little less bumpy.

First, I don't make money at it, and if you go down this road chances are you wont make money at it either. I've never made any profit making films. I've sold a couple yes, but only ever broken even once. In saying that, I don't do it for the money!

OK, warning’s aside, if you’re still on board, here are the tips:


I wont get to deep into script writing, that’s a whole other area, I want to focus on get the film up and running here, so I’ll assume you have you script done and dusted. But I can’t state enough how important it is to have your script done, tight, written and re-written. Spend a long time on it, get it right. Have people you trust read it, have friends and family read, people who don’t have a clue about writing script, you’ll quickly find out where the problems are. Get it right.

It is the most important and crucial stage for all low and no budget films. It's so easy to get excited and run in all guns blazing without a finished or ready script. What will happen is your film will being to fall apart, you might get it shot, but in the edit, everything you should have spent time on in the writing will be become all to apparent. It's worth spending time on the script, besides, that’s the only free part of the process! So take advantage!

Enjoy it.

For me, writing has become my favourite part of the process. It’s the place where you can create, explore and fail as much as you want. With have nothing to fear but a re-write.

OK, the blue prints have been drawn up, now you’re moving into the construction phase. And when you go to build a house you don’t just start laying brick, you think about the design.

Design your film.

Film is a visual media. Don’t leave the design element of you film to the last minute, or as many people do, leave it out all together. Think about how the film will look. Storyboarding will save time later on. So when you arrive on set you have a clear idea of what to do.

Some people don’t storyboard, I do and I don’t, depending on time. One thing I always do is to visualize the film. I will go the locations, as many as possible, as often as possible, before the shoot and I will stand there, quietly, for a time and watch the scene play out in my head and in the environment in front of me. So when I arrive back there, this time to a full cast and crew, I’ve already seen the scene happen. My job now is to communicate that to everyone as clear as I can so they see it too.

It’s also a useful exercise as a stress reducer. As well as highly creative places, film sets are also highly stressful places. You will always be up against time. As the director you will always have someone asking you questions and looking for answers. From where do I put the lights, what lens do you want, what is my motivation, when’s lunch?! Anything you can do beforehand to reduce that you should.

What visualising will give you when everything is noisy is a quiet place in your mind to go. A place where all this has already happened and when you can close your eyes you see it clearly. It’s a tool for you toolbox.

Elevate your film.

Back to design. You need to elevate your film wherever you can. When working on a zero or low budget you need to grab production value wherever and however you can. One easy way to do it is location choice.

Instead of shooting that conversation in a back garden, in front of a wall, in a boring estate, ask yourself if you can take it somewhere else. Put a backdrop behind it - a railway bridge, mountains, a cityscape. It adds a cinematic element to the scene.

I offered advice to a filmmaker friend. He had a scene in a café between two estranged siblings. The café didn’t seem to have meaning beyond a meeting place. I suggested shooting the scene in a playground. Suggesting that it was perhaps a place of happier time for them. Picking that place the character of the brother is hoping to bring his sister back to a better place. I suggested that they have their conversation on the swings, moving back and forth, out of sync, suggesting that they’re not in step with each other anymore.

The environment can add to your story, and again, it’s free, so use it.

Dress the set.

So often I see low budget films, poorly lit, with scene’s in cream painted living rooms and a large DVD collection in the background. It just says to me – This is the filmmakers apartment. This filmmaker didn’t think about the character, and it takes me out of the film.

It can be as simple as painting the walls and moving the dvd collection. Gathering some props. It’s all part of the story. You’re telling the story of your character’s life in the set dressing.

Don’t just shoot the film in your own house. Ask yourself, “Is my house the character’s house? Does it fit him? Or am I doing it for because it’s convenient?” Don’t be convenient. It will hurt the look of your film. Push yourself.

Always ask “Is this the best I can do?” If the answer is no, then do better.


When the script is ready and you want to start putting it together. The script is your main asset here. If the script is good, people will want to help you. I would begin with a crew.


Use people you know and trust. They don't have to be professionals. But the should be good and the should know what they’re doing. People who don’t know what they’re doing will harm your film.

For example, if you have a camera man who doesn’t know how to frame a shot, is constantly panning the camera back and forth, zooming in and out the middle of dialogue scenes, basically committing every sin in the book, it doesn’t matter how good the performances are, you’re going to end up with bad footage that wont cut together without distracting from that performance. Pick a good camera man.

A good sound recordist is essential. Sound is KEY, especially at this level, you can get away with a lot visually, but if you have bad sound - your film is ruined! The rest of the crew will come as you move forward.

I would suggest keeping it to a skeleton crew, about 8 people. At this level, everyone's going to be pitching in and doing multiple jobs anyway. But I would say some important jobs (aside from camera and sound) would be Continuity, you really need to have someone paying attention, taking notes and pictures, because if you're shooting out of sequence it can very quickly get out of hand. An Assistant Director or 1st AD, someone to watch the clock, keep things moving and make sure everything and everyone are in the right place at the right time, someone who can take away the distractions and allow you to concentrate on directing and be creative.

You’ll also need a good Gaffer (a handy man who knows carpentry and electrics) a Make-up artist. A Runner is a handy person to have, someone who can run off and grab a missing prop, or get the lunches etc.


Then begin to cast. You may know some actors already? Do any suit the parts? Maybe friends or colleagues have worked with actors they like? Meet with them, tell them about your script, see if you like them and could work with them. Make sure you see their work too.

A mistake you don’t want to make is getting someone just because they've said yes. This goes for crew too. If they're bad it will damage your film and make it less believable. It will also be a nightmare to edit. You still need good people. You still need to do the best job you can, even if it is on a tiny budget and even if everyone has agreed to work for free and/or on deferral contracts (where you agree to pay them the daily minimum at least if and after the film goes into profit).


Schedule your days realistically. I would suggest starting with breaking your script up into locations, even if in a house - shoot in one place until you have all the shots are got and then move on to the next location. It's easier and less time consuming that way. (Unless of course you're going handheld and following people in and out of rooms, it doesn't apply then) 

If people are working for free, try to keep the shoot short, a week, two weeks max. If people are giving up their time their probably making financial sacrifices or passing up other opportunities, be conscious of that - but don't let it distract you, again, if they're committing to you then they've made their choice. But it's only fair that you don't ask too much of people, you might lose some good will otherwise. Ways around this if you're running over is to pull people aside and let them know what's going on, keeping people informed helps more then you think it will, or paying them, even if it's a small amount.


Speaking of budget, if you want to shoot an independent short film, or even feature, you can do a lot with goodwill (people giving their time for free) - couple of things to remember, if people are working for free talk to them, let them know what's going on, let them know they are appreciated and thank them for their time. But don't let them get away with not working. If they are going to commit to helping then they need to help and not hinder! You can do this nicely and easily with a speech at the start of pre-production and again at the start of principal photography - something to the effect of "Thanks for coming, you're appreciated, but we have a tough week ahead and I need everyone to help me make a film we can all be proud of..." kind of thing. If someone is taking the piss and just getting in the way don't be afraid to ask them to leave.

Feed people!!!

Very important. In your budget make sure you have money to feed people, it's only fair! A well fed cast and crew are a happy cast and crew. A table with plenty of snacks, cookies, bars, plenty of fruit and sandwich making stuff, lots of water and tea and coffee. And one hot meal a day. Perhaps making soup available daily too. You can tell them there will be food, snacks and a hot meal, but perhaps suggest getting breakfast before they come and having dinner at home. Save yourself some cash.


1. Community fundraiser.

Have a fundraiser where you live. Find a venue, put on a comedy, rock, music night, table quiz night. Charge people a small amount at the door €5 or €10, and then sell raffle tickets while the entertainment is going on to win sponsored prizes (you'll have to have local businesses donate prizes, this is also easier then you think... you will get people who will rudely dismiss you, which is humiliating, but you'll get more people who'll gladly help) I made €1000 for a short by doing this.

2. Auction.

Do you have artist friends? Do you know prominent artist? Have them donate work, set a reserve, which they get (if sold) and agree that you get the profit of the whatever is sold (some may even give you all the money) Go to a local gallery, art centre, something like that and ask them if you could host the night there, put on some wine and a light buffet. 

note: You will have to spend some money to do this. The old Spend money to make money. You will also have to do a lot of leg work to get people in the doors. Advertise. Posters. Try and get on local radio. People are also pretty good about sponsoring this stuff, just ask, the worst they can do is say no.

3. Online Crowdfunding

This is becoming increasingly popular. I've used it twice with great success, on two films, 140 and Derelict (my current film) Kickstarter is an American site and only available to American users, for now, but you should have a look at the pitch videos and other projects just to see how people put them together and how they pitch them. IndieGoGo is similar site you can sign up to from anywhere ( in Ireland). And I believe there are others out there now.

Again, you have to push it and put the leg work in, no one's just going to just show up out of the blue and give you cash, you have to shout about it, get on facebook, twitter - It doesn't matter if you hate those sites, you want people to get behind the project you have to let them know about it and social networking is the best way to do that. We’re in the age of digital media and social network, it’s only an advantage to the independent filmmaker, use it… again – It’s Free!!!

You will need some cash, for food, some equipment rental, travel expenses, insurance and things that will inevitable pop up during the shoot. But you can make a film for next to nothing if you're clever and tenacious enough. You can get a descent short for €2000 if you want to put a little cash in to be sure. Don’t be a afraid to ask for things, for sponsorship, for free stuff, water, food, equipment, you never know what you might get.

With regard to equipment, lights, cameras, all you may need - get in touch with a local rental house, tell them what you're doing and ask if there is a way they can help, either by giving you a discount or by lending stuff for free off season, often places will do this, if they're cool they'd rather help out a young filmmaker then see the stuff lying there. After all, you may be a very good future customer and you're going to go to the place that helped you out first!

Don't let money stop you from making a film.

If you want to make a film, you should. If you believe in it and start it, the money will come. Often, when people put money into a project it's not because the believe in the project so much, it's that they believe in you, and like to see people doing something creative and positive. So go do it, start it and it will happen.

It's a tough road, no question about that, and at some point you will ask yourself why you started it, I still do! But it is also very rewarding, and once you've made this film you're just going to want to get onto the next one.

Here’s a 10 point breakdown:

1. Get the script right.
2. Get people you know and trust involved early on.
3. Get a good cast.
4. Makes Sure people are committed.
5. Raise some funds, but don't worry too much about it.
6. Schedule you film.
7. Set a Date! Move toward it.
8. Feed people.
9. Communicate with people.
10. When directing, be assertive, be confident, be sure and put yourself in the centre of the room. You're the leader. You're the reason everyone's here. Remember that. 

Two bonus points:
a. Be nice to people.
b. Put some money aside for the wrap party!!!

Hope that helps you somewhat! As I said at the start, everyone’s journey is different so you may find your own ways of doing things. Tap every resource you have, you’ll get there.

Three books you should read to: 

1. Writing: Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger

2. Prep: Producing With Passion: Making Films That Change The World by Dorothy Fadiman and Tony Levelle (which is about making documentaries but so much of how to get a film up and running applies).

3. Production: Digital Filmmaking by Mike Figgis 

Three of the best books I’ve read on how to make a film, because they’re practical, simple, constructive and inspirational.

So go on, go make a film, send it to me when you’re done! And don’t forget to enjoy yourself! You’re living your dream after all.

Additional note: When looking for funding go to you local Council, they usually have an arts fund, ask about it. Some other organisations you may not expect may also have arts or education funds, some charities do, ask around, you might be surprised what you find. Look under every stone. And I would say, by all means go to the Arts Council and the Irish Film Board, but don’t rely on getting funded, and don’t let it delay you. And if and when you get rejected, don’t be disheartened, make your film anyway. Everyone of my films were rejected, but I made them and had success with them and they found an audience.

You still here… why aren’t you writing?