“Unless you’re actively trying not to learn, you pick up a lot of knowledge by sheer osmosis.”

I’ve never been to film-school.

And – apart from a week’s work as an extra on possibly the worst romantic drama ever filmed when I was a penniless Greek-island-hopping student, I’d never been on a proper movie set.

But I had spent ten years in a rock band during which time I’d been on the other side of the camera in a bunch of (mostly pretty terrible) videos. and the guts of another a decade working as an advertising copywriter, in which capacity I’d written a whole heap of big budget TV commercials.

So I’d picked up a lot of film-making knowledge by sheer osmosis.

It was while we were shooting the Irish segment of the Guinness ad Tom Crean (or rather, while I was eating doughnuts watching stellar director Tarsem shoot the ad) that I turned to our seasoned line producer Seamus Byrne and idly said “I’d love to try directing some day”. His – I now know insanely optimistic – response was “Get me a short screenplay by Wednesday”.

A couple of nights later, in my hotel room in Reykjavik, I started typing on a borrowed laptop…

SHORTS

I wrote and directed my first short Delphine in 2003 under the Irish Film Board’s Short Shorts scheme. Described by the Evening Herald as “one of the best Irish movies of the past decade”, it was accepted for a host of Irish and international festivals, and has been broadcast on TV in 13 countries including France, Spain, Canada, and Japan.

A while later, Seamus spotted another opportunity for me to try my hand at directing: Dance On The Box, jointly funded by national broadcaster RTE and the Irish Arts Council, was an initiative intended to showcase the artform of dance through the medium of film. Initially skeptical as to whether I could find anything interesting to write or film about any form of dance, my attention was drawn to a training video made by young sean-nós Irish dance teacher Ronan Regan. How, I wondered, did we Irish ever come to choose such a bizarre foot-shuffling gait as our national dance? The answer struck me like a freight-train: it’s because of our terrible time-keeping – through the mists of time, Irish people have been left standing about waiting for other Irish people to show up; and when you’re left standing about, your feet start to do peculiar things.

In April 2006 I wrote and directed Why The Irish Dance That Way for the RTE/Arts Council Dance On The Box series.  In June 2007 it was one of just nine short films selected by New York’s Museum of Modern Art for Shortfest: Outstanding Shorts from The International Festivals, and in March 2008 it won First Prize at the Chicago Irish Film Festival.  It has received over 250,000 hits on YouTube.

In 2009, I entered another short film script which I’d written (but didn’t know what to do with next) for two of America’s leading screenwriting competitions. To my great surprise and delight this little screenplay won First Prize in the Short Screenplay Competition at the Vail Film Festival (Colorado), and Second Prize in the Champion Screenwriting Competition (Los Angeles).

In 2009, I entered another short film script which I’d written (but didn’t know what to do with next) for two of America’s leading screenwriting competitions. To my great surprise and delight this little screenplay won First Prize in the Short Screenplay Competition at the Vail Film Festival (Colorado), and Second Prize in the Champion Screenwriting Competition (Los Angeles).

Emboldened by this success, we applied for and were awarded funding to make Shoe under the Irish Film Board’s Signatures programme. We shot the film in Killorglin (Co. Kerry) and Dublin in July 2010.

Following a brief theatrical run in Los Angeles, Shoe received its Irish premiere at the Cork Film Festival in November 2010. Later the same month it was announced that it was one of 10 movies on the shortlist in the Live Action Short category for the 2011 Academy Awards

In May 2011, Shoe won the Best Irish Short award at the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival.

In 2011, I wrote and directed (together with my gifted VFX director mate Richard Chaney) a short fund-raising film for the Irish Film Archive featuring Saoirse Ronan.

FEATURES

Over the past few years, I’ve concentrated my film-making focus towards writing and directing feature films.

In February 2010 I completed my first feature-length screenplay, Incognita, supported by a writer loan from the Irish Film Board.

In 2011, I received Development Funding from the Irish Film Board for another original feature length project Break Point.

In January 2014, myself and my great friend and musical collaborator Sean Millar were awarded funding to shoot a 10 minute “proof of concept” film for Dublin 24, a low-budget feature-length musical – one of five projects chosen for the Cornerstone initiative run by The Factory in conjunction with the Irish Film Board

In October 2014, the Irish Film Board announced that my feature project The Drummer And The Keeper, was one of the three successful feature film projects to be funded for production under their Catalyst scheme.

Produced by the brilliant force of nature that is Kate McColgan, The Drummer And The Keeper was filmed in various locations around Dublin over February / March 2016.

It received a standing ovation on its first Irish screening at the Galway Film Fleadh in July 2017, and won BEST IRISH FIRST FEATURE. Having been acquired by Element distribution, it received an Irish theatrical release in September 2017 to outstanding media and public reaction.

The Drummer And The Keeper has its UK premiere at the prestigious BFI London Film Festival on October 9th / 10th.

You can watch our official trailer here.

Kate and I have now received development funding, again from the Irish Film Board, to progress Incognita towards production.

SEE:HEAR

Finally, in an attempt to explain (to myself as much as to everyone else) why a rock musician might have such beginner’s luck as a film-maker, in the past couple of years I’ve created a stage show called SEE:HEAR.

Over the course of this 70 minute mixed-media performance, I screen some of my short films (plus one particularly embarrassing music video), perform some of my songs, and outline my theory that in order to acquire the skills needed for a career in the movies many aspiring film-makers would be better off joining an obscure rock band rather than attending even the most prestigious film-school.

Thus far SEE:HEAR has been programmed at an array of festivals and arts centres around Ireland, including at the Electric Picnic and the Galway Film Fleadh, and I hope to be bringing it further afield in 2017, in conjunction with the release of The Drummer And The Keeper.