“Unless you’re actively trying not to learn, you pick up a lot of knowledge by sheer osmosis.”
I’d 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…
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. My second short film Why The Irish Dance That Way, jointly funded by RTE and the Arts Council as part of their Dance On The Box series, was one of just nine short films selected by New York’s Museum of Modern Art for Shortfest: Outstanding Shorts from The International Festivals in 2007, and in March 2008 won First Prize at the Chicago Irish Film Festival.
In 2009, my third short screenplay Shoe 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. Shoe won the BEST IRISH SHORT award at the Corona Fastnet Short Film Festival, and was one of 10 movies shortlisted for an OSCAR in the Live Action Short category for the 2011 Academy Awards.
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.
THE DRUMMER AND THE KEEPER
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 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. The Drummer And The Keeper had its UK premiere at the prestigious BFI London Film Festival on October 9th / 10th, and subsequently won BEST FEATURE at the Irish Film Festival London, with Jacob McCarthy also winning the Ros Hubbard Award for BEST ACTOR for his portrayal of Christopher. In February 2018 The Drummer And The Keeper received 5 nominations at the Irish Film & Television Awards, with Jacob McCarthy picking up the prestigious RISING STAR award. In April 2018 it had its US premiere as the gala opening film of the Cleveland International Film Festival where it won the Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for BEST FILM. Later the same month, it beat films from 58 different countries to win BEST FOREIGN FILM at the Newport Beach Film Festival. In June 2018 it won and the SILVER AWARD in the Score Bernhard Wicki Preis for Best Film at the Emden-Norderney International Filmfest in Germany. In all, it has won 18 awards at festivals around the world. As the writer I was nominated for Best Screenplay at both the IFTAs and Irish Writers Guild Zebbie Awards for 2018.
In February 2020 Bedsitterland, a new feature film written and to be directed by me, was the only Irish project to be selected for the prestigious Berlinale Co-Production Market, with producers Samson Films (Ireland) and A Private View (Belgium). This project has now received development funding from Screen Ireland.
TV PROJECTS / THE STORY WORKS
In 2019, I set up an independent TV writers room based in Dublin, The Story Works, with the aim of developing new long form drama projects with global potential. One of the projects created in this three-week process has already been optioned for pilot script by Green Pavilion.
I was one of three Irish writers selected to participate in the Screenskills-funded TV Writers Room placement in Los Angeles in November 2019 where we shadowed the Supergirl and S.W.A.T. rooms in addition to meeting other leading US showrunners.
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, I’ve created a stage show called SEE:HEAR. Over the course of this 70 minute mixed-media performance, I screen some of my own film work (plus one particularly embarrassing music video in which I appear), 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. 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.…