I knew when I was sixteen. I got my first job when I was seventeen on a movie called Widows Peak. My uncle used to be a film producer in London. He did some great movies with Ken Russell and The Who. The location manager on Widows Peak knew my uncle, and I got to work on that film. I grew up in the countryside of Ireland and was born in Dublin. I went to the National Film School in Ireland. After I graduated, I made a pretty successful short film. Then a lot of commercial companies in Ireland became interested in me. At the same time Roger Corman had set up a studio in the west of Ireland. I directed some commercials in Ireland, and also art directed some videos in Corman’s studio. Then I moved to Eastern Europe. Corman wanted me to direct a film over there. I did some advertising work over there and then eventually moved to Los Angeles from Budapest.
My first shoot was a short film. It was for the national TV station in Ireland. The film board gave me like a hundred grand, and I got paid a small fee. The script was fantastic, and the shoot went quite well. It was a comedy, and comedy wasn’t really my forte. When we were cutting the film we realized it wasn’t funny. That was a rude awakening. My usual forte is much more surreal, dark and cinematic. I also did a couple of commercials for McCann in Ireland, and they were really well-received.
We shot it on 16mm, and you couldn’t even process film in Ireland. You had to send the negative to London. I shot that movie without a monitor, so I didn’t know what the hell we had. I would just look at the first and last frame that was shot through the eyepiece and then let the operator just go with it. It took about six months to finish.
Two commercial companies approached me after my graduate film, so I joined with the better one. Nothing happened. I got this whole spiel of how great I was, and nothing happened. I was really frustrated. My brother had just started making short films in Limerick. We decided to team up and set up a little company, which is what people did back then. There were a lot of short films being made at the time. It was definitely an area where filmmakers could show their skills. Back in 2002, the Irish Film Board was beginning to really help out and finance short films.
The hardest part about it was dealing with the executives, because it was financed by a government body. It’s like if the post office went into Warner Brothers and started running the studio. Everything took forever – the contract, the financing, etc. The script was fantastic, and we walked into the meeting and they said “This is the best script we’ve read.’’ And we said “Shit. We’re in.” They gave us the biggest amount to do this short film. So, I had the opportunity to bring in the biggest talent and use the best toys.
It took me a long time to realize that you have to remove all the toys, remove all the bullshit, and at the end of the day, you’re there to tell a story.
I think the biggest thing is preparation. If you prepare enough, you can show up on set and wing it. You’re there to allow the happy accidents to happen. The most enjoyable process for me is shooting. It has always been the best part for me.
Terry Gilliam was a big influence. Ridley Scott. When I was a kid I used to watch the movies my uncle, Ken Russell, produced, and I thought they were crazy. Then later on it was William Friedkin’s films like The French Connection and The Exorcist.
There’s a Hungarian scientist that said luck was when opportunity and preparation meet. I think that I’ve had lucky breaks, but I wasn’t prepared. When I was commissioned to do my first job, maybe I wasn’t prepared enough to follow it all the way through. I was twenty-one years old, I’m in film school, and I’m told that I’m hot shit, but no work was coming, so I was wondering what the fuck was going on. That’s not really a break; that’s more like a slap in the face.
Everyone is looking for branded entertainment. That’s what I had originally planned to do with The Weeknd. We had planned on turning that whole album into a series of films. Brands are not going to rely on a thirty or sixty-second spot anymore. They’re going to do twenty-minute serials. Netflix and other companies are creating their own content, their own entertainment, and there could be some really amazing opportunities for filmmakers.
Casting. It’s not just casting who is in front of the camera. It’s also about casting who is behind the camera. Having a clear vision and hiring the right people that can help you achieve it.
Because of the online platform available where censorship is minimal, it allows filmmakers more opportunities to show off. What they need to do is create more engaging content, because attention spans are much shorter. I think at the moment, comedy is the new thing for advertising, because clients think it’s cheaper. I think that’s a big illusion, because comedy is so hard to pull off.
Absolutely. If you have the talent and you have the tools. You have platforms like Vimeo and Youtube, so now you have a distribution platform that’s free. You’ve got the tools which are almost free. So, now it comes down to who can tell a compelling story?
That’s a very good question. It cost me $500 a year to go to film school in Ireland. I hear that it’s forty grand a year here in the states. In Ireland it was hard to get into film school, but here it seems like it’s just a money game. When I think of my first experience on a film, it was being directed by an established director, John Irving. So, my first experience was on a real movie with a real director. It was an amazing learning experience. But now you have kids coming out of film school, mommy and daddy just dropped two hundred grand, and then suddenly someone like Cash Money Records gives them some money to go make a video. Maybe they get some momentum and they are actually working, but they have no film knowledge whatsoever, nor have they been exposed to any real knowledge of proper filmmaking. Kids coming out of film school think they are directors and cinematographers, and they don’t know a light meter from a light bulb. All they do is point and shoot. They don’t know the craft.
The most influential movie was Time Bandits. I saw it when I was six, so that completely captivated me. At the time, I didn’t even know my family was in the film business. I didn’t know anything about the business. I saw that film, and it was extraordinary.
They’re really rare. It seems to be harder to find a good movie. One film that is maybe ten years old now called Wonderland. James Cox made it with Val Kilmer. This guy is a hell of a filmmaker. He should make more movies. Crazy Heart I thought stood out a lot. I guess the most recent movie I really loved was Drive. It was like a sign of the return of the 70’s cinema. You bring in a European director to make an American movie. It was really something special.
My latest project is about an NYPD detective who’s a complete mess. He’s lost his wife in a car accident, and his kid is in a coma. He starts to get these supernatural messages of why she was killed. It’s basically like The Omen meets Seven. It’s very much like a 70’s genre movie. I also just finished a fashion film for a Japanese clothing brand, which I just posted on my website.