Saturday 8 November 2014

Interview with Cillian Daly

Cillian Daly is an Irish screenwriter, director, cameraman, photographer, and professional dreamer, who lives in Dublin, Ireland. He has a BA Hons in Film & Television Production and a HiDip in Model Making & Special Effects. He dabbles with Photoshop and 3D Studio, loves movies (preferably Sci-Fi, Horror or Action/Adventure), and when he's not making or watching films, he is complaining about them.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Born in Dublin, raised on both sides of the city.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I grew up in a pretty normal family, at least based on Irish standards! There's some creative blood in the family, musicians and artists. My dad was always the family photographer, a role I inevitably inherited. Though, with everyone having a decent camera on their phones now, it's a little redundant.
   Myself and my cousin, Ferdia Murphy, were the two that headed towards film, by

various routes. My sister works at a television station here, TV3, and my wife is a line producer for an animation company, Geronimo Productions. Ferdia works as a production designer, and did a movie called The Stag recently. I've worked with him a few times, in his department.
   My family never had an 8mm camera or, later, any video cameras. It was always a photography house. I think I must have been in my teens before we even got a VHS player! In fact, the first video camera, a Sony miniDV one, was my own. It was a gift from my folks on my 21st.
   Parents always encouraged me to be creative, regardless of school and state exams, though that was encouraged equally!

Where did you go to school?

School was spread over couple of primary schools and one secondary. (The school system here is two years of infant classes, called junior and senior infants, then it's six years of primary education, followed by six years of secondary education. From that, it's university education.)
   My university education was two-fold. After my leaving certificate (the last series of state exams that are spread over about 4 weeks at the end of the 6th year at secondary level), I went to a community college to prepare my portfolio for entry into a cyclical college course the following year. I had to wait for a year, anyway, since they weren't taking in the year I did my leaving, so I built up a decent portfolio of 3D work.

   I went to what was then known as DLIADT, the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art Design & Technology to study Model Making and Special Effects for film, TV and theatre. I ended up specialising in 3D CAD model work. And meeting my future wife! My grand plan was to get a grounding in effects work, then go into the film course at the same college, so that when I became a big Hollywood director, I understood the basics of what was needed for all my mega budget Sci-Fi epics. This did not happen as expected.
   When I finished model making, the entry requirements had changed for the film course, so the application deadline had moved. Anyone wanting a direct entry from another course missed their opportunity. It was just a massive communications error. So I went and got a job working at an architectural consulting firm making digital models of buildings. I was clearly so Hollywood!
   Anyway, after a couple of years of that, I left and made a feature film. Just because. A black and white horror, with my wife (then girlfriend) producing, me on camera and directing, and my aforementioned cousin, Ferdia, and his fiancé in the lead roles. It was appalling.
   While I was editing the film, my mum read that the new National Film School was starting courses in Film and TV, and that I should apply as a mature student. This new school was part of the faculty where I studied model making. So I applied, with my dreadful little horror movie, and got in. I specialised in writing and directing in my final year, and now here I am!

When did you first take an interest in movies?

I think any kid growing up in the late 70s/early 80s was going to have an interest in movies. It was a bit of a golden age for “fun” cinema. It was the time of Jedi and hero archaeologists, after all!
   My sister and I were brought to the cinema a lot. Not weekly by any account, but I have a lot of early memories from movie theatres. Probably the one moment that set it off in my young and impressionable mind was a double bill of Empire and Jedi, when Jedi was released in 1983. A small city centre cinema, called The Screen at the time, now part of a chain, was showing them, and my dad brought me and my cousin, Ferdia, to see them. My 6 year old brain was just captivated by the scenes on Hoth when the AT-AT's attack the rebel base. So I guess that set me on the path. I was all about Star Wars from then on. And I always wanted to make my own versions of what I had seen in the cinema. Still trying to, of course!

   I was always technically minded, Lego was a massive part of my childhood. Still have all of it. Still buy it! I think though, my interests were always the “how” of cinema, the physicality of it, rather than the “why,” but I'm working on that side, too. I kind of love how much I know of making movies now, what goes into creating a scene, an effect, a performance. I enjoy that technicality of the process. And I enjoy being challenged by big filmmakers, Nolan, Fincher, for example. When one of their films has a moment, or three, where something mind-blowing occurs (rotating hotel corridor, etc), I can't help but grin and think, “How the hell..?” It doesn't take me out of the film or story, it actually adds a level to it for me, it's like an extra on the disc, a nice bonus feature!

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

Ah, the cliché job. I worked for a summer at the mail desk of a fruit importers in Dublin! Receiving, sorting and delivering internal and external post. Nothing to do with film, but it was grand for what it was.

What was the first film you ever made and what did you learn from the process?

I alluded to my first film above—it was called Aftershock. A feature film. Jumped right into the deep end. I figured if I was spending my own money, and going to the trouble of writing the thing, it may as well fill up 90 mins! It was a travesty. I only recently found a hard copy of the script in my folks house. Read it. Wished I hadn't!
   It's a horror, about a couple who move into a nice Victorian redbrick, only to find that the original owners (in 1875!) went mad and killed each other, and now the past is echoing into the present—like an aftersho... You get the idea!
   It was shot on 2 miniDV camcorders, in the black and white shooting mode. I was convinced, and had probably read it somewhere, that those early cameras were better in B&W than colour. So instead of just maybe, I dunno, lighting it better, shooting in colour and then worrying about noise, etc., in post, I just shot B&W straight off. So even the extras I'd planned for the 2 disc special edition DVD (in my mind) were colourless. There's an argument that I was trying trying some experimental nonsense, but no.
   I had friends and family pitch in, my cousin and his fiancé playing the leads. I shot it, various friends crewed up, wife produced it. It was huge fun at the time, and we did blag a showing at a major chain cinema on a Sunday afternoon, and had a big premiere party with little tickets. Which was wonderful, and not at all ego-boosting!
   I think I spent €3000 or something on it, including props, effects (which was the only aspect I was in anyway qualified for), and a second camera and mic. It took maybe four weekends, and two or three other days to shoot. And in sequence, because, reasons! The last weekend got condensed into one Saturday because of stupid scheduling, so 13 pages were shot in 14 hours or something. Madness.

   The first thing I really learned from it was that, yes, that is exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life—tell stories, make shit up, and share it with people. I spent most of the time running around with a Glidecam, in socks, on hard floors (for the audio, naturally) and still I wanted to do it more.
   Second take-away was to plan, plan, plan. And rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then repeat all that a few times. It seems counter productive to just picking up a camera and doing it, but that's exactly what we did, and it could have been much better if I had actually read the nonsense I'd written and called a script!
   And also, don't shoot 13 pages in 14 hours. It's insane.
   On something like that though, every aspect of the shoot becomes a classroom, regardless of how many books you've read, or movies you've watched. Every day brought something new, and not necessarily good, to the table. Everyone is working for table scraps and warm coffee, it's tough. But still fun!
   And document everything—in COLOUR!
   And just go make a film. The worst that can happen is it's rubbish. But you'll learn so much.

You made a short film during college, called Keepers of Ormond. What inspired that story?

Keepers Of Ormond was a summer fling, that's the best way I can put it! It was do- something-to-do-something, basically. The idea gestated from an image I'd written into a notebook about an unseen being guiding an old man to a lottery win. For nefarious purposes. It developed from there. Again, it was family and friends, and class mates.
   My DoP on it, Sean Branigan, is now a commercials and award winning shorts director, and a great guy. The assistant camera, Dave Tynan, also a fantastic director. And Gareth Averill, who composed the music, is making waves in that department. All of them fantastic as crew, but now individually brilliant. I've fallen into the trap of writing and developing and planning. They've gone and done it. And succeeded.

Is there much work for model-making writers in Ireland these days?

Short answer, no! Model makers, yes, when the right project gets funded or invested in. Writers, again, when funds are there. But the combination? Ha! I wish, I really wish. It's a slowly dying art in the industry, physical model making. But it's inevitable.
   I'm really a cameraman/director at the moment. Freelancing, shooting some adverts and weddings, and such. But I'm constantly writing. I've 12 notebooks. I can make sense of the notes. No one else has a hope! I'll do some modelmaking work if it comes around, but it's rare. It's all basic stuff but it keeps the toes in and the brain ticking over. And keeps the creative juices flowing.

There have been some great films made in Dublin over the years—Michael Collins, The Actors, The General, Once, etc. Are any more like those on the way?

There's been a recent surge in filmmaking in Dublin, and Ireland as a whole. Nearly all of it independent. You do get the larger co-productions doing a few things as well, like those you mentioned, but most of it is being done by determined independents.
   There's a Facebook group here called Film Network Ireland, which is moderated by a mate of mine and very good actor, Paul Lennox. It has sometimes had poor ideas and projects posted, but a lot of really great stuff is coming together because of like-minded people making contact online and taking their ideas from there. Paul was involved in a film called A Day Like Today, that has been well received. It was made

for next to nothing and a ton of good will. Another mate, Donal Foreman, has a film called Out Of Here, getting a national release this month. Again, totally independent, made via crowdfunding.
   Then there are the bigger productions, such as The Stag, on which my cousin was production designer. That has an international release, and has done well so far. It's about a bachelor party, not a male deer! There's been a few horror films made, too, I think co-productions. But again, doing really well at festivals and internationally. The Canal being one. And DoP'd by the rather brilliant Piers McGrail. I'm probably missing loads, to be honest!
   And who knows, maybe next year I'll have something decent to show the world!

What are three things you wish someone had told you about filmmaking when you were starting out?

Only three? Yikes! Well, the obvious one is “Adjust your expectations,” and by that I mean it won't happen overnight. Even taking a short film from idea to festival screening can take months. It can be fluked in weeks, sure, but quality will inevitably suffer. So don't rush. Don't expect to get a hit first go. I did. And guess what? It wasn't a hit. But it surely rhymes with 'hit'! As an aside, it also takes time. Lots and lots of time.
   Two, find like-minded people and collaborate. Then, don't ignore their ideas. You cannot do everything yourself. Do one or two things, but let the camera person light and shoot. Let the actors find their characters, their performances, and work with them.
   And three, don't give up. Keep going. And going. And going. And then go some more.

If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book to a newbie writer in Adelaide, which one would it be?

I wouldn't recommend one really. I think you can only really learn basic structure from the books, formatting, layout, style etc. Maybe some info about character arcs and the like. But they will not teach you writing. You want to write? Write. Read lots, but not too much about writing. Read history, politics, science, art, everything that could deepen and broaden your knowledge. But, gun-to-head situation, I'd suggest that the two main script books, McKee's Story and Syd Field's Screenplay should give anyone interested in scripts a good overview of the rules, which can then be broken. William Goldman's books are entertaining too. And the only other book on writing would be The Hollywood Standard, which essentially is formatting. But it at least shows what a script should LOOK like.
   You'll get a lot more from reading professional scripts too. They're easy to source

online. That's basically a free screen writing education there. A cursory read of the above, with pro scripts, should give any budding writer a pretty solid understanding of the process.
   But my one recommendation, above all of those books, is Sidney Lumet's Making Movies. It's just brilliant. It's a guide through his process of film making, from first read of script to premiere screening. It's based in a celluloid world, and that's no bad thing. He shows you film making through his eyes and ears, he's humble, and giving, and details his process. It's a short read, perfect length really, and quite eye-opening. As a directors guide to making these damn films, it's sublime. Can't recommend it enough. So, yeah, buy that. It may be only available second hand now, though. Borrow the others!

What are your ten favourite (favourite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?

Ah, ten? Blooming heck! Right, here we go --
The Empire Strikes Back (80)
Aliens (1986)
Terminator 2 (1991)
Field Of Dreams (1989)
Robocop (1987)
Jaws (1975)
Jurassic Park (1993)
All The Presidents Men (1976)
Tin Cup (1996)
Die Hard (1988)
They're all a bit obvious, really! Any of the related movies—Alien, Terminator, the other Die Hards—I'll enjoy them as much, but these have affected me through the years. Terminator 2, when it was released here, was rated 15, so no one under that age was admitted. My dad took me and 4 friends to see it for my 14th birthday. Spoofed the usher that we were all 16! That experience stuck with me. And Empire, for reasons outlined earlier. But yeah, I've many more. But these are the top ten go-to movies for me.

What’s next for Cillian Daly?

What's next? Well if I knew that...! 

I'm working on a feature to be shot next year, a simple political thriller! We'll see how that goes. I'm working on some spec adverts, just to stay creative. And I've applied to a scheme here that funds shorts twice a year. I've entered two scripts but they've yet to shortlist anyone this round. So that may happen. They give you €10,000 to make a ten minute short. And equipment and editing facilities. It's a decent scheme. And I'm also developing a TV mini-series with a few people set in the mid 1980s. So quite a bit next, potentially, but I'd like it to be moving faster!
   And I'm still writing scripts. Always writing. And rewriting. And rewriting!

The following music clip was filmed and directed by Cillian Daly. It's a song intended to raise awareness for the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association. (It's also got a bit with a dog in it.)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Writing, writing, and more writing. Good luck to Cillian Daly.