Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Frank Kelly

Frank Kelly studied animation production at Ballyfermot College of Further Education. He began writing screenplays during college and formed a writing partnership with Thomas Kennedy when he graduated in 2000. Together they founded Pale Stone Productions Ltd and completed their first short, Emily’s Song in 2006. It was screened at 30 international film festivals, broadcast on RTE and Channel 4, won the Crystal Heart Award, UNICEF Award and special Mention at Oberhausen Short Film Fest. Frank went on to make Bill, For Short in 2008, distributed by Network Ireland Television, and Slán agus Beannacht in 2009, both screened at festivals around the world. He began production on 140 the same year, a global documentary that was shot in 23 countries around the world. Completed in January of 2010, it had its world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Fest and its European Premiere at the IFI in Dublin. It won the Bronze Palm Award at the Mexico International Film Festival. Frank completed Raise My Hands in 2010, which screened at 15 international film festivals. He completed his first dramatic feature in 2012, Derelict, which had its premiere at the Underground Cinema Film Festival in Dublin, where it received an honorary mention. Since then Frank worked on the BBC documentary Michael Woods’ The Great British Story, and completed a short film, Joe & Sarah for Ablevision Ireland. Now living in California in the United States, Frank works at Apple and writes episodes of The Tom and Jerry Show for Warner Bros. He is also in pre-production for his next feature film, I Am Ireland.

Welcome to the series, Frank. To begin, can you recall when your love of writing and film first manifested?

When I was a kid, I got into films at a young age and would re-write the films I liked, then I’d write my own sequels. I remember when all my friends started to get into video games – this was when computers still had wood panelling – I borrowed my cousin’s Commodore 64, and I’d use it to write, even though I couldn’t save anything, I just loved seeing the words appear on the screen.

Did anyone famous or otherwise, inspire you to write?

There was a drama society in school, which I was not actually part of. But the teacher of it came into our class and asked us to stage a play. So I wrote and directed it, and afterwards he pulled me aside and said he really liked it. It was the first time I’d had that kind of affirmation and it propelled me forward. But I was writing before that. It must have been Back to the Future. When I saw that film, aged 9, I knew then I wanted to make films. I had no idea how films were made, but I wanted to do whatever it was. For me, the Back to the Future script is still a perfect screenplay. Economy in story, brilliantly structured, highly entertaining but with depth and character. So I suppose Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis were a huge inspiration on me.

Do you write on a daily basis?

Yes. I work full-time and have two small kids, so I don’t write as much as I used to. When I was younger I would write about 4 hours a day, actually sitting at a computer and writing. Then I’d have a notebook that I always wrote in, park myself in a cafe somewhere and write several pages of ideas and thoughts. These days I don’t have that luxury. But I try to write at least one page. If I sit down with the idea of writing just one page I find I’ll usually write a lot more. I’m much better at using what little time I have.

How long does it take you to complete a script?

Six months to a year.

And your preferred genre?

My films are generally straight drama. For me it’s the human interaction over the situation. I like to get characters in a room and get them talking. I find that very compelling. And I like the play of language. It’s a challenge to write natural sounding dialogue that also has to be plot driven. You don’t want to feel like the writer or director is steering the car, you want to feel like the brakes are off and the characters are hurtling down the hill – and if they survived it to the end it was pure luck!

You produce your work as well?

I’ve produced all my own films. I worked on the first script for a long time until I felt it was ready. Then gathered a cast and crew, raised as much money as I could and went into production. I’ve always found it difficult to get any outside support, but I’ve never let that stop me from writing or trying to get films made. My first short film, Emily’s Song, came out in 2006. It was my first experience watching my words come to life, seeing actors perform them and seeing something I imagined on my own, fill a room. There was no going back after that!

How do you raise the finance to fund your projects?

All of my films, seven in total, are self-funded and crowdfunded! I made a film called 140 which was entirely crowdfunded and crowdsourced. I’m working on a film at the moment called ‘I Am Ireland’ which is crowdsourced. I’ve always found that going down the traditional avenues to get funding just delayed and annoyed me. I could spend 6 months jumping through hoops only to get a 2 line standard rejection email at the end of it. I found if I just made my own films I could use all the time and energy much more usefully.

Do you have an agent? Do you think it necessary to have one?

I don’t. I’m not sure that it’s necessary at my stage, but at some stage, yes. A successful friend of mine once said that the industry is a swanky party, and when you’re unknown, it all depends on who you walk in the door with. I think agents can open doors.

So how do you manage the marketing and PR?

I do it all myself. I design my own posters, write loglines, send out press releases to media, set up social media campaigns. I don’t exactly enjoy it, but it’s necessary if you want people to see your work.

Social media is important to the process then?

As an independent filmmaker it’s essential. It’s how I build my audience and a community around my films. It helps spread word of mouth and it reaches people who I never would have been able to reach.

And the significance of film festivals and awards?

It’s important in the marketing and life of the work. I’ve found in the past that films of mine that have won awards or got into more festivals get more attention and have a longer life. Those that haven’t won awards tend to have shorter lives. If it gets the film seen I think it’s a good thing. Plus festivals are fun to go to, you meet a lot of like-minded people, which is nice having spent months, or years, alone in a room working on this thing.

What about reviews? How do you handle them?

I had a review once that said my film was “Too Irish”. I had nothing to say to that! I try to take negative reviews or comments on the chin. Sometimes I agree, I see the mistakes, can take it constructively. I remember I was in a pub once after a screening of my film Derelict. I’d spent two years making this film, spent a ton of my own money on it, and I was finally screening it in my hometown, Drogheda, in the Droichead Arts Centre. A proud moment. The screening went great, it looked good, sounded great, the place was packed. So this person I know, half cut, comes up to me and decides to tell me everything she thought was wrong with the film. Some of it was valid, some of it was stuff I was trying to do that she just didn’t like, but in the end I just made an excuse to walk away from her. I look forward to the day she spends two years and all of her money making a film so that I can witness perfection and learn from her example.

From a global perspective, what’s your opinion of independent film production these days?

It’s an exciting time for Independent film. There’s never been more opportunity to just make a film. But in saying that, it does feel harder to get a film out into the world then it did 10 years ago. The traditional ways of getting work out are all but gone, so independent filmmakers are inventing ways of getting their films seen and making money with distribution. It’s equal part exciting and terrifying! I think Indie film is in good shape. There are a lot of exiting films being made – you look at a hit like The Babadook, one of my favourite films this year, an independent film, with the financing partly raised on Kickstarter. Another Kickstarter film, Blue Ruin, was a big indie hit last year. There are incredible filmmakers out there who are finally finding a way to get their films made and out into the world, whereas before they might have been denied the chance to tell their story because a reader in some funding body wasn’t into their script. I think we’re going to keep seeing amazing and original work because we’re find ways to not just cut through the red tape, but to by-pass it altogether.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, Frank?

Write. That’s all you have to do. And write everyday. It’s a muscle that gets stronger with exercise. Books and films don’t write themselves. Read a lot, watch a lot, observe a lot, sit in cafes and think a lot, drink a lot of coffee, live a lot! That’s important. Don’t think you can just be a writer, that’s rare, so much of your inspiration for stories and characters will come from everyday life, and working that shitty job you need to pay the rent will give you more ideas than you can imagine, so don’t be afraid to join the real world once in a while.

Is there a film script by another screenwriter that you wish you had written?

Haha! Many! I wish I could write something like Some Like It Hot, it’s just perfection. If  I could get anywhere near anything Billy Wilder and Izzy Diamond wrote, I’d be doing alright!

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I agree. But I think that piece of advice can be misinterpreted. You might know Vampires more than anyone else, so write Vampires. Write what you’re inspired to write, and you will come to know it.

Name six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

Billy Wilder, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Hayao Miyazaki and Stephen Fry.

And finally, can you tell us more about the projects you are working on right now?

I’m working on two things at the moment, a crowdsource documentary called ‘I Am Ireland’ about Irish Immigrants around the world, their experience and their relationship with Ireland. And 10 Days in December, which is a feature script about two people from different worlds who fall in love during Christmas in Ireland. It’s a true story and close to my heart. I hope to shoot a proof-of-concept at the end of this year and raise enough funding next year to put that feature into production.

You can follow Frank’s progress via his Blog and Facebook page:

Website: www.frankkelly.blogspot.com

Facebook: facebook.com/FrankKellyFilmmaker

 

 

 

Interview with Irish Filmmakers

An interview with Irish Filmmakers…http://www.irishfilmmakers.com/

IFM: First off Caroline, tell us a bit about yourself.

Born and bred in Dublin, but live inside my head! Constant scribbler, life-long learner, day and night dreamer!

IFM: How did you first get into writing, and how did that lead you into screenwriting?

From the age of learning to put pen to paper and making sense out of words, I have always written in some form or another. I hated school. Inside my head, I was little Wednesday Addams! I was out of there by my own volition, at 15, but that conversation is for another day! However, the one thing I did enjoy about primary school was that every Friday for homework, we would have to write an essay, and every Monday morning, I would have my work done. Wish I had kept them all! I entered my first writing competition at 19, and was placed runner-up for my synopsis of a novel – I never did write that book though! I was always a quiet kid, but for as long as I can remember, I was curious about people and situations I witnessed; a spectator. I would make up stories in my head, or embellish on real life events, and I often saw life in a serious of frames, scenes I suppose, playing them over in my head after the fact. About fifteen years ago, I sent the first three chapters of an early attempt at a novel to the legendary agent, Darley Anderson, and he replied personally to say that he liked my writing, but that it was rather ‘episodic’. At the time, I didn’t get that he was actually offering a helpful insight! I didn’t have any experience of screenwriting though until 2005, when I sat in on a Screenwriting course. As soon as the tutor broke down the format of the first script we read, The Crying Game, I was hooked. Though I had a long way to go in terms of learning about structure, it all made perfect sense! For me, it is all about Story: we story our own lives as we breathe each day, and we story the lives of others, real or imagined, through empathy, curiosity, imagination, analysis and connection. Each and every one of us is living the three-act structure…

IFM: Take us briefly through your process of writing a screenplay, including how many drafts do you go through, and when you know the work is ready to hand over.

I generally have a story percolating in my head for a long time before I write the first draft. Sometimes it can take a year or so before I’m ready to hammer it out onto the blank page. After that, it varies. I have scripts that I know will take me several drafts before I am comfortable enough with them to hand them over to anyone. With others, it is easy to let the first draft go out to the world, and I’ll happily receive whatever feedback is thrown at it. I try to write something every day.

IFM: What are some of the challenges you face when writing, and do you draw from any personal experiences?

My challenges would be the same for most writers, I think. Time is a huge issue for me. I work fulltime, and I have family and friends that, while understanding my need for solitary confinement, still like, for whatever reason, to have me around!

Do I draw from personal experiences? Hell, yes. And don’t believe any writer who tells you that they don’t! In one form or another, the essence of a writer is in their work. Sometimes obvious, mostly not, but however subtle, it is always there. It is what gives a writer his or her voice, and it is what makes them different from everyone else.

IFM: You’ve won a number of awards for your work. How does it feel to have your talent recognised?

Fantastic! It’s a wonderful affirmation when my work is recognised to a level of winning an award, and it really spurs me on to do more, to do better, and to raise the bar on my own expectations.

IFM: What are some of your favourite scripts and books that inspire you?

My favourite scripts are too many to mention, but a snapshot would be The Others by Alejandro Amenábar,Biutiful by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Red Road, by Andrea Arnold, The Secret in Their Eyes, by Eduardo Sacheri Juan José Campanella, and Angel Heart, written by Alan Parker. I’m also a big fan the Robert Riskin/Frank Capra collaborations…simply wonderful!

I used to be a sucker for the gothic novels, particularly as a teenager; Bronte, Stoker, Poe, etc. At that age, I would also devour Agatha Christie novels. I think she may well have been my first inspiration to write. Later, I discovered Anne Rice, Susan Hill and Alice Hoffman, as well as John Connolly, Joseph O’Connor, Patrick McCabe and Neil Jordan. My love of books in turn inspired my future career path, to be a librarian, though it took me a long time to get there [see previous comment on leaving school early!] At the moment, I am reading Audrey Niffenegger.

 

IFM: What advice would you offer to any screenwriters in the making?

Watch films, read scripts, learn format and just do it! Do it often! Make sure you present your work as good as it can be. Look for feedback and learn to take rewrites in your stride. Join a writer’s group. If you can’t find one, start one up yourself. And when you feel you have reached a standard that is good enough to compete, submit your work to producers, awards and funding opportunities, and enter competitions.

IFM: Tell us what you have planned for this year and what else are you working on?

My short script, ADAM, directed by Denise Pattison, which we have co-produced, is currently in post-production, and another, IN RIBBONS, is now in development, to be directed by Marie-Valerie Jeantelot. I am collaborating with director Vittoria Colonna on a feature screenplay, and am also doing my best to finish a novel. I have three more completed screenplays currently doing the rounds, and another with a director in the US,Ozzy Villazon. I am very lucky to be working with some very cool and inspiring people, so although I would say that my year so far has been pretty hectic …long may it last! I also blog regularly, and am at present featuring Irish women in film, which, I have to say has been a joy to do, and very inspiring.