• my notebook •
script • simon (my writing partner) and i had written a feature script called 'hens' which was set in belfast and liverpool. we were finding it hard to get anyone to look at it (another unsolicited script) let alone finance it, so we decided to try and make a short film with similar themes to see if this might help the process. so the immaculate misconception was conceived.
i had this idea about the virgin birth and the immaculate conception in a modern context. i wrote down the scenes, had a chat with simon and this sketch of an idea became the immaculate misconception.
i wanted the portrayal of the characters to be influenced by my experiences; to reflect the people and institutions i grew up with and to have these traits woven deep into the psyches of the characters. my catholic schooling and a healthy anti-authoritarianism born from a childhood in institutions made me question catholicism: its central belief in its blonde haired, blue eyed representation of jesus, the virgin birth, the immaculate conception etc. i remember wanting to believe in an omnipotent force for good, someone that would make things right, but found it hard to rationalise this within such a stringent politically motivated belief system where the moral authority can be wilfully cruel.
sinead represents unconditional love, the only true religion, innocence and divinity and the mother we all deserve.
bronagh represents the unbending state, with its rules and regulations, and an agenda that it has to pursue regardless of the consequences, never learning from its mistakes.
the church represents a psychological egotism motivated by self-interest, even in what seem to be acts of altruism
daniel represents the fleeting moments of connection with a caring soul.
the sugar coating of this particular pill is its black comedy; it makes me forget about the backstory and laugh, which I think is how it should be.
with these backstories sorted, simon and i wanted to tell a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, a story that had resonating themes, with depth and layers and a few twists and turns; all easier said than done, especially in a short film format. we tinkered with it for an age, 'writing is definitely rewriting', until eventually we had what we thought was a pretty tight script. it felt like this one would work so we decided to try and get it made. it was written to take place in belfast but not knowing anyone who lived or worked there i went to dublin to see if i could make it there instead. ultimately though i knew belfast was its natural backdrop.
recce • the first recce took place in dublin. it had lots of advantages as i had friends and red rage (the production company representing me in ireland) based there, but after a quick shufti it was obvious to me that dublin lacked the tension i wanted so i decided to take a look around belfast. i arrived in belfast the next morning with my friend colin. when we arrived colin's dad was there to meet us and take us on a guided tour of the city and within a few hours i knew this was the place. it had a great energy, not always that positive but one that really suited the themes of the film. there were a lot of reasons not to shoot the film in belfast, mostly to do with money and the crew travelling from the uk, but there were a lot more reasons to be there. what this film need now was a producer, someone to take on all the responsibility and pressure of a film shoot and make it run like clockwork with scant resourses. in my opinion it is the hardest roll to fill, the unsung hero. cue russell. i had worked with russell on a film for greenpeace for their 'save the arctic' campaign and thought he might be prepared to get involved, so i gingerly asked and to my surprise he said, yes! i let him catch his breath as i worked out how to broach the 'belfast as the perfect location' issue. so i put together a pdf of all the belfast locations and made my case. it went well but russell wanted to have another uk locaton, closer to london to compare it with, so we looked at liverpoool but after a bit of research and renegotiating belfast won the day.
prep • so we had the city. we decided to try and get the finance from short film funding repositories but got universally rejected, from sorry to couldn't be bothered to reply. nice! i pushed on anyway, thinking it was better to just keep on keeping on. whilst away shooting a commercial i approached my long term d.o.p. (director of photography) vincent and asked if he would be interested in spending a week of his life in belfast, working in a short film, that had no money and without hesitation he said yes. after a plea to partizan uk and usa, madeleine and sheila (partizans chiefs), they agreed to help fund the film. amazing really, a big thanks to all. then russell found susie (mackerel snapper) our new belfast line producer; stroke of genius. things were really coming together as susie's spelling, grammar and ability to turn a crisis into no problem made my day. i had seen a short film called 'the shore' and loved the casting so we approached the film's casting director georgia, who was based in belfast, and she agreed to cast the film. georgia found 99% of the key cast with some great actors. all very exciting, but there was one missing, the 16year old sinead. it seemed that sinead was going to be hard to find so i went back to belfast and susie arranged an open casting. susie put out a call to extras ni and the local press and radio and we waited in the a hotel's conference room with a cameraman. somewhere in the blur of that day orlaith walked in. she was 15 at the time and a bit nervous. she had just signed up with extras ni but hadn't done anything yet. she came to the casting for the part of the sinead or girlfriend but i was pretty sure that she could play the lead part of sinead. we had found our lead.
shoot • russell structured a 6 day shoot or was it 8? no, it was definitely 6. whatever it was it had to be enough time. given the amount of money, my ambition and the fact that the crew and actors where doing it for love it was amazing to get the 6 days shooting. i settled into the parador inn on the ormeau road in belfast and peter (the manager) gave me his best room; things were looking up.
our plans were hatched. some of the crew were driving over from london with art department , wardrobe, camera equipmet and lights and the rest would fly. we had set up camp and the cast were getting ready; it was all coming together by force of will and a few quid.
the shoot was a bit of a blur, but we got most of what we wanted. the next phase (post production) took along time. i thought i had a pretty tight plan, straight into an edit and the rest would all fall into place, but things transpired to slow me down.
pick up shoot day • the shoot was fast and furious and there were a few things we (well me really) missed, so when we got back to london russell made a cunning plan to try and get the final few shots in a day; the market selling t-shirts, the pub interiors and tv, the opening title sequence, the xmas calander, the budgie close ups... these were shot in london and in a spare room at partizan's office.
shooting in rome • as luck would have it paddy, our location manager in belfast, was going to the vatican city in rome to work on a documentary he was producing. he suggested that he could go to vatican city with a camera and get a few shots for us, which he did. another good result.
shooting the news • aidan had very generously agreed to be in the film. fortunately for us he has his own studio/camera set up where he teaches potential newsreaders the dark art of paper shuffling, eye contact, sincerity and apolitical tones, etc. susie arranged to go with neal and ross to film aidan against his green screen and then we later superimposed him into a flashy newsroom. this was then composited into the blank tv screens in the pub by our top on line editor jon at his post production company, raised by wolves.
editing • the post production on a film was always going to be a time consuming business, especially when you ask big favours of people who are also trying to earn a living, so i expected this phase of the film to take a while, maybe not the year and a half it took but i knew it would take patience. to my surprise we started the off-line edit pretty quickly with phil at stitch but then we ran into xmas and holidays and before i knew it, it was the summer. russell and i talked it through with phil and decided to move the project as he was getting too busy to be able to comit, after a bit of a search ben at the whitehouse came to the rescue and with in a couple of weeks he had completed the edit of the film. there was a lot of nips and tucks to do but the basic structure was in place and i could share it with the rest of the post team.
music • i imported the film into final cut pro on my home computer and started fine tuning the edit, showing it to family and friends to get feed back and then recutting it as and when i could. it was at this point that i started researching the music, i found a few tracks i liked and put them to the film to see how they worked, 'christmas time in ireland' created the kind of juxtaposition i was looking for, the idealised notion of family at christmas from the track and the conflict in the films narrative. for the second song i used the godfather theme tune and this played out over the arrival of the popes roman emmisary to west belfast, this instantly created a whimsical tension between the actors which made the scene funnier. overall i wanted the music to develop from a traditional celtic, mythical, vision of ireland to a more progressive modern sound, the starting point in my mind was enya meets lord of the rings at one end of the spectrum and progressive folk at the other. i found a great track by dougie maclean called 'ready for the storm', i liked it because its lyrics really summed up the end of the film and fitted perfectly into the idea of someone who was ready to move on. i met olivia (music producer) from adelphoi music a few months after the shoot and she agreed to see if one of her composers would be interested in scoring the film, we watched the rough cut of the film with my music references as place holders, but in my mind i had already fallen for both 'christmas time in ireland' and 'ready for the storm' and the godfather theme tune. when, as you might have guessed, the god father theme tune turned out to be too expensive. olivia introduced me to ashley the composer and he agreed to score the rest of the film. This took quiet a while as he had a life and a pregnant wife but the wait was worth it.
compositing • titles • versions • grading • trailer • in the meanwhile jon and rosie and vic and gin at raised by wolves had been polishing this rough diamond until it shone so brightly i could hardly look at it, its amazing to watch crafted people give their time and skill to make you look good.
poster • just in case the film is a raving success i though it might be prudent to make a poster to help publicise the film, it was difficult to choose a single image that sums up the film, i wanted it to be intruging and to set up the context and convey the films tone and arouse one's curiosity all at the same time, all in one frame; who is she, where is she, what is this film about? so here it is.
festivals • so we finally get it all done and find out that we are only half way there, we have to start getting the film an audience, some recognition on to a screen somewhere, otherwise what's the point. so we are just starting to submit the film to festivals, there are hundreds of them and its a bit of a minefield, i selected some and fortunately madeleine at partizan asked sydney and jack if they could oversee the submissions, so here we are, waiting for 'the immaculate misconception' to be on the big screen. fingers crossed.
website • i had seen a few websites for films and thought i'd better ask around and see if anyone would create one for me, but i think i had broken the favour bank quiet a while ago, so i decided to give it a go myself. i must admit creating this website was a first for me, and it took a while, being dyslexic, and a bit ocd when it comes to the detail and layout. with all the information i needed spread amoungst the crew and on different harddrives etc, etc, it has been a real undertaking. so here it is, i'll try and update this site with all the pertinent news as i'm sure 'the immaculate misconception' adventure isn't over yet.