Some of Northern Ireland’s hottest creative film talents tell Sarah Cooper about their latest projects.
Derry-born Fingleton is about to go into prep on his first feature, The Survivalist, a dystopian thriller about a man living on a remote farm who strikes an uneasy bargain with a mother and daughter looking for shelter after society has collapsed.
The Survivalist topped the Brit List of best unproduced scripts in 2013 and also made it onto the US equivalent Black List before being picked up by Robert Jones and Wayne Marc Godfrey at The Fyzz Facility. Godfrey describes Fingleton, who has also directed short film Magpie as a precursor to The Survivalist, as “a real talent with a uniquely distinctive voice”.
Developed through Northern Ireland Screen’s New Talent Focus scheme, with funding from the BFI, Fingleton describes the project as “very much Take Shelter territory about male isolation, prophecy and higher values than simply surviving”.
The talented director, who was chosen as a Screen International Star of Tomorrow in 2013, is also working on a science fiction/horror feature with Scott Free Productions, about a group of people trapped in a hospital as the city comes under the influence of a malevolent force. Also in development is a script for Working Title about an investigator who uncovers a scandal that reaches to the heart of the establishment, which Fingleton calls a “London Chinatown”.
Having recently moved back to his native Northern Ireland from London, Fingleton has been impressed by the “small but very high calibre film-making community in Belfast”, backed up by “regional financiers very much focused on bringing the industry to Northern Ireland and creating film-makers who can be supported by the market”.
With major composing credits to his name including Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 and Haywire, David Holmes turned his hand to directing, completing his first short I Am Here through Canderblinks, the Belfast-based production company he set up with local directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn (Good Vibrations) and producer Chris Martin.
Part funded by Channel 4 with backing from Northern Ireland Screen, the BFI and the Irish Tourist Board, I Am Here — a homage to Holmes’ brother who died in 2013 — stars Edward Hogg and Liam Cunningham, alongside newcomer Corey McKinley. It was shot by acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle among the disused farmyards of County Fermanagh.
Holmes, a musician and DJ, has also produced and composed the score for Mark Cousins’ I Am Belfast.
Meanwhile Barros D’Sa and Leyburn also have several projects in development for Canderblinks including The Corpse Carriers (working title), set during the plague in 17th-century Venice and Canderblinks (the same name as
the company), about two sisters who receive a visit from their childhood imaginary friend.
Holmes moved to Los Angeles for 18 months but has since returned to his native Belfast. He says: “Belfast is a really exciting place to be right now and there are so many opportunities. It really suits me living in Europe. I have access to everywhere. I’ve got a great studio, I can be in London in under an hour and in Paris in an hour and 15 minutes.”
Gareth Gray and Jonny Kane
Gaming and transmedia, Iglu Media
Former law student Gareth Gray and former Northern Ireland Screen executive Jonny Kane set up their transmedia company Iglu Media in January 2012 when they won backing from Northern Ireland Screen’s Game for Film scheme to create a game based on Jon Wright’s Grabbers.
The company has since created game versions for Canadian feature Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal, Ripple World Picture’s Earthbound and Midsummer Films’ Legendary starring Dolph Lundgren, with more projects in negotiation.
The pair are looking to create their own Belfast-based studio, bringing the design of their games in-house, with plans for three full-time staff by the end of this year. “It’s a growing industry. The universities are churning out artists and programmers, the workforce is there, and there are companies like ours going out and bringing the work in,” says Gray, who focuses on project management and game design, while Kane specialises in rights and finance.
“A game is not just a marketing tool, it can also add to the story and increase the value of the property as a whole. For the same cost you wouldn’t be able to afford posters on the Tube,” Gray adds.
Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin
Director and producer, Six Mile Hill
Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin set up Six Mile Hill to make short horror film The Boys From County Hell, written and directed by Baugh, which shot in Northern Ireland in 2012. After taking the film onto the festival circuit, where it won best Irish short at Kerry Film Festival, the pair are now heading into production on a feature version, having brought Dublin-based company Bl!nder Films on board as a co-production partner.
Baugh, who worked as a development producer at Belfast’s Sixteen South, describes the darkly comic film as a cross between The Guard and Dog Soldiers. The story centres around a small town in Northern Ireland that is said to have been the real inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Working primarily with local Northern Irish writers, the duo now have at least six projects on their slate, across film and TV, with plans to make at least one feature a year. “We want to make elevated genre, with strong characters and good scripts,” says Baugh, who also directed a one-off Halloween drama for BBC Northern Ireland last year, Stumpy’s Brae, which was nominated for a Celtic Media Award, with backing from Northern Ireland Screen’s Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.
“In the past, people thought Northern Ireland only had certain stories to tell. Our plan is to open up more commercially minded work — stories from here, based here but with universal appeal,” says Mullin, who worked in development at Mammoth Screen before setting up Six Mile Hill.
Michael McCartney and John Cairns
Belfast-based writers Michael McCartney and John Cairns caught the attention of London producer Robert Jones when their quirky script A Patch Of Fog won Northern Ireland Screen’s New Talent Focus Competition, aimed at encouraging Northern Irish screenwriting talent.
Jones is now producing the film, which centres around a university lecturer who is blackmailed into becoming best friends with a security guard after he is caught shoplifting. Described by McCartney as “The Cable Guy meets Misery meets Sleuth”, the comic psycho-drama, which is backed by the BFI, Film 4 and Northern Ireland Screen, is being directed by Northern Irish film-maker and NFTS graduate Michael Lennox, whose short filmBack Of Beyond was in competition at Locarno Film Festival in 2012 and was nominated for a European Film Award.
Jones is also working with McCartney and Cairns — who have been writing together for six years — on their thriller Sterile and an homage to the portmanteau horror films of the 1970s, The Men In White Coats, which is at the treatment stage and has secured BFI development funding.
“We grew up when the only films made here were about the Troubles; now there are lots of people who are making genre films. It’s a very hopeful time here,” says Cairns.
Paul Kennedy, Louise Gallagher and Stuart Graham
Writer-director, producers, KGB Films
The first feature from Belfast-based production company KGB Films is Made In Belfast, a micro-budget comedy about a novelist living in Paris who returns to his native Northern Ireland to build bridges with friends and family whose secrets he exposed in a novel.
Written and directed by Paul Kennedy, the film is inspired by “French cinema of the last two decades”. Shot in Northern Ireland and Paris in July 2012, the film opened Belfast Film Festival in 2013 before being picked up by sales agent Robbie Little at The Little Film Company.
Kennedy and producers Louise Gallagher and Stuart Graham now have a number of projects on the KGB slate — thanks to investment from Northern Ireland Screen — including a pilot for a horror film written by novelist Stuart Neville and a new script written by Kennedy.
“There wasn’t a long-term plan but after we made the movie we had so much fun, we saw we could turn it into our day jobs,” says Gallagher, formerly of the BBC.