This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 159: Director Michael Lennox Talks About His New Thriller, A Patch of Fog.
Ashley: Welcome to episode #159 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing director, Michael Lennox, about his early days shooting short films in Ireland. And how that eventually lead to his most recent feature film. A really excellent drama thriller called, “A Patch of Fog.” So, stay tuned for that.
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So, now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing Director, Michael Lennox. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Michael to, the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Michael: Not a problem, thank you very much for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you could give us a quick overview of your background? Kinda, where did you grow-up, and how did you get involved in the entertainment industry?
Michael: I think I grew-up Belfast Ireland. And I got into film sort of in my early 20’s. It happened almost by accident. But it wasn’t very good, at skill, I wasn’t very good at it, or at anything else. And it was through a film festival called, “Cinamagic” it was a bunch of filmmakers from England. And came over to Belfast. The one thing, that was the first time I met anyone who actually liked what they did. In terms of what they did for a living, in terms of the job. I always loved films, so I always, as sort of I slept in, sort of got the bug.
And from there it did, I started to name my own films. No, locally on my own, for no budget. Then I got in with the local screen agency, “North Ireland Screen.” Funded my first and second short film. And then a bigger break for me is, I went to a really good film school in London. A few years ago. It was called, “The Master Film and Television School” to study acting. And then
“Ida Film School” “Ida Film School” I met Robert Jones. Who produced, “Patch of Fog.” And it gave me the opportunity to have a go at my first feature film.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. So, let’s talk about some of those short films. And just kinda dig into those specifics. I recommend short films to a lot of screenwriters. Whether they direct it themselves. Or whether they find a director to work with. Maybe you can talk about some of those early short films, you just mentioned. You know, practically no budget. And then I guess getting into some sort of a film society, to get produced. How did you do those first ones? Where did you get the money, or even in the know how? I mean, did you literally just start and write a script and shoot it on whatever cam-quarter you had available? Maybe talk about that very first film content you did?
Michael: Absolutely. The one thing you just mentioned, 30 seconds ago, was a budget get along for short films. I love short films. I think that, and they’re really difficult things to do right, but they are the sort of the training grounds especially for me. Where I made a general miters, and a massive amount of mistakes. And just afford to continue. And a lot of people think short films are a stepping stone to feature films. Which in one hand I agree with them 100%. But, I think they’re, are their own form, an art form. And I plan on making many more. But, about 8-9 years ago. Eventually it was, I bought a camera on EBay, for around $200 pounds. And then started to make my own films. And it was complete trial and error. And it was, you know, it was with friends. And from doing that. And I managed to get into this short film scene,
“The Northern Ireland Screen Run.” Which is, they parent experience producer, was sort of new to filmmakers. And I was lucky enough to get funding from being from short film. I did called, “Rip and the Preacher” Which they give us the equivalent of $15,000.00 to do that short film. Which is first hand we could pay the crew. And from there, from doing that film, I think, I was did it quite successfully from their point of view. I was able to get more funding from and follow up, for follow up short films.
Ashley: Okay, now just to get a sense of the scope, how many of these super-self-funded short films did you do before you got into this film society?
Michael: I did, I had to do 30-40 of them. And they all came in different forms. As a student, I had a job for Coke A Cola in Northern Ireland. And we had to go out to these events, and basically I’d give out free coke to the people of Northern Ireland. Basically, and we had the film record these events. And I was the sort of only person with a camera. So basically, that was my training ground of filming of people giving out coke. But it really taught me really, how to tell simple stories and in terms of how to add it. And I mentioned earlier Cinemagic, young people’s film festival. I got very involved with community short films and around Belfast. There was a chance where we could get a film in three days. We made a film in five days in a week. And it really was crossing a genre. And you know, action/comedy, and we did horror films, we did films about the city, even films about documentary. And some of them were absolutely terrible films. But, I think, when you do that many, and you think back.
And you think back and that’s when you start to realize certain things. And that you’re actually doing right, and understanding why things go wrong. And also what sort of stuff do we do personally as fulfillment. I think for me, you can only find that out by making lots of stuff.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And so, now these Coke-a-Cola events that you were filming? Had someone told you to film them. Or just your own initiative, you just started filming them together. That wasn’t part of your official job?
Michael: No, it wasn’t part of my official job at all. They just had a terrible camera. Which today, everyone knows it. And no one likes to be on camera. And those who know a kid video. Inevitably be a pointless exercise in giving someone a mystery Coke. So, I just one day decide I’m going to bring my camera. And I’m actually going to shoot I think, that shot. I shot about 3 yards. The people came back, and said, “What’s this guy do?” And a thing from there, I sort of labeled as the guy, I actually quite enjoyed it, this stuff. And I think from there I bought a PC Notebook. A computer from the earnings of coke and I started to edit it, a few things together. And eventually year or two down the line, I convinced them to give me a bit of money to do it. A few more promotional videos. Which went to health and safety videos that were made at the Coke-a-Cola plant. So basically, I was coming to get my hands on and beginning to make stuff and learn.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Okay, so let’s talk about this film society. You’re using a word I’m not familiar with? You’re saying, like, “Film Scheme” or something? What exactly, maybe you could describe what this is? I don’t think in the United States we have these sorts of set-ups quite the same way?
Michael: yeah, no. That’s defined, it’s a really, really, fortunate agreement thing that the sort of general you take yeah, a part of you, can you do it? So, there’s an organized army of funding body of Northern Ireland Screen. They could make up 20% of funding of big budgets. They are a part of big shows like, you know, “Game of Thrones” for example is one of the big show. So basically, it’s for new filmmakers. Which is sort of new film makers first time show, or film directors. And they write this scheme called, “Little Shorts.” Which is basically we met up on a Saturday for four or five months. We developed, you know, a script together. I think the end of the process 15-20 people, they commissioned four short films, to go with a small budget we made. You know, I was lucky enough to be a part of that group. It was sort of my first attempt. With a, sort of a, with a proper crew to work with. And to be able to pay people. Or do stuff with a sort of slightly more complex, general production level.
Ashley: Yeah. And maybe then this is not something you would necessarily know? But, do other European countries have similar set-ups? With these, a film commissions?
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I think so, every country is very different. Like I have friends in Austria. I have a high school filmmaker friend in Austria. He must be given lots of money, it’s a massive amount of money. To do these sorts of crazy art heist. Those are things that I guess those are European, it’s a European thing. Because it’s important to invest in. And short films and sort of Eastville nickers.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s talk about, what were you doing with some of these short films once you got and started to get some funding. And started to get a little bit of budget. Were you submitting them to film festivals? How did you take that next leap? I notice on your IMDb page, Boogaloo & Graham. Like you got an Academy Award nomination. Take us through that process. As your career kind of moving along. How did you get to that stage? Where you’re even getting in contention for an Academy Award Nomination.
Michael: Yes, I knew, I mean, short films with Northern Ireland Screen. And then I moved to London, and I went to film school. Where I studied directing, where I made 4 or 5 short films. I came out of film school. I was actually attached to possibly direct. It was a children’s Christmas film. But on my reel, a lot of my short films it would be very dark and serious. And I’d never done comedy before. So, Northern Ireland Screen gave me a bit of money, and I got some private finance, and we made “Boogaloo & Graham.” Which is sort of a comedy by chickens in Northern Ireland in the 70’s. So, this was in 2015. And yeah, I made that film. I had no expectations it would travel like it had. But, when we finished “Boogaloo & Graham” so it sort of took on a life of it’s own. And we launched it at Toronto Film Festival. And a couple of months later we find ourselves in the running for a Bathtune and an Oscar. So, sort of the short film gods were on our side for that.
Ashley: Yeah, had you, did you have some other films before that. That had gotten into the Toronto Film Festival.
Michael: No, the first big fad, I had done Rip and the Preacher which turned, which had gone to a few film festivals in the U.K. And I made a short film in film school called,
“Back at the Odds.” Which it went to “La Carnival Film Festival. And it screen quite a few film festivals, toured America. But, “Boogaloo & Graham” sort of a first short film sort of attacked the bigger film festivals. Which screened in Toronto and Berlin.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So you, on your IMDb page you have a couple of credits directing TV episodes. Maybe you can talk about how you sort of how you got those gigs? You know, in this, in Hollywood it just seems like. You get to a certain level, and then at some point you get an agent and manager. And that’s sort of how you get into sort of the studio systems, sort of directing TV shows, and that kind of stuff. At some point did you get an agent? But, even taking a step back, how did you get those gigs, directing those TV episodes.
Michael: Yeah so, that. The first step in getting those. Getting an agent, I got an agent, in London. When I was at film school. I have to be honest, when I came out of film school, nothing happened, until a year, or two years. Like I came back from London, here to Belfast. And I had to do here more corporate videos to pay-off my film school fees. But it was where I got attached. Luckily to my, I see my first feature film, you know, “A Patch of Fog.” And because of “A Patch of Fog, were I could prove I could direct the story of 90 minutes. I think that was the key calling card for the TV guys. When I finished A Patch of Fog. Just by nature of the 90 minutes. My agent was able to get me a job on the crime show, “The Endeavor.” Which is the British equivalent of “Columbo.” Which is an ID image a little TV episode. Later this year, I’ll be doing another series for channel 4. So, it was the longer form, which really sort of broke the back. I think, not to ramble on here. But the TV game was fun and extremely hard.
They try and break in the door. Even though people were like, you done it, a successful short film, we love all your work. But can you do, the longer form, and can you tell a story over 30 minutes? And trusting to be a massive thing to the benefit of the feature enabled me to. And how did you know a good calling card to get into the television view.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s dig into “A Patch of Fog.” To start out, maybe you can give just a quick pitch or a log-line, on what that film is all about?
Michael: This here, “A Patch of Fog” is about a compulsive shop lifter. He’s blackmailed by a lowly security guard. For a, not personal/financial deal. But, all he wants is a friend.
Ashley: Yeah okay. That’s a good summation. How did you get involved in this project? Maybe just take us back to those early steps. On how did you get the script? And ultimately get attached as a director?
Michael: Well it’s all on a big, big, big, up in Northern Ireland Screen here. Because they run a scheme called, “New Talent Focus.” Which is basically for first time directors to make a feature film. So basically, John and I go and write, “A Patch of Fog.” And they attached a producer called, Robert Jones, brilliant new British producer. He was one of the producers on
“Usual Suspects.” And basically they were looking for an Irish director. And my name was thrown. And I had just finished being a year at film school. And my name was thrown into the pile. So, Robert Jones now interviewed me for the job. So, I would have bitten his arm off for it, you know, work with him. And it’s also, “A Patch of Fog.” I’m a big fan of these sort of body movies, they’re thriller movies, such as “Misery” “Single White Female.” This is sort of,
“A Patch of Fog” was this sort of strange twist on that, on that genre. That’s sort of what attracted me to that story in the script. And you know, very excited to direct that as my first feature.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And so, I always like to just get a sense of sort of the scope of someone. What they are working on, and what else. And I think you know, a big part of success in this industry is? Also having some false starts and failures. And I’m curious were there some other scripts that you got attached to that for whatever reason? Didn’t actually take off. Were you working on multiple projects? Were there feature films that you were developing?
Michael: Yeah, I’m always developing new feature films. And myself, so I work a lot with the writer – Roman Blaney, he wrote Boogaloo & Graham. We had a film we were trying to push new artists, film schools and everything, which was going nowhere. In fact, the reason for Boogaloo & Graham came into existence. I was attached to direct, I mentioned earlier, a children’s Christmas film. I needed to do Boogaloo as an example that I could direct comedy. But, on the first day of production, Boogaloo, they didn’t call them basically said, “You’re fired from the project.” For no apparent reason. So, I still left to make the project a short film. A sort of original Grant Karma, it served it’s purpose. So, up until “A Patch of Fog.” We hadn’t know it was a continual, it was a continual search to get funding. Part of it, you’re trying to get a producer attached to your script. But, having a producer attached to your film script. Doesn’t necessarily mean that the films know that they’re going to get made. That’s why the sort of new talent scheme was of a massive benefit. Because they put in the funding first.
And a chunk of money. Which is sort of done after that, which is a big risk. The big risk is, who’s in first? I with Gus, and Robert Jones, his track record. Whereas the rest of the financial it has been, I know it has been through a lot of an uphill struggle to get the phone across the line.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, you mention that you had this really good producer on
“A Patch of Fog.” And that was definitely one of the components that made you want to do this script to do this movie.
Michael: Yep, he was the insurance policy as I call it. Because it was the first time. But, as these three crazy writers from Belfast. And me, did you know that in charge of the budget so we needed a sort of, we needed a producer. In terms of cast, and trying to attract bigger finance. We needed someone with a track record, to sort of vouch for me.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Now, were there some specific things about the script, when you read the script. That also attracted you to the project. And really what I’m sort of diving into just some general things when you read scripts. Maybe there’s some tips you can give the writers from the directors perspective. Somethings that you see in scripts that you really like. And again, maybe we can apply it specifically to “A Patch of Fog.”
Michael: I think specifics, specifically for “A Patch of Fog.” Okay, here we have this shop-lifter and he gets caught. And he’s going to be blackmailed. And sort of rough for, you know what I mean? Is it for money, is it some strange fantasy. Is it something new, all he wants is a best mate. A very human thing from this lowly guard. So, it was this sort of, I don’t know? Patch, it was sort of this unique concept of, it was the unique character. And he was a security guard. And that sort of and I got this sort of twist in the end. The church of the told story, it sort of grew on me. Of what type of person this would be. So, for me and scripts, it’s the premise, and then it’s the main characters, and what do they want? It was sort of, you know, what attracts me, attracts me to your project. I’m also very interested in extreme characters, people who don’t fit, you know, the norm. And so, Robert, he played the Security Guard, Patch of Fog. You know it’s played by Stephen Graham. He’s just a really quirky guy, and you know, socially. And he’s no liked, he’s not liked by the people of his work. But, he has a sort of different set of smarts you can tell, like smarts, sound place to shop. Shop lifters are sort of the extremes, not the norm people. With sort of the catch my eye, you know, for some reason?
Ashley: And then on the flip side of that, is there some things when you read scripts that you see screenwriters make mistakes. Just some common problems that you run into scripts. In which gives you cause, a real cause for concern when you’re reading a script.
Michael: Yeah, I think part of that the problem is, the thing is, the screenplays. You know what I mean? Sort of in the act of actual screenplay, then that to be seen on the screens. Some scripts read very well, you know, on the page. But, what I’m sort of looking for, is when writers write the same thing. You can sort of see the potential on the page, you know, for the screen. And a lot of the time when I’m working on a script. And these are my own script. Just like these sequences are on screen. They don’t seem interesting enough, do you know what I mean? They don’t seem bold enough. Ultimately we’re watching what is it visually. You know you can make this interesting from the scenes. Since you know from the premise.
So, something from like I’ll tend to struggle with. And I search when I read screenplays. It’s ultimately trying to always think this is going to appear original on the screen. And think of the scenes and think of the scenes sometimes of the images, and I know that. As the directors ultimately enjoy the actors job. But I think when I writer can be in tuned with visual writing. He can hatch the amount of imagination, and that’s what I’m looking for.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s just talk a minute about a, you mention these great actors,
Steven Graham, and Conleth Hill you had in this movie. At what stage did they come on board? And maybe you can just talk a little bit about how they got attached?
Michael: Well, actually we went through a long casting process. Which basically is when you have a low-budget. So, naturally they are cast, sort of help everyone to seals. Know where the film is going to be seen. So, we spent quite a while and trying to get to a high-level cast. We got some interest. But, that merely didn’t so, that didn’t materialize. So, it was a few months before. And Steven Graham was all, he was one of my favorite actors. He one of the few actors in the U.K. and he just. A couple of weeks before filming, we had auditioned some guy? And I just wasn’t sure, specifically if he nailed it? It was coming up to the wire, and it was one of those gifts. Steven Graham became free. And the casting director said, “Can we send for Steven?” And I didn’t hope for everything. But, Steven read about that daily. We spent a week with him on the phone. He was joyous, I would love to play this, I’d love to play this. I’d love to play this character. And that’s how Steven got involved. Conleth is, he’s a big actor over here. You know him from “Lord Virus” and from “Game of Thrones” He’s always an actor I admired and locally. It was a dream he became involved. And he’s sort of not the conventional leading man. I think that’s sort of his potential. He’s going to lerk, and look, and play it again. It’s the sort of normal type one may have for, and this character. That’s what’s sort of interesting. And is the budding relationships on screen.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, do you know what the release schedule is going to be for
“A Patch of Fog?” How can people see it?
Michael: So, we had a limited release, you know, in the U.K. and then we moved over the next, at the end of January, at a specific date it will go off on a number of ONDEMAND platforms, and ITunes, it will eventually do it, and end up on NetFlix.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. And I just like to wrap-up the interviews, by asking the guest how people can follow along with what you’re doing. If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, a blog, website, anything you’re comfortable sharing. You could give us that now, and we’ll round it up and link to it in the show notes as well.
Michael: Absolutely, I’m on Facebook, it’s just www.facebook.com/michaellennox. And on Twitter, it is MichaelCarsonLennox. So, I’m on that quite a bit, so easily contactable.
Ashley: Perfect. Michael, I really appreciate it, good luck with this excellent film, I really wish you luck with it.
Michael: No problem, thanks very much for it. And for listening to me ramble on.
Ashley: No, it was very interesting, yeah, very interesting, thank you Michael. We’ll talk to ya later.
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On the next episode of the Podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Screenwriter and Director, Alexander Babaev, he just did a film called, “The Bornless Ones.”
We talk through his early days as a student, as a film student. And how that eventually led to his first feature film. Which as I said, he wrote and directed. So, as I said, keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up, I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Michael. One of the biggest things that I feel that new writers don’t quite understand is? The amount of effort that it takes to make it in this business. You know, I get a lot of Emails from writers. They have written one, two, maybe three scripts. You know, they’ve submitted to a few contests, and they’re kinda like, oh, gee what should I do next? And then they kinda think that is the amount of effort it takes to break into this business. Really listen to what Michael just said. And I think it was just so telling. You know, he said, he did like 30-40 short films on his own. With no budget, he just shot it on his own. 30 or 40 short films. I’m sure it took him a couple of years to do that. But the bottom line is, he was just making a ton of short films. Before he got into this film society that he was talking about. So, you know, that’s a lot of leg work. And again, that’s just a lot of effort he was out there putting in. He was also out there doing short videos through his job. Even though, he knew his job wasn’t officially shooting videos. I think that’s worth listening to. I wonder how many people listen to this Podcast, have a 9-5 job? Where they could potentially do something like that? I mean, maybe there’s a Christmas party that you could just shoot. And edit and turn into a video. Something, some event at your company that you could go to your manager, or boss, and just say, “Hey, could I bring my video camera, could I shoot this? Maybe they’re ways of just starting to implement story telling into your regular 9-5 job. And getting this actual production experience is such a great relevant experience for you as a screenwriter. Helps you as a writer, helps you as a story teller. I can tell my own writing has gotten a lot been better. This process through, “The Pinch.” I mean, I’ve been doing this for many, many years as a screenwriter. I’ve written and sold and have had many of my scripts. Produced. But, going through the process as a director and as a producer is really just a totally different experience. And I can tell I’m lacking a lot of that sort of practical production experience, you know, that Michael had. And watching and seeing it. His film is really excellent, I mean really well done. And I’m sitting here wondering how can I get a lot more practical production experience, if I want to continue to be a writer/director. I need to get that experience as quickly as possible. And I’m thinking, maybe I should go out and do shorts? Maybe I should just keep turning out these low-budget features? Just to try and get that experience. But, the bottom line is, we all need that practical production experience. It’s just so helpful at as a writer. And next week’s interview with Alexander Babaev, he is another prime example of exactly what I am talking about. He worked on just tons of his friends were doing shorts and he would just work on a short as a First AD. I mean, not even a Writer/Director or anything else. He was just out there doing production stuff. He did a bunch of shorts on his own. And that’s kind of how it all led to a the feature film. And again, I’m going to talk to him next week. And it’s again, it’s a really well shot, and well produced film. You can see in his film, sort of the years of experience that he has. And the script is good as well. So, just having that practical production experience I think it can really inform your writing. And it can help you sort of visualize things. And help you understand how things fit together, and what things are difficult to shoot. What things simply can’t be shot. You know there’s a lot of parts to them. “The Pinch” when I originally wrote it, it had to be modified. And that’s just part of the practical aspects of film production.
And, you can’t always shoot things. Understanding that, and going through that process is just so important and it can make you a better writer and can help you get your vision onto the screen. I mean, as a writer, if you write something that can’t be shot, or can’t be shot easily, or can’t be shot on the budget that the producer has. If you don’t understand that than someone else has to make those changes. Someone else has to re-write those pages. And a lot of times it’s on the fly, it’s as shooting. You know they can’t quite as much coverage as they need to make your scene work. And if you understand that, you can write these things in a concise manner. Understand what’s going to be difficult and that can sort of rely on you as the writer. As opposed to just writing a script and letting other people, the line producer, you know, the First AD and everybody else sort of taking wacks at it. Because it’s not shoot-able for them at the budget they have.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.