This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 190: Director Brendan Muldowney Talks About His New 13th Century Irish Adventure Film, Pilgrimage.
Ashley: Welcome to episode #190 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m
Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and Blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing Writer/Director, Brendan Muldowney. Who recently did a film called, “Pilgrimage.” Which is an adventure film that takes place in 13th Century Ireland. We talk about this new film, but we also talk through his entire career, including how he broke into the business. So, stay tuned for that interview.
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So, now let’s get into the main segment, which is an interview with Brendon Muldowney. A quick note about today’s interview, I’ve been trying to improve the audio quality of my Podcasts? And I’ve talked about that a little bit on the Podcast. The first ten minutes of this Podcast are a little rough. We got cut off and was then able to call him back on in another way. And the connection got a lot better. So, just bare with it for the first 10 minutes. And then as I said, the quality will get about 10 times better. Anyway, here is the interview. Again, it’s an interview with Irish film maker Brendan Muldowney, here it is.
Ashley: Welcome Brendon to, the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today.
Brendan: Yeah, thank you very much, it’s nice to be here.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up, and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Brendan: I grew-up in Dublin, and how I got interested was? You know, I was always interested in stories, even in school. When in English class when people would ask, and when the teacher would ask for it, an essay, 2-page essay. I would come back with an 8-page essay. And I also, it’s interesting, I at early stage, I remember watching. We would stay up late watching horror films. After we hit, myself and my brother, and we watched, it was, “House of Horrors” TV series. And we watched an episode called “The 2 Faces of Able” and it terrified us. And it was more or less the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” it was a version of that. And but, it terrified us. And then after that, we went another layer we watched films. And I remember when we had babysitters, there sitting down and watching through the crack in the door, you know, watching old horror films and stuff. And I also remember it, when films were on TV, and of course we weren’t allowed to watch it. And I’m coming to school. And I had a friend who, then tell me then in very, very, intricate detail. He would tell me the story from start to finish. And it was just better in my mind, really then, what the actual program was. And so it really, something was sparking there. I think it always, my mother was read books, and got us into books. I saw “Star Wars” at the age of 7. And that obviously, blows a 7-year old’s mind. And then when I was a little younger, there was a TV edge thing on BBC 2, it was called, “Moviedrome.” And it was presented by the film director, Alex Cox, and it was every week he presented probably what he called, a cult movie. And how he described it, a cult movie was? Always had, they always had 2 genres. There was a genre and there was spliced. So, I saw things from, “The Wickerman” “Don’t Look Now” “Terminator 2” there was so many, “Ace in the Hole.” So, many really good films that I saw, that were, that I started to realize. That there was something else going on here with film making that it wasn’t just all entertainment. At least, far more interesting things to be said about the world. And I never thought I could get into film making. And I went to London, thinking I would get into some production studios, or something. I ended up picture framing, and I was, my mother, who knew I was sort of a bit lost there. And she applied for a communications course. Which is basically like a portfolio basic course, before you get into film school. And so, I came back and I did, that and then, I didn’t get into film school. I went out for a week. And I didn’t get in, I was on the waiting list. And I went out for a whole week, every day, asking to talk to the, you know, “the Boss” of the film school. And by the end of the week, I got in. So, that’s how that happened.
Ashley: Huh? Just pure persistence. So, then let’s talk about.
Brendan: Persistence, yeah.
Ashley: Let’s talk about kind of, so that, you’re now going through film school. And then what were your first steps? To actually turn this into a professional career?
Brendan: Well, film school, pretty well set-up for that. And what film school really did was? Opened up my mind to even more types of films that were out there. Like I started to really see working films. You know, that was a very, interesting for me. I thought that was fantastic. And I specialized in cinematography. I’m sorry, I specialized in direction. But you had to have a secondary craft. So, what I chose was cinematography. So, that was, important because it helps and you know, as you go forward. But, it’s very hard, and it’s very hard when you leave film school, you can be sort of like, everyone takes a different route.
I decided that for me, I didn’t mean to say, Assistant Directing, or assistant editing, at the time assistant editors, you’re still in film. And I decided what I really, really, needed to focus on, was writing. And to understand story-telling, from the bottom up. And you know, there was no real sort of school for that. You have to read a lot, you’ve got to write a hell of a lot! And that’s sort of what I did. I you know, what I applied for funding, every kind of funding scheme that was in Ireland. At the time I applied for. And then I met people who college with me up and down like I did. And then just said, there is no point, you won’t get it. But, I decided it was like, you had to apply, and keep applying, as long as you apply. And again, it’s persistence. And every year I would apply, maybe 5 scripts, to every funding scheme. And the ones I’d heard someone saying, you’re not success, until you can wall paper your room, with all your rejection letters. And so, I keep all my rejection letters, you keep them all as badges of honor.
Ashley: So, let’s talk about your latest film, “Pilgrimage.” Maybe to start out you can give me a quick overview of that film? Kind of just tell us what it’s all about?
Brendan: Sure, it’s set in 13th Century Ireland. And it’s about a group of monks, and monastery that live on the West Coast of Ireland. And an envoy for Rome comes. And asks for a relic that they hold. They’ve held this relic from many years. And they believe it has super-natural powers. And he wants it, and Rome wants it, for use in their crusade. And they have to travel across Ireland to get to Waterford, to bring it to Rome. And this is an Island that is in the throws of “The Norman Invasion.” Which has been going on for 50 years. But, you know, it’s a slow process obviously. Well the Norman’s were slowly taking over the island at the time.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Maybe you can just kind of tell us, just how you got involved in this project? It’s not something that you wrote. But you directed it. So, how did you initially get the script and kind of get involved with it, and everything?
Brendan: Well, we knew the writer, and he put us in touch with the producer. And there were flat rates. And he came to me one day. And he had a pitch, which was, monks in the 13th Century Ireland dragging a relic across country, and they get ambushed. And there was a couple of things that, or are a couple of things that attracted me. One was, that this period in Irish history that has never really been explored in cinema before, or Irish cinema anyway. And I really liked the religious themes. I felt there was going to be some drama, interesting, you know, obviously, anytime when you discuss religion it’s going to be interesting. And I felt the location, I felt the Irish locations, were going to be spectacular. The very city, very flippent attraction. But, I really, really, felt that the production design nearly up there in locations would be amazing. And the ambush, he said, there was going to be an ambush. And I said, “Okay” there’s going to be some action, it’s going to be exciting, and that was it. And that’s what hooked me.
Ashley: So, you just said, that they brought and you used the term, “We.” But, there is a group of you? Who is this “We” that this fellow brought, this script to? Who is your group of people?
Brendan: Oh, okay well, I was in film school. And I had met my producing partner in film school. And we started a company together, we made my first feature together. We made the second feature, with another company. But we both worked with it, produced it. And I directed it. And we were developing “Pilgrimage” the whole way along. It was like we went. “Pilgrimage” was bigger film than we were aware of at the time. And we started developing. But we sort of had a vision that if we kept going, we’d we would get there. Our profile would get big enough, they would have to make it. But, the “We” is? Me and my producing partner,
Connor Berry, and Jamie, to live with them. So, it was like a close sort of relationship with them, everyone.
Ashley: I see, I see, perfect. And so, Jamie didn’t necessarily go to film school? But, he went he was a flat mate, of your producing partner, whom you met in film school.
Brendan: Yeah, Jamie studied journalism, and he was into making films. So, Connor was working in the video shop in Dublin, and was a thespian back in Dublin at everything in there. And Connor then, moved into with another guy who worked in the video shop. And that guy’s friend was Jamie. So, it was like interesting. Funny how the gravitate towards each other.
Ashley: A yeah. Now, how much, I can’t remember the name now? Right? I interviewed a guy who did a Viking movie, and it felt very similar to your film? Just in terms of tone, and scope, and a sort of period piece. There was a lot of fighting and action and stuff. And I’m curious, how much of that he, when I talked to him? He specifically was in touch with a distributor that was saying, you know, Viking movies are something I sell right now. How much of that sort of business marketing side of things influence your decision to produce this, as a project?
Brendan: Hey, none at all. I mean, when he pitched that to me, I just thought that was cool. I thought it was going to be really good, I thought it was great. And you know, obviously, as we went further into it, development. Things like “Valhalla Rising” “Gamma” “Tron” “Stargate” and Viking stuff. And I deliberately didn’t watch them. Because I didn’t want to be influenced by them. But, you know, that didn’t influence me, and it shouldn’t I suppose to a film maker? You shouldn’t, I just think that’s an odd way to go about and film making. Because film making isn’t necessarily about, yes, it is a business. But, you know, the actual creators felt, anybody who has created anything and telling stories, is there for the business. You know, no body yeah, I just don’t think that, that’s the way to go about it.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah.
Brendan: You know, it has to be about the love of the story.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So, let’s talk about your collaboration with Jamie. I was, you had this a background in screenwriting? So, maybe you can talk about that process of working with Jamie? When you read the first draft. Was it in pretty good shape, did you give him notes? What did that development process look like? Between the screenwriter and you, as the director.
Brendan: Well, he wrote a treatment for, first. And that was pretty good. And we were so excited to, it was great that he supported us, and developed it where, excited by it. And I think at that stage, that he had come up with the idea of the 13th apostle. Which is real, Sednacadis is real. Of course, he was kind of adding a science to a real event. Which I thought was fantastic. And his first draft, I thought was spectacular. And I read it on a train, with the producer, Connor. We were going to a film festival somewhere?
And I remember, we weren’t sitting together for some reason? But, we were both reading it, the draft of Jamie’s first script, the first draft of “The Pilgrimage.” And I remember, I finished, and I went down to him, and I said, “This is brilliant, this is like, fantastic.” And so, the development process soon after that. Like I mean, Connor, was on a course called, “Call us a Producer Now.” He was on a course called, “Pace.” Which is for producers. And they have a lot of notes. And the second draft turned into a sprawling sort of, it was a far bigger thing. It was just, and I find this myself with second drafts. You sort of throw the kitchen sink in the trunk, you throw everything into it. And then you got to come back. So, when I left that one, I said, “No” this is not working for me. The first draft was cooler, and simpler, and straight forward. And then, you know, like I really have to give credit to the writers, to Jamie. He really had a brilliant script at the start. But, the wise kings that, you know, obviously worked with them all. I really worked with them on trying to bring the relic’s power, and the idea of this ringing I, and more. I try to, there was kings towards the end. The end was the, it was hard it, Because I don’t want to get into spoilers too much. You know it’s, my I think, I try not to say, you know, I work from, you know, it was a very enjoyable process, with Jamie.
Ashley: So, let’s talk about just in general, as a director. Maybe you could give some tips to screenwriters. Are there some mistakes you see screenwriters making over and over and again.
Brendan: Eh, that’s a very difficult one? Because you’re also talking to a writer here, you know?
Brendan: And so, you know, as a director. Okay, ask me that question, again? Because it is an easily a very difficult question? It’s like the mistakes that you see, it’s like, I mean, it’s obviously a very basic mistakes. You know, that people make. No expositional, you know, with I look at it like a Butler and a dialog where, you know, people, which came from a place, where the Butler and the maid managed to come out at the start, and go. “Isn’t is a shame, that the Lord is losing his manner, he’s lost his money, I mean, that’s a very simple explanation of on the nose expositional dialog.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, sure.
Brendan: Expositional dialog. You know these are very basic mistakes. I mean, there’s probably a few more I could come up with, look at. I don’t know? Like, who listens to your Podcast. But, like if and if they are in any way, if they write at all, you know, the mistakes and scripts are getting more complex and they are very, very, confusing writing, very complicated. I find it very hard myself. I think it depends, I think there are different writers. And so, some writers are very good at plot, and some are very good at character. You know, they can write good dialog, good characters. And I think what you should probably do? Just focus on your weaknesses really. Because probably the best, and it’s very important to understand what type of writer you are? I mean, whether you are better at character. And that plot is you weakness. Or it’s visa-versa, you know. It’s sort of worth understanding working at that. I know myself, I think I’m definitely better at plots myself. A I find sometimes it’s not that I can’t write character. It is once I get into something? You see sometimes when I write a script I have to actually see.
Lay down the plots, and what I find very interesting is? I lay down things like characters and stuff. And human like stuff that I, that is totally in my head. I know it should be in there. But, I’ve only hinted at it, because they already know how to do it, or write it. And then I get notes, and I realize that’s okay, these scenes aren’t developed yet. They are not like, there is a subconscious thing that goes on. Sometimes you can even put a scene, like you know, a character we subconsciously, you put it in for a reason. And you really need to develop the process to actually help you find, why, once it’s in there, you know.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And so, let’s talk about the flip-side of that. Are there somethings that you see writers do that you really, really like. And you can sort give some tips. And then we can talk specifically about “Pilgrimage.” You really seem to like that first draft that Jamie came up with. So, maybe you can just talk about some specific things that Jamie did in that first draft that you really liked?
Brendan: Well, you know, I learned to draft from many years, alright. I’m writer myself. And if you read a lot more, books, scripts, and you read scripts and books, they do a lot more than I do. And what I really loved, and I’ve learned this. I take in this sponge is? He has this little style. And he got it from I got to say that the guys name, but maybe you can help me here? There is a film director, he made “Big Rain Stay” and he made “The Warriors” is it Miller? Something Miller? And he wrote a draft for “Alien” which was news but it was on. You can actually find it on, and it’s so sparse. Every line just, like, you might say, cold corridor. And then the next line will machines home. It’s the most sparse thing I’ve ever seen. I think that’s an interesting way. What I find in a script right there. Is obviously you’re trying to, two things here. You’re trying to tell the stories, you know, it’s a blue print for the director and everyone to make. But you also trying to make an interesting reading. Which maybe the two things don’t always go together. And I find something, like even just having line with capitals on the line, like, “Bang.” You know, if it’s a big moment in the script. Sometimes that can really work. It can really helps to just read through, you know, the atmosphere. You know, that’s what it is, you’re trying to create an atmosphere in your script. You’re not, just like those now.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, it’s tough. No, that’s a great tip. So, how can people see “Pilgrimage?” Do you know what the release date schedule is going to be like?
Brendan: A, August 11 2017. And I think stand day. So, it’s going on 50 screens. And it’s home entertainment? I not sure if it’s DVD or BlueRay? I think it’s not, I think it’s some sort of online release, I’m not 100% sure?
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. I will round that stuff up. Let’s talk just quickly about Twitter, or Facebook, or anything you are comfortable sharing? You can mention that now, and again, I will round all that up and put it in the show notes.
Brendan: Sure, yeah. The company’s Twitter is – Savage Productions, and I think the handle is – #SavageProds
Ashley: Perfect, perfect, and I will get that. I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me, Brendan, this is a great interview, I really enjoyed your film, I wish you all the best luck with it.
Brendan: Aww, thank you Ashley.
Ashley: I just want to mention two things I am doing at “Selling Your Screenplay” to help screenwriters find producers that are looking for new material.
First, I’ve created a monthly newsletter that will be sent directly to producers. Every member of SYS Select can submit one log-line per newsletter, per month. I went and Emailed my large database of Industry contacts and asked them if they would like to receive this newsletter of monthly pitches. So far I have well over 400 producers who have signed-up to receive it. These producers are hungry for new material and are happy to read scripts from new writers. So, if you would like to participate in this pitch newsletter and get your script into the hands of lots of producers. Sign-up at – www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com, that’s – www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
And secondly, I’ve contacted one of the premier paid screenwriting leads sites. So I can syndicate their leads onto SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently I’ve been getting about ten to twelve high quality paid screenwriting leads per week. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking to buy material. Or are looking to hire a screenwriter for a specific project. If you
sign-up for SYS Select you’ll get these leads Emailed to you directly several times per week. These leads run the gambit from production companies looking for a specific type of spec. script. To producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas. Producers are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series pilots, it’s a huge aray of different types of projects that these producers are looking for. And these leads are exclusive to our partner and
SYS Select members. To sign-up again, go to – www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com, again that’s – www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com
On the next episode of the Podcast I’m going to be interviewing, screenwriter and book author W. Bruce Cameron. It’s a fascinating look at how someone went from writing a weekly column in a newspaper, to then writing books. And then eventually writing tele-plays and screenplays. We walk through his entire writing career, and how he moved from one writing type to another. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week.
That the show, thank you for listening.