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How to Make a Feature Film By Ferdia Mac Anna

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Article by Ferdia MacAnna ©.
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In May of last year, at the age of 58, I directed my first feature film.

Not bad for a fossil. A new career beckons or possibly a swan song. We shall see.

My debut, ‘All About Eva’ is an old school thriller about a young woman who seeks revenge upon a wealthy racing magnate. She blames the magnate for destroying her family. However, Eva’s plans run into unforeseen complications including her conflicted conscience, a psychotic mother and a mysterious, lethal stalker – not to mention the magnate’s handsome sons, one of whom offers her romance and an escape from the past. Will she give up revenge for a shot at love? Or will the sins of the fathers – and mothers – destroy a new generation?

Hang onto your seats this might be a bumpy ride.

The project arose from a casual chat in 2013 between film director David Keating (‘Last of the High Kings’, ‘The Cherry Tree’) and a Kildare producer who was interested in developing a local web drama series.

Soon, the idea attracted support from the Arts Office of Kildare County Council. Suddenly, a casual chat became a chance to make an original drama.

When David Keating dropped out due to movie commitments (he remained on board as Executive producer), I was brought in to work with a team of local writers to develop an original story and characters and to deliver a final script with the option of directing it.

We started with fourteen writers. After a rigorous selection process, we settled on five writers – Pauric Brennan, Zoe Palmer, Richie Kearney, Joe Campbell and Mary Duffin. At this stage, there was a tiny budget, but an abundance of goodwill and passion.

Then the Kildare web producer pulled out.

Suddenly, we found ourselves with a terrific project and no end user – although at this stage, Kildare CoCo’s arts officers Lucina Russell and Brenda Brady were continuing to support the initiative and had made additional funding available. There was not enough dosh for a TV drama series but just about enough to shoot a micro budget indie flick.

We were determined to make an original drama. The question was: what kind of drama?

all about eva Directing

Ferdia MacAnna pictured centre

I suggested we make a feature film – a femme fatale B movie a la Roger Corman or early John Carpenter. We had the ingredients – one hundred and ninety pages of script plus cast and crew along with willpower and passion as well as local talent.

Uniquely in Irish filmmaking, there was no production company. We were in movie Do-It-Yourself land, the movie equivalent of punk rock.

After seeing ‘Dallas Buyers’ Club’ and falling in love with the way they had filmed without use of artificial lights, I decided to do the same.

The film – now christened ‘All About Eva’ – was shot in Athy, Co. Kildare over eight days in May. It was true Punk filmmaking – energetic, driven, ambitious and demented. We broke lots of rules. No lights and no workstation. Mostly, I stood alongside Director of Photography Deirdre O’Toole and looked over her shoulder. Real Old School.

We chopped the script down to a manageable ninety pages and reworked scenes and dialogue. Whenever necessary, we improvised, made up new scenes. We embarked upon an exhilarating, creative, rollercoaster ride. It helped that two of the five screenwriters worked on the set – Mary Duffin was Continuity and Script Supervisor. Pauric Brennan was 1st Assistant Director. A third, Richie Kearney, was associate producer.

DOP Deirdre O’Toole was the essence of civilized calm. She used lots of different lenses to capture available light and create memorable, dramatic images. Her work on the film is truly outstanding.

We knew what we wanted. No time was wasted in debate or arguments or confusion. No egos, no arguments and most crucial of all, no Divas.

It worked. We came in ahead of schedule and under budget.

Directing ‘All About Eva’ was a wonderful experience. It gave me an opportunity to use all of my experience in TV and Film as producer, director, screenwriter, editor and mentor. It also allowed me to channel my Inner Hitchcock.

The film shoot worked brilliantly because of the efforts and dedication of a responsive, enthusiastic cast and crew – a mix of industry professionals, trainees, beginners and unknowns. Most had made short films or worked in low budget TV or web productions. None – including myself – had made a feature film.

Nobody was paid well. However each member of the creative team has a share in ‘All About Eva’. If the film does well and attracts sales then everyone benefits – once Kildare CoCo’s investment is repaid.

all_about_eva banner smallAgainst the odds and with a small budget, we fashioned a modern thriller that all can feel proud of – perhaps the first Kildare Film Noir.

Reaction from test screening has thus far been very good. People seem to really ‘get it’. Amongst other things, the film features an impressive performance as Eva by screen newcomer, Susan Walsh.

I am eternally grateful to the Arts Officers of Kildare County Council for facilitating, co-producing and supporting the film. I am thrilled that I got a chance to emulate my movie heroes – John Carpenter, Alfred Hitchcock and Walter Hill.

‘All About Eva’ receives its Irish premiere at the Jameson International Dublin Film Festival. After that, who knows? Perhaps it will get a cinema release. Maybe it will be accepted into some prestigious domestic and International festivals. Whatever happens, Eva has already triumphed.

I can’t wait to do another one.

(c) Ferdia MacAnna


Ferdia Mac Anna is a director of Film and TV dramas, novelist, screenwriter and occasional rock and roller. He was born in Dublin in 1955 and grew up in Howth, North County Dublin.

For some years he toured Ireland as lead singer and songwriter with first Rocky De Valera and the Gravediggers (1977-79/2005-2009) and The Rhythm Kings (1980-83 and 2013-2014).

He was producer and script editor on the acclaimed award-winning BBC/RTE children’s drama series, ‘Custer’s Last Stand-Up’ (2000-2002) which won the BAFTA for best drama series.

He has written three novels, ‘The Last of the High Kings’ (made into a Hollywood movie starring Gabriel Byrne, Jared Leto and Christina Ricci in 1996), ‘The Ship Inspector’ (screenplay in development) and ‘Cartoon City’. His memoir, ‘The Rocky Years’ (Hodder) was published in 2006 and his play ‘Big Mom’  was produced at the Project Arts Centre (1996). ‘The Last of the High Kings’ was republished in 2011 by New Island Books in their ‘Modern Irish Classics’ series.

He has taught Creative Writing, Screenwriting, and TV broadcasting for over twenty years at DCU, Trinty College, NUI Maynooth and IADT (the national film school). He mentors for The Inkwell Group and has mentored several novelists , directors and screenwriters, and also worked as a ghostwriter. He has also taught studio multi-camera directing and TV presenting and he has directed and produced Short Film Dramas, Sitcoms, Documentaries, and Soaps (including Fair City and Ros na Rún).

He has just directed his first feature film, All About Eva, an old school Film Noir revenge thriller set in the horse-racing community of Kildare.

Find out more at his website FerdiaMacAnna.com