At our first AOTS event we invited along a couple of talented directors to screen their short films and discuss how they went about making them.
Billy Mullaney was kind enough to come along and screen his short films Absent and Cut.
Q. What was your first ever attempt at making a film, and how did it turn out?
My first attempt at making a short film was when I was about 13. All we had was a Hi8 camcorder and no editing facilities so it was a matter of record, pause, record, pause, if it went wrong we had to rewind over the scene we didn’t want to keep and record over it leaving the final short with snippets of unwanted scenes popping up between cuts. Sound was a nightmare and we never wrote scripts in those days, they were all improvised and almost silent which usually meant the final product usually ended up being some surreal black comedy or a crappy horror. I remember the first film I ever made was about a teenager who got high on some kind of drug to begin hallucinating, The character was then attacked by whatever toy I could find in my little brothers room at the time. It was strange, even more so with the old video FX you would could get with the old camcorders like negative, sepia, B/W etc all having to be activated in real time by a little button on the side, I used them all, probably too much.
Q. You seem to cover a huge amount of roles in the shorts that you’ve made; a one man film-making machine. Is this out of necessity or do you like to do it all?
I guess it’s just what I’m used to, when I started I didn’t have a crew of any kind and I had to do everything but act, friends always wanted to act in the films I made funny enough but never wanted to hold a camera or anything so glamorous as props or lighting… so I did it. I got used to doing it so much that I thought I didn’t need anyone’s help, that all changed with my first crewed short, BLOCKED. Although I still held the camera, I had a producer, First AD, runners, a sound man and stills photographer, also for the first time professional actors. I got so much done so much quicker and found that I loved working with like-minded film people, it was really fun and encouraging, I had the time of my life. Looking back I think I did everything on my own because it seemed impossible that other people would want to make a film with me, especially just for the fun and experience of it, I thought I would have to pay everyone with money that I don’t have. It came down to confidence in my talents and having the courage to reach out. I still hold a camera the majority of the time purely because I enjoy it, my bad back doesn’t.
Q. Do you intend to make a feature, or are you happy with short-form film-making?
I definitely want to make a feature film, I grew up watching feature films, short films for me are merely a way to hone my skills, try out ideas and build up confidence, it’s all just leading up to my first feature film. I love making short films and they are a great way to show off your talents to others but I find myself wanting to take the stories further and develop much deeper characters, they can only go so far in a 10-15 min short.
Q. If you were to offer one piece of advice to filmmakers starting out, what would it be?
Don’t spend money unless you absolutely have to, if you are willing to give up your time to write and direct a short then others will be to. These days it’s so much easier to start, get yourself a DSLR, a semi decent microphone and start filming. Ask your friends to help out or go online and find hundreds of like minded people (like Action on the Side for instance). Just have confidence in yourself, for me this is the hardest part of film-making, the rest is easy. Write what you know to begin with and write with a budget in mind, use what you have around you and can get hold of for free… basically just make the short with no money if you can, when it costs you nothing you can make another, then another, then another until you master it. You would be surprised how much you learn from each short, and how much they improve with every attempt, Don’t be afraid to make a crap short, they are always crap to begin with.
Q. What projects are you working on at the moment?
Feature! I am currently writing a low to no-budget feature script that I hope to film this year. I’m always helping out others with their short films though; I find it good practice… but mainly for the sheer joy of it.
More of Billy’s work can be seen at www.billymullaney.co.uk