We are always delighted to welcome as many guests as we can to The Green Room, today we are joined by someone that has supported us at multiple Fusion festivals but we have yet to meet in person. Phil McCarron thanks for joining us.
DH: Now as with a lot of creatives you wear a lot of hats, Producer, Director, Editor, Cinematographer, Writer etc... Now I understand your journey into the creative world began with Writing, would you say that this is where your passion still lies or are other roles becoming more favourable?
PM: Very much so. Ideally, I’d just like to write scripts, print them, leave them on my doorstep, and then let the production fairies pick them up and carry them to the screen from there. However, in the world of indie film, I don’t think there is such a thing as ‘just a writer’. Production companies, studios, etc. aren’t interested in you. They simply don’t care enough to read a script from a writer that isn’t already on the payroll or established by other means. So, the nature of the indie film world is that we have to wear all these creative hats to get our stories out there. What use are words on a page if no one wants to read them? It’s like the tree falling in the woods proverb. Do scripts matter, or even exist, if no one reads them?
That being said, I’ve always found it invaluable to understand all sides of any industry. I believe it has helped me as a writer to understand what a producer, an editor, a director has to go through in their process. When you start to write a scene and it takes place in some ridiculous location that, as you’ve done production work, you know will be a nightmare to acquire for a shoot, you can rethink the scene and maybe choose a less extravagant location.
DH: You moved to Illinois from your country of birth Scotland at the age of 11. Do you think your creative passion would have developed in the way it has had you never relocated?
PM: I don’t think it would have developed at all, if I’m being honest. The town in which I grew up in Scotland is a major chemical production and shipping town. You stay there long enough and you generally end up working in that industry, or companies that feed into that industry. While Scotland has inspired me creatively, it has done so from me being outside of it. It’s my home. It will always be my home. But I don’t think there are the creative opportunities in Scotland that there are in Chicago. It’s just an industry thing. There are top-tier film colleges here, dedicated local government film offices, a massive pool of talent that has the means and drive to put something together. It’s different whenever I’m back in Scotland, at least the area I’m from. I’m sure in Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Dundee there are hotbeds of creatives burning to collaborate. That type of mentality just doesn’t exist in the Falkirk area.
DH: We had the pleasure of meeting your colleague Igor Lewicki last year at our East Europe event. You worked together on your wonderful project 'Ghosts In The Ink', tell me how this idea developed and how you came to be connected with Igor?
PM: Ah, yes, Igor. My favorite Frenchman. He’s not only a colleague but a fantastic friend of mine. It was odd how us meeting came about. I had been taking a few film courses at the local college. There I met a man named Joey Thome, a fellow writer finding his way. Well Joey and his cousin put out some hilarious comedy sketches from the Southside of Chicago through their company, Kneeslapz. They are really dedicated to what they do and have fun doing it, too. Joey was filming a project and needed a gopher for the set so I volunteered to come along and be an extra set of hands. Well, Igor was one of the cast members of that project. Him and I hit it off almost instantly. Two Europeans making films on the Southside of Chicago, we felt the connection of the shared migrant experience.
A month or so after meeting Igor, I had finished writing Ghosts in the Ink and the only person I wanted to direct it was Igor. It had to be him. I wouldn’t have asked anyone else. While our mutual friend is a great director in his own right, comedy is his forte, and Ghosts in the Ink is definitely not a comedy. First time we spoke about the film we were cutting each other off with the classic “Yeah, yeah, exactly!” We were both on the same page from day one with the film and I think that shows when you watch it. Also, not only did he direct, but also starred in. That’s tough to be in character as a damaged, so to speak, man and to then have to jump behind the camera and have a polite conversation with the DP over how he wants the framing.
Igor and I are still very much connected. Before the 2020 torpedo sunk the film production industry in Chicago (which is slowly rebuilding) we’d agreed that if we get funding for my next short film, Escapement, that he’s directing it. He loves the script and it is just like it was on Ghosts in the Ink, we were on the exact same page in regard to the style that we’d want to execute to do Escapement the justice it deserves.
DH: It is fair to say that 2020 has been a huge challenge for everyone across the world. The creative industry has been greatly impacted. How have you coped with this? Have you found yourself writing more than ever to keep the mind occupied?
PM: 2020 has been a continual sledgehammer to the face. Every day, another swing with a heavier hammer. I honestly don’t know if I have coped with it. Lockdown measures have been pretty tight in and around Chicago so things I had wanted to do were just impossible. My friend Joey and I were going to film a series of comedy sketches, I wanted to start the ball rolling on producing Escapement, I had been working on writing a feature comedy (actually set in Scotland), but it all just came to a grinding halt as the pandemic worsened.
I’d like to say that I’ve spend this reclusive time writing away, but I haven’t. I did some freelance writing work for an online adult games company. The games industry, with cinemas shuttered, has picked up so there was an opportunity to do a little extra work. It was a rewarding experience. Quite fun to write branching narratives. It allows you, as a writer, to live the dream of having multiple choices. Usually, when writing for the screen, you pace back and forth for days deciding which way to go in the script. Well, when writing for a game that gives the players options, it makes it easier because you just write both paths.
I haven’t been a complete sloth though. As much as I would like to commune with my spirit animal, I did get some work done this year. I’ll touch on that a little later.
DH: As a creative do you still feel that you are trying to find your place and niche in the industry or are you happy to explore and develop all different ideas and work on projects that just come naturally and feel right?
PM: I’ve never been fond of niche writing. Best way I can describe it is like when you accidentally sit on the TV remote and it flicks through the channels at lightening speed. You get snippets of shows, a bit of a documentary, a line from a drama, a joke from a comedy, etc.. That is kind of how my brain works; it continually scrolls through the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘that could work’. Genre, format, medium… all irrelevant. If I like an idea that pops into my head, I don’t discard it because it’s not within my niche area. So it’s definitely the latter. I’m open to working on any and all projects. To give you and idea, as I mentioned, I’ve written for adult games, short dramas, comedy sketches, epic features, a collection of humorous essays I published as a book, whatever I feel interested in writing, I write.
As for finding a ‘place’ within the industry. That. That is more difficult question. I’m not sure I’ve found my footing enough for investors to believe in me which makes the projects I dream up require downscaling significantly or dying altogether. So much of our industry is about making money instead of telling stories. I’m not likely to write a Marvel film… ever. I will never write a superhero film. I’m sick to death of superhero films. It’s hard to gain traction as someone who continually wants to go against the grain just because. I don’t want to do what other people are doing. I want to do something original but funding plays a major part in what is and is not allowed to be seen by the public.
DH: This is a question I love to ask those that join us in The Green Room. If budget wasn't an option, what project would you love to develop? Give me the title, tagline and the leading cast?
PM: I love this question because it allows me to break the mortal sin of screenwriting, “don’t write it if you don’t own the rights!”. Well, in hypothetical land, I can do whatever I want. The project would be Final Fantasy III (US III, Japanese VI) based on the console game by Square Enix (Square Soft at the time of initial production). Yes, I find Final Fantasy III much better of a story than the fan-favorite Final Fantasy VII. I am prepared to engage in verbal fisticuffs with all who argue otherwise. Or… just have a polite conversation about how both were fantastic (but III is better).
I already wrote the script for the first in the trilogy, actually. I did it for a college class just to see if I could pull it off. It was a tight fit for a film, length wise. I think it would have to be redeveloped into a TV series to give the characters room to develop and breathe the way they need to in such a sprawling and diverse world.
As for the cast, I’d do open casting. I’m always a believer in finding new talent. I’d like to give new actors an opportunity to try the roles on for size and see what comes out of casting calls. There are better actors out there than the A-list ones we read about in the newspapers, just no one has given them the chance yet. I’d like to be the one to do that.
DH: Finally, what can we expect next from you- will we be waiting to see 'Escapement' released as a completed project or are there more projects bubbling away?
PM: Well Igor and I are dying to get Escapement into production. We truly believe that this is a film that shouldn’t just be watched but should be felt. It’s a very personal story, personal to me. As a suicide survivor, I know how the briefest of moments of human interaction can mean the world to those feeling the crushing weight of loneliness. It can be the difference between life and death. We also have Alexandra Miller from Ghosts in the Ink for the lead role in the film. We have Tom Ciszewski as DP who has worked on a lot of beautiful projects along with some commercial work for major brands. Savannah Moseley, a very talented creative I met in college is with us to lead the production design team. We had all these chips in place around February/March and then… well… then pandemic shuttered everything. It was like one of those old westerns, where the outlaw rolls into town and the townsfolk creep inside, close their shutters, bolt their doors. Those are investors… I guess that makes me the outlaw.
But, while Escapement is on ice due to funding, I do have one bit of good news. I just finished an entire film, by myself, from inception to ‘click to export’ over the last 6 months. It’s an experimental film called Tea in the Afterlife. I should note, doing it all myself isn’t a gimmick, it’s a product of the times in which we live. 2020 has pulled a lot of our industry apart or at the very least added a few dozen flaming, barbed-wire hoops to crawl through, in order to get anything done. I couldn’t wait for the industry to rebuild. I had a story I had to tell, so I told it. Once I’m finished colour-correcting, it should be hitting some of your festivals.
Tea in the Afterlife. An experimental film, shot in the isolation of the 2020 Covid Pandemic, about the trauma of mental health, atrophy in isolation, and the crippling pain of loneliness.
It’s a grim story, but sometimes life is grim.