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Guest Post: Conor Horgan “What I Learned From Making My Movie”

Guest Post: Conor Horgan "What I Learned From Making My Movie"

One Hundred Morning screened at Slamdance 2010. It then won The Workbook Project‘s Discovery & Distribution Award. We hosted it at our Goldcrest Screening Series to great success. It is now having a NY run and the NY Times honored it with a Critics’ Pick notice. When we screened it I noted:

“End of the world scenarios come in all forms, but rarely are they dressed in such human(ist) clothing. Big concepts too often forget that it is all about life and how we live it. One Hundred Mornings keeps the characters (and all their foibles) front and center in the most relatable of manners. As much as we need each other, we are still only human. Society may have broken down but the every day stuff of love, jealousy, betrayal, and jerky neighbors is still what it takes to get through the day.”

I dig the film and love the use of genre to get to deeper subjects.

Now that everyone in NYC has a chance to revel in this tale, I reached out to Conor and asked if he could share some of experiences. He’s come up with a list of what he learned that helped him reach and hit such a high mark.

One question really stood out to me at the Q&A following the Goldcrest screening of One Hundred Mornings in New York last year. It was a simple one, but hard enough to answer: what did I learn from making the film? As I recall, my answer at the time ended up being about the virtues of the Red Camera (we were the first Irish feature to shoot on it) but I know I learned much more than just how to work with a new piece of kit.

Now that we’re back in New York, with the film playing this week at the Rerun Theatre in Brooklyn, I thought I’d have another go at it- so here are a few of the things I learned from making One Hundred Mornings.

Use the limitations
We wanted to make a realistic film about a modern Western society on the cusp of a complete breakdown, but with a tiny budget. We ended up making the absence of things part of the world of the film: the characters have very different takes on what’s going on, and as there are no communications they can’t find out otherwise. The cast wore the same clothes much of the time, and most of the story takes place around one central location. There is almost no music and many of the scenes play out in a single shot- indeed, a lot of them were shot from only one angle in only two or three takes (which actually really helped the actors give such focused performances – they knew they had to take every chance they could)

This all helped us shoot within our resources, sure, but let’s face it – the audience could care less about the size of the budget. What this approach also did for us was something really important– it helped the world we created within the film feel very believable, almost to the point of feeling inescapable. I’m certain that if we’d made a cutty film full of music from the same script we wouldn’t have found the same kind of intensity.

By the way, the other reason there’s hardly any music is that when I was thinking about what I’d miss most in a world without electricity, it was beautiful, complex music that came pretty close to the top of the list. After the minor details of food, water and shelter, of course.

Don’t always play to my strengths.
Really? My background as a photographer, sometime DoP and director of many TV spots gave me a lot of experience in making things look good on camera. It also showed me that for a lot of my early career when things weren’t going too well on set I tended to start concentrating on what I was most comfortable with – the camera. And when I say things weren’t going too well, that almost always meant with the actors – I didn’t really know how to talk to them to get what was needed. One Hundred Mornings is my first feature, so I really wanted to try something different.

I had to leave my comfort zone far behind, which meant taking a couple of acting classes. After getting over the embarrassment ( which took a while) I discovered that I wasn’t quite as terrible at it as I’d feared, and could actually even enjoy it at times. I’m very grateful to a friend who subsequently cast me in a small role in one of his short films, because that experience really helped me understand what actors most need from a director – understanding, honesty, respect and compassion. Or in other words, a bit of love.

Try to remember what it was that inspired me.
It’s surprisingly easy to forget. Directing this very ambitious film was an intense, almost hallucinatory experience. As I ricocheted between the triumphs and disasters that happened every single shooting day, there was a real possibility I might lose my way and end up making a film that bore little resemblance to the one I started out making.

What I found that really helped me was this: I had a central question that was always the heart of the film for me. I mentioned it to the people I was working with but didn’t make a song and dance about it – I just needed a kind of a touchstone that I could return to when I was in the thick of it. I really hoped that keeping this question in the forefront of my mind would help make a coherent piece of work, that might speak to people in some way. So you can imagine how happy I felt when I opened the New York Times on Friday morning to find a version of that question, rounding off a terrific, insightful review of One Hundred Mornings. Which shows that when you stay true to your inspirations, people will really get your film.

After spending time as a pizza chef, puppeteer and geo-electrical surveyor in the Northern Rif Mountains of Morrocco, Conor Horgan trained as a photographer before going on to direct experimental, documentary and drama films. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.

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