In early April 1996 I sat in a Dublin cafe with Trish McAdam and Paddy Breathnach waiting for an event where we would talk about our experiences of making our first feature films. The event had been delayed, so we wound up chatting and comparing notes on what we'd been through. It started turning into a very enjoyable form of group therapy, and at one point Trish commented that making your first feature film is a major life experience. It sure is. I'm a different person now after going through the process of writing and directing THE BOY FROM MERCURY. Something happens to you when a childhood delusion becomes a 1.3 million pound film and turns you into a feature film director.  Thanks to the newly reconstituted Irish Film Board, there has been a spate of people crossing that wondrous threshold in life.
I know that in the days leading up to the making of my film I yearned to be able to sit down with someone and just go through what I was about to face. And writing this account of my adventure is a small gesture towards anyone out there who gets something from it that might be of use in their own journey through the making of a film.
To set the stage for the story, I must begin by outlining my background. I come from the working class Dublin suburb of Crumlin. I'm the youngest of thirteen children (not counting those who didn't make it to adulthood) and had an isolated childhood. My mother was forty six and my father fifty when I was born. There's a five year gap between myself and the next up the line of siblings. There's a four year gap between her and the next up again. Beyond that there's a great cluster, and then a few older children including my eldest sister who was already married with three children when I was born.
My first job, at the age of fifteen, was as an apprentice projectionist in what was then the Kenilworth cinema in Harold's Cross. Falling in love with cinema, I wrote to Ardmore Film Studios seeking a job as a camera trainee. The manager at the time, Dermot Loughrey, wrote back to say that the studio only employed people with Leaving Certificates. This was probably his way of shaking me off. I responded by informing him that I had commenced studies to sit the exam. I studied through Kilroy's Correspondence College and had them send my monthly reports to Dermot. In the space of a year, while working full time, I caught up on three year's schooling and sat the exam. When I wrote to Dermot to tell him I'd done so, he brought me in for an interview and gave me a job on the spot as a trainee in the sound department - basically working as a projectionist. It was 1969. At the time of my arrival, 'Country Dance' starring Peter O'Toole had just finished shooting and John Boorman's 'Leo the Last' was being post-synched.
'Quackser Fortune has a cousin in the Bronx' was mixed while I was in the sound department, and then I got my big break as clapper/loader. Those were the most exciting times of my youth. I worked on commercials, and ultimately on the feature film 'Black Beauty' which was Chris Menges' second feature film as cinematographer. I was living a full and wonderful life when all of a sudden the bubble burst and Ardmore was closed down. I cried the day I was given my notice. After only a year I was no longer in the film business.
Over the following seven years I worked as a shoe salesman, an office stationery salesman, a mail order business owner, a labourer, a night watchman, and for four and a half years a postman. I had married at the age of twenty one and had two sons by the age of twenty six. Since as far back as I can remember I wrote stories, and from the time I went into the post office I tried to alleviate my crushing boredom by writing novels. All were unpublishable rubbish.
One day, through the great gesture of a now lost friend named Kieran Kehoe, I received an application form in the post for a job as trainee assistant film cameraman in RTE. This was 1978 and RTE were increasing their staff for the launch of RTE 2. Kieran had seen the advertisements and posted in for a job application in my name and address. I ultimately got a job as trainee assistant film editor, and at almost the same time also sold my first television play to RTE - 'Your Favourite Funny Man', starring Jim Bartley.
In my years in RTE I became a highly regarded film editor, sold more TV plays, had various minor works produced on radio and the stage, and lost a marriage. By 1984 I had stopped writing because I blamed it for my inability to have peace with the life I was living. Michael Monaghan, then head of young peoples' programmes, encouraged (bullied, actually) me to write a batch of scripts for the children's' series 'Bosco' and in so doing brought me back to words.
In 1986 I left RTE to become a freelance editor and have more time to write.  This actually turned out to be an ongoing struggle for financial survival, with the writing periods overshadowed by worries about money. Being in the freelance world - certainly in Ireland - is not a profession for the faint hearted.
 In 1988, thanks to full funding by RTE, I wrote, edited and directed my short film 'Splice of Life' which is the story of an editor who re-edits himself. It starred Paul Bennett, who had to place a great deal of trust in me as I assured him that standing here, turning there, and pausing before this line would give me editing options.
In 1987 I had received development funding from the first Irish Film Board to write a script called 'Love and Subtitles' - a romantic comedy. After much effort by myself and my then partner Emer Reynolds, the project didn't budge. Then came the dark ages.  The Film Board was closed down by Charles Haughey and Ray Burke brought in the Broadcasting Bill. It was around that time, as Burke was talking about 'levelling the playing pitch' for an independent broadcaster, that Alan Gilsenan as chairman of Film Makers Ireland commented that film makers were tired of being the football. To add to these troubles there was also a great deal of turmoil in my personal life. A relationship I cared deeply about came to a difficult end, my youngest son Steven emigrated to America with my ex-wife and my mother had an accident which began a slow and harrowing journey to death. I reached the lowest point in my life in 1990 after my mother's death.
But I came back.
I worked and wrote and sorted myself out. I eventually entered a stable relationship and did a lot to come to terms with myself. All the while, I was finding a greater and greater satisfaction in writing for children.
When Michael D. Higgins, God bless his tweed ties, renewed the Irish Film Board in 1993, I submitted a treatment for a film called 'Interesting Things I did when I was living on my own'. It didn't get development support, and Lelia Doolan suggested that I come back to the Board with 'Love and Subtitles'. I might well have done so, but in the meantime something else had happened. I'd come up with this story about a boy who believes he doesn't belong to his family - he reckons he's from the planet Mercury.
Luly Mason is a friend I love very much and who has always been lucky for me. Early in 1993 she had sent me information about a competition for a children's story, but I didn't have anything to hand. The challenge of coming up with an entry for the competition triggered memories of my childhood and a lost world made its first humble appearance in a little story called 'Runaway Harry'. It was written in Enid Blyton fashion and told an incident of Harry thinking he has shot a boy and then running away from home but soon having this frantic fantasy sorted out.
When the Film Board had turned me down it occurred to me that I had never combined the two aspects of children's writing and screenplays. I realised that here at last could be a piece which could combine the best of me - a semi-autobiographical tale which would be a family film that I would write and direct.
I went down to Lelia with the submission in late 1993 and we talked about it. I felt at the time that this really was my best shot, and I went about my other work as an editor while waiting for my project, THE BOY FROM MERCURY, to go through the decision making system of the Board.
In December 1993, while working on an edit in Belfast, I heard through the grapevine that decisions had been made and I phoned the Board. James Flynn answered and said "I think I have good news for you". He put my heartbeat on hold while he went off to check documents and came back with the word. "Yes, you're getting development support. We love the idea."
The journey on the road to Mercury had begun.
I think I've structured this book sensibly. It first tells the story of how the deal came together, then how the film was planned, then how it was shot and post produced, and finally my adventures with it in the real world. In a separate section - and treated almost like a case study - is the story of the script itself.
I hope you find it an interesting read. A while back I came across a quote I fell in love with. It comes from Man Ray. He said 'there are very few practical dreamers'. I love that quote because it describes what I am. I'm a practical dreamer.
And this is the story of how my dream of making a film came true.

One major word of thanks is necessary. I can honestly say that my dream of becoming a film maker would probably never have come true if not for the Irish Film Board. I thank the Board, and the Government that brought the Board back into existence, and of course Michael D Higgins for daring to create an infrastructure for film.


In October 1993 there was a seminar organised in conjunction with the Cork Film Festival on the subject of 'The Writer in the Marketplace'. Before the event I sent a copy of the initial treatment of THE BOY FROM MERCURY to the organisers who passed it on to Christian Routh of the European Script Fund. At that time, however, I was concerned about the fact that Barry Devlin was completing his first feature film - 'All things Bright and Beautiful'. It sounded like similar turf to my own story, and when I met him at the seminar I mentioned my fears. Barry was sweet about the matter, assuring me that everyone has their own story to tell and that I shouldn't worry about similarities. During the event people like myself with projects were divided into small groups and my group was in discussion with Christian Routh. Christian was very encouraging about the project and even introduced me to a new word by describing the story as 'verdant'. I also talked briefly to David Blake Knox. David, as head of drama in RTE, was a possible source of help with an RTE/BBC Script Fund and after the seminar I sent a copy of the treatment to him.
One thing I learned quickly was the value of communication. After word from the Board about their support, I wrote to Christian Routh of ESF and also to David Blake Knox. The word soon came back from David that he had some quibbles about the treatment but would basically support its consideration by the RTE/BBC Script Fund. I used  reactions from David and others to develop a longer, more detailed treatment which I could submit to him and also formally submit to the European Script Fund. The ESF is the Holy Grail of development funding, and as such was something in my wildest dreams. Later, I would learn that its value was beyond financial. It would provide a process for the script which became invaluable.
In January 1994 I went to the offices of the Irish Film Board to talk through the project with its newly appointed head Rod Stoneman. I had met Rod years before when I was editing 'Hushabye Baby' and he was Deputy Commissioning Editor of the Channel Four Independent Film and Video department that was investing in the film. Rod, being like myself a child inside a man, was enthusiastic about the project. His main area of concern was the fact that I, as writer and director, didn't have a producer. He offered some names, and I could tell him that I had approached and been turned down by such people as Russ Russell and fellow Crumliner Noel Pearson. He would later offer other possible partners such as Hilary McLaughlin, but I knew deep down one thing that so many in the Irish film industry know - there is a paucity of film producers. Everyone in Ireland is a storyteller but no one wants to arrange the venue and gather the ears.
I couldn't be a producer. I had suffered one miserable experience in March 1993 which taught me so more vividly than necessary. There was a Media '92 event being held in - of all places - the Whiskey Corner. The notion was that at this place people with projects would get to meet people who produced projects. I arrived at this event with a lumpy envelope full of copies of the treatment, and was there under the delusion that I would waft around, find the right person for the project, then sell the idea and initiate a deal. I remember at one stage having Scott Meek of Zenith pointed out to me and standing across the room having made eye contact but unable to actually approach him or open my mouth. Martin Mahon was my ally that day (he is so every day) and was introducing me to people like Karen Street  of ESF and also Ed Guiney who in turn was trying to introduce me to Big Important Film People from around Europe. The resounding truth about my nature and personality became painfully clear - I don't want to be introduced to people, I only want to know people.
By the end of the event I walked out numbed and feeling incredibly stupid. As a bird never flew on one wing, so a project never got off the ground on creative wings alone. Every film needs a deal maker, and the precious few in this country had no interest in me.
I went to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in March for a week to write the script and the first draft was dated March 17th - Saint Patrick's Day. When I got home on Sunday I was weary but elated. Over the following days I made twenty copies of my script and sent them off in all directions so I could start getting feedback. I made a basic mistake then which I'd never repeat - I sent copies to potential sources of production funding. The script wasn't nearly ready for consideration, and you really only get one shot at the full attention of a source of funding. Among the people I sent scripts to where Zenith North, a wing of Zenith specialising in children's films. To this day I haven't even received an acknowledgement from them - despite a reminder note to Scott Meek. That's what happens when you operate under the delusion that someone is going to pick up an unsolicited first draft screenplay with no sense of reality attached to it and go running to the head of the company who then says "let's make this movie!'
I wanted to learn what others had to say about my work, and the sensible choices for sending it were within my circle of friends and not too far beyond. Copies went to, among others, the Board, Bob Quinn, and a woman I thought of contacting in Belfast. This woman was running a children's film festival called Cinemagic. Her name, Eina McHugh.  She was the first vital step in getting the film made. I sent her a script in the hope that she might offer connections somewhere out there in the world who might read my script and consider producing the film. Eina wrote back a glowing letter of praise and soon we were in phone contact. Finally we met in Bewleys one day when she and Shona McCarthy were in Dublin for some meetings. Eina wasn't offering herself as producer and no results had come back from any feedback she had sought from producers of children's films she had come across. What did happen, however, was that she mentioned a college friend of hers who was a lawyer and wanted to work in the area of film. Eina set up a meeting between myself and this woman - Marina Hughes.
By the time I met Marina there were pressures descending on both of us. She was just finishing work as legal adviser on the Mary McGuckian film "Words upon a Window Pane" while I had made my submission to the European Script Fund assuring them that I would have a producer on board by the time they were making their final funding decisions. Those decisions were at hand, and I was still on my own with the project.
The project always had a certain momentum, and there always seemed to be a deadline on the horizon as soon as I passed a particular benchmark. The project had a small amount of development funding, but really the European Script Fund was the only source of enough money to pave the way to getting the film made. Marina wanted to be involved, but was conscious of her own lack of experience and wanted to offer herself as associate producer.
What the project needed was a shot in the arm. Eina was providing that by offering links, and the first way of realising those links was by meeting people. On the near horizon was the biggest market of them all - Cannes.  In early May 1994, I formed Mercurian Productions with Marina. With no money and little income, we agreed that a spare room in her home would be the base for the company and would be where we kept the fax machine - humble beginnings. With so little understanding or trust of the film industry in the Irish financial world, there was really only one choice for banking - the ACC Bank has long been a major sponsor of the Dublin Film Festival and when Marina and I contacted Eugene Horgan he happily set up an account for the company. We also met with Rod Stoneman in Galway to talk through a rewrite of the script and took on board his comments.  One great thing that came from the meeting was a sense from Rod that the Board liked the project and if we came back with a plausible approach we would get a production loan. Rod stressed that we needed to go to Cannes and promised to do whatever he could on our behalf.
At this stage we still lacked a producer and I was offered other names in the Irish industry - all of whom passed on the project. Marina, however, made contact with Line Producer Kate Lennon and she began working on a budget for the film. We had a notional figure of œ800,000, which seemed like an achievable ambition.
Eina had ideas about people who might be interested in the project, and when the time came Marina flew  off to the Cannes Film Festival with Eina looking for contacts. I, still not up to the job of selling myself or pitching my ideas, stayed at home and worked on the next draft of the script.
Marina came back with our first co-production partner - Peter Aalbeck of the Danish company Zentropa was offering a ten percent involvement. On the roller coaster which is film making, we were heading up. We rushed a letter to Rod Stoneman and the Script Fund to let them know the film was gathering momentum.
I had made the hard decision by now of turning my back on editing. Having already turned down two jobs which would have meant months of work, I still needed some work to pay the bills. I was doing a small edit in Film Base when I got a phone call from none other than the European Script Fund, and it was a surreal experience. There was no phone in the cutting room, and so I had to take the call in the small hallway. A woman named Sue Austin was on the phone, and she wanted to talk to me about the project. We were on a final short list, and she wanted to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of our approach. I began talking to her - and in particular trying to explain how we would overcome the problem of not yet having a producer, when film maker Joe Comerford, working with an editor in the next room, was visited by his wife Hilary Dully and the began a conversation in the hallway. I was sitting on the floor trying to concentrate hard on how I could sway this woman to believing Mercurian Productions could make the film happen, while Joe and Hilary innocently continued their conversation. With the final decision to be made in days this was my big chance to convey my vision of the film and my understanding of what the ESF perceived as the shortcomings, all the while trying to hear Sue over the din of the conversation and the noise from the adjoining cutting room.
The conversation ended and I was left in limbo knowing that it would be at least another week before final decisions were announced.
By the end of May I finished the new draft of the script. Kate Lennon had also completed a draft budget of the film which came in at œ812,000. The end of May was the deadline for the Film Board's next set of decisions on loans, and we applied for a production loan of œ200, 000.  On the first of June, unable to contain my restlessness, I phoned the European Script Fund asking how near the decisions were. To my surprise I was put through to Phil Hughes who was at liberty to tell me that the decisions had been made and ratified by Brussels. We were to receive 15,000 ECUs in development support. I was on a high - finally I had written something that was attracting momentum towards production! Wanting to make the film became a constant prayer and preoccupation and I felt that crossing the ESF barrier would set this film apart and surely lead to bringing the finances together.
At the start of June, with Marina about to go away for several weeks, we sat down to complete the paperwork for the ESF loan and discuss plans for the future. Among the necessary details at this stage was the assigning of the screen rights to Mercurian Productions. It was a time also for getting the new draft script out to the round of involved parties and for approaching David Blake Knox in RTE Drama to again see if he could bring development funding to us through the RTE/BBC fund.
With all this movement forward, however, a response from Niall Leonard at BBC Northern Ireland brought a tolerable setback. He was standing in the way of the project getting BBC/RTE finds because he didn't like the script. He didn't like the fact it was set in the past nor did he like the idea that the film didn't clearly fit into the category of adult or children's film.
At the end of June, however, a fax came in from Jan Vandierendonck of the company Inti Films in Belgium - another contact through Eina McHugh - saying he was interested in co-production and the film moved another notch forward.  I sent a copy of the fax and any other news I could think of to Rod at the Film Board knowing that their decisions were only a month away.
In early July, as the complex process of completing the ESF legal requirements for releasing the stages of their funding was underway, I met legal advisor Mary Brehoney through a service organised by Film Base. It was a very useful consultation and helped smooth the path through to getting the ESF money where it was needed - in the Mercurian account where it could start financing the things we needed to do.
By mid July Marina was back in Ireland and we went for a day to Galway for a 'Film Shop' event organised as part of the Film Fleadh. The layout was basically a large room of stalls in a hotel and at each stall/booth were representatives of different organisations. We were given a set of requested meetings; with representatives of RTE, BBC Northern Ireland, ESF, Bord Trachtala and the Film Board. Karen Street and Bernie Stampfer were present for the ESF, and it was the first time I had a chance to talk to Karen even half properly. I was delighted to find that she really liked THE BOY FROM MERCURY and she was very supportive. In her conversation with Bernie, meanwhile, Marina was being offered helpful links for possible investors. Mick McCarthy was the RTE rep and as we knew each other from my days of working there as an editor we simply had a friendly chat and he wished me well with the project's journey in search of funding from RTE. Niall Leonard of BBC Northern Ireland remained to be convinced that the script worked. I talked more with him about the fact that the story needed to be set in the past and explained that it was too black and white a view to say a film must be either for adults or for children. He promised to reconsider and get back to us - which he duly did with a definite 'no'.
Derry O'Brien of Bord Trachtala met us and was willing to commit further support to the project. He needed a travel plan, but it was plain that he acknowledged the 'critical mass' the project had gained through support from the Board and the ESF and was keen to help us get out and find the rest of the money. Marina and I also met James Flynn, business manager of the Film Board. He was supportive and friendly but sounded one warning as the decision day approached. There were a lot of applications before the Board for production funding and the final choices would be those projects that looked most likely to happen.
My years of writing were being put more and more to the art of writing persuasive letters. With James' warning ringing in my ears I penned a letter to Rod which summed up the main elements of progress to date. Through the ESF we were making contact with a company called PDG in Belgium. Eina was looking at ways that Cinemagic might be able to offer more support to us in looking for backers. Supporting the film would lead to an Irish family film being on Irish cinema screens by Christmas 1995 in the European Year of the Family. I outlined our travel plans and my aim at getting Colm Meaney to play the part of Uncle Tony. Lyrically I waxed and off went the letter. There was nothing to do then but wait. And I'm terrible at waiting.
The decision day was Friday July 28th. I spent the day climbing the walls and watching the time tick away. Finally in the late afternoon I could contain myself no more and phoned the offices of the Board. I was put through to James Flynn who told me that the Board were offering a production loan of œ150,000 to the project. I was stunned. I splurged out my thanks. When I hung up my first response was to yelp with delight.  Then I felt my first rush of a new emotion on the film making roller coaster - fear. This was becoming a reality. Was I up to it? I poured myself a whiskey and knocked it back - then phoned Marina. She came down to the house and we had another drink. We both needed all this to sink in, and when Marina departed I felt so dazed that I left a note for Rachel telling the good news and then fell into bed. I woke to a small celebration as Rachel and my sons Bernard and Steve greeted me with champagne. There's a photo of that moment which I keep near my desk. I'm sitting on a lovely summer evening holding a glass of champagne as my sons stand on either side of me. There's a look of absolute terror on my face.
Having production funding from the Board sparked a new flurry of activity. It seemed at all times important to have a certain amount of 'heat' around the film and so it was great to be able to go back to people like Zentropa or send new faxes to suggested companies letting them know that here was a project supported by both the Irish Film Board and the European Script Fund. Thanks to the production loan, we could source 25% of the budget in Ireland (when you add the Section 35 tax break money available). This added to 10% from Zentropa in cash and facilities and a hoped-for further 10% in cash and facilities from RTE meant we were almost halfway there.
In a phone conversation, James Flynn went through comments from the Board and it transpired that a major concern was that the film was under budgeted. The feeling was that the film should be œ1.1 or œ1.2 million. He recommended we seek Film Action Plan approval as soon as possible to ensure we could stay within even that kind of budget and said we needed a strong line producer. Our next signpost along the way, however, was the EuroAim Rendezvous which was the Galway Film Shop writ large. Four days in Berlin gathered in one place with other film makers but also investors, distributors and bankers. The key to membership was having at least 40% of the budget in place, but with a budget of œ1.2 million the commitments to date for the film actually only totalled 35%.
By late August, however, we received the good news that we were being accepted for the Rendezvous. First trip for us, however, was a one day visit to London for meetings with Jessica Pope at Ardent Films and Grainne Marmion at Red Rooster, both of whom had expressed interest in the project. When we arrive at the Ardent office, however, we were informed that Jessica had taken ill. With time on our hands we contacted the offices of the ESF and were able to drop over to them. Bernie Stampfer and his assistant Amanda Steele went through our 'hit list' of meetings we hoped to make at the Rendezvous and advised some alterations - offering a few new names and so on. We then went to the offices of Red Rooster and met Grainne Marmion. The meeting began cordially and as Grainne had already indicated that the company was over-committed we didn't expect much of an outcome. After discussing the film more, however, she said that she wanted to convince her bosses to invest in it. She liked the script very much, and as the meeting continued she began talking more about 'how' as opposed to 'if' there would be Red Rooster involvement. The meeting ended with her saying we were free to list the company as an interested party when approaching others at the Rendezvous.  Marina and I left feeling the project was in a very strong position and that all the signs were becoming positive that we would be going into production early the following year as planned.
Over the following weeks, all time was taken up sending faxes and making calls to set up our meetings for the Rendezvous. There were some we wanted that couldn't be arranged, but basically things looked good. Peter Aalbeck Jensen of Zentropa would be there and by meeting him we hoped to firm up the Zentropa involvement. David Blake Knox - with whom I had been trying and failing to set up a meeting - would also be there. I looked forward to the event with fear and excitement. I was becoming more adept at selling myself and the project.
On the flight over we met a few other Irish film makers - including Fintan Connolly and Hilary Dully. Marina and I were staying in a cheapish hotel on the Kurrfurstendamm, the main street of Berlin. This was a fifteen minute walk away from the very plush hotel where most of the key players were staying. On the evening of our arrival we settled in and prepared our plans. We'd arrived laden down with copies of our 'package' - a few pages on the project, a synopsis of the story and so on - along with a few copies of the script. Marina's room looked out over the street itself, and as we talked I leaned out over the small balcony to look at the Cathedral and wonder at the fact that I - never a great traveller - was actually in Berlin.
The days that followed were a regimented hot house of production funding. We would go to the main hotel and board coaches which drove us out to Babelsburg Studios. There, a large marquee had been erected outside one of the studios. The marquee was for refreshments, food, and informal gatherings. The studio space had been converted into a marketplace of separated rooms where the meetings took place. Each day there was a list of meetings - mostly lasting about twenty minutes, with spaces in the day when other meetings were sought. The structure was very ordered - each project and each financier had pigeon holes. You would put the flyer for your film in the pigeon hole of a financier you hoped to meet, and if you were lucky the next time you checked there would be a note from them agreeing a meeting.
The earliest significant meeting we had was not about sourcing finance but about how we approached these meetings. An agent named Julian Friedman was on hand for these sessions and we pitched to him as we would in the meetings to come. He gave us various reactions to our approach.  He reckoned that the best selling point for THE BOY FROM MERCURY was the nostalgia market. He said that with each meeting we should start by saying a little about ourselves, then listen to get an understanding of the people to whom we were pitching, and then proceed to pitch the story. The emphasis, he felt, should be on our competence to make the film. He said I should emphasise my experience in the film business and my enthusiasm for the film - not being afraid to emphasise the emotional pull of the film. Julian advised that financiers are looking for someone they can trust who has a project which will be successful.
I finally met Peter Aalbeck - a red haired Dane with greying beard and cheerful disposition. Watching him over the following days, I could always tell if a meeting had gone well for him because he would light up a cigar and breeze around the marquee looking like a child who'd gotten his own way.  Peter set up a meeting for us with Svend Abramson, head of co-productions for Danish TV, in the hope that Svend would agree an investment in the production. On the second day, We gathered for a crucial meeting - Peter, Svend, Marina, David Blake Knox and myself. Peter wanted to pull a deal together and evoked a fine reason for this unlikely alliance. We were all Vikings. David offered support in principle and Svend promised to try source money for the film.  As the meeting ended, Peter lit up a cigar.
The days of meetings became a blur. It was usually possible to establish quite quickly if there was any point to them at all. Sales agents and distributors were really only interested in seeing the film after it was made - not a great help to us. The project was too small for other companies we approached, but a favourite moment for me was the meeting with Brigitta Peitz of the German company Cinevox. Having heard our pitch, she tore the page about THE BOY FROM MERCURY out of the event's book of projects and put the page in her folder. Brigitta was also interested in another project of mine, THE DREAMIST and as I spoke to her I said that project could also lead to a TV series. In later weeks I would sit down and write a submission on how the TV series would work along with scenarios for episodes and sent this to her. In the end, nothing came of that lead.
One morning, going out on the coach, I noticed that a man in front of me was reading a German newspaper. The page was open on an article about Roddy Doyle. It occurred to me that it took the achievement of people like Doyle and Jim Sheridan to get to the point where one could go out into an international marketplace with such a particularly Irish film as ours. At the meetings, I would shamelessly describe my story as "The Snapper meets My Life as a Dog" and this was an expression that helped people get an instant sense of what the project was about.
One meeting that went well was with Richard Leworthy of the large sales company Primetime. He heard us out with the pitch and looked at markets and seemed very favourably disposed to us and the project. We were told this was good news because they were a company with a high reputation and solid money.
For all the formal meetings there, however, it was a chance encounter that would lead to a breakthrough in darker times to come. Several years ago, shortly after I left the employ of RTE, I had been approached to edit a documentary being produced by Mark Forstater Productions. In the end the deal changed and the edit didn't happen in Ireland so I wasn't involved. One day, while sitting having coffee in the marquee, I noticed that a man in conversation at the next table was wearing the name tag 'Mark Forstater'. I introduced myself and we chatted briefly about the fact that we'd almost worked together. We would bump into each other from time to time thereafter and chat about how things were going. Mark was there trying to complete funding for a project of his own, but heard me out as I chatted about my project and the state of play with it. On the last day we carried out the time honoured ritual of exchanging business cards and said goodbye.
We came home from Berlin exhausted. I still have a dull memory of our last pitch - during which I had something close to an out-of-body experience as I listened to myself saying 'it's like The Snapper meets My Life as a Dog' and all the other attending verbiage. The night after our return, however, I got a phone call from Marina saying a fax had come in from Primetime saying they were interested in the project and look forward to meeting us to go over the details of a deal. I couldn't believe it. All along I'd been haunted by the fear of disappointment - I didn't want to fail again as I'd done with 'Love and Subtitles'. I didn't want to be another potential film maker trying for years on end to get a budget together. And now both Primetime and Red Rooster were interested in completing the deal to finance the film. At this stage we sent out more scripts to people from the Rendezvous and had a total of twenty two leads being followed up. But the key hopes (with the Board already behind us) were RTE, Zentropa, Red Rooster, Primetime, and the supportive voice of Jan Vandierendonck who had yet to confirm how he could become involved in the deal.
What followed was a deafening long silence.  People were away at markets during October. People were involved in other dealings. Calls weren't returned. I was extremely broke at the time and even the weather was depressing, but day after day there seemed to be nothing to do but wait.
At the start of November word came back from Grainne Marmion. She couldn't convince her bosses to go with the film as they already felt they had a full enough slate in hand. She said everyone loved the script. I was miserable over the news, and the following day I decided to phone Primetime to at least find out when we might be able to set a meeting with Richard Leworthy. I instead found myself in conversation with another executive in the company who said the script had been read and everyone loved it. However it wasn't seen as something they could market and so they couldn't be involved. I made the call around midday. After it, I drank a glass of whiskey and fell into bed, sleeping for a few hours. I curled in a state of shock as the hopes of the previous months turned to ashes. It had been my hope to film in the Spring of 1995. But we were back at square one.
I spent a few days dulled by depression, and in a moment of feeling sorry for myself I just decided to phone Mark Forstater to ask if he was faring any better. It turned out that he wasn't particularly gaining any headway from the Rendezvous experience, and as we continued feeling sorry for ourselves and each other he made a suggestion. He said his partner, Jo Manuel, had made a film in Ireland before - 'Widow's Peak' - and asked if I'd like her to read my script. Naturally I was happy to do so and sent a script straight away. I then got back to the business of fretting over how we could get this film off the ground.
A few days later Jo Manuel phoned. She said she loved the script and wanted to know what ground we'd covered to date in the search for funding. Marina and I shared the call as we went through the story so far, and Jo concluded by saying she believed she could complete the financing of the film and wanted to meet us. After the call Marina and I went down to the local video store to check out 'Widow's Peak' while I tried to get accustomed to the damn roller coaster all over again.
Jo received all our work to date and then set a date for our meeting. Her assistant Debbie Davis, a young Australian woman who had experience in script editing for television, was also going through the script. At the end of November Marina and I went to London for the day to meet Jo and Debbie. Jo is a strong woman with a very straight business manner. The pleasantries of meeting herself and the diminutive Debbie went quickly and  we settled down to brass tacks. Jo produced a report on the script and at the sight of this Marina immediately leapt in to say that we were looking for a co-producer and not to a producer. Jo smiled and agreed, then we continued with the process of discussing the script, the budget, and the work that had been done to date. Jo said she wasn't willing to present the script in its present state to potential backers, and as we went through it I could accept many of the points made. The plan agreed by the end of the meeting was that I would produce by the end of the year a new draft and the situation would be reviewed in the new year with Jo believing that if the new draft worked she could start going to sources of funding.
I returned home with a few things on my plate. I had to write a new draft. I also needed to do a brief edit (with Margo Harkin, for whom I had previously cut 'Hushabye Baby') and I had to undergo an operation. Back when my marriage broke down I had a vasectomy, and I had decided with my partner Rachel to have this reversed in the hope that we might have children. In December Marina went to a Media '92 event  being held in Spain - a Film Business School - and would come back with a notion which would finally reveal the cracks in our less than perfect working relationship.
Eina McHugh was to provide yet another lift to the production by introducing us to a young woman named Joanne Jordan. Joanne had worked with Eina at Cinemagic and was interested in becoming more involved in the film industry. Crucial for us at the time, Joanne was willing to give of her time for free and moved to Dublin to work day in and day out for us through even the bleakest time. She was always efficient and always calm - and had an amazing gift for sailing blithely through the often very tangible tensions between Marina and I. Joanne became the bedrock of office efficiency and as meagre, well deserved reward was ultimately the production office assistant on the film.
After meeting Jo Manuel I also decided it was time to start looking seriously at how I was going to direct this film and began the process of storyboarding - writing matchstick-man doodles for the shots. This was how I spent my evenings after the days of editing. Workaholic that I am, I timed my operation so that I could recuperate over Christmas. I had completed the new draft of the script days before going in to hospital and sent it to Jo.
In early January Marina and I went to Galway to meet Rod. He was concerned about lack of progress, and his view was that there has to be a cut-off point at which one acknowledges a project isn't going to happen. He reckoned the cut-off point for THE BOY FROM MERCURY was the summer of '95. On the positive side he indicated that the Board could provide more funding if it made the difference to getting the film made.
Returning from Galway I looked over all the old notes I'd kept and realised that still no tangible response had come from Jan Vandierendonck. Making contact with him, we discovered that he had been pushing the project in the Benelux territories and was trying hard to come up with 20% of the budget. In particular he referred us to Tharssius Van Huys whom Marina had met way back in Cannes and Tharssius had thought that since he hadn't heard from us (we'd sent the script to someone else in the company on the recommendation of Bernie Stampfer at the ESF) that the deal was done.
The decline in relations between Marina took its first major downturn shortly after Christmas. Marina felt that I was difficult to work with and also that her slice of a deal for the film didn't reflect her contribution to bringing the deal together. She also unveiled for the first time the issue which would be our downfall - Marina believed that all rights to THE BOY FROM MERCURY should be assigned to Mercurian Productions. Not just the screenplay rights already held. All rights. As in the rights held by an author's estate up to seventy years after his death. The debate was set aside then because I wouldn't budge under any circumstances on the issue of rights. We both wanted to get the film made - we had at least that in common - but we were inclined to be less and less involved with each other on a day to day basis.
Pressure mounting to fix a deal, Marina now set to work on a deal that could complete the funding using a Eurimages loan - this being a Media '92 fund which will come in with up to 12% of the budget for a film which is being co-produced between three EC partners. The Berlin Film Festival was coming up and she wanted to set up meetings which could bring the deal together there. I contacted Zentropa with the list of equipment required to see to what extent that could cover their 10% involvement as a minimum partner in a Eurimages co-production. A difficulty I was having, though, was that no one seemed to be able to commit the gear to specific dates.
I was getting more and more obsessed about whether or not a deal was coming together, and one day late in January I woke feeling that I was going to explode if I didn't hear definite news from someone about backing the film. Instead of facing another day of frustration, however, I just left the house and went for a walk. I wound up going to Mount Jerome cemetery to visit my parents' grave, and on the spur of the moment decided to go rambling back over my childhood ground - the landscape of THE BOY FROM MERCURY. I went past the Apollo Cinema which I visited every Saturday as a boy, and on up through Sundrive Park where I once kissed a childhood sweetheart, and crossed the road to the little corner shop 'The Elmo' where I used to buy bags of broken biscuits. I carried on up to the old folks homes which were built years ago where there used to be a wasteland behind the houses that for some reason we knew as 'the geygar'. From there I looked for the back of what was my home and was surprised to see that both the kitchenette extension and the coal shed had been demolished.
I went on up to my old school on Armagh Road where in my last year I was abused and systematically beaten by a 'Christian' Brother. The vast school looked like the victim of a stroke. One wing alive, the other falling into decay with smashed windows. By a stroke of luck, I came across a porter who let me in to wander inside and even unlocked the classroom where I spent my last unhappy year as a school boy. I met a woman who is a member of the Parent Teachers group there and was shown some old photos of the school's past. It was the film come to life. This was what I wanted to recapture.
Finally I went down Leighlin Road and past the house were I grew up. Everything so different from my childhood when the doors were painted a uniform but beautiful varnish. I carried on down Clogher Road, visiting St Bernadette's Church which was completely empty and just as vast as I recalled. When I got home I found out that Marina had been phoning wondering about my absence. My eldest son Bernard came by, and he and Rachel and I sat back and had some beers. I'm not great at relaxing, but that's a day I still remember with fondness as one when I just unplugged and drifted and was greeted with magic memories.
Early in February Marina and I set off on journeys which would converge. I went to Jo Manuel to spend a day with Debbie going over the script while Marina went to Copenhagen to try solidify a deal with Zentropa. Talking on the phone I had mentioned to Debbie that while I was comfortable with the notion of working through a script and accepting suggestions, if I believed a suggestion was bad for the script I wouldn't go ahead with it. Jo, on the other hand, had indicated that if she wasn't going to approach anyone with the script unless she felt happy with it. A lot, then, was riding on this day.
After a while working with Debbie at Jo's office, we decided to talk a stroll and continue work on the script in a nearby park. I was impressed by Debbie's absorption of the script and by the late in the afternoon we had reached the end of the script without any major differences. I then met up with Jo and Mark and went back to their home for something small to eat. I liked working with them and I enjoyed their company. It remained to be seen if I would come up with a script that firstly Jo wanted to pass around and secondly brought investment.
At the end of the day I returned to the hotel and Marina arrived. We talked about her day in Copenhagen, and while the Zentropa set-up was impressive she realised that nailing down a deal was still proving difficult. I went to bed but didn't sleep very well, waking in the middle of the night to read over the script and the notes made. Next day I could sit quietly through a meeting as Jo and Marina talked through the budget, the deal, and Jo's plans for the script. She mentioned that Mia Farrow (who had starred in "Widow's Peak") loved Ireland and might take the part of Harry's mother. This I couldn't accept - I felt strongly that Mia would be too much for the part.
Within a few days of my return to Dublin the new draft was complete. It was at this stage that I produced what was later referred to by Karen Street as 'a draft too far' - I was now starting to kill the story. It had actually become too lean, and needed a draft later which would restore the  flesh which had been thrown out with the flab. It had a running time of about seventy seven minutes, and had leant too much over to the looming threat of 'Mucker'. The script analyst for the ESF came back with emergency signals fearing that maybe I'd become too close to the material and needed to bring in someone else. Jo Manuel came back with comments from herself and Debbie about the script but the next draft would be in March, after a stretch of travelling I was about to undertake which I hoped would give me a chance to start seeing the script clearly again.
The first leg of the journey was to the Berlin Film Festival where Eina McHugh would help Marina and I make new contacts. We would also meet Jan Vandierendonck and try again to set a deal with Peter Aalbeck. The festival was mind-boggling in scale. When I first entered the building to have my registration verified I though it was a big building. But then I was cleared to go into the main body of the market area and discovered it was all the first floor of a series of buildings stretching the length of a street block. Marina was in her element in these situations, but soon I was avoiding the frenzied activity and going for long walks between arranged meetings. On our second evening at the festival, however, the word filtered down (through what original source I can't now remember) that RTE had made their decisions about film drama funding and they were investing œ100,000 in THE BOY FROM MERCURY. This was great news and even better timing as it created something of a buzz around the film and encouraged the ubiquitous Rod to further his efforts on our behalf.
One planned meeting took us out of Berlin for a return trip to Babelsburg. Brigitta Peitz of Cinevox had agreed to meet us and the company were still considering THE DREAMIST. In the event, however, we were given a very short and inconclusive meeting with her before being taken on a guided tour of the facilities and we all waved bye bye. We met Peter Aalbeck again, and met Mona Jensen of the Danish Film Institute who promised to support us in the project's consideration at an upcoming Eurimages decision session. We also went for an extremely pleasant meal with Jan Vandierendonck to a cafe in the still decrepit but very lively west side of the city and  met Frank Thomas of Neue Deutche Film who loved the script and was trying to source funds for us in Germany.
On our last night in Berlin Marina and I went for a meal together. What began pleasantly - given the tensions that were growing between us - took a downturn as Marina made another pitch for the total rights of my story being assigned to Mercurian Productions. My impression was that she had come to realise that producers usually control projects whereas in this instance I had initiated and for that matter created the project. All  I could agree was that we would go to a business advisor for neutral advice.
At this stage, casting seemed to be the element that could tilt the scales. I had hoped to get Colm Meaney for the part of 'Uncle Tony' but that having failed was trying to get Gabriel Byrne to play what I believed would be an enjoyable departure for him. I had travelled from Berlin to San Francisco to catch up with Rachel and stay with her brother for a short holiday. Marina contacted me there saying that finally there was a script with Gabriel who was in Los Angeles and I should be on standby to fly down and meet him. A time was set for me to call Marina reverse charge - I was visiting Alcatraz of all things at the time! - but the word had come back that even though Gabriel loved the script the part wasn't for him.
When I returned from the short holiday I sat down to reconcile the warring elements of the script. Taking views on board, while also getting clear in my head what views were unacceptable, I sat down and wrote a draft which was completed by March 5th. This was my best shot and I wasn't willing to do any more work on it for Jo. She had to either go with this or decide to leave the project. When she called, it was to say she was happy with the script and would now begin getting it to her hit list for funding. The one definite piece of casting I sought in Ireland was for Hugh O'Conor to play the part of Paul, and I felt this draft of the script was strong enough to get to him. I managed to find out his address and put a script in his letter box with a covering letter explaining about myself and where the project stood.
By now I was well and truly broke and was delighted to accept the offer of a small edit from Davy Hammond in Belfast. It was also sporadic work, meaning I would still have some weekdays free in Dublin. Tucked away in a cutting room in Belfast was probably the best place for me anyway - I was out of harm's way while my fate was being decided.
On one of my free days in Dublin Marina and I went for the meeting she had set up with an independent 'arbitrator' for our differences. What followed was to me farcical and offensive and no conclusion was reached. I went home and wondered if in fact I had to abandon the project, or seek the advice of the Board in this situation. I couldn't see myself being able to continue work with Marina. In the end Marina and I sat down for a last time and agreed on the continuing of a functional working relationship to get this film made. By mutual agreement we would never work together again, and THE DREAMIST, which I had begun to develop through the company, would no longer be pursued.
Back in Belfast I edited by day and worked on the second draft of the storyboard by night. The Eurimages deadline had come and gone with no submission from us because there weren't enough partners to make a plausible deal. All I could do was wait for word from Jo. In early April Marina went to Cannes for Mipcom and there would meet up with Jo who was trying to firm up a deal. She came back with nothing but bad news - Zentropa weren't in a position to commit their 10%, no new leads were coming, Jo was getting nowhere, and a planned meeting with Frank Thomas hadn't happened.
Recently I came across a great quote from John Sayles about financing a film. He said finding the money for a film is like hitchhiking. You've got to stand at the side of the road with your thumb out and it might be the first car that stops or it might be the thousandth car. But the tricky bit is knowing whether or not to get into the car. On April 19th I got an excited call from Marina. A car had stopped. The story about it was extraordinary. Trying to figure out possible new leads, Marina happened to have a chat with Darryl Collins who had recently co-produced Cathal Black's 'Korea'. He mentioned to her that Canal Plus were looking at a project of his and might be worth a try. Marina phoned Canal Plus who explained that they didn't deal directly with submissions but worked through independent French production companies. When Marina asked if they could suggest one, it was mentioned that the French company Blue Dahlia had just opened an English partner company Blue Rose and Marina took the details. Blue Rose turned out to be the very experienced and admired French producer Sylvaine Sainderchin. When Marina faxed the flyer about the project Sylvaine asked to see the script. It was one of the first to come to the new office. Sylvaine read it and passed it on to her French associate Gerard Jourd'hui. Then she came back with the word that she believed she could bring a third of the money to the film from France. Jo also came back with news that people were beginning to nibble - The Overseas Film Group in the USA seemed likely to come in with the rest of the money.
A date was set for Marina and I to go to London and then team up with Jo for a meeting with Sylvaine and her assistant Patricia. The office looked every bit like it had just been occupied, but it had already been established that Blue Rose were very definite players and could source whatever money they said they could source. Sylvaine is a remarkably private and self-assured woman, but then as in times to come she was quiet about her views. She had warmed to the story and listed a few points - easily dealt with - that had come back from France (I was never sure if this was from Canal Plus or from Blue Dahlia). She then went on to discuss her interest in the film and talked about being able to supply Canal Plus funding. Her one concern was about casting and bringing good names to the film. In the middle of this Jo's mobile phone rang and she took the call. Then smiled. It was a movie moment - Debbie had phoned to say that word had just come from Hugh O'Conor's agent saying he would commit to the film.
That instant, to me, was the point at which the deal became a reality. The story didn't actually end there because there were further machinations around the other third of the financing before Sylvaine came back with the news that Canal Plus wanted to put in all remaining finance in return for world rights. This in turn led to further meetings, and in particular to film solicitor James Hickey coming in to guide contracts through. Others who might have been involved - like Frank Thomas and Peter Aalbeck - were swept aside by the clout of the solid Canal Plus deal. But from that moment on I was convinced as I hadn't been before that I was about to make my first feature film.  
After the meeting I went for a long walk and found myself in Hammersmith where once, years before, I'd attended the dub of a film I'd sound edited for the North of Ireland film maker and poet Damien Gorman. The work had happened at a profoundly low time in my personal and professional life, and on the night of the dub when Damien and I dined together I wound up pouring out my heart about frustrations and my sense of failure. Next morning Damien had left the hotel before me and had left a note at reception. It said "Martin Duffy, dear old Duff, should be doing his own stuff". Sitting down in a bar near that restaurant to raise a toast to myself after the big meeting, I quoted the lines in my notebook and added "I am".


The more I've learned learned about the job of directing, the less appropriate I consider the job title. I really felt I should be called the navigator. I had a script and - if you'll excuse the cliche - a vision and had to guide these through the challenging waters to the safe harbour of the screen. That bit of waxing lyrical over, I'd like to give my account of how the film was made.
One of the most difficult things to be is a first time film director. When potential backers looked at the project they were comforted by my years of editing and writing, but it's quite a leap of faith to trust an unknown to make a good film. What few realised was that I shared their misgivings.
The fear that gripped me when I first heard that the Irish Film Board were giving a production loan to the film never fully went away. I had directed only one short film before - 'Splice of Life' - and despite my years of work as a film editor I had nagging doubts about my ability to have anything more than a functional approach to making a film. When I began late in 1994 to storyboard the film I tried to let my imagination run free. But I couldn't keep my editor's instinct for coverage of scenes in check and wound up with a shot list totalling seven hundred set-ups. For a small budget film, this was probably half again what I would be able to shoot. I kept wishing I could find a book that was titled 'How to Direct a Feature Film' and while wandering the streets of Berlin during the festival I came upon a shop with a collection of film books in the window. Among them? 'Film Directing Shot by Shot' by Stephen D Katz. I bought it immediately and it became a sort of bible. Through its guidance I started to think more about how I would make the film and began a new storyboarding draft. I can't draw and the previous draft had been mostly squiggles. As advised by the book, however, I traced images from old photos and magazines and used these as templates as I began the process of setting out shot by shot my plans for making the film. The process - which I found tedious and frustrating - lasted two months. In the end, however, I at least had something which could inform plans for scheduling and could be viewed by one and all as the masterplan which could be at least taken as the starting point for filming the script. The number of shots totalled three hundred and seventy six. The end product was so valuable to me that since then the two scripts I've written have gone through a storyboarding phase as part of the rewriting. Screenplays are, after all, just the foundation for a visual end result and when you start imagining particular images you begin to see how the script can flow differently to achieve greater visual impact.
The prospect of actually being the person seen as the shaper of a film kept me constantly preoccupied. I had never really though about the kind of film I would make, and would spend hours writing notes, or reading, or watching videos to study technique. That said, I remained a sap for sentiment and manipulation. I once sat down to study Jim Sheridan's 'My Left Foot' and by half way I was just crying my eyes out and absorbed in the story. Comparisons had been made in story terms between my script and 'My Life as a Dog' so I watched this a few times. What struck me in particular is possibly a sweeping comment; there is a tendency with European film to stand back and let the audience invest emotion in a scene whereas the American way is to manipulate through images and music. If this is a valid generalisation, I was certainly aspiring to the American way. It was simply the way that did what I most love a film doing - it transported me into the film and suspended my disbelief. Mind you, woe be to the charlatan who suspends your disbelief and then leaves you high and dry when you realise you've been tricked rather than moved.
From very early on I knew that I wanted the film's music to be big - orchestral. Harry is a little boy, but his emotions and experiences are galactic in proportion. Music is also the greatest tool for manipulation in a film - so much so, indeed, that if the music is bigger than the scene it's carrying then the film collapses.
Another thing I didn't shy away from in my plans was 'homage' - or, in plain language, stealing. There's a quote about writing which says 'only steal from the best', and in my storyboards I would sometimes note a shot as being 'the Jaws shot', 'the ET shot', 'the Haunting shot' and so on.
Another point I believed (when I came across it in a book) was that the way you started a film set your audience up to either relax or have reservations. If I could start the film with confidence and strength, the audience should feel they are in safe hands and start opening up to the film. Manipulation was my shameless goal in directing the film, and the kick for touch of 'coverage' (shoot every scene from at least five angles for the editor) was the familiar voice I was going to try ignoring. No matter what film you look at, a scene is a scene and it's the director's choice of shots within it that reveal his or her gift as a manipulator of cinema and audience. If I began this chapter by saying my role in the making of the film was navigator, I must add that the most honest credit  on the screen would be manipulator.
I was at all times open about my insecurities and looked to others for advise. I would have dearly loved to have an experienced film maker read the script and sit down with me for even a day to go over the points that he or she reacted to and felt I should watch out for. I tried on a few occasions to reach John Boorman for this but he was at first busy and then, sadly, in the midst of a bereavement. I could turn to friends for help, however, and would take notes after conversations with them.
Conor McAnally is a TV director and producer. I first met him in RTE when he was making the transition from being a TV presenter, and while we never worked together I always liked and admired him. In the late eighties, while heading his successful TV company Green Apple he worked tirelessly to try and generate union and film maker agreements that would later be revived as the Film Action Plan. Conor had moved to London however,  and on one trip I stayed with himself and his wife Kay. Talking through my anxieties about directing, Conor offered various bits of advice from his years of experience. One thing he said was repeated to me time and time again by others - I had to learn to trust my instincts. He talked about the constant pull between making sure you have enough shots to cover a scene versus putting your own stamp on the scene.  He recommended having each day's shooting set out in a way that prioritised shots so that I could balance the two needs. He also warned of the danger of sacrificing performance for set-ups and not getting locked in to a momentum which resulted in great shots but poor acting. He said that the director creates the energy on the set and people tend to work to his pace and temperament.
I met up with Michael Monaghan too. Michael, as I mentioned earlier, had dragged me back to writing in the early eighties. With his years of experience as TV producer and department head he had a sublime and witty overview of the task ahead of me. He said that I had to be in control and make that clear to people. He also offered on intriguing piece of advice about working with actors - that being my biggest weakness. Michael said that actors are helped by specifics - by giving them a particular prop to connect with their character (Uncle Tony's goggles and helmet, for instance) and suggesting specific things to do.
I had been invited to talk about film editing at a training course in Film Base and was sharing the 'podium' that evening with Jean Skinner who has amassed a wealth of knowledge as continuity assistant. As she spoke about her adventures I sat mesmerised and I later sent her the script and asked her if she had any comments. Kindly, Jean agreed to meet me and I visited her at home. Of the many things we talked about - and much of what Jean said consisted of great anecdotes that would make a fascinating book - I wound up jotting down a list of chief points. Jean above all else urged the value of communicating and said there was nothing worse than a set where factions or people weren't talking to each other. She spoke about 'casting' the crew and making sure a good mix was being created on the team. She said that the cast and crew - particularly on a low budget film - needed pampering to compensate for reduced income. She advised being very supportive of the cast and said I should praise them often.
I met Gerry Stembridge, who at that stage was nearing the end of the edit of 'Guiltrip' and we talked about the phenomenon of making your first feature film. He was cheerful as always and full of humour about the experience. Talking about working with actors, I mentioned what Michael Monaghan had said about offering something specific as a starting point with the character - for example in terms of the goggles and helmet with uncle tony Gerry said also be ready for the actor asking why - you don't need an earth shattering reason - but have a reason for the character having that touch. He also warned against constricting actors with storyboarding. He warned against being seduced into wasting time on shots you don't truly believe you want - such shots must always be at the bottom of the queue. Like Conor, Gerry talked about prioritising the shots you want each day and going through them that way.
He supported the notion of being inclusive about the script and welcoming suggestions. He had few days rehearsal, but had written the script around the cast in the first place. Not long before the start of filming, he gathered the HODs and some others at his house and read the script to them. This he found helpful from his own point of view, and led to some input but above all an opportunity for clarification.
As we parted I asked him - "what would you want someone to say to you if you were about to make your first feature film?" - his response was "HOLD ON', by which he elaborated that as all those people talk to you about this and that on the set, you must hold on to the heart of your story and trust that alone. Hold on to the story - remember the time when you wrote this or that on the page. Remember why you did it. The story is about something. You wrote those words for a reason.
One evening in the Irish Film Centre I bumped into Tiernan McBride, who I hadn't seen in a while.  Tiernan, I knew, was being a great help in supporting the film with the Film Action Plan group. As one of Ireland's most experienced film maker's, he was also a man I gladly took advice from about directing. One piece of advice he gave didn't sink in at the time (as you'll read later). Tiernan warned against over-rehearsing the children for fear of losing their spontaneity. He also recommended that I make sure not to do any very demanding scenes in the early days of the shoot, and said that the First Assistant Director on a film was so important the role should almost be auditioned. He recommended Martha O'Neill for the job, but as I found out later Martha was unavailable. That evening, as he wished me luck, was the last time I saw Tiernan. A few months later he died suddenly - a great loss.
Marina and I met Clare Duignan, head of the Independent Production Unit of RTE. As they were backing the film they wanted to talk about the script and also, I discovered, my ability to direct a film. Clare confessed her reservations, among them my lack of experience with actors. She also feared I might be too soft to be a director. The best I could offer as reassurance was that I would keep in open communication every step of the way and be willing to accept advice and criticism. At heart though Clare was delighted for me and excited to see me face this adventure.
I met Hugh O'Conor for the first time in late April, shortly after the call had come through at the meeting in London. I was very nervous about meeting him - I am generally in awe of the acting craft and very conscious of my inexperience in working with them. Hugh was funny and one thing above all else - sane. Here was a young man who had reached fame at the age of nine in the film 'Lamb' and had gone on through the years with a very clear perspective on what he wanted to do with his life. He turned down lucrative work so that he could continue his studies through to the Trinity College Drama degree, and he was hugely supportive of the Irish film industry. At the end of the meeting we headed off joking about the fact that 'his people and my people' would want to know how things went between us. Sure enough, I got a call from Jo Manuel not long after wanting to know how all had gone and in time she had word back from Hugh's agent saying that our first meeting had been a success.
When I met Hugh a month later we talked through his role a little more. Again I got the message that my role was to be the source of clarity. I had to know where I was going and what I wanted. It was exciting to realise that he has already worked through the script and had many of the lines. I caught glimpses of him in the part, and he was full of enthusiasm.

Film making is, of course, a team effort and from early in 1995 that team began taking shape. Around February of 1995 Kate Lennon, who had worked with us on a draft budget and been a terrific help, decided that now with a second child she couldn't take on the task of line producing the film. The search began for an alternative, and it was then Marina introduced me to the tower of strength in the making of the film - Noelette Buckley. Noelette had just finished line producing Gerry Stembridge's 'Guiltrip' and was what you might call a hot property. I was advised by Jo that if I could get Noelette on the project it would be great for us, but Noelette was tired and considering taking a break for a while. Noelette is a no nonsense woman with endless commitment, and when, after a weekend of deliberation, she came back saying she would work on the film I was delighted. She immediately set to work on the budget and looking at the draft schedule I had drawn up.
The other major consideration at that time was a production designer and my friend Martin Mahon urged me to choose Tom Conroy. I had met Tom once before when he was production designer on Bob Quinn's 'Budawanny' which I edited. Tom was based in London but sent me tapes of his work. When we met we renewed acquaintance and it seemed to me that he was the perfect choice. Right from the beginning Tom launched himself into the project - long before there was money to pay him or even a budget in place. He was keen to look at the storyboarding I'd done and view films that we could consider mutual points of reference. Harry's nightmare scene was the source of an odd coincidence. Over Christmas I had taped a screening of the brilliant Robert Wise film 'The Haunting' which has a menacing supernatural presence conveyed only in sound and at one stage a bulging door. I showed this to Tom as an example of what I was trying to achieve, and he was amazed to realise that a man who had lectured him in the National Film School in London had been the production designer on the film! Tom also encouraged me to root into the old family photographs I had stored after my mother's death to give him images to work from. This proved to be a great help to us both and was a vital element in establishing the look of the film. I always had a sense that the 'look' of the film would be my weakest link and by finding Tom I found someone who could lift that aspect beyond my limitations - and as it turned out even beyond the limitations of the budget.
Another department head choice was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make in the entire process of making the film. I had a long friendship with a cameraman who I had felt would be the natural choice for director of photography. Talking with him a few times with the script, I sensed that the nature of our friendship - where he had tended to be the dominant one and I the one who listened and agreed - was spilling dangerously over into discussions about how the film would be made. I said this to him and said we would start over with an acceptance on his part that I was the boss and if I really wanted something a particular way then it would be so. This agreed, we began talking through storyboards and again he was making comments about the look and the script which I didn't like but he felt strongly about. Perhaps it was cowardice on my part, but after a lot of thought I went to his home, sat down, and told him I felt we couldn't work together. I still feel bad about it. But I also feel it was the right decision. It was an act of professional ruthlessness, but if I was going to screw up in the making of my first feature then the screw up was going to be all mine and not the shared result of a power struggle. Seamus Deasy was the man I chose as cinematographer, and in dealing with him right from the beginning he was open to my ideas and eager to make the film. The bottom line, perhaps, was that there was no agenda between he and I. With Seamus on board the film was becoming the creative 'god child' of Bob Quinn as Seamus had shot Budawanny. He had also filmed 'The End of the World Man', the late Bill Miskelly's children's feature film. Seamus had worked twice on dramas with John Boorman and told me that on the film 'Two Nudes Bathing' Boorman had the entire film shotlisted for each day's filming and this document was given to all the crew. Hearing that, I was relieved to know I wasn't the only control freak in the world.
Acknowledging that my wish for a lot of shots and a lot of camera movement had to be tempered with a schedule which wouldn't over-work the child cast, Seamus planned on working as much as possible with available light. Having heard stories of cinematographers who could take half a day to light a set this was a great relief. For budgetary reasons we were shooting on Super 16mm format to blow up the final cut to 35mm. This put further constrictions on Shay - but nothing phases him. Just talking to him made me feel more relaxed in my role.
As mentioned before, I was certain that I wanted a big soundtrack for the film. It was one are where I felt other Irish film makers had shown too much restraint, and yet it was an area which I knew could sweep the audience into the world of Harry. In recent years I've developed a habit of building up a sound tape of music pieces while I'm developing an idea, and when I was scripting THE BOY FROM MERCURY I listened constantly to a tape which included extracts from 'Cinema Paradiso', 'Holsts' Planet Suite',  and a Michael O'Suilleabhan album called 'flowan....'. I made some queries about Michael composing the music for the film in fact, but never managed to contact him. While my deliberations about a composer were going on, I started getting besieged by a man whose enthusiasm borders on the manic. Stephen McKeon had just completed the music for Cathal Black's 'Korea' and he sent this to me along with a tape with samples of his compositions. While he was eager to meet, I was being advised about other people worth trying and I was leaving my options open as this of all choices was probably the lowest down the list of priorities. While I thought Stephen's work on 'Korea' was fine (but suffering, in my opinion, from the restraint that I didn't want) I listened to his sample tape and something came along which sold me on Stephen then and there. It was like the moment you know you've fallen in love with someone. What Stephen had on his tape was a huge orchestral theme. It was such an unashamedly big and glorious score, it was worthy of a John Ford panorama and evoked all those great images of excitement as the cowboys team up to ride into the desert or gather up the cowherd.  When Stephen and I met we approached the task of how the music would evolve by looking for a shared language. I referred him to films I liked and vice versa. I played him the tape I'd been listening to while writing the script and we exchanged views on that. One area of concern for me was the fact that as an editor I always loved working with music and as I had such strong opinions about the sound I wanted Stephen had to be ready for some straight and perhaps disagreeable reactions from me. Once we established how we would work together Stephen dealt with Noelette to make an orchestral score achievable on our limited budget. But Stephen was the man for the film - and indeed his western score is used when Harry meets Sean and they play cowboys and indians.
The biggest and most difficult choice for the film was the editor. I had written this script and would direct it. I co-owned the production company. The story was semi-autobiographical. I had been a film editor for fifteen years. People were relieved when I said it would be too much if I also cut the film - but I knew enough about editing to realise I could bring in a puppet editor and cut the film in all but name. I was one of the more experienced editors in Ireland, and felt that no one here was really so far ahead of me as to be able to keep me in my rightful place in the cutting room. For that reason I had warned everyone - including the Film Board from as far back as the submission for production funding - that I would be looking abroad for an editor. The search began with Jo approaching agents in England and sending me lists but what I was hoping for seemed impossible - an editor of vast experience willing to work on a small feature film for a limited amount of money. That story took some time to unfold.
In mid May the next watermark was reached. With a budget, a schedule, some crew and the makings of full financing, we were ready to face the completion bond company. No investors will put money in a film over a million pound budget without the safety net of a company which guarantees the film will see the light of day. Through Jo, we were dealing with David Wilder of Film Finances and there was a meeting at which he would decide whether or not the company would give a bond to our production. The key deciding fact for him would be that we were a sound bunch who knew what we were doing and how we would do it. Above all at this stage, he would want to know whether or not I seemed like someone who could direct a film.
Jo came over for the meeting which was held in the Irish Film Centre. Present with us were Marina and Noelette. I'll always remember that as each of the women sat down they placed their mobile phones on the table - it seemed like saloon poker scene for the Nineties. David - who was suffering from a stomach bug - said he liked the script. He also made it clear that completion bonds for such small films were really only given to support the industry and that if a small film did fail and Film Finances were forced to step in it could damage that service for aspiring film makers to come. He went through the script, budget and schedule and made several points which I jotted down. These points included; Be wary of Max the dog and expectations of him, rehearse the children thoroughly, cast even the schoolroom children and note that in previous experience classroom scenes run over schedule. He was glad to see that I had storyboarded the film but noted ruefully that he had seen many directors do the same and then change their minds once they got on set.
Noelette, we all agreed, was the one who clinched David's support. She had already worked with David on 'Guiltrip' so he knew she could keep a film on budget. Her clarity put David at ease and as the meeting drew to a close he indicated that if his points were taken on board he could see no reason why a completion bond wouldn't be provided. As were were wrapping up David became more chatty and asked me where I got the idea of a story about a boy who believes he's from another planet. I told him the story was largely autobiographical - and his face dropped. Later, I heard through Jo that David was somewhat rattled by the idea of underwriting a film directed by someone who believed he was an alien.
Soon after this I met production manager Jo Homewood for the first time as we gathered to talk about the logistics of making the film. I met her with Noelette and Marina and at the end of the meeting Jo joked about the fact that this wasn't art anymore - it was a military operation.
As more and more people gathered around the film I felt terribly responsible for these people, and knew that while we all had to treat the film as happening in reality the deal for the budget wasn't completely locked off. The greatest scourge of all, and one that constantly occupied Marina, was the struggle to bank-roll pre-production. No one wants to put in their money first in case the film folds, yet if we were to wait for a deal to be signed and sealed before starting pre-production we wouldn't be able to film until after the summer holidays by which time the budget would go through the roof as we'd be filming children during school time. The fear always was that I was messing with the livelihoods of these people but sense said that this far down the line the film had to happen. On May 22nd, however, with Marina, Jo and Sylvaine in Cannes, I received word back that Canal Plus were committing œ450,000 to the film and while this still left a shortfall there seemed to be enough other nibbles out there to believe the film could be deemed in a 'go' situation. Another breakthrough came a few days later with a call from Jo to say that the word back through Pete Postlethwaite's agent was that he wanted to play Uncle Tony.
Brendan Gunn is a dialogue coach from Belfast I originally met through the film makers Mike Hewitt and Diarmuid Lavery when editing for them in 1988. Of the many films he'd worked on, a story he told me about 'Into the West' had made a deep impression. Apparently both children roles had been cast in this film long before the deal had been locked off, and Brendan had been working with the two boys on dialogue for some time. When the film was weeks away from shooting a change of line-up brought Mike Newell in as director. He took one look at the boy cast in the younger role and said he was wrong. Brendan was present when the young boy was told the news and said it was harrowing to see how upset the boy was. This was something I swore wouldn't happen on my project and so I had been very slow about trying to cast a film which in fact would stand or fall on the performance of one eight year old. As filming started to become a reality, casting Harry became a matter of concern. Indeed, more than once I woke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking that maybe I was walking myself into a nightmare situation by wanting to direct an unmakeable film.
The first approach was to contact youth drama groups and schools. I also talked to actor and film maker Vinny Murphy who had been working with young people in Tallaght and he recommended a group I could make contact with. There was also one boy I knew who had at least the lineage to be a fine performer - eight year old Johnny Lambert who was the son of Paula and grandson of puppeteer Eugene Lambert. I visited the Jobstown Drama Group one Sunday and they very kindly devoted what would have been one of their routine sessions to performing some work for me. In particular I had brought along the poem I wanted to use in the script - Padraic Colum's "The Old Woman of the Road" - and I was transported back to my school days as I listened to those true Dublin  voices rattled out the words.
The first real set of auditions took place in late May. We booked time in a small studio in Ringsend called The Courtyard and various drama schools brought along boys aged eight to eleven.  In the waiting area Joanne Jordan took Polaroids of the children and took details of their height and so on. In the studio, a cameraman recorded the ten minute chats while I took notes and talked to the boys. I wasn't sure what to talk about - I just wanted a sense of the personalities. I also was asking Joanne to keep note of how the boys behaved while waiting because film making can be boring and children hate to be bored. I saw thirty five boys that day. The most exciting part was the realisation that I was right in my sense that the cast should be as young as the characters in the script. There's a magic in the faces of boys around 8/9 that is gone by the age of 11/12. Johnny Lambert shone through the auditions, as did the Jobstown gang. At a push, I could identify a Harry, a Sean and a Mucker plus some classroom kids including some with lines. But it was early days yet.
When Jo Manuel saw the tape she came back with an astute response - I needed a casting director. I had already been approached by Gillian Reynolds, and she set to work scouring Dublin for all groups she could find - even school drama classes. By the end of it all, Gillian reckoned she had seen nearly eight hundred boys.
In early June I got a call from Jo saying that Billie Whitelaw loved the script and would do the film. The whoops of delight rang through the house. I called Tom, Hugh, Seamus and others to spread the word. Rachel dashed out and bought us a bottle of wine. I was elated and stunned. I was going to be writer and director working with Billie Whitelaw. The last Dubliner to do that was Samuel Beckett. This is happening to me. I shouted 'thank you' at the ceiling after the phone call, then started to get all the more nervous about directing actors.
A few days later picked up the Irish Times to read the first bit of publicity about the film - Pete Postlethwaite starring and shooting to begin July 31st. I went down to Marina and she broke the news that we needed to put the start date back a week. Then Jo called to say that Pete had pulled out.  Much as he wanted to, his availability just couldn't fit in with our schedule. Names flew back and forward for Uncle Tony, with a shortlist of Tom Courtenay, Tom Conti, Jim Sheridan and Donal McCann. Tom Courtenay, however, had already been queried and found unavailable for the dates. By the end of the day, with Jo contacting Overseas Sales Group, the deal was set for them to come in with the rest of the funding if we could get Tom Conti or his equivalent. I couldn't imagine Tom Conti as Uncle Tony, and as a script was being couriered to him I said a secret prayer he'd turn it down or be unavailable.
On the positive side, Sean McGinley came back saying he wanted to play Dowdall. So in one day the cast was changing to Billie Whitelaw, Hugh O'Conor, Tom Conti and Sean McGinley and start of filming was set for August 7th. The day was topped with a call in from Louise Cullen of Animal Magic saying she believed she had found Max. I went home with my head spinning, thinking about Tom Conti's intelligent eyes, hair style, and nose.
A day trip to London soon followed. Firstly, I met Jo with David Winlow, an agent for Overseas Film Group. Basically, his remit was to establish that all was sound and that I wasn't a raving lunatic about to blow the investment on a cocaine holiday for one or whatever. It was an amiable chat which seemed to establish that all was well and that the deal would be in order. He was going to the states the following week and said he would recommend that the deal. He mentioned that the people in the States liked 'Splice of Life' - bless them.
And then there was Billie.
Jo drove me there - to Byron's Restaurant in Hampstead. As soon as we sat down Billie said this story must be autobiographical and I acknowledged this - mentioning some elements of truth including the scar on my hand from the time when I wanted to show off how to be shot and fell off a wall landing on glass. Then Billie said "I'm too old for this part". I nearly passed out. I wasn't sure if she was looking for a way out of the film or expressing a genuine concern. She talked about the lines on her face and how the camera would highlight them, and I scrambled with words around my own background and the hardships and my own mother being forty six when I was born. Jo had quit the scene as I floundered, and all I really wanted to do was say "Billie you are beautiful and strong and perfect".  But I was awestruck again and tongue tied. I managed to scramble on to Hugh O'Conor and the fact that I could offer him music of the day and some photographs. Billie said she'd love to see photographs and so I showed her those I was carrying with me. It helped her greatly to see Mam, and helped her get a clearer fix on the character she would play. She also expressed fears about accent - saying she had worked with Beckett on "All That Fall" but had really only done a general purpose accent as opposed to a distinct one. I told her that Brendan Gunn would be there for her and she wasn't sure that such technical advice would be a help. Then I confessed an idea I'd had before of giving her a copy of my tape talking to my sisters Brigid and Ethel about Mam - Brigid's voice is so perfect. Billie was eager to get that tape.
Our meeting turned into shades of the confessional. I expressed my fears about my lack of knowledge of working with actors, and she assured me that she is afraid all the time. We agree that we will be open with each other. Her body is something she works with, and so she is open to talking about how the hair will be done, or her make-up, or how lighting tests can establish how she'll come across on film. She is open to exploring with me - even if she feels I'm wrong - but equally will let me know if she feels I'm going the wrong way. She flatteringly said that script had its own fragility and shouldn't be intellectualised or tampered with - she wants to treat the character of the mother gently. By the end of it all I felt she was open to embracing the story and the character and I was delighted.
Towards the end of our time together, she talked about "Footfalls" and "Eh Joe" - performing pieces from both and mesmerising me.  Talking about 'Footfalls' she coiled her arms as she described this woman as a dinosaur fading away and I could see how it would be. She did the voice from Eh Joe, talking about how Beckett had her reduce the inflection to nothing until that voice became his rhythm. My sense of her is as someone whose art is the willingness to be raw for others so that their work can flow through her. At the end when we stood up to leave the restaurant I towered over her. "And I'm tiny - only five foot one," she groaned. But she's so fantastic. For all my fears, I felt safe working with someone who at the end of the day was open to rehearse, to absorb, to listen, to interpret, and to breathe life into the role. We were trading bits of each others' lives in this process - her own experience of losing her father when she was very young but not being included in the mourning. Her understanding of hardship and escape into fantasy. Her professionalism. In a sense which will most likely be unstated we would act as both each others' parents and children. As director I'd take care of her while she'd watch out for my inadequacies. As actress she'd come with the weight of her vast experience while seeking my guidance and care in the making of the film.
As full pre-production approached my days were filled more and more with communication. Calls, meetings, and my obsessive habit of writing lists and striking off details dealt with. At this stage I finally got the hint from Noelette that I should be pacing myself - I mentioned I was thinking of going away for a few days with Rachel and Noelette was only short of offering to pay for the break. Wanting to do things right, I had to learn to delegate and not feel I was a one man band.  Around this time my younger son Steve, living with his Mam in the States, was coming home for his annual summer holiday. I normally try to spend as much time with him as possible, but had warned him that this time around he'd be seeing me busier than I'd ever been before. My wish to spend time with him, though,  at least tempered my endless fussing.
Noelette and Marina were soldiering through a mountain of problems. That summer was turning into the greatest boom ever for film making in Ireland, and this meant that resources were scarce. Worse still, with a sense that there would be another call for work on the horizon crew were unwilling to do the deals we needed to stay within our small budget. Ardmore Studios was booked solid so we had to try finding another space, and there was even difficulty finding a base for the production office. The Communication Centre in Booterstown finally became our home, and when I first visited it all there was to see was a huge empty room with phone sockets and grey carpet.
Around this time the question friends were most likely to ask was if I felt stressed. I didn't. Exhilarated, totally absorbed and preoccupied, but not stressed. There's a scene in 'The Godfather' I often think of. Michael has gone to visit his father in hospital after the failed assassination. The place is deserted - ready for a hit to complete the murder. A young man comes along to pay his respects, and Michael has him stand outside so the two look like heavies protecting the place. The young man is terrified, and can't even light his cigarette. Michael lights the cigarette for him, and looks at his own hand - rock steady. Michael can do this. I felt the very same way as filming approached. I was doing what I wanted to do. I was happy to be a resource and let all who needed to do so come and draw from me what they need. I was so so glad I did all the storyboarding and all the drafts and all the schedules and all the learning - it meant that I could offer clear answers. Aware that as the director I would become the mood of the film, I was content to take on any problems and challenges as cast and crew gathered to turn this story - so close to me - into what I knew from my years as an editor would be presented at the end of the day as 'my' film rather than 'our' film. If people were going to work to make my dream come true, the least I could do was be there for them with a generous heart and no childish behaviour.
One thing that had always worried me about being a film director was the need for stamina. I had never really worked for a long time under sustained pressure and feared that one day I'd just fold up and fall asleep for a week. I was on a regime of vitamins and relatively clean living (having given up smoking but not entirely given up drinking) but went to a doctor for advice about how this old dog could suit the long road.  I had also started shifting my body clock, rising at seven in the morning and going to bed by eleven to get in tune with the coming regime of the shoot. In the event, though, I think the biggest source of energy was the delight and challenge in the work. One thing I found difficult (and became a real burden by the end of the shoot) was the constant contact with other people. As an editor and writer I'd grown accustomed to a sparsely populated life, but now I was constantly talking to people and dealing with them. The person who got the worst of this was Rachel, who was there at the end of every day when she wanted to talk but I just wanted to soak in thought and solitude. We worked things out with some difficulty, but the fact that my brain felt full to the  brim did nothing for our relationship.
A definite time of stress occurred one fateful Saturday when, in a massive blunder I probably had to make anyway, I arranged for a day of auditions working with all the children I had short-listed and Gillian wanted me to see.  The venue was a hall attached to the Lansdowne Road Rugby Club. As I arrived the children were arriving with their parents who, after a brief chat from me, left and were due to return at five that afternoon. The plan was that Seamus Deasy would use a camcorder while I worked with the boys who had already received excerpts of the script to learn. My long time friend actor Liam Heffernan would come along to help me work with the group. Gillian would be there to help with individual auditions. But none of this prepared me for the stark reality of having some fifty boys in one place for a day. It was sheer hell. The day begun with what I believed to be a necessary bit of ice-breaking. We played a few games to set the boys at ease - but the games worked only too well. At one point I jokingly said everyone should rush Shay and before I knew it he was under a mound of laughing boys who had to be dragged away. Moving beyond the exercises to some performing, Shay recorded as the boys sat as if in class and recited the poem. No matter what I said, many of them grinned at the camera as it passed them by. When we moved on to having pairs I'd selected act out scenes between Harry and Sean, the performances ranged between the good and the not so good. But after a few hours the boys were hungry and let us know so by chanting for food. When the food finally arrived they tucked in so fast I was left with a handful of chips to eat. While sitting with Shay at lunchtime we were approached by a boy who had lost a baby tooth in the course of the morning. He demonstrated with pride his neat trick, dunking a chip into his open gum as if dunking it in ketchup and then swallowing the chip.
In the afternoon matters deteriorated. I was to see boys selected by Gillian while outside Liam and Joanne were struggling to keep some semblance of control over the horde. Fortunately, a ball had been found which led to a few minor injuries but at least a focus of sorts to prevent boys from climbing walls, trying to invade the Lansdowne pitch, and even trying to run away.  Joanne was busy compiling a black list of the boys who were uncontrollable. Sadly this included some that Liam and I thought had a lot of potential. By late in the afternoon I had a bursting headache and felt like an absolute idiot. When the last of the boys were collected I went to the pub with my unfortunate crew and sat in misery as they drank. It was the first time I realised just how lucky I was to have Shay. He was sitting there smiling and unperturbed by what had gone before. I went home and wrote notes about the day, criticising myself and realising that for the days of filming which would involve a lot of children we might have to hire in cattle prods and stun guns.
The following Monday was the first formal day of preproduction. At that stage the team consisted of Tom Conroy and his gathering crew plus Jo Homewood, Noelette, and Joanne. I was at home that morning as my son Steve was with us and while I busied myself with work and phone calls I was approached by Rachel. She had just bought a home pregnancy test. The result of the test was positive. I was numbed by the news. My operation had been testament to the fact that we wanted a child. But now? I was delighted yes. But couldn't think clearly about it. Rachel said that to be safe, since sometimes the test might give the wrong result, she would try again in a few days. But the fact was that Rachel felt pregnant and the test a few days later would prove her right. Mind you, our future bundle of joy had another surprise in store for us in terms of timing. While the news was a source of great excitement, I decided not to tell anyone on the film. I had become increasingly aware of the fact that the director is someone that people tiptoe around and so if news of this added pressure came out I might get treated even more delicately and thereby not receive all the information I needed to go about my work.
Word soon came back that Tom Conti had passed on Uncle Tony and I breathed a sigh of relief. Better still was the news that Tom Courtenay had become available and the script was on its way to him. I sent out positive vibes and prayers.  A few days later I got a call from Jo saying Tom had read the script and wanted to talk to me. She gave me his number and I braced myself for what lay ahead. I really wanted him for the part, but still had my fear of actors. When I phoned Tom had been watering his plants. He talked glowingly of the script and Uncle Tony's idiosyncratic speech. "I have one question," he said 'what does 'the job is oxo' mean?". I started blabbing. I explained how Dublin language played with words. I explained about Oxo being a gravy and all other kinds of strangled things. I mentioned that the expression means 'everything is alright' and he cut in. "Ah, you've answered my question". I felt like a gobshite. Tom wanted to do the part and said the last hurdle was to show the script to his wife Isabella who had final say on such matters. I said I really wanted him for the film and when I hung up I started praying again.
Work was gathering momentum. Of the six weeks of prep, the first was to be spent with an edit of the Flash Gordon footage plus an edit of the casting tape, followed by time shown locations, followed by time with Tom Conroy and his gang, followed by a trip to London to talk to editors, followed by more auditions, all within the context of being across the start up in the Communications Centre of the Mercury production machine. Luke Johnson had started work with us as locations manager. Luke is a rugged young man who would later gain the nickname 'Indiana' Johnson.
While a first assistant director hadn't been found, everyone was recommending Brendan Geraghty. Brendan had been first AD for Gerry Stembridge but lived in Spain and was naturally reluctant to leave home. He was considering the job and I phoned him to talk through how we might work together. His concern - which I shared - was that a film with a lot of children involved couldn't be a tense shoot. First ADs, however, are often known by their bark and that wasn't his approach. Talking it through, I think that Brendan believed that I had some sense of what I was at and that we were sufficiently like-minded to be able to work together, and he finally came back with the decision to do the film.
And the other considerations were checked off one by one. I had been viewing TV programmes of the Sixties from the BBC archive looking for material watched during the film. I was thrilled to come across a play called 'Tuppence in the Gods' which had been written by an old friend and mentor from my RTE days, Michael Voysey. I naturally seized on the chance to include it in the film. There was also a great excerpt from "What's my Line" and, under the category of the boring programme Paul watches while Sarah devotes her time to Harry, a staggeringly mind numbing interview with the Danish ombudsman. It was very difficult to get rights for the songs of the era for the film. After much toing and froing, however, a deal was struck with EMI for thirty seconds of The Shadows' Apache, and a minute of Johnny Kidd's Shakin All Over.
On one long day in  London I met four editors - none of whom I felt really fitted what I needed - and finally Tom Courtenay - who was fantastic. The script had been approved by Isabella and he was already getting into the part of Uncle Tony. Jo and I met Tom for a meal and I sat chatting with this ma that I had watched in so many great role - my own favourite being that of Billy Liar. Tom has been twice nominated for an Oscar but it would seem his love of performance took first priority over career moves in the film industry and so he had slipped out of view from cinema audiences for years at a time. He had recently been in Dublin, however, playing Quilp in a Disney TV production of Dicken's 'The Old Curiosity Shop'. At the end of the evening as we bade goodbye I walked along feeling immensely proud that I'd written something that he'd actually want to perform.
Later, when Jo was driving me back to my hotel, I said "I've something to tell you'. Jo's immediate response was "Rachel is pregnant". Jo said that films bring babies - and indeed her own daughter Cleo was born right at the start of her making 'Widow's Peak. We agreed to keep the news secret.
Sean McGinley, meanwhile, had run into difficulties with availability with the shift in the film's schedule. I immediately thought of Ian McElhinney and when he read the script he agreed. I had originally shied away from Ian because he's actually quite similar in appearance to the Christian Brother who had abused me as a child, but of course this was not for him to know. Ian was in Dublin doing some preparations for filming in Neil Jordan's 'Michael Collins' and I met him for coffee at Connolly Station before he took the train home to Belfast. Again he brought home to me the fact that actors are people who seek for ways to bring dimensions and life to what is on paper.
To my great shock, I was informed that Billie Whitelaw was not going to be mother. Billie was promoting her book about working with Beckett, and it turned out that there were dates which clashed and couldn't be budged. Again, there was a flurry of activity back and forth between Jo and I as lists of names were suggested. A name that leapt out was Rita Tushingham - a woman who had only recently returned to England after years living in Canada.  The script went to her, and I carried on with work while hoping that this would work out.
I had a second casting session with Gillian Reynolds and we concluded with a short list of four Seans, three Muckers, and seven Harrys. It was a hugely important move on Jo Manuel's part to say we should get a casting director, because I had been walking myself into big trouble. As pre-production gathered momentum, we were also locking off locations. The national school and an old suburban cinema in Whitehall both fitted the bill of our needs happily. In the school, there was a particular classroom which was double length with a sliding partition dividing the two rooms. I've no idea how this room came about, but it was perfect for us as it meant that  the cast and crew wouldn't be crammed into a real classroom but instead would have the room to work from one room when shooting up the classroom and work from the other when shooting down the classroom. One major problem loomed, however. From Tom Conroy's plans  it became clear that the 18 foot warehouse we were planning on using as our studio would not work in terms of needs for the starry sky and the night shots with roofs in the background and so on. The search began for a much higher space, but with so much filming going on in Dublin real worries were aired about achieving some of the shots I had planned.
Through all this I grew accustomed to being put on the spot to make decisions, and as far as I can make out no one was frustrated by any vagueness on my part. By a month before filming we confirmed a set of locations for the start of filming, Luke Johnson was still searching for the simple but elusive block of plain corporation houses we needed. Most of these houses had been altered over the years by the addition of driveways or porches or - most horrific - mock brick fronts.t
On Monday July 10th I screen tested the short list for Harry, Sean and Mucker. Sean O'Flanagain walked away with the role of Sean, and the Harry search became a situation where I plumbed very strongly for James Hickey while Gillian went for another boy. Later I went out with Tom to a cul-de-sac he had found in Drimnagh and much to his joy we agreed that this would be the location for Harry's house.
The next I went to London - taking along a VHS of the screen. Jo and I were looking at the tape when John Victor-Smith arrived and it was love at first sight. He was just what I need in an editor;  a white haired father figure who was a grand old man of editing. As we were introduced I was showing the audition tape to Jo and John immediately responded to the look and sound of James. When we chatted, John also made some very perceptive points about the script - that the Uncle Tony pub scene was loose (I had intentionally left it so) and that there was a discrepancy in the way the fantasy fight was the only time a fantasy was treated as a separate and different kind of event. The editors I met later in the day were simply people I had friendly chats with. My heart was on John or a poor alternative. Jo Manuel, yet again, had been the source of wise advice. If not for her I would have settled for an editor from the previous set of meetings and so not have met John.
I went on - through the sweltering heat of the day - to meet Rita Tushingham. The day was so hot that I sweated my way through my shirt on the way to her and had to buy another around the corner from her home and change into it in the shop. I arrived dehydrating, and Rita took me in and kindly supplied me with some juice. What I hadn't reckoned on, though it was an obvious and natural thing, was that Rita would a new kind of mother. She wanted the mother to be strong. Basically, while Billie looked for the darkness in the mother, Rita saw her as getting on with life. Rita is a comedic actress and her focus was on accent and minimal fuss about the complexities of mother. It was only later that I realised how positive a step this would be and wrote to encourage her to see the shift that mother makes in letting go of Harry and in fact having reached a point, as our story begins, of recognising that she's gotten a bit out of her depth with Harry's imaginative freedom. When Rita was set for the role, I wound up in the odd situation that she would be working with Tom again for the first time since 'Doctor Zhivago'.
There was still some debate over who should play Harry and so I agreed to a final play-off between James Hickey and the other boy. To make the 'contest' clearer I asked Hugh O'Conor to come in and he kindly agreed. This final screen test convinced all  that James was our man.  As Hugh said, the other boy was playing the part whereas James simply was the part. James had that particular quality which might not necessarily work in, say, a stage performance but which as far as I'm concerned leapt off the screen. I know that what mesmerised me above all else was his eyes - he has such big, open eyes that view the world with evocative layers of intelligence, perceptiveness and hurt.
As shooting drew near I had all my HODs, almost all of my cast, and was awaiting word about whether or not we could get the ideal studio venue - the national basketball arena in Tallaght. Above all, I had the sense of a wonderful team around me. When we sat down one evening to sum up the fruits of a long hard search for the right kind of studio space, I happily thanked Jo Homewood, Noelette, Luke and Tom for their giving the search its best shot. I keenly felt my responsibility to ensure that the efforts of all these people ended in a film we could all be proud of.
With three weeks to go to the start of shooting I went away for a hiking weekend in Fermanagh with my son Steve. One day we went for a long walk (which became longer when we got lost) the literal high point of which was a heart bursting climb up a hill facing onto Lough Erne. As we neared the top - with Steve glorying in his fitness by racing ahead of me - we heard the sound of a car door slam. Our efforts had brought us to a scenic car park.
 I returned from the break away and went to the office to meet Brendan Geraghty for the first time. The good news was that studio space was ours and this made Tom happy.  Later, however, I was called to a meeting with Marina, Noelette, Jo Homewood. The topic was the fact that we were œ40,000 over budget and they wanted to cut back on special effects. In the end we agreed that I would cut down on the script and on the scale of shooting so that the vast majority of the film can be achieved in the five weeks. The only bit sitting apart in the sixth week would be the grave exploding. It was one of those mincing meetings where people were trying to be nice with me while at the same time reducing my vision of the film to parameters. Above all I sought to save the special effects, and to that end I committed to cutting pages out of the script and  fitting in special effects pick-ups into the end of shooting days.
The production office had become a hub of activity. Noelette was going through great difficulties completing the crewing of the film with so much other filming going on at the time. Jo Homewood and Brendan Geraghty was working with assistants getting the logistics of endless considerations about cast, locations and facilities in order. Jo Homewood kept on at copyright and other deals while revising the schedule to come up with the optimum to suit all. Tom Conroy;'s universe was expanding meanwhile with Arnold Fanning, Philip Henderson and Markus Thonett busily gathering the or building the props that would fill Harry's world. A very simple item had become major challenge. When I was a child I had a torch which shone different colours. I had written this into the script, but no one could find such a torch. Markus even built a different kind of torch with three different bulbs for the three colours but I knew it wasn't right and it also didn't work in camera tests - the white being far brighter than the green or red. I had just about conceded defeat on finding the right kind of torch when Philip found one in a junk shop. He had just walked in and there it was sitting waiting for him.
In the second last week of preproduction David Wilder of Film Finances came over for the final judgment on the film's state of play. I felt immensely proud to be there with the team. As his considerations moved from one department to the next, each head of that area would present the work. I actually had little to do but watch them and smile. It was clear that we had our act together and David gave us the all clear. I was bursting with pride at the sight of the team in action. One element of the shoot had been the cause of some worry - the fact that the spaceship would be on a high crane out in the open and therefore in danger of swaying in the wind. Later, in a meeting called by Jo Manuel, I committed to shooting the spaceship sequence in studio instead so that it we wouldn't be at the mercy of weather.
Less than two weeks before the start of shooting I brought Steve to the airport and immediately went back to Gillian's for Mucker auditions. I found Mucker - a lad named Kevin James - and his two pals. I also did auditions to find 'Sarah' and of the ten girls I met I was plumbing for one in particular who was demure and pretty - as I imagined Sarah. Then, arriving late, in came Joanne Gerard. Joanne was tough, with a strong Dublin voice. One of her hobbies is taekwondo. She had played one of the younger sisters in 'The Snapper' and was a bit unhappy about making the audition because she was missing a chance to see a short film she had appeared in which was showing in the Galway Film Fleadh that day. The spin her toughness could put on Sarah struck me as being perfect and unexpected, so I chose her.   
A week before the start of the shoot - and remembering what David Wilder had said about rehearsing the classroom scenes - I spent a morning with Ian McElhinney and twenty of the classroom boys. I had been dreading it, but the filtering process had paid off because the kids behaved well. Ian offered me advice later about working with the kids. As usual, James played a stormer. In the course of the morning he was getting his head around the lines. His reactions are great too, and he took direction every time.
By the last week of preproduction I had grown accustomed to a life which consisted of work and sleep. After Steve's departure I devoted myself totally to the film - while Rachel was suffering from morning sickness which stretched through the day and into the night. The film was all I thought about, and my routine of making lists and striking off details carried on into the evenings at home as I would sit in the back garden on the warm summer nights and suddenly remember there was some other item to be checked out. One notion that i think occurred to me too late was to have a session with Tom Conroy, Seamus Deasy and costume designer Lorna Mugan to look at the assembled stills and visual ingredients of the film. In preparation for the meeting Tom had set up areas around the walls of his office where we could look at stills of locations, colours and wallpapers he planned on using, plus bits of material from the costumes Lorna was bringing together. As we talked through scenes simple but vital points cropped up to my regret later a point that didn't arise was that Sean would be wearing red braces on his white shirt the time he is 'shot' and bleeds. It was to prove a grading problem later to separate the blood on his shirt from the red of the braces.
I also called a meeting between myself, Brendan, Jo Homewood and Noelette because of a worry I had about the schedule. It allowed for only one day's filming for the scenes on the kitchenette roof - yet this was the biggest use of set in the film and involved some key work.  The strictly private end result was that I could have my extra day on the roof if I handle the shoot right and we move along without breaking the bank of the contingency fund.
With filming approaching I took another day to rehearse with James, Sean and Kevin. From ten to 11.45 we worked through text, then took a break. From twelve to near one we worked through action and ideas about camera movement and then broke for a decent lunch. Then at two we started again and went over some other things. With ten minutes to go before I had to leave I wanted to work again through what would be the first scene we shoot - and James started crying saying he didn't want to do the scene again. We talked about it but I was stunned, trying to be calm but absolutely terrified. I knew well that he would have to work long days but above all would have to repeat his work over and over. There was no way I could countenance his being able to limit the number of takes or the number of angles. He had to be willing and able to repeat again and again. The end result of my thoughts about the whole thing was that I had to make his work play as much as possible. I talked afterwards with his granny, June, and she was calm about it all. But I knew I was in deep trouble if I had cast a kid who didn't want to do things many times. Talking afterwards with Brendan Geraghty about the problem, he said that Ciaran Fitzgerald on "Into the West" just really wanted to make the film so he worked and worked. Terrified thoughts ran through my head. Did I establish just how motivated James was? What if he was just in love with the idea of being Harry and being in a film but didn't want to do the slog involved? I had to try and reach him - connect with him. First time I went out to his house he looked away from his Mam when she took over conversations. As I was leaving the rehearsal room I went back up and Gillian was working with the children. All was well, but James wouldn't look at me. I had to build a bond with him. I had to support him.
With the shoot nearing I met Seamus, Tom and we viewed film tests to establish things about the stars, the cinema footage and so on. Seamus, in consultation with John Boorman, had decided on the way to do the starry sky  while keeping the stars and the action in the same focus. This involved getting a 'ghost glass' - a sheet of optical quality glass which would be placed at an angle between the camera and the object being filmed. The stars (holes pierced in a back-lit board) were reflected off this glass. With filming exactly one week away I then I slipped down to Galway with Rachel to see the Japanese drummer troupe who were performing in the Arts Festival.  Lelia Doolan  saw me there and was amused but approved. My enjoyment of the music grew from the martial art Aikido I practised for a few years, and in the dojo there was a sign  which said "question authority". Going down to Galway on the train I wished I had the words tattooed on my forehead because I realised I hadn't worked out the exact detail of the impending rehearsal days with the full cast but  no one queried me, so it was only my own examining of the plan that revealed the flaws. On the journey I put the final touches to two scenes I was rewriting - sc40 for the cinema roof and foyer, and  sc70 which I still wasn't happy with.
I returned home on Sunday evening and had a quiet night night, going to bed at eleven. I was awake at 3;30 and couldn't get back to sleep until 5am. On Monday morning I strolled down to the Gaiety Theatre for the read through with the entire assembled cast and did my best to hide my terror. We all gathered and I gave a chat about the script - mostly talking about my Mam and the magic of childhood. I said we were the smallest film being made in Ireland at the moment - but the one with the biggest heart. I thanked people and introduced key new faces - Seamus, James, and even my stalwart friend Liam there for his one line and moral support.
The read through went fine - it took about an hour and ten minutes. After a long break for chatting we then talked through things about the family and rehearsed - quickly and simply - scene seventy one. Then a chat some more about characters and a read through for the house scenes with Tony. Everyone was up front and comfortable with their characters - the general consensus being once everyone was clear about the story and about their own roles there was no need for over-rehearsing. After lunch Brendan Gunn worked first with the main four adults and later just with Tom and Rita on accents while James spent some time with Max - work that I thought had actually been going on before this.
James was great.  By five o'clock all was settled down. Tom and Rita went off to work with dialogue coach Brendan Gunn and others gone home.  I went home and grabbed a shower and change of clothes, then went to the   production office.
I have read that some directors have superstitions about filming. For me, that would now be never to walk out the door thinking everything was going well. The next rehearsal day I went down confidently to the Gaiety thinking I knew where I stood. Sitting around a table with Rita, Hugh and Joanne I found that within half an hour we'd run out of things to do and say. No one wanted to rehearse. This was good in one sense - everyone was clear about the story and their roles - but also meant that during the shoot decisions could be happening every second for me. If I were to move with the schedule yet be rehearsing and locking off a scene as I went along, I would have to respond yes and no quickly - but the writer in me had developed solid habits of mulling decisions and I had hoped to just get on with the work as a director without the distraction of having to make prompt decision. Rita was also being very clear about marking her ground - she showed that  Brendan Gunn's voice coaching for a Dublin accent sat uneasily with her and I agreed to let her use her own Irish voice that she had developed years before in her film "The Girl with Green Eyes'. She was also very clear about her look for wardrobe and make-up and hair and was ridding the character of a certain dowdiness I had imagined. Tom Courtenay was wonderful, relishing in his accent while going along with the joke of having his hair sticking out like wings from the helmet and goggles.
I spent hours later in wardrobe/make-up and was delighted to see Hugh in his gear - most of all to see Joanne transformed into a flouncy bobby socks teen.
At the end of a mind-blowingly roller coaster day I had a drink with Jo Manuel. I had to learn to let it all happen. On such days, the reward for me was to make it home in one piece (with the hot spell at the time killing me too) and sit on the wall in the back garden smoking a cigar and drinking white wine.
Never in my life had I experienced anything like the tumult of demands on my inner strength.
We had our first day of shooting with a photo shoot for background memorabilia of the family when the father was alive. Mark O'Regan, whom I'd seen in a film I'd helped, kindly took the thankless role of being the father in the photos. I was happy that he got a buzz out of playing Tom Courtenay's brother - even if only for a few photos. The day was also Jams' ninth birthday so he was presented with a cake at the end of the shoot. I discovered that Tom is a flautist and spends many of those long hours waiting on sets practising his playing. My cousin, Bill Dowdall, is principal flautist with the RTE Symphony Orchestra so I arranged for the two to meet up. This delighted Tom, and Bill's wife Susan brought him over during the shoot for what I heard was a very pleasant evening of food, wine, and flute lessons.
The Thursday before the shoot was an extraordinary experience. I arrived into the production office late - having written and faxed through new scenes 28a/b and then bought my panama hat. When I went into the office I was struck by something - I had become superfluous in the production base. Whereas before people had turned to me constantly for information and I was at the centre of attention, I had become irrelevant. The pre-production meeting at two o'clock lasted about twenty minutes. No questions. Everyone was clear about what they were doing and no one could thinking of unresolved issues. I had a meeting with Brendan, Jo H, and Seamus to establish time frames for daily work in the first week. It was necessary for me to establish how I should expect each day to pan out and how to judge if we were getting as many shots in the can as planned.
That done - at about half three - I wandered over to the Art Department - where I had always been greeted by a chorus of queries. I was pretty well ignored. I had to kill a few hours then to wait for the wig fitting for Hugh. I just went down to Blackrock and hung out and bought a CD of Holst's Planet Suite. Before leaving I looked around the office - great activity everywhere, but none of it needing my attention. I bumped into Jo Manuel and said I felt like the father of a teenage child - that stage where you fret about what they do but they don't want you around and you have to get used to that idea.
I took Friday off - except for a conversation in Edit Line in preparation for the technical requirements at 3 o'clock and a meeting with Ruth Hunter at MOPS to go through Section 35 documentation. Basically, there was nothing to do but rest for the few days and be ready for the fact that the shoot would start on Sunday.
Around town Luke's location directions were cropping up and they were brilliant - yellow signs in the shape of Flash Gordon space ships. I was told that on the first call sheet it was traditional for the director to write a message to the crew. I penned the following, which I called An Irish Film Makers Prayer;
May the camera rolls rise up to meet us
May the wind machines be always at our backs
May all our troubles be covered in three takes
And may we be in the pub an hour before the weather breaks.


The convention in books about film making is to recount the story of the shoot in diary form. I did indeed keep a diary, and what follows is a slightly expanded and dressed up version of the same. I suppose the main thing that what follows can't convey is the fact that by the time I was actually shooting the film my life consisted of it and nothing else. Paddy Breathnach told a brilliant story about an experience he had during the shoot of his film 'Ailsa' which I think sums up life for a director during a shoot. He was sharing a two-bedroomed flat with a friend but had absentmindedly agreed to having a woman friend visiting Ireland stay with them at the time of the shoot. Paddy, ever the gentleman, let this woman have his bedroom and elected to come home from each day's shooting and sleep on the sofa. This was going on for some weeks when, on a day off, his suspicions were aroused and he asked his flat mate if something was going on between him and the visitor. He discovered that not only had love blossomed, but his bedroom had been free for weeks and he hadn't been around to realise he could have been sleeping in his own bed.
Home life for me was less noteworthy but poor Rachel did tend to have me returned either steeped in silent thought or ear-bashing her about my latest set of frustrations. When you make a film you put your personal life on hold and pray it's going to still be there for you when the madness is over. I found out after the shoot that three relationships ended during the making of the film and one brief encounter flourished. With such highly charged emotions flying around I was saddened but not surprised.

Day One (Sunday, August 6th 1995).
I quickly went for a take of the first shot - a master of Sean and Harry coming around the corner 'shooting' at a passing motorbike. Then I went for Harry's piece about "dya member when Flash ..." This was a tracking shot and took some setting up, and when all was ready I called for a rehearsal. It was brilliant - "we should've filmed that" Shay said with a smile - but I wasn't rolling. We had to go eight takes, and by the eighth James had stopped giving anything. My heart nearly  stopped. I covered my ass with cutaways, but knew I didn't have the performance. The last shot for "that's stupid" was also lack-lustre. I have to get James to focus on me and yet he's lost in the midst of the film. After lunch I got a great performance from Sean and in turn evoked good things from James. I have to take the kid over, make him trust me, and feed in exactly what I want to get out. At the end of it all we finished bang on six o'clock with all the shots I wanted even if not all the performance from James I wanted. It was a relief to at least get through the material and it was a strange anti-climax to have people drifting off when what I wanted to do was work another four hours. I've covered a few things with Tom Conroy by phone and fax, and now I'm going to crash out. What an exhilarating and challenging day.
I have to get James. He's not focused on me or on being Harry yet.

Day Two.
The day began with simple work on the tracking shots as Harry walked along the railings from the cinema. When we reached the time of doing the end of his scene meeting Sean, where the two had to run across the street and up the road, James tripped and then all hell broke loose. The boy simply caved in on himself. To make matters worse, Sylvaine Sainderchin had just come to visit the set. The cause of the fall was the fact that James was wearing brand new shoes with shining smooth soles and this sent a furious complaint to the Wardrobe department.
James wanted to go back to his caravan and  wouldn't face me. Within fifteen minutes I had to decide to abandon a take of that last wide, and while we organised the wide shot of the old man and nervous dog walking past the bushes James sulked and I discussed the chilling permutations of replacing him. We were filming in Herbert Park and I had to go off for a walk on my own to try and quell the panic inside. Had I made the blunder of casting a boy who was too like Harry - a boy who really was withdrawn from the world? Brendan Gunn came by, like a much needed angel from heaven, and had a talk with James. His prognosis led to a basic set of straight talking conversations. I sat down with James alone on a park bench and put it to him that he's either in the picture or out. We went through straight questions; did he want to be in the film? Yes. Did he want to do the work and deliver Harry to me? He said yes. I then went into a tough afternoon shoot with James in the bushes and trying to deal with Max - who still won't connect with him and wouldn't even do something as simple as eat a  biscuit. At the end of it all, James then did his game of 'cowboys and indians' with Sean.
To top it all, when we were wrapping in the park I discovered that 'Max' had peed on my shoulder bag. Way to make a hit with the director, Max.
I felt wiped at the end of it all. Paula Lambert, God Bless her, was on standby open to the possibility that Johnny might step in and plans were being rushed together for how we could carry on shooting while putting in a new Harry. In the event, Johnny's stint as extra was extended as a small gesture of thanks. At the end of the day there was a conversation with myself, Noelette, Jo M, Sylvaine, and Marina. I committed to James as Harry.
There seems to be a general sense of relief that I'm taking the reins, finishing on time, being clear about what I want, and maintaining my cool.
Deep down inside, however, I repeat a chant to myself; John Victor Smith, I need you.

Day Three.
James is transformed. He got in and did his work, he chatted with the crew, and he was giving me great performances. He worked with Hugh O'Conor in the morning and that helped him a great deal. Hugh's calmness in the midst of all this must be an inspiration for James who hangs around him, appropriately, as if Hugh were his big brother. James then worked with us in Sean's bedroom in the afternoon and was looking through the camera, chatting with the crew, and best of all giving me great material. For the third day in a row we finished before six with all material in the can.
It was only when I saw all this that I realised I had made a profound mistake of epic proportions. I had taken a little boy, just turned nine, who had never even been on a film set before and then planked him in front of lights, camera and fifty people and expected him to take it in his stride. First I nearly killed his work by making him over-rehearse, then I nearly psyched him out completely by throwing him in the deep end without a thought for how to prepare him for being the centre of all this attention.
That evening I went to see the rushes and even the bad material was good. It was a tremendous relief, and even better to know that Sylvaine was behind me and that James has magic up on the screen.

Day Four.
This one always made me shudder when I saw it on the schedule. So early on and six pages of dialogue. I had rewritten the scene to take place as they walk down from the roof of the cinema - my main motive being to see some Dublin panorama and open the film out as I feel it happens too much in small places. Starting up on the roof with a dolly shoot and working our way down the fire escape in blazing heat with the crew on platforms. We got through it all, Seamus very much leading the way and I working with him as we got coverage for John. The last two shots were of Mucker and his pals in the foyer.  I was delighted with the way the crew were working, and Sean and James were brilliant although Sean can get distracted by times which in one sense is good but at times exasperating.
Rod Stoneman visited the set just in time to see me fumble over a cutaway shot of the usher, but I was able to dash into the cinema with Rod and show him a poster we had made up for the background. A film title I'd made up of an adventure movie starring 'Rod Stone'.
Rod came to see the rushes and there was a minor diplomatic incident. John Victor Smith hadn't been introduced to him and didn't know who he was. Rod asked if he could see some cut material and John gave what might be termed a firm but polite refusal saying he wouldn't show material to anyone without the director's prior approval. When everyone had left after viewing the rushes, John showed me a sneak edit of our first day's scene - scene seventeen. For all my worry about it, we get almost everything. What a relief.

Day Five
The first day dealing with cinema crowds. Kids can't take their eyes off the camera. We have to have volunteers near the monitor to watch for eye contact as I try to watch for the shot and performance. We started with Harry shocked, scene 14, but were then into scene thirty nine, coordinating Harry sneaking out of the cinema and Sean finding him with a flood of children - eight takes on the master and then reverses to cover my ass.
I was supposed to then just get one shot of kids flooding out, but instead got seduced by two other shots and all of a sudden it was early afternoon and I was screwed. We ended the day two set-ups behind and decided to come in an hour early next day to get just the Flash stuff clean on screen. Brendan had warned me but I hadn't listened.

Day Six.
The projectionist didn't arrive and I wound up in the booth lacing the film and striking up the carbon arc with the aid of Brian Guckian and a man named Pat. I was back in the Kenilworth aged fifteen again - an apprentice projectionist. It might have been all very wonderful if I hadn't kept on screwing up the lacing of the film.
In the morning we went spiffingly based on a simplified plan of action I'd devised the previous night. Suddenly in the afternoon two hours disappeared trying to get one shot organised. The problem of kids looking in the camera causes many re-takes - there seems to be an idea among children that not looking at the camera is different from not glancing at the camera. Liam Heffernan did brilliant work focusing the children and getting bits of character out of them - I would've been screwed without his organising that. We'd break down each scene into a set of cues for what the kids were seeing on screen, and as I called out the numbers he'd get them to respond to that heading.
I also had my bit of nepotism by giving Rachel a part as the ice cream lady. She was concerned about our secret that as her pregnancy bloomed she was a tight fit in the costume for which she'd been fitted a few weeks before. Our secret remained our own, however.
By quarter past five we still needed two shots to complete scene seventy but had no material behind children looking up at the screen. Jo Homewood came in with the brilliant solution which I was too stumped to figure - the two shots were abandoned - they could be done with a small bunch of kids in a corner of the cinema. We herded in all our children - two hundred of them - and just put up the full reel of Flash for them to watch and for Seamus, on tracks, to catch as much of as possible. Liam walked in and out of shot occasionally to add flavour. I stood back in wonder at it all.
We wrapped shortly after six and Jo H arrived with a few bottles of champagne, though hardly anyone touched the stuff.
Gaffer Tony Swan and Grips Philip Murphy both came up and shook hands with me and thanked me for the first week. I thought things had been pretty hairy, but in fact the feeling was that things had gone well.
I viewed the rushes and again it all looks great while James and Sean are wonderful. John told me he'll be able to show me scene forty on Monday night.
Went for a pint with Seamus, Jo Manuel, and Mark Forstater.
When I got home Bernard was here. We wound up sitting out the back having a great chat about the film, and the stars, and about magic, and about magic mushrooms. We drank and smoked cigars and I felt very happy. Then we went in and watched telly - Whose Lines is it Anyway - and Rachel arrived home. Not long after, Rach and I went to bed.
I'm up since half six on Saturday morning though I know I'll take a nap later. As far as I know my writer's fee is on the way to my account, which is cool.
Tomorrow starts rough again, with Harry's road, and all my main cast, and patchy weather forecast.

Day Seven.
The dog from hell. Max won't do what I want. Then a door I wanted to have open wouldn't open, and curtains to open for the gardai couldn't be opened. I had to change one scene on the spot and get access to another house to work the garda shots. Rita changed her lines twice and I'm freaked about controlling her.
This day was a hotchpotch of shots for throughout the film of the road and Harry's house exterior. Rita, Tom and Hugh all had bits to do - one shot for instance just being of Rita and Tom walking down the path and getting on the motor scooter. At the end of the day, however, we had passed slate 100 and as per tradition some bottles of champagne were popped. Going home it occurred to me that the many onlookers in the working class corporation suburb would have gotten quite some impression of film making; they wheel them in, they walk down a path, they wheel them off, then at the end of the day everyone drinks champagne. That's fillum's for ya.

Day Eight
This dog must die. Wouldn't pee, wouldn't chase a stick, wouldn't get into the water, and snarled at Tom. I'm now writing him out of the script as much as possible. Most satisfying part of the day was filming Tom, James and Max on the motor scooter. Philip Murphy had devised a small jib on the low loader so that the shot could start on Tom and then as they're moving along the camera jibs down to Max. By about four in the afternoon it was plain that were were getting ahead of ourselves and I again asked my old cry if we could get shots to open up the film. Luke went off searching for locations near Phoenix Park - around the Guinness Works - and at five we dashed off in two vans and the motor scooter driver to grab a few shots of the bike going along old Dublin roads.

Day Nine.
Today with Tom Courtenay and my main master stroke was to do the reaction shots of Harry first, particularly giving the nod to Seamus to grab shots of him while he thought lights were being set up and so forth - I got real looks of boredom. Tom was amazingly nervous at the start, then got into it. We finished this work early - about three o'clock - and my suggestion was that we get back to the cinema and film the Flash Gordon material clean off the screen. This would mean I could let James off early. Brendan and Jo Homewood, however, wanted to try pull together a way of catching up the two shots we were behind. In the end James waited over two hours as this plan didn't work out. I had a row with Brendan and Jo and was kicking myself for not just insisting on letting James go.

Day Ten.
Today we did planet happy family and the work was trojan. The previous evening, however, it suddenly dawned on me that I'd made a dreadful casting mistake - I had cast a boy a Sean's brother who was not much different in age from Harry. This was dramatically all wrong. Such a character would have to feature in the story. He would also drastically reduce the likelihood that Sean would make such friends with Harry. In the morning when I arrived on set I confessed to Noelette and then to the second AD Karen Richards. They joined me as I went down to take another look at the boy as he stood with James and Sean. My worst fears were realised - he was nearly the same height as Harry and no more than a year younger. Karen carried out the dirty deed, giving the boy some story that the filming had been changed for the day and being able to arrange some other extra work for the boy. I don't think he ever knew exactly what was happening, and his mother was very forgiving. But morally I felt I'd reached a new low - I'd fired a seven year old boy. I could hear the doors of Hell open and the welcome mat placed outside with my name on it. During the day the hand of God didn't strike, however, and the work united us as everyone enjoyed and tucked in. We did sixteen set-ups.
Later we viewed the rushes of the pub scene and I'm kicking myself that I didn't ask Tom to make the pauses and changes of tack as he squirmed in the face of Harry's silence. Later still we looked at material projected which established that a set of cinema footage is out of focus and we have to do a day in the cinema - hey presto we're a day behind schedule. Later still, all hell has broken loose because our Mucker, Kevin James, is not to be found and changes of plan are being worked out even as I write this at ten o'clock at night. We get into the cinema tomorrow, and I will most likely re-cast Mucker. The experience of film making turns more and more into navigating - riding the roller coaster. I'm getting drunk. After a great day, a plunge into chaos and gloom. Tomorrow I'll have to be at the helm again and ignore all this.

Day Eleven.
The week has tumbled into an abyss. It took all day to do the cinema reshoots, which means that I'm now a full day behind. Also, I can't get Hugh O'Conor for tomorrow and so I'm picking up other shots in the school corridor and so on tomorrow.  While I do my best the film falters. The bright side is that I saw the happy family material and it looks great. John also showed me a stretch of cut material and it looks great - though I still think he's cutting too fast.
Tomorrow, after the shoot, I'll be facing the HODs with my grievances. As Seamus wryly put it, that's not something to be done at lunch time in case there are people working together for the afternoon who need to be off sulking.

Day Twelve.
The work doing various corridor scenes went fine, and everyone is working well. At the end of the day I sat with the heads and aired my grievances, explaining them in simple terms of what happened and asking which fell into the category of shit happens and which into the category of avoidables. It went peacefully.  There's a saying from somewhere - when it's good it's really good, when it's bad it goes to pieces.

Day Thirteen.
During my day off I sat down and wrote a four day plan of shots. In the days of my innocence I had hoped that the three classroom sequences would be done separately. To catch up, however, I had pored over the storyboards and listed all the shots looking up the classroom, down the classroom, and out the window. This list, backed up by the storyboard, was handed to all the relevant heads. We then worked out the best order in which to do each set of shots, and could even give advance warning that we were two shots away from a set up needing all the pupils and so on. In the first day in the classroom we did eighteen set-ups.

Day Fourteen.
Close friends of Seamus are going through a terrible bereavement and he is under dreadful pressure. He tries to keep contact with them and rushed off to see them yesterday. Tomorrow he's going to a funeral and Shane O'Neill will take his place for half the day. Ian McElhinney is taking all the pressure in his stride and did a delightful bit of work today when I needed reaction shots of scared boys and was getting nothing. He ad-libbed venom and when one boy chuckled Ian roared with such vehemence that even I shuddered.
We ended the day with my poor friend Liam suffering the indignity of being filmed with his face blacked, and later with hair covering his eyes, to provide what will be the eyes in the back of Brother Dowdall's head.

Day Fifteen.
We're a half day ahead. The shots looking out the window were completed today while the schedule had expected that to happen tomorrow.

Day Sixteen.
It was the first over-cast day. We did the scene of Paul sorting out Mucker, but rain started coming in and we didn't get the last close up of Paul talking to Harry. Most disappointing for me is that we missed a shot I'd hoped to do as a kind of homage to Chaplin's 'The Kid'. There's a shot towards the end of that where Chaplin, having chased off the baddies, makes a kind of shuffle to make chase again. I wanted Mucker to call back something at Paul and had discussed the shuffle bit with Hugh. But then the rain came down.

Day Seventeen.
We got through the 'real' fight in the school by eleven o'clock and soldiered on to the set and the Mercury Man set up. At lunch time a boy took ill and was taken by ambulance to hospital. Even before this event I was feeling overwhelmed with emotion, but back on set in the afternoon I couldn't contain myself. I had to call on Brendan to usher me out as quietly as possible and I cried for a while around the side of the building just to get through the emotion of seeing these sets of my home, and the spaceship of fantasy, and the release of being at the turning point of production. By the end of the day we were back on schedule.
In the evening, at my suggestion, there was an open invitation to the crew to come to the rushes and watch a stretch of material cut by John. Noelette and I picked up beers and popcorn on the way to the cutting room and about fifteen or so crammed into the room on the muggy evening to watch our work and enjoy. I was very glad about doing this and wished that everyone had come along to see just what we were accomplishing.
Day Eighteen.
Seamus' terrible week is being topped off by the fact that we're filming in the livingroom set with the fire lit and the fumes make him nauseous. The work moves along, although I sense we've all slowed down a bit as we adjust to this more controlled environment. There have been some problems with the stability of the sets due to the fact that the Basketball arena, as a matter of design, has a flexible floor.
Today was my forty third birthday and in the afternoon I was presented with a cake "From Mercury Boy to Mercury Man" and the gift of a sci-fi teeshirt which I immediately changed into.

Saturday was a complete day off - my first since the start of the film. Oddly, as Rachel and I were strolling through town, we were walking behind Neil Jordan - also on his day off and in the middle of making his film. You couldn't throw a brick in Dublin without hitting a film maker.

Day Nineteen.
I had a nerve racking day directing and choreographing Tom, Rita, Hugh, Joanne, and Harry. I just couldn't get my head around what to do with so many people on screen at the same time. As it turned out later I also failed to get a particular shot which would have come in very handy. This sequence was followed by the scene where Mammy breaks down, and Rita let the tears flow. I was scared. After her takes - I had to go three times - I knelt beside her and asked her if she wanted a cup of tea. I really don't want people getting upset over the making of a mere film.
When I saw the rushes of the first shooting in the livingroom I realised I had screwed up yet again. Seamus at one stage mentioned "we're seeing a lot of the set". What he was actually saying was we were seeing too much of the set. As a help to our moving quickly Tom had built all the sets a third bigger than reality so we wouldn't necessarily have to keep flying walls. I hadn't absorbed this fact and I have filmed two wide shots of the livingroom which make it look the size of a barn. The livingroom of my home in Crumlin was probably about eight feet wide. I'm kicking myself! What a gobshite!

Day Twenty.
In the original plans, we were going to film Harry's bedroom in its rightful place upstairs in the set. Philip Murphy, bless him, had wisely pointed out that this could be time consuming and had advised separating the shots where we need to see out the bedroom from those where we don't and doing the latter on ground floor. This has turned out to be a great move in time efficiency.
As for the set itself, I poured as much memorabilia as I could get to hand - featuring my dear old blanket which has been with me since I was thirteen years old and going off to Blackrock College as a Scholastic.
This evening I got home by six thirty. I keep having anxiety dreams about the film - like the one I had with the entire crew in the editing corridor of RTE and my knowing there was no scene from the film set there, or the one where we were moving to a new location but I had gone to the wrong place.
But I love it all.

Day Twenty One.
Harry's bedroom. James is amazing. He gets giggly, he plays around with his toys, he jokes with everyone, then the camera turns over and he delivers magic. He's brilliant.

Day Twenty Two.
Completed the set of Harry's bedroom downstairs - early. In the first weeks of shooting I used to scribble down the list of shots I expected each day and hand them to Rene Burke to translate into legible English. Since the success of time gained in the school room sequences, these lists are shown openly and are a benefit to all. Tom Conroy arrived on set admitting there was nothing else we could film (sets have to be reorganised while we film in Mount Jerome). My chest filled with pride when I overheard him say to Jo Homewood "the same thing happens with John Sayles".
There were many reasons for our speed. To begin with, I had established that James' performance only deteriorated with time so if a set-up was ready we'd shoot as soon as possible - often shooting the rehearsal and finding it was perfect. I was also often happy to go with the first take if I believed I had all I wanted. On this matter my editing experience often came into play - for instance I'd rarely bother to repeat a take of a wide shot as I'd know it was only going to be used at maybe the start or end of a cut scene so it would be a waste of time to get bogged down in perfecting the entire shot. But the work of Seamus Deasy was profoundly important in our progress. Lighting and operating, he was always leading the way. Shay was incredibly fast at lighting, and the material always looked beautiful. His cool demeanour kept a positive, ever efficient mood among the crew.

Day Twenty Three.
We got ahead of ourselves again in Mount Jerome, covering seven pages of dialogue at the grave in one day.  The choice of shots was relatively straightforward, and working with two or three actors standing in one place with the weather consistent meant everything was in our favour. A minor irritation for me was the fact that the day was overcast in the morning when we shot the first graveside scene with Harry Mam and Paul, but the day had turned sunny for the time we shot Harry's lying to his father in the afternoon. Harry's soliloquy with Sean is a heartbreak for me - I've so much personal references in there - so I was much relieved to be past it. At the end of the best take - the third due to my being hard with James to get what I wanted and probably screwing up his performance in the process - I was choking back tears.
During lunchtime I bought flowers and visited my parents grave which is near where we were filming.

Day Twenty Four.
We completed the rest of the Mount Jerome shoot by lunchtime. This was the last day of filming with Sean. During the shoot I had an ongoing joke with him about his drinking and womanising and as the crew bade him farewell we presented him with a whiskey bottle - filled with Coke.
At one stage the bould Philip Murphy was getting us ahead of ourselves by laying down track for a shot we'd be moving on to. Shay then realised that the laid track needed to be moved a few feet to the left. What happened next, Shay says, is a tribute to the atmosphere on the film. Everyone - gaffers, drivers, props and all, stood in a row inside the tracks and picked them up to move them over - thereby saving all the time it would have taken the grips crew to dismantle and relay the tracks.
At lunchtime I was able to give Mister Hickey and his granny June the rest of the day off - with a late start the following Sunday in studio. Then the crew moved back into studio for the last time and we managed to do the scullery scene between Mam and Paul before wrapping.
This fantastic work meant that I had earned my wish - two days of filming for the kitchenette roof scenes as we faced into the last week of principal photography.

Day Twenty Five.
The curse of thinking all is well strikes again. I had been looking forward to this week and feeling delighted to be on the home stretch. However, a stomach bug had been doing the rounds among the crew and this morning it was my turn. Every time I walked on the set I'd feel nauseous, and at one stage a monitor was provided for me near the door of the arena so I could breathe fresh air and try directing long distance. This, of course, didn't work.
A doctor was called while Jo Homewood started making sounds about an insurance claim and calling off the day's shoot. Rachel came by with a change of clothes - my gut felt bloated and restricted in the trousers I was wearing. We soldiered through and the doctor came and making a simple diagnosis gave me an injection. He said I should drink flat Seven-up for the day, and suddenly there were flagons of it everywhere. I felt better quickly and the day's work was on track by about ten o'clock.
This was the week of goodbyes and they would happen almost daily. Tom performed his last scene - pointing out that in the shoot he had done his last appearance in the film on his first day and his first appearance in the film on his last day. Appropriate for Uncle Tony.

Day Twenty Six.
Another 'last'. Rita finished on the film today. She had always been the one who made me most nervous - she knows so much about film that she would come up with ideas that would at times derail my fixed ideas. Working with James, I had gotten into the habit of deciding how a shot would work as I used his stand-in Ben, then bring in James and he would follow my plan of action precisely. Rita, however, would knock this on the head from time to time by coming on set and suggesting other things. The things themselves usually worked and it taught me that when I was working with her I should bring her on set for a walk through before locking off any plans. Of all the people in the cast she's the one I could have done with more time getting to know beforehand. From an actor's point of view I think film making is all about trust, and I think Rita and I would have produced better work between us if I had overcome my fear and she had understood more of where I was coming from. Above all else I underestimated her intelligence and could have gained by including her more.

Day Twenty Seven.
The mood among us all is very good and my modest hope is that we're for smooth sailing on the home stretch. Navigator indeed - not director. I noticed something about myself as a director today - I always stay close to the actors. At one point Hugh was standing inside the kitchenette set while a wall was being moved and I just instinctively went in and stood beside him. I also have a habit of going off set to meet actors on their way in for filming. I don't know where the instinct comes from but I think it's a good one.

Day Twenty Eight.
We're filming on the roof set - this being the biggest and most complex set of the film, with the backyards stretching back in forced perspective and the ghost glass between the camera and the set. The going is slow and shooting is difficult because the slightest movement on set causes the stars to wobble in the shot. There were problems with what size the stars should be and with the fact that sometimes the light from them was too uneven to look right. Incredible lengths of time were taken up with the distribution of stars and checking for lights spills. Tedious work - imagine that in the original schedule all kitchenette shooting was down for one day!

Day Twenty Nine.
The last day with actors. Soon I'll live it all over again as the stark reality of the footage stares me in the face - but what I've seen so far gives me the sense that a little bit of magic has happened over the past few weeks.
I had been woken at one in the morning by a homeless film maker who shall remain nameless and couldn't sleep after.
With three hours sleep behind me I went in and Brendan immediately arranged a bed for me to grab another half hour's sleep between half seven and eight. On set we quickly moved on to the shot of Harry almost falling off the roof - done with three people standing in his immediate vicinity and with James yards back from the edge. Pat Keenan visited from SIPTU, and as we stood on the roof looking at the vista he said "this looks like Crumlin" - which was amazing because he didn't know I was from Crumlin or that the story was notionally set there.
We then did the final two shot of Paul and Harry on the roof and James, with vital help from Hugh, was able to give me a wonderful performance. It's the one scene above all where James needed to be upset and I certainly didn't want him to actually be upset. Hugh was able to teach him a few tricks with breathing and so on to get the effect. At the end of the second take I had tears in my eyes. There's a moment there - I had asked them for this adjustment - they look at each other at separate times. Two brothers so far apart. I knew then and there to drop scene 65(?) at the kitchen table. The next time we see Paul is when he's the hero.
At lunchtime I was rushed to the head of the queue, had a quick meal, and went to sleep for another hour.
We soldiered on with ghost glass shots and the many shots for scene one. Everyone worked together and the hours went on until we went past six and the sandwiches were rolled in. It was an odd day for James. His last day, yet he would just come on from time to time for a few minutes and sit in that place and do this action and then go back outside to play and be minded. By eight we were doing the last shot of the day - the jib shot down from Harry with his head out the window to some unidentifiable figure - Hugh - doing a groovy version of the Shadows moves. It was in the can on the second take.
The end of the day was rounds of applause for James and Ben (his stand-in) and Hugh and June. For many it was the last day. For me, a realisation that my journey was about to become lonely again as I headed towards the long haul of the edit.
We rushed on to rushes, and then I headed home. Despite my tiredness I couldn't go to bed. I had the house to myself and sat up past eleven just buzzed by it all.
Day Thirty.
The last day and I got to make my appearance. In the nightmare scene a hand wallops through the latex door - me - then I walloped my face forward through the other panel and looked around to James' eyeline - a fine end to a nightmare. We got other pick-ps, then Raymond Keane was ready after his hours of preparations for the Jesus on the cross shot. How to do the shot of Jesus coming alive on the cross had long been a matter of debate, and in the end the plan was that a statue would be made modelled on Raymond and then we cut to his close-up and he moves. Caroline Dunne had done this work, and Pamela Smyth worked with her on the day as Raymond went through his hours of make-up and mask fitting. The poor guy must have gone through agony. He had colourless contact lenses put in - and they irritated his eyes - and the mask meant he couldn't eat, drink or speak for hours. When he was brought on set, we filmed the shot but I knew straight away that we would have to re-film the shots previously taken of the statue as the mask had far more detail and the cut wouldn't work. When the shot was done, we all gave Raymond a round of applause and he gallantly blessed us. I wanted to thank him later but he had rushed away as soon as he was out of the make-up.
We then did the exploding grave - designed and executed by Martin Neill - and it was a wrap.
A wrap. Where did all those years go? Did I really once go out on a location for the first day after walking around Iveagh Gardens the evening before trying to figure how I'd do the scene? Did I really reach a crisis with James on the second day? Did I really work with Tom and Rita and Hugh and Ian through the script? Did that really happen?
I was home by half past six and was in bed by seven. I got up at half eight and got into the bath after Rachel. I went to the wrap party looking forward to a great time and wound up leaving before midnight because nothing on God's earth could make that DJ at the Ormond Multi Media Centre turn down the volume on the horrendous rave music even though I was in agony at the sound level. I had intended to announce the news about Rachel's pregnancy but as I couldn't hear myself talk I only managed to yell it in the ears of a few people. I write these words at one AM. Almost all the film is in the can. John has cut virtually everything he's received. After the weekend - I'm viewing rushes on Saturday and talking to Jo about marketing on Sunday - a very reduced crew handles the travelling lights on Monday/Tuesday while on Wednesday it seems we're getting school shots. Martin Neill, who is providing the travelling lights, has devised a simple system of two tiny high strength battery powered bulbs side by side on a long wires which are connected to a scaffolding. All low tech but it works.
I hope to get away next weekend, then the following week I see John's first cut.
Basically, though, I just made a fillum.
One last note. At one point during that horrendous experience otherwise known as the wrap party I looked out and there was a little boy glancing at me as he walked towards the dance floor. A little boy just turned nine. His name, James Hickey.

Here are a few lessons that spring to mind.
Film making is about trust. Show the cast and crew that you can be trusted - earn their trust - and all will go well. Getting to the point where you make a film is, in itself, such a long haul that there must be a huge ego involved in making it happen so people naturally think they're going to wind up serving your whims. If you can show  that's not the case - and you can only show it if it truly isn't the case - then they will acknowledge that they aren't your pawns and will enter into the commune which is the process of film making without resentment or suspicion.
Get your cast and crew right - cast everyone, really, and if the mix is right nothing will go that far wrong.
All the preparation and storyboarding was invaluable.
I should have brought James out with me to visit the sets of films before I ever launched him into being the star of a film.
Never work with dogs.
A director is the most enduring tyrant, probably. Even though I think I wasn't too bad to work with I'll really never know - in many ways I discovered that the slightest comment of mine became enlarged by people who thought that the right thing to do was to keep me happy. Like my tummy bug on Sunday - the doctor was rushed out, there were flagons of flat Seven Up on standby, and I found out at the wrap that Philip Dwyer had been alerted that an insurance claim was in the offing - all because an ordinary human being like me was feeling nauseous.

I love the Woody Allen quote - everyday the truck arrives with a new load of compromises. It became a shorthand for me in the last few days. I'd say to Seamus "the truck just arrived" and we'd work around a problem.

The day after filming I strolled up to Rathmines in the evening to buy a few magazines. As I was trying to make my selection I was distracted by the noise of the people bustling around and for an instant - a brief but real instant - I was about to call out for quiet as I was trying to think. Fortunately I caught myself on. Being a director is a heady experience and you can easily forget that you're not the centre of the universe.


I love film editing and I was relishing the prospect of working with John Victor Smith. To my shame I hadn't spent any leisure time with himself or his assistant Gabby Smith during the shoot, but I looked forward to weeks of the ten minute stroll from my home to the cutting room, watching John's work and having this thing I'd created take shape in his hands.
There was still filming to be done - two grim days with a reduced crew sitting in the dark shooting the lights in the sky. It all felt incredibly anti-climactic. In the end we had to refilm the green and white lights because for some reason the green didn't register. It took me days afterwards to unwind from the filming, and I would wake and sleep at all hours. Wanting to make a European Script Fund deadline with my next project - a sci-fi thriller based on my novel MOTHERSHIP - I used the gap while waiting for John to complete his cut to draw up an outline for the film in time for the end of September deadline. While such work was probably a testament to my energy, the fact is I wished in later months that I had gone away on a holiday for the week instead.
Towards the end of the filming an issue had loomed which came to a head. Because there was no Irish-French co-production agreement the film had been regarded as an English-French co-production. But for this to be acceptable, elements of the film had to be English. Jo Manuel's role, the cast and coincidentally the hiring of John and Gabby fitted in with these needs, but there was a demand from the Department of National Heritage to increase the English profile. And so it was that Jo broke the news to me that the film had to be edited in England. At first I refused. Then I seethed. Then finally I accepted. We would be based at Twickenham Film Studios and would make the move as soon as we had gotten past my first cut - a matter of weeks. It was a great disappointment not to edit in Ireland, and my dreams of a quiet autumn in Dublin went down the tubes. At least John was happy with the prospect - particularly since he lived near the studio. It was a great comfort to me to feel at least that he would know the ropes there.
The day finally came for me to sit down and look at John's edit. It's running time was 100 minutes. He said, jokingly, that this could be a traumatic experience. He was right. The film felt flat, and as I watched I ran mental notes of cuts I'd want to make. Worst of all, however, was my sense that the film wasn't lifting off the screen. It was a terrible feeling. The realisation finally struck that I was no longer dealing in the abstract. I had a finite amount of material and performances which existed on film. While a few scenes were enjoyable just for their technical fun - like the nightmare or planet happy families - others seemed merely competent. Lord save me from mediocrity! There were a few clangers too like showing the enormity of the livingroom set. My biggest fear was for James' performance. It was underplayed and natural - but was it too little? John was confident that music would make a difference, but that meant depending big time on Stephen McKeon. If I didn't feel his theme is working, we were screwed.
The audience had to be engaged by Harry to want to follow the story. Nothing else mattered. The music had to be the glue joining them to the boy, so that they reach in for his performance. This was a tall order.
Immediate responses were agreed. We would drop scene 66 (?) at the kitchen table so we only see Paul arrive in instead of the priest. We'd also drop the walk with Paul marching ahead of Harry as it would sit wrong after they hold hands. John agreed on tightening the happy family, tightening the first classroom, and I agreed with his idea of shifting the claw in the graveyard down to before scene 29 (?). Two cinema scenes needed to be restructured to happen more within the boundaries of Flash.
We went for lunch and then I went home. I felt miserable. You work on a script, you shoot takes, you go from day to day with all possibilities open - then you arrive in this cul-de-sac and have to fight you way out to find the story with no more building blocks to work with than those you have gathered and stacked in the cutting room. A cloud hung over the rest of the day and I returned to John next day to sit with him and talk my way through the film as Gabby made notes. This was the beginning of my cut - which would then be presented to the financiers for their response. Sitting down with John we totalled between us almost fifty year of editing experience so for sure the film was going to be all it could be. The only draw back was that it had been made by a first time feature film director whose inexperience needed to be covered up.
My short film 'Splice of Life' had been all about the way editing can change performance and meaning in a scene. John's cut hardly needed major surgery, and as we talked through the second viewing I was more heartened by the film. As an editor I loved John's style as much as I learned to admire the man himself. When he had strong views about something I bowed to his superior knowledge while on the few times I held strong views to the contrary he bowed to my rank. This was a great relief to me as I have, over the years, seen situations where editors took re-cuts as personal affronts and were willing to put more time into arguing a cut with a director than it would have taken to do the re-cut and let it stand or fall on its own merits. The changes discussed for the first wave of cuts were mutually approved, and I also provided some more temporary music.
In the two weeks that followed I trawled the film first for the things that appalled me and later for the things that irritated me. Scenes like the pub scene with Uncle Tony and Harry, the visit to Sean's family and the cinema sequences were all cut back. Several of the opening scenes were tightened - particularly the poem in the first classroom scene. Some lines that never quite worked were dropped, and certain preferences I had for shots were accommodated. We then brought Stephen McKeon in for his first look at the film and he watched it without comment from me. The terms for the nature of the music had been agreed - an orchestral score and Stephen's belief that there should be a recurring theme with variations. With little said after his viewing, Stephen went off with a videotape of that cut of the film to start coming up with music. Stephen composes on computer with synthesised sounds for musical instruments - the quality is surprisingly good. In due course I would get back to him for a session where he would present his music as laid to the video.
By the end of the two weeks John and I had completed my first cut and the film ran ninety minutes. We did a simple pre-mix of the sound and had laid in a number of temporary music pieces. Watching a film at this stage is very difficult because the sound is so patchy and without music a film can be very cold. Yet this was how Rod Stoneman on behalf of the Film Board and Clare Duignan and Martin Mahon on behalf of RTE would view it. A further difficulty was that since the film was being cut on the Lightworks system it existed only as a video image and so had to be watched on a TV monitor.
The outcome of this viewing is still talked about with some amusement and amazement by those present. As an editor I had been present and dozens of these screenings and knew exactly what to expect. What hadn't dawned on me was the fact that I'd never before been the one in taking the criticism - and I wasn't mentally or emotionally prepared for it. During the film, Clare was generous with her laughter though Rod was mainly silent and busy writing notes - I was hanging on every reaction. When the screening ended the first response was one of approval. Clare made some general comments but was mainly supportive. She realised, a Martin said, that music would make a huge difference to how the film would hold together. Martin had in fact urged me not to show the film until the music was done but this was impossible in the time frame of the post production schedule. Then Rod began to talk.
My relationship with Rod was a good one and I'd seen him go through the same process when I was editing 'Hushabye Baby'. As he listed points, however, I started feeling hostile. He felt that he wasn't drawn in to Harry's world and thought that voice over might be needed from Harry at the start of the film to bring the audience in. He felt the first half was too slow. He said the nightmare scene was unstructured and the 'Planet Happy Family' was too long. He criticised certain 'double edits' where we had cut back a second time to shots like the blood on Sean's shirt or the scar he shows later. The list went on and my temperature rose. Having heard him out I went completely on the defensive and said that John and I would consider his points but if at the end of the day I didn't go along with them we'd have to agree to differ and my judgement would hold. He talked then about viewings with sample audiences and battle lines were drawn up. Martin rowed in trying to cool the situation, but after the screening Rod left hurriedly and I was left with the grim realisation that if he didn't like the next cut of the film the situation would escalate.
A VHS of this cut had also been sent to Jo Manuel and Sylvaine Sainderchin who both came back with comments but most particularly felt the film was too long and the first half too slow. At this stage there was a brief pause in the edit as John and Gabby moved back to England and set up the cutting room in Twickenham. I was left with dark thoughts of having to fight for my film while going over and over in my head what way I would treat a situation where I had a film I was happy with but Rod didn't approve on behalf of the Board. My basic feeling was that the knee jerk response to any film is to say make it shorter and don't trust your audience. Every film could be quicker. It's the time you spend trusting your audience that matters, I believe. You can't pander to the notion that you have an audience who don't want to go the distance with you.
I moved to London and, after one grim night in a Bed and Breakfast in Teddington was moved to the very pleasant Riverside Hotel just ten minutes walk from the studio. John and I had a week in which to come up with a revised cut which I could then bring back to Stephen so he could start locking off his music. In this time the film lost another few minutes. As we worked I would get a call from Stephen from time to time as he was working on scenes. He would play music for me down the phone and ask me what I thought. It all sounded good. John and I would address the comments and tick them off one by one. The nightmare scene was proving the most difficult to get a fix on and we pored over all the material. In the end what emerged was a leaner version with hopefully added tension through the fact that everything seems to have settled before suddenly the door warps. During this time we were also visited by a man who had been for me at least a silent partner in the film; Gerard Jourd'hui - the French side of the deal through his company Blue Dahlia. He flattered me by calling me an auteur and I later phoned Rachel to boast by saying 'hey Rach - I'm an otter!".
I returned to Dublin with the new edit and went out to Stephen McKeon on Saturday night to be presented with his music. He brought me through the film, cueing in the music pieces off his computer. The theme was beautiful but as I watched I made several notes. When this screening was done we talked through my comments. Fortunately, Stephen was open to my suggestions and on one occasion even composed a little piece on the spot - the music for when Paul take Harry's hand. While our dialogue was healthy Stephen warned that his schedule to deliver the scored music on time for the booking we'd been locked into was very tight. This would mean that we were in almost daily contact as I tried to explain to him if scenes were altering in ways that would impact on his timing.
When I got back to London to lay the music one element of the story emerged - at least to me - that took me by surprise. People had talked before - and I had thought before - that the story ended with Harry growing up. Far from it, and the music made it clear. Harry becomes a child of eight. He stops carrying his fantasies as a burden. His big brother and his Mam will take care of him. He doesn't need to work out any more ploys. He can be a little boy and enjoy being such. The general consensus in the cutting room was that the score worked and was beautiful. I started to feel less afraid of responses to the next screening of the film.
Over the following weeks the picture edit continued while Chris Ackland and his crew joined the team for the sound. Already based in the studio, he was able to begin gathering sounds and preparing for the dialogue replacement sessions with John. While my admiration for John knows no bounds and I could get repetitive in my praise of him, I saw just how brilliantly committed he was over these weeks. He was my greatest ally and would work day in and day out with an energy and unstinting commitment that I know I hadn't displayed in my years of editing. During this time I also managed to socialise a little with himself and his wife Elaine and coaxed out stories of his past work with directors like Richard Lester and Sidney Lumet. In the studio he was treated with respect and a certain amount of dread - he is notoriously particular about work standards and would have nothing but the best for the film.
In my evenings in my hotel room I was kicking around variations on a story about a man, magic, and redemption. I had different scenarios, a title I cherished and won't even reproduce here, but no progress on getting characters that really brought the whole thing to life.
During my stay I also met up with Conor McAnally and his wife Kay, Jo Manuel, Karen Street (who was in the process of taking a brave step by leaving the European Script Fund so that she'd have more time to write) and finally Sylvaine Sainderchin. I always referred to Sylvaine as the woman who changed my life. It was she who had brought the bulk of the money into the film, had supported me all through the film's making, and yet had remained so much in the background that I hardly knew her. She has remained something of an enigma to me and still as private and even remote as ever.
By late October it was time to face the backers again. The film had a running time of 85 minutes without titles or end credits. Most but not all of Stephen's music was done and the synthesiser versions laid. The viewing took place in the Irish Film Centre and the film was being shown on a larger video screen which had the drawback of not being very crisp. I met Martin first and he was exuding my nerves as he tried to calm me for the meeting. Everyone knew that there would be tension between Rod and I, and I confess that I was bristling for an argument. When Rod arrived Martin went into overdrive gushing out anything to talk about other than the task at hand. Clare - who had been delayed - arrived and the viewing began. I had a backache at the time and lay on the floor at the back of the room watching the film.
At the end Clare applauded. Rod congratulated me and said the film worked wonderfully. The weight that lifted off my shoulders was hardly quantifiable. What I couldn't say to Rod and in fact only said to him many months later when we met in Cannes was that he had been right in his opinions. Just about all the points he'd made had been taken on board for the better of the film. The problem had been that I just hadn't developed a facility for considering and dealing with constructive criticism a a film maker. When we finally talked about it Rod reminded me that at such screenings people are responding to support the film rather than knock it. It had been a remarkable lesson for me to discover that the one area of film making where I believed I'd feel most comfortable turned out to in fact be the greatest source of stress. It was a huge learning experience and hopefully I'll behave better next time.  
After the screening I came home to an empty house wishing I could party all night. I had fine cut approval from RTE and the Film Board. The next day I returned to London and later presented the film to Jo and Sylvaine. To my delight they both gave their approval. All that remained with the picture edit was to make a few minor adjustments and finalise a few details about special effects shots. Chris Ackland now went into full swing to build up the sound in preparation for the dub.  
ADR - dialogue replacement - is the closest thing a film maker gets to a second chance. During the edit I had grown very unhappy with some bits of performance and dialogue and I was able to add these to the list of lines to be done in the ADR sessions. By what I think is proof that necessity is the mother of invention I also came up with a touch that gets a decent laugh in the film. There's a shot where Rita is standing at the door of the house watching out for the return of Harry and Paul. In the foreground, at my request, two boys walk by with a broken go-cart. Due to a screw-up on my part Rita's cueing is wrong and she stands in an empty frame for what seemed like forever before walking down as Hugh and James come into shot. I came up with lines carrying on as the boys exit the frame - "it was your fault", "I told you it couldn't do turns", "what use is it if it can't do shaggin' turns." - and the dead screen time was filled.
We had four days booked in Ardmore Sound - a new facility being set up by Pat Hayes, Jim Colgan and Paul Moore - and John and Chris were over for the work. I met James Hickey for the first time in months and he was in fine form. Chris had a plan for James which would involve two and a half days work, but it was agreed that the task was so difficult that he would have a sliding scale of needs so that some lines wouldn't be replaced if we ran out of time. True to form, James amazed us all. He completed the work in two days. He was amazingly self-assured and could achieve such things as not only miming the lines perfectly but changing intonation and emphasis to give a better performance. For my part, a significant change I made with James is to me a perfect example of how just a word could strengthen the message of a scene. When Harry is going to bed and turns to look at Paul and Sarah, his voice over says "The Mercurians have fixed it so Paul will come to the rescue." I added one word. "Paul will always come to the rescue." I felt it conveyed more strongly the parental tone to their new relationship.
The following day Sean and Kevin came in, and it was while working with Sean that I made a final alteration to the lines in the last cinema scene. I'd always been unhappy with the dialogue but on the spot changed an off-camera line and I think it helped improve matters. Having Sean around must have somehow been lucky for me, because as I was sitting having lunch with him and his mother an idea struck me for a new screenplay. It lopped into my head mid sentence and I had to excuse myself shortly afterwards and go off and write down what had come - the idea for THE WISH. It was a distillation of the ideas I'd been trying unsuccessfully to work through in previous months. I have no idea how creativity works, but that instant when you get hit by an idea is one of the most exciting experiences in life.
Liam Heffernan came in next morning to replace his usher lines and then added more touches - including the sounds of the monster in the nightmare scene. Then a small troupe of boys came in for other lines and reactions - including the broken go-cart lines. I suppose the best fun of all was a little joke between myself, John and Chris. In the scene where Harry and Sean sit on the steps of the cinema foyer there's supposed to be a film in progress so we should hear something of it. I scripted a Bogart/Cagney style gangster scene and this was performed by myself, John and Chris. Later in the dub John would make sure that his favourite line - "Lefty's toined chicken" - could be heard.
A few days later it was time to record the music. Given the tightness of the budget we could only afford one day's recording with the orchestra - this in turn broken down to a morning with the full orchestra and an afternoon with a reduced one.  We were in the Windmill Lane recording studios, and I sat in the booth quietly as Stephen and his orchestrater worked through the music pieces. Stephen had done a wonderful job, and the sessions went with amazing ease. Nearly thirty minutes of music was recorded and there were some great music moments - a favourite of mine being the Uncle Tony music. My cousin Bill Dowdall was in the orchestra and later stayed on to play a flute solo which is used over part of the end credits.
The following day the music was mixed and then I returned  to London for Wednesday through to Friday for the laying of the music, the final approval of the pictures, selection of the typeface for the titles, a talk through the film for sound with Chris and John, and then Rita's ADR work. On Friday I came back from London, and as I pottered around the house over the weekend I realised that something felt different. And then I figured out what it was - for the first time in at least a year, the film wasn't on my mind. I had grown accustomed to thinking about it, mulling over every little niggle for so long that it had become a way of life. Sometimes it felt as if the film was the largest single thought I ever carried in my head - maybe it's something like what a chess master might feel in a game. My brain - I know this sounds odd - actually felt light. I had a break ahead of me until the two week dub . Work continued, of course with  the picture conform of the computer edit, sound work and so on. After the dub, work would carry on with grading and the blow-up. But creatively I was home  free. Any decisions remaining were mechanical. For better or worse, it was accomplished.
I was aware around this time that my time to think was running out. I knew that once Rachel gave birth my life would go into a spin of befuddlement so at every spare moment I wrote. I used my time before the dub to work on the script of MOTHERSHIP and revising drafts of an outline for THE WISH. I planned on stopping this absolute self-obsessed devotion to thought and writing when life held up a stop sign called fatherhood.
When the dub came it was incredibly boring - not least because I was in such safe hands there was little I could do in that dark theatre sitting in the cosy chair but doze off. I was working with the very charming Robin O'Donoghue and his assistant Dominic Lester and as I sat near Robin he explained the dubbing habits of other directors. Alan Parker, apparently brings in a deck of cards and plays patience. James Merchant falls asleep. The latter proved to be my route. I was occasionally reprimanded by the ever vigilant John - "do try to stay awake Martin" I'd hear every now and then and my head would jerk upright. As my mentor, John also set me straight on an issue I was dodging during the dub. There had been some debate over how a piece of music was to be used and I said that Robin should discuss the matter with the composer Stephen McKeon. John respectfully took me aside and said the decision was mine and I duly took the responsibility. The sound for the film was Dolby stereo surround and I kept wanting Robin to have sound effects coming from the back of the cinema. He rightly put the brakes on my excesses but didn't always convince me - to this day in one of the graveyard scenes I hear a flap of crow wings behind me and I apologise to Robin again.
After the dub there was great frustration for me. The film was finished, but not all in one piece. I'd seen the eyes in the back of the head and the spaceship zap and indeed the opening sequence grading on 35mm as done by Peter Govey.  But the Super 16mm picture  conform could only be run with the rough mix, while the final mix could only be run with the projected video cut and neither version contained the 35mm special effects. It would be late January before I flew into an icy Heathrow and took the short taxi ride to Technicolor Labs to see the first full graded print but without sound. Weeks later, when John had finished haranguing the excellent grader Peter Ferrari, the first full combined optical print was ready to be seen. Various members of the clan gathered in a viewing facility in Soho to watch the film reel by reel. At the end there was applause. During the screening (and it can happen to me to this day) there were times when I cried. So much emotions were bound up in the film for me - the autobiographical elements and the sheer volume of work and devotion from so many people to get it up on the screen. With whatever reservations I or others might have about it, the film was the best it could possibly be.

In the spirit of openness in which I've written this book, I would now like to list the director's top ten grievances with the film;

1.    I have to avert my eyes now on the shot of Harry stunned in the cinema foyer - there's a boy walking past him who stares fixedly into the camera.
2.    Why in God's name didn't I think of a reprise of the usher joke with Liam Heffernan at the end of the film when all the kids go wild in the cinema?
3.    There's a boy in the cinema who comes into view when Harry steps out of frame away from Sean and I wish I could digitally remove him and his limp applause.
4.    The shot of Rita mopping the livingroom floor and the dance-hall sized corporation house. What can I say?
5.    I should have shot a closer reaction of Harry in the 'real' fight when he looks down to see Mucker isn't watching him. In rehearsals I had made a note of this, but I forgot to note it in my storyboards.
6.    When I was shooting Harry's soliloquy at his father's grave I halted James in the middle of the first take because I felt he was speaking with too much emotion and I wanted him to tell the story as if it held no emotion for him. I wish I'd had the intelligence to let him go through with a take his own way.
7.    On a number of occasions I would be happy with one take if it worked as I wanted. This later created problems for John in one particular way - he was often pressed to get reaction shots. In future if I was happy with a first take I'd go again and ask the actors simply to explore and extend their reactions to lines.
8.    The film is grossly underpopulated. I wish we'd had the budget for bigger school, cinema and street crowds.
 9.    Harry has too many changes of clothes and is too clean. This was caused mainly because I didn't grasp what was going on until too late when I put an embargo on other changes of clothes.
10.    The greatest mystery of all to me and a constant irritant when I watch the film with an audience; Uncle Tony's last line - which I always thought was pretty mediocre - gets huge hoots of laughter which drown out the all-important line which follows from Harry. If we'd shown the film to a test audience I would have learned this. Comedy is a very unpredictable business.


I would say that the biggest effect the making of the film had on me was to create a focus for my passion. In my years as a writer I had very often written something and quickly saw its flaws so acutely that I put it aside and never presented it to the world. As an editor, it's part of the job to work at something and then be willing to change it or let go of ideas. THE BOY FROM MERCURY, however, had little short of my blood coursing through it. Maybe it was because of the money involved. Maybe it was because of all the work and love I'd seen go into it. But I was bonded to the film as a parent to a child and would not be deterred in my hunger to have it take its rightful place as a successful and above all seen film.
Appropriately, the first screening of the film was for the cast and crew who had made it. The Savoy One was booked for Sunday morning February 18th at eleven. The crowds of familiar faces poured in as I greeted them. Rachel, heavily pregnant, stood with me for a while and then went inside to sit with John Victor Smith and his wife Elaine who had come over for the event as they wouldn't be available for the premiere in the Dublin Film Festival. I introduced the film, saying that this was probably the friendliest audience the film would ever have and urging people to enjoy a film they had all shared in making. The lights went down and the curtains parted. Up on that wonderful huge screen came the opening credits and I sat back knowing that the film would indeed be enjoyed.
Afterwards there was applause and celebration. The film works. I know it does. When I got home following drinks and a meal with John and Elaine I was walking on clouds.
As a writer I am given, naturally, to flights of fancy. In days of yore when I looked to the time when the film was done I envisioned a situation where the film would be on Irish cinema screens and on sale in video stores for Christmas. I assumed that it would then fan out to England and the States and that people would flock to it because it was such a warm, funny and moving film. After the cast and crew screening I felt that these reveries were justified. An experience a few days later brought me crashing back to reality.
Sitting in Screen One of the Irish Film Centre, I watched the film this time with less than a dozen people - the representatives of Ireland's Film Distributors. It was a soul destroying experience. I think that in the entire film there was one laugh (later attributed to Neil Connolly of the Lighthouse cinema). Afterwards Brendan McCaul of Buena Vista said the film was a credit to me but unmarketable because it wasn't aimed at a young or old audience. It drives me crazy to this day that adults in his position have the notion that other adults don't want to see a film about children. Haven't a lot of us been children? Don't a lot of us bring children into the world? Isn't anyone interested in going to a cinema with their children to watch the story of a boy who doesn't open up his world to adults? Don't a lot of us remember feeling the same way as children? Doesn't anyone want to sit back and watch a nostalgic film about a Dublin gone by? Am I the only sentimentalist in the entire world? Is sex, violence and the disgraceful blood-is-funny mind set of Quentin Tarantino the only cinema that people want to see?
What I would later come to realise was that Irish distributors have had it easy for so long by working in a void that they don't know how to deal with an Irish film industry. For decades all they've done is take in the posters, trailers, prints and pre-publicity from American or English films and then have only the task of putting ads in the papers and prints on screens to earn their money. Then along comes a flourish of film activity in Ireland and they have to think about how a film is marketed. So what do they do? They pass.
With no takers for the Irish market I pinned my hopes on the world outside and when the film was shown in market screenings at the Berlin Film Festival I waited for word back of sales. Word didn't come. Or at least, the word I wanted to hear didn't come. Instead, people were saying that it was a lovely film but it wasn't big enough to market. This was a new wall - because there were no big names, it couldn't compete with the Hollywood giants. What I knew the film needed was a champion. But there was no sign of one.
The premiere of the film drew nearer as the Dublin Film Festival began. Rachel was due to give birth a few days before the start of the festival but there was no sign of the happy event. The countdown to the premiere began as the days Rachel went over mounted. In the midst of frantic arrangements about a venue for a party after the film and a way of celebrating the film with my family, I watched and Rachel waited to no avail. Baby wasn't ready yet.
The film's screening date was March 14th. With a perfect sense of irony on behalf of fate and our baby-to-be, Rachel came home from a film outing with a friend on the night of Friday March 9th and said the labour had begun. The days that followed are still a traumatic blur for me. Rachel was determined to have a home birth - whereas I hadn't even been present at the hospital births of my two sons. As hours turned to days with the midwife Anne and our friend Catherine I was climbing the walls with stress and worry. Sleep was an occasional luxury - I reckon I slept eight hours over three nights. Finally, at two in the morning on Tuesday March 12th our baby made her first appearance out of the bloodied birthing pool. In a hysterical sense of heightened emotion I had a hand resting in the waters when I felt a tiny grip on my little finger - our baby holding my hand. I flooded into tears.
I couldn't sleep that night with excitement and this made me a completely incompetent aid the next night as Rachel needed my help but I kept falling asleep. Two days after Ellen's birth I was in Savoy One with a packed audience of about eight hundred introducing the film to - among all gathered - my family of brothers and sisters, some of whom had flown in from England and Canada for the event. In the foyer before the film I stood showing photos of my daughter. I almost burst into tears when I looked around to see my son Bernard suddenly returned from San Francisco for the event. In my speech - which Noelette tried to relay back to Rachel via her mobile phone - I explained that my family and Rachel's parents had gathered for the event and proudly announced the news of Rachel's premiere and our daughter Ellen Florence. I don't think I'm wrong in remembering that the screening was a magical one with emotion in the audience heightened by watching a family film at such an intense time of family for me. Looking back now I wish I could remember the night more clearly, but I was still in a kind of haze.
As the film ended and the lights went up I was staggered by the applause. Martin Mahon brought me down to introduce the cast, crew and producers present. I called out names as I stood in the spotlight but only a few people came down - including the tiny boy James Hickey. With not many down with me to take the applause I walked us away - only to discover afterwards that because the cinema was so full people like Marina, Jo and Sylvaine were still struggling along rows to get to the aisle when I drew a close to the gathering before the audience.
There was a party later which I enjoyed mostly because my family were being brought together for once by celebration rather than bereavement. I strolled home alone in the small hours to Rachel and Ellen and I was still so hyped that I couldn't sleep. Instead I sat in the back garden smoking one of the cigars Noelette had given me and raising a glass to the starry sky for granting me my wishes. My film was out there and people liked it. I was a father again. My life was in a huge, magical state of upheaval. I had enough money to be modestly secure for a year and get on with writing and developing a new film. And I was happier and more complete than I had ever felt before.
It was the most extraordinary week of my life.
In late April the film opened the Limerick Film Festival and I drove down for an overnight stay. To my delight the cinema was full and the audience - consisting largely of college students - enjoyed the film thoroughly. A few common and intriguing responses to the film had begun to emerge. Just about everyone related to the 'Planet Happy Family' scene where Harry visits Sean's home. It would seem that many people share my childhood sense that it was the other kid who had the ideal home. The music was something that people were moved and excited by. People thought James was remarkable and that Hugh had shown a new side to his acting skills. And Tom and Rita were almost unanimously accepted for their accents. It was satisfying indeed to be the focus for such praise and it was great to sit with an audience and hear them laugh or sniffle their way through the film.
The ultimate purpose of making a film, in my opinion, is to get a chance to make another film. I had set up a new film company, Apollo Films, with David Whelan and by May we had a production loan promise for my next film MOTHERSHIP. The Cannes Film Festival approached and as THE BOY FROM MERCURY was to be in market screenings it seemed imperative to go there. David convinced me that the trip to Cannes could be stretched to include a family holiday and so we set off with Rachel and Ellen when the time came. Rachel had lived for several years in France and had many friends there. She was able to organise a cheaply rented beautiful house in the south of France and she would go to friends in Marseilles while I worked in Cannes with David. Then we would meet up and go for our holiday.
The market screenings were moderately attended and brought minor sales. There was, of all things, an enquiry about theatrical release in Hong Kong and a TV sale to Australia. One advantage to having three producers on the film became apparent however because as David and I tramped Le Croisette for meetings we time and time again came upon production company representatives who had seen the film. A great boost in this also was my agent Val Hoskins - introduced to me by Jo back in the turbulent times when I needed an agent to negotiate a deal with Mercurian Productions which would keep my rights intact.
As I worked with David in Cannes he made me aware of an extraordinary change that had taken place in my character. Years before I had been the shy wallflower at a Media '92 event. Now I was in there doing cold calls and pitches and drawing on long lost experience as a salesman to push my next film and make an impression. It was all natural to me because I had simply lost my inhibitions and grown in confidence. It was the old scene from "The Godfather" again. My hand was steady and I took to the work naturally. I hope I'm not a pain, but if I want something now I'm not going to be afraid to go for it.
I have never been a great traveller and before the film I had seen little of the world. Margo Harkin had once joked to me "make a film and see the world" and the month after Cannes I was flown to Seattle for the first American screening of the film. I was in the city for only three days. On the morning before the screening I became aware that there might be a problem with the dialogue when I told the people in the hospitality area that I wanted to go out and mooch. Their reaction was one of shock. It turned out that 'mooch' - meaning in Dublin to wander around - meant to beg  for money in the States. In the evening when I arrived with Marina for the screening I was greeted by the sight of a queue around the block. I was told that it was the first complete sell-out of the festival.
After making my little speech - in which I referred to the hope that the film wouldn't seem like a foreign language film - the cinema darkened and I sat back to watch and listen as the Americans reacted. Straight off I was in for a surprise - the shot of the title of the film got a laugh. Further down there were other unexpected reactions, and in particular I had a sense that the highly trained audience got the message that bit quicker than the film told it. The main thing though was that the film was really enjoyed and the same elements brought laughs and tears. Afterwards there were questions from the audience and I enjoyed the exchange. Then I was taken away for a drink by Lyall Bush, one of the Festival co-ordinators, who kindly called the film the hit of the festival.  He added that there was a reviewer from Variety Magazine in the audience.  
The next day I made a one-day trip to Los Angeles for meetings set up to talk about MOTHERSHIP. Most of the meetings had been arranged by Val Hoskins. It was an exercise in stamina but also an all-too-brief sneak peek at the mecca of movies. Not that I was all that smart in handling the task. My first two meetings were on Sunset Boulevard and by not paying full attention to my list of meeting details I managed to get lost on Sunset Boulevard, walking a few miles out of the city in search of 9929 - finally knowing I was sunk when I reached 15000. A halted police car helped me by phoning a cab and I looked again at my meetings details. The meeting was to take place at 9229 Sunset Boulevard! I'd passed the building an hour and a half before and nearly fried in the midday sun.  The agent I was meeting there was already on the way to another meeting but talked with me for a while as I sat in a sweat-drenched shirt and guzzled water. It was then lunch time and I went across the street to the 'Hamburger Restaurant' where I drank more fluids and ate chips. As I sat there I realised that of course I was in a movie watering hole. I picked up snips of conversation; the three movie execs who chatted about the studio system and referred to some promotion as 'gold handcuffs'. My favourites, however, were the loud and funny elderly pair who appeared to be two agents. They saw an attractive woman with a baby and were asking her what she was doing. "Sally Duwawling you were the best!" they called after her as she left. Later someone entered the restaurant and the man pointed this out to the woman who leapt to her feet. He called out "We know them very well!" as she made her way across the room to say hello.
I went on then - using cabs to avoid any further energy loss - to the MGM building. The first thing that struck me was that it didn't have a reception - just an underground car park with elevators to a lobby some floors up. I finally went to Fox City (driven there by the only white American cab driver I'd come across. He was listening to a talk radio programme which was full of vitriol and hate and he chuckled away).
In the end nothing came of the meetings - there's a huge meetings to results ratio in the business but also Val Hoskins had advised me that the Americans don't want you until you're in demand. You can't actually sell yourself to them. Realising that I would be interested in doing business with them - and in selling myself - says a lot about how hungry I've become to stay making movies.
After my return to Seattle I flew home to Dublin and shortly afterwards got the exciting news from Jo Manuel that the Variety review was out and it was brilliant. The opening line called it "a gem of a film from Ireland" and the closing line predicted that it would be picked up for distribution. I was ecstatic. I could also see an irony looming; the film would be released in America before Ireland. At this stage too Jo had confirmed an English distributor after all the news of companies turning the film down. Joe D'Morais of Blue Dolphin had seen the film and loved it. To my great relief the film had finally reached someone who believed in it, and Joe had set to work on preparing a publicity path for the film, planning to release it in England for the end of 1996.
The world is awash with film festivals and while some turned the film down others invited it in. So it was that at the end of July I went to the Giffoni International Children's Film Festival in southern Italy. Just before travelling I discovered that the selected films would be viewed by a jury of two hundred children aged twelve to fourteen and knew that they were probably the one audience who wouldn't take to the film. I thought it was all going to be a terrible mistake and I was in a state of frustration and dread as I flew to Rome and was collected there for the long drive south to the festival. The heat during the day was 37 degrees and so each day I would stay in the air conditioned hotel until the evening events attached to the festival. Watching the film with the Italian audience was a strange experience. The Canal Plus print - with French subtitles - was being screened while Italian actors spoke the lines and the film soundtrack was dipped except when music was carrying a scene. Despite these layers of separation the film was enjoyed. The following evening the awards were announced and the film was a runner-up for the main jury prize. But I hadn't realised that the journalists covering the event also awarded a prize - the Italian Film Journalists Guild award - and was stunned to hear that THE BOY FROM MERCURY was declared the winner. The film picked up yet another prize - this one seemed to have been invented in the course of the festival - from the Italian Film Distributors Association. I hadn't been handed a prize since I was fifteen.
When I returned to Ireland I passed on the news to the Film Board and spoke of facing a situation where the film would be released in Italy and the UK but not in Ireland. At this stage I believe Rod contacted Jane Doolan of Clarence Pictures - Ireland's only independent distributor - and it was then I discovered that in fact Jane had every intention of releasing the film. The news was great, and naturally I offered to help in any way possible. One task I was able to deal with was to edit a trailer for the film, and by October I had completed a trailer which I had been told would run with every print of Neil Jordan's "Michael Collins" screening in Ireland.
By then the film had also won another prize - a Special Commendation at the Prix Europa.
A tidy conclusion to the story was in the making. Three years before, in early December 1993, I had found out that the Film Board were going to provide me with development funding for the script of THE BOY FROM MERCURY. In the ensuing years I had been on the long road to Mercury and now the film would reach Irish audiences. As this event loomed one great debate returned - what was the audience for the film? Jane Doolan took the view that this was a childrens' film and came up with a poster which I hated - Harry in his Mercurian spacesuit with the spacehip behind him. I felt that the image said one thing - childrens' sci-fi film - and in so doing bypassed a huge part of the film's audience. Jane, however, was convinced that she was right and was supported by Marina and Rod. I had hoped that we could talk more about this but I was away at festivals and came back to discover that the poster had already gone to print. At the London Film Festival, meanwhile, the film had played to an adult audience and gone down so well that Joe D'Morais decided he would aim the film at an adult nostalgia audience.
The weeks leading up to the release of the film were extraordinary for the Irish film industry. Neil Jordan's MICHAEL COLLINS broke all box office records while in many venues trailers for THE VAN, THE LAST OF THE HIGH KINGS, and THE BOY FROM MERCURY ran with it. For Irish audiences it must have been quite a revelation. There really was such a thing as Irish film.  MERCURY was released on the weekend of December 6th on seven screens - the UCIs in Tallaght and Coolock, the Omni in Santry, the Virgin on Parnell Street, the Classic in Harold's Cross (thanks to my old boss Albert Kelly), and multiplexes in Galway and Cork. There was a decent amount of prepublicity, including a great deal of support from RTE's 'The Movie Show' who ran a competition around the film's release.
For a combination of personal and business reasons I was in the States for the first week and a half of the release of the film. While I was visiting my son Steve in Syracuse for his eighteenth birthday Rachel sent me an email saying there were mixed reviews. I later discovered that reviews ranged from the good to the indifferent. On my first night in a hotel in Los Angeles I phoned Clarence Pictures and received the news that the film had opened badly and was already being pulled in Galway, Cork, and the Omni. By the time I got home to Dublin I discovered that the film was having a reduced number of screenings in the UCIs and Virgin. I knew that Albert would pull the film in the Classic after the first week because he was already committed to other films so that was no surprise.
The film dropped dead at the box office. To make matters worse, the reduction in screenings meant that by Christmas it was showing once (at midday) at the UCI in Tallaght, twice (at midday and two o'clock) at UCI Coolock, and twice (in the afternoon) at the Virgin. There was no scope for it to reach the audience of children on holidays at which it had been aimed, and little scope for it to reach an adult audience. The film was finished. The final nail in the coffin came on December 27th when I opened the paper to find that the film had been pulled from both UCIs. This meant that over the following two weeks when the childrens audience were on holidays the film wouldn't be showing. Virgin were the only cinema in town still showing the film.
I spent Christmas 1996 in a daze. Three years of my life down the tubes in three weeks in Irish cinemas. Unimpressed Irish critics and audiences meant that the jury was in and I had made a flop. The Irish Film Board had invested in the film and then in its release. They would receive nothing in return. Le Studio Canal Plus would surely look at how the film performed in its home market and then shove it to the back of their shelves. If I were to make another film, it wouldn't be with the eager return of such investors to my work. Defeat - intolerable to me and so awfult to taste - was the end of the road. I spent the Christmas of 1996 in hiding as I had done in 1993. But for a new reason - I was ashamed of walking around under the shadow of my failure.
James Taylor has a song called 'Sunny Skies' and it has the line "wondering if where I've been is worth the things I've been through". That's the question I ended with as 1996 drew to a close. Getting the opportunity to make the film was my chance to shine and that hadn't happened. I had learned many lessons, and the film had provided well deserved opportunities for others to take on responsibilities and display their talents. But this film which was my obsession - which absorbed three years of my life with its highs and lows - would be consigned to the dump bin of films. I am proud of it as I would be of a child. I certainly don't accept all the criticisms levelled against it. But I never would have believed that making the film would lead me ultimately to such gloom. So much of my life is caught up in that film - as an autobiographical story, as the consummation of a life's love of film, and as three years hard work. And all that's left for me to do now is to move on and find new roads.

I include this because it was written by someone very different from the innocent who began this adventure in film.

December 11th 1996 and I sit in a hotel in Los Angeles. The view out my window is of the rain sodden streets of Chinatown. This county is traumatised by rain - one area where we Irish are experts. I am here on a business trip which completes my work and travel for 1996. I miss my home - I yearn to be with Rachel and Ellen and just be quiet for a while in Dublin. There's every likelihood that I'll need to go to Berlin next February for meetings during the film festival, but the way I feel right now I don't want to step outside the front door of my home until then.
I am in Los Angeles for two meetings that will hopefully bring a US element to the deal which is shaping for MOTHERSHIP. While THE BOY FROM MERCURY is unlikely to get a theatrical release here but may get a TV sale, I have learned something vitally important about how the US impacts on the world film market.  A United States release is the currency of how a film is judged in other territories. By this I mean that a German or a Japanese pre-sale for MOTHERSHIP would rely heavily on whether or not the film will have a US profile. People in the rest of the world go to see the films that Americans have gone to see.
I remember that once, during the late stages of pre-production of MERCURY, I was talking to legal adviser James Hickey and he said I was on a steep learning curve. Well the curve since then has become a sheer wall. I spent many years of my life reaching the stage where I got to make my first feature film. The experience since is reminiscent of that day mentioned earlier in the book when I was hiking with my son Steve and we climbed up a steep and difficult path to reach a car park. I am here at a point where I find that there is an ordinariness to the work of making films just as there was to being a postman or even ultimately to film editing. I don't include writing in this disillusionment simply because writing has no floor or ceiling to audience size to validate its merit. Because it has no overheads.
A film should aspire to attracting a sufficient audience to either return or justify the investment needed to make it.
This is a law I believe in but which would be highly contentious in at least an Irish context. It probably represents the scale of my ambition. It may even represent the scale of my avarice. Nevertheless, it's what I believe. When I look back on making my first feature film I look back on a journey which led me to a new level at which I found something other than I had expected. I found a cold, hard business.
I now have notions about this business and what it takes to make a film. I've even wound up with a list of conclusions from the experience of this year that I'm willing to set out here;
1    This is a relationship-based business where trust is everything.
2    More often than not it's the deal rather than the script that decides if a film     will get made.
3    You get only one shot with a script so don't show it until it has been worked     to the best it can be.
4    Sending cold faxes, making cold calls and sending cold scripts are all a         waste of time.
5    I have the good fortune to now have proof that I can direct a feature film. How     that film was financed was a complete fluke or miracle.
6    A project that would get financed immediately would have the following         ingredients in order of importance;
    (A) An identifiable and quantifiable market.
    (B) Leading cast that will 'open' in the US.
    (C) A good script.
    (D) A budget in keeping with scope for profit or minimum risk for investors.
    (E) A team who can be trusted to make a film and deliver a professional end     product that gets good reviews and is perceived as something to be proud of     selling.
7    A producer is the broker between what a film maker dreams and what a market can accomodate. That being so, a producer is the conduit between the possible and the wonderful (or insane, or egotistical, or impossible, or barely plausible etc...) The producer, therefore, must understand the TRUE limits of film making reality so that no film maker with a possible dream is denied the chance of self-expression. So while in the past I would have thought that producing is a means to an end, I now see that role as THE means to an end. Sadly, producers may spend their lives packaging deals as opposed to financing films just so they get to make a living.
8    This is an insane business.
9    The most insane person in this business is the director, on whom descends all the needs and insanities of the project and who must turn all that into a film which emerges plausible and structured at the other end of the roller coaster.
10    If you get to make a film you.....
    ...have freedom that people in steady jobs don't seem to have from your perspective because film is your way of expressing yourself.
    ...create employment for yourself and others.
    ...leave behind on the planet a document of yourself.
    ...hopefully have fun.

Conventiently for these delusions of comprehension there are ten headings. A reader may respond to the above with horror or interest.  I have not come to these conclusions lightly nor have I any reason to present them as easily palatable opinions. I certainly don't find them all palatable myself.
Ireland is a small country with the good blessing of a government policy that wishes to support a film industry. It is impossible, however, to finance a film of anything more than very modest scale - while paying people a living wage - through funds in this country alone. So the next place to look is where - England? Yes, there's money in England. And the task of contending with an agenda of what works for the English market as a story. The lucky route there is a TV presale from BBC, ITV or Channel Four. If the project doesn't jump through the right hoops in those quarters then it may never be realised.
Then there are potential investors within Europe but even a film like THE BOY FROM MERCURY which is fully funded that way will fail to return its investment if the film doesn't carry some weight in the crucial barometer of market value - the US of A. This offers two solutions; re-educate the film audience outside America, or go with the flow and use America as the entertainment imprimatur it has come to respresent. My own response would be to go with the latter. The horse has bolted so find innovative uses for an empty stable.
If MOTHERSHIP comes together it will have money from Ireland through Section 35 and the Irish Film Board. It will have money from Germany and/or Canada which will be bolstered by state support for film in those countries. It will have 'bridging finance' from a sales agent who will predict the market for the film based on its cast and genre. The sales agent, however, will want to know that there will be a US profile for the film and so a distributor of some sort (theatrical or other media) in the US will be involved. With all those ingredients in place I'll get a chance to make a more ambitious film for a greater amount of money. If that happens and the enterprise works I'll get to make more films. That's the new road I choose. It's a road which has led a working class lad from Crumlin in Dublin to sit in a hotel in Los Angeles pondering ways to finance the realising of his stories so that he can have his cake and eat it; aiming to make films that earn money for himself and others while also being of value. The future will tell on which side of that scale my work fell. I have mixed feelings about the road that brought me here, but no one can turn back time so this is my life. This is where my dream led and it's not what I ever expected. Be careful what you wish because it might come true.


In the beginning was the idea. I had a sense from the moment the idea struck me that it was special and in the year and half of writing work on it I learned more about the craft than I had learned in the previous twenty years.
As a writer, I'd never broken through. Over the years, my writing credits mounted with a series of minor achievements - radio plays, sci-fi novels, the two early TV plays, and a few other ventures that brought me little or no attention. The majority of my output had consisted of unsold screenplays and unpublished novels. For what it's worth, I believe my strongest literary achievement to date is a gut wrenching exercise in self exploration called 'Thirteen Tracks'  which began around the death of my mother and in the midst of which I spewed up a children's sci-fi thriller named MOTHERSHIP which in the end taught me that I was born to plot and not the mastery of prose. But for all my explorations of the universe and the depths of my soul, it was a simple story from my childhood that I sensed was going to finally help me make the break into a new life. This feeling was very important - I had strong faith in the story, and this was tested many times. In retrospect if I had been in any way tepid in my commitment to the story I might well have given up in the face of disappointments or critical responses to the script.
One last point I would make before proceeding with the story of the script is that in the light of the experience gained writing it I now have set far higher standards for myself with my new work. I've written two scripts since THE BOY FROM MERCURY. One - THE WISH - has been through several outlines and six drafts before I felt ready to show it to possible cast or investors. The other, MOTHERSHIP, having gone through the stages of being a novel and a radio serial, went again to outline and then three script drafts before reaching the same point. You get one chance with your script and unless it has been thoroughly developed you don't stand a chance of getting even the minimum response of someone making comments about it and being willing to see a new draft.
The step-outline of a film is the template of the script. It's the bones to which flesh and blood will be added. To extend this simile into the gruesome, it gets very messy if you want to rearrange a body after you've added the flesh and blood, so the skeleton merits a lot of thought before going any further. What follows is the step outline I'd arrived at after taking on board comments made by friends and colleagues, and also putting my mind to strengthening the story.  What can't be conveyed unless I were to include every screenplay draft is the way that the adding or altering of dialogue could throw more light on a character or plot plot point.

1    The starry sky. We find HARRY CRONIN looking up with his head out the window of his bedroom. He smiles. From his point of view we now see and object with flashing red and white lights appear over the roof of the house. Harry flashes alternate green and white from his torch. Run opening credits.

2    Harry hears footsteps coming up the stairs and he scampers back in from the window. He has been lying along the foot of the bed with pillows propped on the opened window. He shuts the window and gets back into bed, barely waking his sleeping dog MAX. Harry's MOTHER enters and shivers. She looks at Harry and knows he's not sleeping. She takes Max out of the bed and leaves the room. Harry opens his eyes and whispers "goodnight, Earth Mother".

3    The school is a vast grey building. In Harry's classroom BROTHER DOWDALL, a red faced dour man, is leading the class through a recitation of 'The old woman of the Roads'. We find Harry and MUCKER MAGUIRE among the faces. Dowdall writes on the blackboard and informs his pupils he has eyes in the back of his head. Harry stares and a pair of eyes open in the back of the Brother's head. Then the level of rowdiness rises and Brother spins around, throwing the chalk. It hits Harry on the head.

4    Teatime in the Cronin household and we meet Harry's family. His mother is drab and quiet. His seventeen year old screaming sister MARY complains about everything, hates having the dog near the table, and is annoyed by the slightest sound Harry makes when eating. His nineteen year old brother PAUL, a Cliff Richard clone, has a big quiff of hair and a deep Dublin voice.  He is gangly and awkward, with bits of toilet on his chine where he'd cut himself shaving. Paul wants ice cream after the meal but there's none. He tells Harry to go down to the shop and with no support from his mother Harry must obey and storms out of the house.

5    Harry walks down the road with Max trailing along. Harry is talking out loud, having a heated argument with his brother. He grits his teeth and threatens to kill his brother, then has an imaginary fight with him. Cut to a wide shot of the corporation road as Harry swings his fists and beats up his big brother.

6    A great cheer rises from the rowdy horde of boys in the local fleapit (cinema) as the shrill music and opening titles herald a new episode of the follyer-upper starring CHUCK SOLAR. Chuck is in a punch-up with four strange assailants from Planet Quarg. When Chuck fights he grits his teeth. We see Harry in the audience, also gritting his teeth.

7    Boys flood out of the cinema shooting each other and grappling with each other as the weary ushers land the occasional clip on a nearby ear. Harry is out on the street, gritting his teeth and watching the other boys pass him by. He reaches a public park near the cinema and rattles the small wooden stick he treasures (which he has carved into a sort of laser gun) along the railings as he runs.

8    Mount Jerome cemetery and its ancient vaults. Harry, dressed up in his short trousered suit and best shirt and tie, walks along with his mother. He eyes the vaults suspiciously and as he passes one a slimy black claw tries to reach out. He quickens his step and his mother tells him not to fall. They arrive at the pristine grave of his father  where Harry says prayers and helps to place fresh flowers. "Tell your father you're being a good boy," his mother instructs and Harry does so. He gazes at the photo of his father laid into the headstone.

9    At home, Harry wanders into the kitchenette to find Paul playing a Shadows record and practising their steps. Paul halts and hides his embarrassment with rage. "What are you lookin' at?" Harry slopes away and goes to the bedroom.

10    Harry and Max are under the covers of his bed as he shines a torch under his face and tells a creepy story. Harry starts seeing shapes indented in the blankets and grabs Max for protection, then whips back the blankets. All is normal. He begins preparations for his nightly signal to the flashing lights.

11    The unconscious Chuck Solar, trapped by the evil EMPEROR CHANG, is tied up in chains and nailed into a box. Then he is lowered into a vat of boiling oil until the box sizzles and drowns. Up comes the caption and dramatic voice - "Is this the end of Chuck Solar?" Harry is shocked.

12    Harry walks alone among the boys teeming out of the cinema. He is lost in thought when a boy running past shoots him. Harry is taken by surprise and the boy smiles. This is SEAN. Sean shoots again and Harry clutches his chest. Sean runs away and Harry runs after him. They run into the park and begin an escapade of shooting and playing.

13    Heading home, Harry talks with great concern about Chuck Solar. This has to be the end for him. Sean dismisses all this and slags the serial. Making up outlandish versions of what will happen next he says that next week the serial will start with Chuck waking up, breaking free of his chains, and firing the rocket in his boots to spring out of the box. Annoyed by this jeering Harry shoots but Sean, who is walking along a wall,  doesn't fall. When Harry protests and Sean says "you missed me". Finally Harry takes out his wooden laser gun and aims at Sean and says "by the power of Mercury dar dar". Sean falls convincingly and Harry goes to him, impressed. Sean is clutching his chest and removes his hand to reveal blood. The boys look at each other, roar in horror, and run away in opposite directions. Harry throws the gun away.

14    Harry dashes to his house and bangs on the door impatiently. When Mam opens he barges in and rushes upstairs with Max. He explains to Max that he has used his secret power to shoot a boy and the gardai (police) will be looking for him. They hurriedly pack a bag of essentials like the torch, a jumper, and bags of broken biscuits and sweets hidden around the bed. Then they run away.

15    Harry has a hiding place in a grove of bushes. He and Max hide there, waiting for dark when he can contact the Mercurians and be taken away before he brings complete disgrace to his home planet.

16    At home, mother realises Harry is missing and sends Paul and Mary out to look for him. They both groan about this - they're getting ready to go out. But mother insists.

17    All the food has been eaten and it isn't nearly dark yet. Harry, talking things over with Max, decides that running away will only bring further disgrace to the Mercurians and so he must go home and accept his punishment.

18    Harry drags his heels as he arrives near his road. He is snapped out of his misery by the roars of his screaming sister who drags him back to the house. "You'll be killed" Mary says. "I know" harry replies. When the front door opens Harry puts his hands up but there are no Gardai waiting, just his diner still heating on the pot.

19    Harry has his head out the bedroom window, looking up at the mostly cloudy sky and waiting for the light. He glimpses it through the cloud and flashes his torch red but the light disappears behind cloud again.

20    Harry stands ashen faced before his father's grave. Hi mother say "tell your father you're being a good boy" but Harry can't say the words. His mother coaxes and cajoles, getting upset about doing the best she can to raise the boy on her own, and Harry finally relents. "I'm being a good boy," he says to the grave - and the earth heaves. Harry runs away.

21    Everyone else tucks into dinner but Harry can't eat. His mother is concerned for him and wonders if she shouldn't go to bingo.  Paul (because he's going to babysit with his girlfriend Sarah) insists that his mother go out.

22    Paul is sitting on the sofa with SARAH watching the black and white TV. He is trying to make a pass at her but not succeeding.

23    Harry sits at the open window of the bedroom. The sky is heavy with rain. He sees by the alarm clock that the time for sending a message is past. A claw scrapes the window just as Harry closes it. Then he hears footsteps coming up the stairs. Harry hops into bed with Max with Max and closes his eyes. The steps halt outside the door. Harry opens his eyes. He hears deep breathing. Then the door begins to distort and bulge. Harry croak "Daddy! Daddy!. He hears growling and he bolts upright, screaming his head off. Footsteps speed up the stairs. Paul and Sarah burst in. Harry is frantic and Sarah consoles him. Paul is dismissive and orders his brother back to sleep.

24    The TV is on. Harry sits on the sofa between Paul and Sarah, Sarah cuddling him. Paul is fuming.

25    Harry is sitting on the railings of his front garden, talking to himself about his plight and looking up at the sky. He doesn't notice his sister cycling home until the last second and she screams at him for talking to himself. She goes into the house and complains to her mother about Harry. "Leave the child alone," Mam responds, but she is concerned.

26    Harry is listlessly doing his homework when he hears the dread sound of the lambretta scooter. Max reacts too, and they both try to hurry out the back door. But Mam arrives with Uncle Tony, who as usual is dressed in his mid-length leather coat, goggle, and round head helmet. "God bless all beer!" he declares.

27    Uncle Tony brings Harry and Max to the Phoenix Park. Harry is exasperated by his constant word play and chummy ways. He is furious when Uncle Tony throws a stick in the pond and Max slavishly jumps in after it.

28    Afterwards in the pub Uncle Tony wants to chat "eyeball to youball". Harry's mother has explained that something's wrong, and as his father's brother Tony tries to awkwardly to find out what's going on. He fails, and gets jarred (drunk) in the process.

29    The Lambretta scooter weaves its way along the corporation roads home.

30    Harry can't resist going to the cinema to find out what"s happened to Chuck Solar. As the follyer-upper starts, the chained and unconscious Chuck Solar is lowered in the box into the boiling oil. Cutting inside, Chuck awakes and at the last instant fires up the rockets in his boots to leap free. Harry is baffled.

31    Harry is sneaking out of the cinema when Sean catches up with him. Harry nearly leap out of his skin but Sean explains that he fell on glass. Harry is unconvinced and takes Sean to the park as he explains his big secret. Harry explains that he is in fact from Planet Mercury and has been sent to observe life on Earth. He used his secret power to shoot Sean and has vowed never to use it again.  Harry explains that he has such powers as being able to see into the future and make cars turn corners. Sean is unconvinced.

32    Sean brings Harry to his home - a privately owned three bedroom house - and there the boy is presented with blessed normality; a nice young FATHER  and MOTHER, and a BROTHER and SISTER around Sean's age.  Harry is enthralled by all this, and is on his best manners when he sits down to tea with them. He starts making up a revised version of his family in answer to the parents questions.

33    The next time Sarah comes to babysit she brings a gift for Harry and keeps him up late playing snakes and ladders. Paul seethes while Harry is delighted .

34    For a moment it seems Chuck Solar is throttling Paul as Sarah stands back thanking him. But no. We're back in the cinema and Harry is cheering on his hero. Sean sits with him.

35    Talking with his pal Sean, Harry asks if he can stay at his house that night as he's afraid that Sarah, who would otherwise be babysitting him with Paul, is falling in love with Harry. Sean is happy to agree.

36    "I have a friend," Harry explains and his mother doesn't know how to react. She fussily packs all kinds of unnecessary things for the overnight stay while asking questions about the family to which Harry gives answers of ever greater imagination.

37    Night time in Sean's bedroom, and Harry is explaining about the Mercury spacecraft which makes contact with him. The boys look out the window as the time approaches, but Harry isn't sure where to expect the lights. "They pass right over my house," he explains. He sees the lights and flashes - green and white  - as they flash back red and white. Sean reckons it's an airplane - that all airplanes have red and white lights. "Did you ever see them flash green and white?" he asks. Harry gets angry with him and sulks as he goes to bed.

38    Next day, Harry sets out to prove his powers. He stares at Sean's father who is reading the Sunday paper, sending a thought that he has an itchy ear. The man scratches his ear. Sean says this is just a coincidence, and Harry runs away in a furious rage.

39    Tears run down Harry's face as he runs home.

40    Back with Max in his bedroom, Harry pours the wrath of Mercury on Sean swearing he will never talk to him again.

41    In school, Harry is asked a question about the counties of Munster and can't remember all the names. Brother Dowdall asks other boys and no one gets the answer right - Mucker Maguire is among the boys who can't answer the question.

42    Coming home from school, Harry is surprised and pleased to see Sean at the top of the road waiting for him. The two walk and talk. Sean says Harry has a great imagination - which Harry denies. Sean then accepts that Harry can think what he likes - he still wants them to be friends. Harry is pleased and brings Sean home.

43    Harry introduces      Sean to his (Earth) mother. She is very awkward about having such a well spoken boy in the house and is mortified by dirt everywhere. Sean also meets Max. They are going to go out for a walk when Sean freezes - he sees Mucker Maguire passing by with his gang. Sean explains that Mucker stole his sweets and comics once and Sean is afraid of him.

44    In class, Mucker is taking a copybook out of his desk when he notices a note written in red.  Brother Dowdall notices that Mucker isn't paying attention and is heading for him with the leather strap when the boy shows the note. It reads "you are a robber. You will die if you bully my friend. Signed Mercury Man." The brother demands to know who wrote the note and invokes the sacred crucifix above the blackboard as he asks each boy in turn if they wrote the note. Harry's turn comes. Christ lifts his head and stares at Harry. He confesses to the note and faints.

45    In the schoolyard boys commiserate with Harry for getting two hundred lines - "I must never threaten God's given life" - and six slaps. Then the shape-throwing Mucker comes along with his pals and pushes Harry around. The young BROTHER QUINN comes along and gives Mucker a clout. When the brother departs, however, Mucker tells Harry they must face each other in a fight next day at school or else Harry will be known as a yellow belly.

46    The umpteenth page of a copybook. Harry writes the "I' down the page, then the 'must'. He halts from his labours and gazes out the window.

47    In black and white we see Harry and Mucker square up to each other. Harry warns Mucker for his own safety not to proceed with the fight. Mucker pushes Harry again and the sky darkens. A huge spaceship is above them. It zaps Mucker, who disappears to the amazement of all the boys around him. The boys hoist Harry on their shoulders as the spaceship departs.

48    Back to the real world. The field throngs with boys as Harry makes his way into the heart of the crowd to face Mucker. As the pushing and shoving starts, Harry keeps looking up at the sky. Finally Mucker halts and looks up. In a moment of inspired desperation, Harry punches Mucker and runs away.

49    That night, Harry is being extra nice to his Earth mother., brother and sister. He sets his brother's slippers by the fire, washes up after dinner and apologises to his screaming sister for calling her a cow once behind her back. Then he writes a letter to his two oldest brothers in London, explaining he had been wrong for not writing to them in the previous two years.

50    Harry has his head out the window waiting for the Mercurian ship. When it appears he flashes red on his torch. It flashes back red and white but doesn't come down for him. He slinks miserably back into bed - he has been left to die at the hands of Mucker Maguire.

51    Later, Paul comes to bed. He notices that Harry is crying. "What's wrong with you?" he barks. Harry says nothing's wrong.

52    Next day Harry is lying sick in bed when Uncle Tony blusters in. Why won't Harry go to school? His Mammy is terrible worried. Uncle Tony does his awful best to cheer Harry up. Harry rests his hand solemnly on the man's shoulder. "Uncle Tony, you are a very good man."

53    Uncle Tony goes back to the mother and is flummoxed.  "That boy needs a father," he concludes.

54    Evening time and Harry sits on his bed beside a tray of uneaten food. He hears a knock at the front door and his Mam tells him Sean is there to see him. Harry refuses to see anyone.

55    Daytime and Harry is in the kitchenette writing his will before going to school. To his surprise, Paul enters. "We're going up to the school'" he says.

56    Trailing after his brother as they stride along, Harry asks what's going on. It turns out that Sean had found out about the incident with Mucker and told Paul. Harry is stunned.

57    Harry and Paul stand near the school gates. Harry is to identify Mucker. When he does, Paul seizes Mucker and lifts him by the scruff of the neck. "How old is your big brother?", "Fourteen". Paul throttles Mucker. "If ya pick on me brother again I'll bleedin' kill ya." Mucker flees in terror. "You stuck up for me," Harry says. "Nobody picks on a Cronin," Paul snorts.

58    Harry is racing along a road. It's like he's on air. He acts out grabbing Mucker and throttling him as he runs. Finally he arrives at Sean's house.

59    Harry sits at the kitchen table  talking excitedly to Sean about what's happened. All the while he munches everything in sight. Sean's mother thinks the poor child must be starved.

60    Mount Jerome cemetery. Harry and Sean explore, finally arriving at the father's grave. When Sean asks Harry if he remembers his father, Harry talks without emotion; "I was only small. I was being sick and I was leaning over the toilet and he leaned down beside me and rubbed the back of my neck. I think I remember that. I was only small and he died after that. He wasn't really my father. My father lives on Mercury." Harry walks away from the grave and Sean joins him, putting his arm around Harry the way pals do. Harry puts his arm around Sean. Sean rubs the back of Harry's neck.

61    In his room at night, Harry lies out the window while talking to Max about the fact that the Mercurians knew all along that his big brother would protect him. He announces to Max that they'll be going to see Sean after homework next day to swop comics. The lights appear over the roof and Harry flashes green and white. The lights flash back - green and white. Harry smiles.

62    The green and white lights travel across the starry sky. Run end credits.


Feeling this treatment was solid enough to guide me in the writing of a first draft of the screenplay I headed for the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerig for a week. I had applied to the Centre months before, explaining my situation and seeking permission to avail of their service. Having been considered by their committee, I was accepted and could book a room there for the third week of March. I arrived in very serious work mode and was lead to an attic room which would become my home and sanctuary.
It's difficult to express just how valuable a service the centre provides. Years ago, I had read 'Gulliver's Travels' and in the full version the story is told of intellectuals who live on clouds. They have own eye fixed on a book and the other fixed on the sky. Each has a boy walking beside them, and the boy's task is to tip the intellectual with a balloon should he be treading near the edge of the cloud. In Annaghmakerig I felt that pampered. In my mansard I lived and breathed the screenplay. I have read much about scriptwriting, and was mindful of William Goldman's advice that SCREENPLAYS ARE STRUCTURE. I felt I'd worked a lot on the structure. After that, he advised getting into the script and writing it quickly.
Writing quickly is exactly what I did. I lived and breathed the script. I slept when I was too tired to write, then woke at whatever hour to carry on with my work. The only time commitment in the Centre was that everyone would gather for the evening meal. This I would do and indeed it was a great link with sanity to sit and talk a little with the other people staying their. I met an old friend, Maeve Ingoldsby, and we had a few brief friendly chats. The plain, shocking truth is that I wrote the first draft of THE BOY FROM MERCURY in four days. I spent two days reviewing something else - a stage play I was trying to revise - and then I completed another sweep of the screenplay on the Saturday before giving in to the social aspect of Annaghmakerig and going for numerous drinks with other artists on my last night there.
The first draft of the script was dated March 17th - Saint Patrick's Day. When I got home on Sunday I was weary but elated.     I've noticed that once I write a draft I'm convinced it's the definitive one and completely faultless. That feeling lasts for about a week after writing it, and then I start to cool off. Within a few weeks - and it does take me a few weeks - I can listen calmly and objectively to criticism. After a while I can start addressing the criticisms and if I think after my own deliberations that the criticisms are valid I start looking at how I can address them in a new draft. One thing I don't like to do is make minor rewrites (sometimes referred to as 'polishes'). I prefer to hold back on a draft until a new one will represent a significant step forward in the evolution of the script.
The first wave of reactions came from the Irish Film Board, Martin Mahon,  and Eina McHugh. Rod Stoneman's main comments were that the 'Chuck Solar' sequences could only come across as pastiche and I should try to find a real serial of the day to use in the film. He also felt that the start was too slow and the script too long. He felt that the tension around the Sean 'shooting' was resolved too quickly and could be developed more, and he thought that the script had too many endings. Eina shared Rod's view that the night scenes with Harry and the torch became repetitive and also said she'd expected to see more magic in the script. Martin felt that the Paul and Mucker scene was the high point of the story and should be developed more.  As I worked on the script, my own main problem was the huge wadge of scenes with Harry and Sean that sat in the middle while everything else ground to a halt. I was also trying to think more about Sean and a way of showing why he liked Harry in the first place.
The search for a real serial first led to a 'Buck Rogers' one, the rights of which were held by an American company who could offer an affordable deal for seven minutes of excerpts. I viewed a tape of the serial and could indeed see a way that a plot could be extracted from it that Harry could relate to. Further enquiries, however, led to the Flash Gordon serial of 1939 which also starred Buster Crabbe. The English offices of Archive Films, through Angela Seward, supplied a VHS and I sat down to study it. To my delight, it held far greater options - Flash is on a mission for his father, he gets into some scrapes that seem impossible but in the next week he's freed, and above all the action and direction was far superior to the other choice. I could identify the five sequences I wanted, plus an extract of voice from another episode when Flash and his father talk to each other.

At the end of May I sat down, my thoughts in order, and again quickly wrote the next draft. Again I felt it was wonderful and flawless and it was being sent out to potential investors. The most important thing that happened to it at this stage however is that the European Script Fund had announced their support for the project and so I sent a copy of the new draft to them. In its new incarnation as Media 95 the fund no longer provides this service of script analysis - although they will put selected companies in touch with script analysts on request. I think that's a shame and that the process my script went through with script analysts made it the piece of work which ultimately was financed. I would never have been able to work alone or from gathered suggestions and reach the same standard of writing.
The report was exciting and shocking. The form the reports take is very exacting - first a step outline of the script, then a one page evaluation ticking of levels of merit between 'excellent' and 'weak' for such heading as 'concept' , 'characterisation', 'pace' and 'marketability'. Then the report takes the different elements of the script and analyses these. The first thing that leapt out at me as I read the mainly positive comments was that Harry' sister was superfluous. This hit me like a brick on first reading, but within minutes I could see her fade away. OF COURSE she had to go. She did nothing for the plot, and blurred such things as the Mother's isolation and the arrival of Sarah in Harry's life. All that was lost by her removal was a few gags. The gains were enormous. The report said that the first half was too slow and the ending vague. Under the heading of characters it said that Paul's sympathy came out of nowhere, the mother seemed weak, and Harry could gain by being made more fantastical.
The Board, in the process of making their decision to give the project production backing, had also read the new draft and at a meeting with Rod in August he outlined their comments. One query was who exactly the audience would be for the film - young or adult - and this question would continue to haunt the film through and beyond its making. The general feeling was that some scenes were loose and the script was over long. Also, it was felt that there was no moment of truth for Harry. The set-up around the bullying was considered weak and in need of more heralding. There was also some concern as to whether the 'fantasy' and 'real' fights were separated clearly enough. The main view, of course (or else they wouldn't have made the loan commitment) was that the project was good.
In early September at the EuroAim Rendezvous I had a meeting with David Blake Knox who had his own set of comments about the script. One concern of his was that the use of the Flash Gordon footage might give the impression that the story was set in the Forties and so something before seeing Flash should set up the era clearly. David couldn't figure the character of Sean and we talked about him in an effort to clarify his motivation in starting the friendship. He also explored background ideas about how Paul had been affected by the death of his father. Trying to get to the core of the story, David teased me out about what was the message behind Harry's world of imagination. I found myself giving an answer that I realised had echoes in my own childhood and my more recent past of bereavement and ill fate. The core was that Harry has been saved from worse trauma by having fantasy become his father and comfort. This cloak he has drawn over himself is like a shield as time heals. While we knew that this would never be stated in the film, the conversation helped me understand my creation a bit better.

Having assimilated the points made, I sat down very methodically and listed them down one side of a page and my ways of fixing the points down the other side of a page. I was at this time also reading every book about scriptwriting I could get my hands on. These made me think harder about the structure and quality of writing in the script and I became ever more critical of my work. Of all the material I read about arcs and plot points and the three act structure, the one gem that sticks in my head most vividly was written by Paul Shrader. He said that scripts had four elements; Theme, Metaphor, Plot and Execution. The theme was that sometimes one can hide in fantasy to heal pain. The metaphor was a boy who believed he was from another planet. The plot was his being brought back closer to reality by making a friend and bonding with his brother. The execution was the phase that was driving me crazy.  With the script pored over and a further purge on the dialogue I again wrote the draft very quickly - less than a week. This again went out to the European Script Fund and to investors or potential backers. Naturally, it went to Jo. Again I considered it to be the definitive draft and of a standard that couldn't humanly be bettered. And again once the creative dust settled I could acknowledge that I was wrong.

There were two major responses on the September draft and the shaping of the draft to come. Firstly the new report from the European Script Fund, and secondly the involvement of Jo Manuel who was interested in the project but not happy with the script.
Jo can be a bit blunt in her responses to things and in my time working with her through the script I would occasionally have to read her comments and stay away from a phone for a few days until I'd calmed down. Often she was right - no one is always right - but part of Jo's nature is to come across as being very certain in her views.  Her responses to the script were chiefly these; Mucker should loom larger as a threat in Harry's life with the possible addition of a fantasy sequence around Mucker. A few scenes, like the one where Paul catches Harry talking to himself, should be dropped to improve the pace of the story. A final graveside scene should be added to the script. Uncle Tony should talk about the dead father in the pub scene. The sub plot of Paul's character should move more and be bigger.
The Script Fund report echoed some of the points. The bully showdown should be seen to affect Paul more. The fact that Uncle Tony was the brother of Harry's father needed to be clarified. Sean was too intelligent still and was stealing thunder from Paul. This draft of the script had Sean saying to Harry "I'm sorry you don't have a Daddy' and this was felt to be too mature and knowing for a little boy.
I had these reactions to hand in early December with my operation looming and wrote a new draft in a matter of days. Again I felt it was a better draft. I didn't write a final grave scene because I didn't feel it would work, but at this stage I was grappling with many variations of a scene which would flag Paul's change of heart towards Harry and had written a scene which was an argument between them in the bedroom when Paul discovers Harry crying because the Mercurians hadn't taken him away.
At that time I was also in the midst of my first draft of storyboarding and this was creating new ideas. Harry's nightly ritual of flashing the torch to the spaceship was developing new texture as Harry would now get out onto the roof the first time he thought the Mercurians were coming to collect him.
As the script went out I knew the stakes were getting higher. Karen Street at the Script Fund said she would now pass this draft to their toughest and most exacting analyst, while in those early days there was no way of knowing whether Jo would come back happy with the script.

Of all the drafts, this was the one that was the result of the most extreme analysis and debate. The December draft became the subject of two intensive reports, and I was caught in the middle while developing more visual ideas through the storyboarding.
The 'logline' written by the ESF analyst summed up the film thus "a boy whose father died when he was little believes he comes from Planet Mercury and has been sent to Earth on a scouting mission'. In his criticisms he said that Mucker's menace should be established more strongly from the outset - this was a point I thought I'd covered, but would end up going a step further to hammer home that Mucker was a 'baddie'. The new analyst said the first half was too slow - a point that I also thought I'd covered before. In summing up, however, the analyst was very positive about the film and believed that particular US distributors would be tripping over each other for the rights. The main concern was with pace and a bit more work on Paul and Mucker. Karen told me that this was a glowing report to come from that analyst (who she revealed, by a slip of the tongue, was male). Karen reckoned I was just about there with a shooting script.
The situation with Jo Manuel was very different. She came back saying bluntly that she wasn't willing to present the December draft of the script to her connections and that it needed 'a lot more work'. At first I was disheartened and of the opinion that Jo was going to turn out to be another dead end in the search for funding the film. What made the difference was the fact that Jo's assistant Debbie Davis and I were striking up a good relationship and she really loved the script. She had been through it with a fine tooth comb and it was agreed that I would go to London and spend a day with Debbie talking things through. I discovered then that Debbie had in fact done an analysis of the script every bit as intensive as those done by the Script Fund.
There was a lot riding on our day together on both sides. I had also unintentionally put Debbie on guard by mentioning that I was open to change if I agreed with it but could not be budged if I thought a suggestion would be bad for the script. Jo had already drawn her line in the sand by saying that she would only proceed with the project if she felt confident with the draft that came out of this session. As we worked through the script we began by looking at Debbie's analysis and comments. Ideas flowed easily between us and it would be hard now to claim credit on either side for who thought of what. In the first classroom scene, it would be Harry rather than some other pupil who chuckles at Mucker's misfortune and is kicked at by Mucker when Dowdall's back is turned. It was also decided that when Harry meets Sean the latter is hiding from Mucker and this threat is further reinforced. A scene in the schoolyard when a depressed Harry imagines Dowdall as Ming and so on was dropped. Debbie thought Harry shouldn't stay at Sean's house for the night but rather the opposite - and I didn't agree thinking this unbelievable. She felt that not enough had been done to show Harry's move closer to reality after being helped by his brother. Debbie sought a more open heart to heart conversation between Harry and Paul about the loss of their father. She also sought more scenes with Uncle Tony around the house - and this I couldn't figure as I believed nothing more of Uncle Tony would move the story.
We talked through this and then took a stroll, sitting in a nearby park as the redoubtable Debbie then opened her copy of the script and started going almost line by line through comments to weed out what she saw as a lot of repetition. Much of the change suggested in this was acceptable to me and by the end of the day we seemed to be in tune about the script. The Mucker element was becoming bigger and would register from early in the script. Some scenes were being dropped and I would consider some of the overt dialogue changes being suggested. Even by that night I was starting to question what impact the sum of these changes would have on the script, but as I headed back to Dublin next day the February draft was in the making. It would be referred to later by Karen Street as 'a draft too far'.
In a nutshell, the response back from Jo was that this script was great and just needed a few tiny adjustments before she started sending it to potential investors. I declined from doing such a tweak and preferred to wait until the response from the Script Fund analyst. When that came it was with alarm bells blaring.
The logline on the report this time, tellingly, described the film as the story of 'a boy who lives in a fantasy world forced to confront reality when he is challenged by a school bully'. The draft was described as 'less magical than before' with cuts made to perfectly good material. The plot was described as clumsy and the analyst urged that this draft be entirely abandoned and a new draft be devised working from the previous one.  The report ended with the line 'the producers should seriously consider a professional script edit'.
This line drew a hollow chuckle from me. The script was up to its eyeballs in script editors. What it needed was the reinstatement of one voice - mine. I had lost my way and was only going to find my way out of the mess by regaining my grip on the story.
The process of writing this draft brought many improvements to the script. Even its flaws were to the script's ultimate advantage because now I could start to see what didn't work and why such things didn't work. All that was needed next was a clear mind and courage on my part to write a draft that I could say was truly the best the story could be and fuck the begrudgers.

By fortunate coincidence, all this trouble over the script happened just before I was due to travel on work and holiday. It gave things a chance to settle in my mind, and I would peep at the script from time to time to ferment the new draft. I came back and sat down at my computer and opened up the December rather than the February draft. I then started to work my way through trying to keep the best of the February changes while bringing in my new choices. In the first classroom scene it would be another boy and not Harry that Mucker bullies. But then I added a following scene in the corridor where we see Harry witness Mucker pushing the boy around - this was the best I could offer as a way of registering Mucker as a threat in Harry's life. When Harry meets Sean I went back to the old way without Mucker. A scene which wasn't put in at this time but was written later (at Jo Manuel's suggestion because she thought the script was short) was a variation on a long-dropped scene of Paul complaining to his Mam about the fact that she's too soft on Harry. This helped get some fix on why Paul hadn't been connecting with Harry and sets up the dynamic of relations in the family further. After Sean and Harry are reunited and Harry tells his secret, Mucker came back in as they see him and Sean tells the story of being robbed. This brought things back to the way they were. The scene in which Harry leaves the 'Mercury Man' note in Mucker's desk was up much earlier in the script to try keeping the subplot alive. After the fight, Harry is so upset when the Mercurians won't come for him that he nearly steps off the roof - here Paul comes out and I wrote a new draft of what they say and don't say to each other that felt finally right for the needs of moving their relationship forward. This would mean that Paul's intercession would not then come out of the blue. When Paul comes home to take Harry to the school, I wrote new lines for the mother which show that she approves of Paul's new role and when he promises not to do anything extreme his Mam smiles and says "there's the good man" thereby acknowledging the fact that Paul is taking a step into the shoes of the father.
Karen Street read the script and felt there was no need for it to go for further analysis. Jo and Debbie came back saying that they were happy with it and Jo began to send out copies. There would be further changes but only a few to that draft as it became the shooting script. The real final draft of a screenplay is the transcript of the finished film.

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