The Road to Mercury
The Story of a Personal
Voyage as the Maker of a First Feature Film
THE BOY FROM MERCURY is one of the
most enduring films to come out of Ireland. It has become a
favorite for family viewing both as a snapshot of bygone
times and as great entertainment. Writer and director Martin
Duffy made his transition from film-editing to feature-film
directing with this story based on his own childhood, and
here he gives the full account of how he shaped the film-
and how the film shaped him. It is a unique account of such
a life experience from an Irish filmmaker: where else would
you find out about the revenge of the piddling dog, how
films bring babies- and what the Cannes film festival and
hillwalking in Fermanagh have in common? The book also
provides a rich source of information for all aspiring
filmmakers; it is a road map for the filmmaking process from
script to screen.
This edition includes the
entire working screenplay of the film.
Included below is an excerpt
from the book:
Available now from:
Barnes & Noble,
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 country 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. Thereís every likelihood that Iíll need to go to Berlin next
February for meetings during the film festival, but the way I feel
right now I donít want to step outside the front door of my home
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
preproduction 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.
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, itís 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. Iíve even wound up with a
list of conclusions from the experience of this year;
1 This is a relationship-based business where trust is
2 More often than not itís the deal rather than the
script that decides if a film will get made.
3 You get only one shot with a script so donít 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 Ďopení 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 accommodate. 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
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 donít seem to have
from your perspective because film is your way of expressing
...create employment for yourself and others.
...leave behind on the planet a document of yourself.
...hopefully have fun.
Conveniently 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
donít 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, thereís 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 doesnít 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 doesnít 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 represent. My own response would be to go with the
latter. The horse has bolted so find innovative uses for an empty
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 Ďbridging financeí
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 Iíll get a chance to make a more
ambitious film for a greater amount of money. If that happens and
the enterprise works Iíll get to make more films. Thatís the new
road I choose. Itís 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 itís not what I ever expected.
Be careful what you wish because it might come true.
Go to the Boy from Mercury
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Duffy's Film Resources page