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:

 

 

 

 

The Road to Mercury

 ISBN: 978-0978585303

Available now from: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk,

Powells, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Buy.com

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 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 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 everything.
    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 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 donít 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.



            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 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 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.

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