Ray Sullivan Interview
IFM: Ray, how did you first get involved in filmmaking? Did you go to college, or is it something you got involved in on your own?
I did the Film Production course in Ballyfermot straight after the Leaving Cert in 2002. Before that I just made films with friends whilst in secondary school but nothing too serious. Obviously I loved watching films as a child but didn’t consider that making them was an option until I was around 18. Before that I was more into drawing panels out of comic books and animation. I had planned to study animation after school but the more I thought about it, the more filmmaking felt like the better option.
Films like Gremlins 2, Jurassic Park and The Matrix were (and still are) big influences on me. so I guess I wanted to be a part of films like those.
I wanted to be one of those tiny names in the credits after you see a great movie.
IFM: You write/direct and work in the visual effects area. Which area of filmmaking did you first get involved with?
Editing is where I thought my future lay so that’s what I focused on. I was good with computers and it felt very natural so I edited as much as possible in college.
I really wanted to be a camera operator too but everyone found their place quite quickly in college and apparently editing was mine. But after working in Screen Scene as a runner I realised that editing was definitely not for me. I was a necessary skill to learn and I excelled at it but I had much, much more to offer. It was through learning about editing and other skills like cinematography and vfx that helped me become a director. Each of those skills requires analytics and artistry and a good director brings all of these elements together, making it all seem effortless. That’s where I’m at now.
IFM: Tell us a bit about your short film ‘M is for Maisie’, and what was the genesis of the story?
Well it was an entry for the ABCs of Death 2 Competition. The orignal idea was Darryl Kinsella’s and entitled “M is for Midnight Caller”, basically a murderer entering a house to find find his victim already slain. We then expanded upon that and it evolved very quickly into something creepy, bloody and fun. We were really happy about it.
Darryl knocked out the first draft within hours of us deciding on the story. I made a few changes to his draft and that was pretty much it. It had to be 3 minutes or under and we realised that tinkering any more with the script would just delay us. The most difficult aspect of making the film was casting the little girl. I only had confirmation she could do it on the day before shooting and without her there wouldn’t have been a film to be honest.
We shot it over three nights, from 6pm-12am with just myself, Terry Warren and Darryl as crew, we had a prosthetics artist for one day also. I shot the film with my own RED scarlet, with canon lenses and Tiffen filters. I knew I wouldn’t get time for colour grading as the deadline was approaching fast, so I shot it quite contrasty with tungsten lights and an ultra lowcon filter. I spent about 5 days editing it and 2 days on sound mixing and VFX cleanup. It’s safe to say it took less than 10 days in total to shoot and finish.
IFM: You’re also worked in the area of cinematography. Can you tell us a bit about working in this field?
Cinematography has just been part and parcel of directing low budget projects for me. I’m a self shooting director out of necessity rather than desire but I still love it and am improving with each project. Maisie is my best work visually in live action to date and I think that was mainly down to the time constraint we had, i.e. I had to decide on a look before shooting. Creating a look in post with filters, masks, etc. was just not an option.
My skills as a DOP increased exponentially when I got the Canon 5DmkII in 2010. Now everybody has a DSLR but not everyone knows how to use it. It didn’t take long to realise that making a film on the 5D was not going to be visually good enough for me. With the moiré, rolling shutter and compression I was just never satisfied with it. It does take amazing stills though. That’s why I went with the RED in 2012, I just had all the features that I would ever need over the next 5 or 6 years and it was upgradeable, a feature lacking from every single other camera manufacturer.
I did a lot of research into how light is actually captured by these new digital cameras and that serves me well on set too. I know exactly what conditions are needed to create clean, dynamic imagery. Framing shots and moving the camera is really important too but that comes from the director’s side.
IFM: You’re hoping to shoot a new short next year, what can you tell us about it?
I’m working on a short with the writer of ‘FOXES’, Garrett Shanley. It’s a loose adaptation from one of his and Cathal Duggan’s comics “Supernatural Showcase” and I’m very excited about it. I want to shoot it in black and white too so visually it’ll be very challenging for me. Hopefully I can get it finished by early April.
IFM: If you had to offer advice to people looking to get into the film/TV industry, what would it be?
1. Learn as much about the filmmaking process as you can, you don’t need a crew of 20, 10 or even 5 people to make your own short.
2. Never ever shoot over 180 degree shutter angle.
3. Get multi-skilled.
4. Be prepared to fail, it’s just a natural consequence of filmmaking.
IFM: What other projects have you got planned for the future, and as a filmmaker what do you hope 2014 brings?
My big project for 2014 is starting a new production company. I am a multi-skilled flmmaker, so my aim is to provide a more unique service for clients in that I can conceptualise and execute projects myself within constrictive budgets. I’ll also direct at least two new shorts. Most likely I will direct a feature film within 2-5 years time. But I need to find an excellent script first.
My main aim by the end of 2014 is to be more a more accomplished director. I’ve no doubts about my talent but I need more recognition to enable me to move on to bigger projects.