Born in Dublin I grew in Dun Laoghaire before going on to Dublin City University to study Communications.
I love old movies and was addicted to them as a kid always wanting to be Jimmy Cagney or John Wayne. The first chance I got to study film was the course in DCU, so I grabbed the opportunity. I didn’t know if I wanted to be an actor, writer or director. I first tried my hand at acting but I was useless. Writing and directing came naturally so I gravitated towards those.
It was my mother who taught me to go for it and not to listen to anyone who tells you ‘it can’t be done’.
I’ve never listened to a word of advice that anybody in the business has given me as I’d rather make my own mistakes and learn from them.
My first job in television was as a presenter on a kid’s series called ‘Scratch Saturday’.
After that, I presented a number of different shows for RTÉ before fronting ‘The Last Picture Show’. This series ran for 10 years and involved me popping up on your screen (after the Late Late Show) to tell you about the upcoming movie. By that stage, I had already started to produce and direct TV shows and have been making TV series for over 30 years now.
After being a presenter for a number of years, I started to direct TV shows one of the first being a business series for Channel 4 called ‘Mind Your Own Business’ which featured Richard Branson.
After that I formed Adare Productions with fellow RTÉ presenter Brian Graham and together we produced, directed, and wrote hundreds of TV shows. Among the highlights were the ‘Hector’ series for TG4 (for which we won four Irish Film and Television Academy Awards (IFTAs) and ‘The Underdogs’, also for TG4. Wanting to concentrate on documentary and drama I formed Dearg Films almost 15 years ago.
I love documentaries which form the bulk of my work, and I make many different types.
Some are profiles of individuals such as Ray McAnally or Robert Shaw. Others are travel series like the ‘Route 66’ series with Dáithí Ó’Sé while others are historical series. Indeed, I have done an eight part series on the Irish presidency and a six part series on the history of the office of Taoiseach. The historical travel series ‘Buck’ retraced the steps of Buck Whaley from Ireland to Jerusalem and back. I’ve also made a series about the Irish language called ‘No Béarla’. Recently I have begun working on a lot more drama and wrote and produced the six-part comedy drama ‘Fir Bolg’ for TG4 for which I have just won an Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) award, so I’m really proud of that. I am currently working on a fascinating documentary for RTÉ about Phil Lynott which is due to air in the autumn.
It was during the course of researching the life of little known Irish actor, George Brent that I came across Limerick-born actress, Constance Smith.
I had never heard of her and her life seemed so tragic, I started to explore it more. The deeper I got into it I realised that there was a brilliant documentary to be made. I did initially see her as tragic, but the more I learned about her, the more I saw her as a heroic character. She never wanted to be an actress. Fame was forced upon her and she had to deal with many very difficult situations. She was brave and strong willed and I admire her greatly for that. She is not properly remembered in Limerick or anywhere else, however. There should at least be a plaque outside her home. Thankfully people like Declan McLoughlin in the Limerick Film Archive and historian Sharon Slater have kept her memory alive. Our documentary will open the upcoming Richard Harris Film Festival which I am thrilled about.
This is a hard business to get your foot in the door but like everything else, perseverance and personality will go a long way.
Be prepared to offer your services for next to nothing initially just to see how things work. Make tea, take orders, do whatever you have to in order to get in the door. Then, when you are there, ask questions, become a pain in the arse to the point they cannot ignore you and that’s the way to get kept on. Also, if you have a brilliant idea for a show or doc or drama, that helps. I didn’t get any funding from Limerick for my ‘doc’. Instead, it was fully funded by TG4 and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). It is hard to get funding from just one source, so you have to get money from lots of different masters in order to make your budget. It can be hard, but it’s not impossible and it’s the way of the world. Indeed, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to jump into it unless you are prepared to have many lean days.