Interview: Short Film Director James Mulholland

Chances are you haven’t heard of James Mulholland. But you will. Oh, you will. The young Irish director was nominated…

Oscar Harding



Chances are you haven’t heard of James Mulholland. But you will. Oh, you will. The young Irish director was nominated for ‘Best Newcomer’ at the 2011 Underground Film Festival for his short drama ‘What If?’. This writer was made aware of Mr. Mulholland through Roger Deakins’ personal forum (if you haven’t been on it yet, it’s awesome), and was suitably impressed by his emotional short ‘My Father’s Son’. Produced through his company Cedarwood Park Productions, Mulholland’s work is sophisticated, raw and complex- and definitely worth a watch.

Currently working on the webseries Elite as well as a swarm of other exciting projects, I approached the talented filmmaker for a bit of a chat on his work past and present, his directing methods, and his thoughts on cinema in general.


Identify yourself to the readership, Mr. Mulholland- who are you, where do you come from and what do you do?

My name is James Mulholland and I live in a small town in Ireland called Dundalk. I am currently a freelancing film writer / director / cinematographer working in the independent Irish film industry.


Who were/are your filmmaking inspirations? Were there any particular films?

My favourite film makers are the Coen brothers, they inspire me a lot even though they make different films than I do. Also directors like Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Jim Sheridan and Cinematographers like Roger Deakins and Conrad Hall have inspired me a lot. My favourite film is ‘No country for old men’, everything about the film to me is perfection and it’s a film I watch on a regular basis.


What camera do you shoot with? I’m impressed at the quality of the picture in your shorts…

Thanks, My first two short films (What If? and My Father’s son) were both shot on small DSLR cameras. The cameras are great for what I needed and also help in guerilla style filmmaking when shooting on locations without permission. I recently moved up to a professional camera system though, investing in a RED ONE MX camera that was used to shoot Hollywood features like ‘The Social Network’ and ‘The Book Of Eli’. I will be shooting my next short film ‘Forgiving Amy’ on this camera to give it just that bit extra professional look and feel to it.


Do you have a particular method for directing? Do you shoot on the go, do you plan meticulously…?

That’s an interesting question. What I’ve come to learn is no matter how much you read online or learn about, the directing style is an intuition thing. I write my own films so when I’m writing, I’m also directing and planning but each film I look at differently. In What If, I did not storyboard or do to much prep either than doing a shot list up, I basically went on set and worked things out on the moment to moment. In the end I felt this held ‘What If?’ back a little as some parts of it could have / should have been better shot by me. I learned from this and planned ‘My Fathers Son’ from extremely early on.

I put 200 percent more effort into every aspect of production on that film from re-writing it to storyboarding it to taking 6-7 months on post production (where What If? was about a month post production). So I’m actually mixing both those styles for ‘Forgiving Amy’, I won’t be re-writing as much as sometimes too many re-writes can force an issue to much instead of letting the story flow and I will also only be storyboarding scenes where we only have locations for a certain amount a time and need to know what we have to get for the film. I like to shoot fast but I will not move on until I get what I need for the film.

Poster 1

I just wanted to talk about My Father’s Son for a moment- It’s a very emotionally mature film with a wonderful turn from lead Matthew Kelly. What was the inspiration behind the film?

The inspiration behind the film was from my life growing up. The first draft of the film was called ‘Changes’ and was basically about a boy who meets a girl and how he changes. So you can still see the change effect in the script but for me it was missing heart. So I looked at my own life growing up with my dad, mam and little sister and incorporated it into the script which I think brought the story into another level with a lot of emotion behind it. I like films with heart and emotion in them, their the type of films I want to make.


Can you reveal what kind of your webseries Elite is headed? It had an interesting setup in Episode One.

Yes, Basically Elite is a webseries where I will make 3 episodes for definite. But we will not make any more than 3 if we do not have a certain amount of followers watching the series. I have a figure in mind and the cast / crew know that figure and we all want to continue making them but people can’t give their time for free unless we know we have an audience for it. So we are looking for subscriptions to the YouTube page and also likes on the Facebook.

We are shooting episodes 2 and 3 in the first 6 months of 2013 and releasing them in summer 2013 hopefully and then we will see how it goes. I’m trying to make a no budget action series to show it can be done but again I’m trying to put heart into it which everyone will see in episode 2 and 3. The plot is laid out for 12 episodes but it can also end at episode 3 (minus a few little small plot holes).


What’s happening with ‘What If?’ I believe it’s played a few festivals but it’s yet to pop up online…

‘What If?’ was actually on YouTube for about 6 months. I only recently ‘unlisted’ the film on YouTube because views stopped on it completely in the last month or so and I just decided to take it down. I will probably put it back up to the public at some stage but since the views stopped I wasn’t sure where to take it. It done well for me and it was my first film and I’ll never forget it because it’s first screening was on my 21st birthday and it got an amazing reception and I got called on stage for making such a mature film for a young person and it made me feel that I can continue to do this as a career.


What can you tell us about ‘Don’t Expect Me Home’? We’ve only seen a trailer, but I get the impression it’s a home invasion thriller, or is there more to it than just that?

‘Don’t Expect Me Home’ is on the edge at the moment, our sound man had to drop out of the shoot a few days before production and we could not find someone to replace him, so we had to use inexperienced people to record sound which has caused a lot of problems in post. The film is basically my homage to classic Slasher films like ‘Scream’ and ‘Halloween’. It’s a girl alone in this house and a person wants to kill her, but why does this person want to kill her?

It’s got the moments in it like’ Why is the girl going to answer the door’, ‘The cellphone doesn’t work in the house’ and of course the ‘running to the bedroom instead of out  the front door’ moments in it, but I tried to make sense of them in the film. It won’t be sent to festivals and if we can fix the post production problems it will be released onto YouTube sometime in 2013.


What are your thoughts on the state of the Irish film industry? Do you feel with the likes of YouTube but the lack of funding it is easier or harder than before to break in?

My feeling on the industry is we have some really, really talented people working in the indie sector that just can’t seem to break into the upper levels of the industry. It’s all about who you know but more so luck. I think it’s harder than before because people can afford to get good quality cameras and go make films, so there is more competition and more people applying for funding but this just makes me want to make sure that my film stands out from the crowd and doesn’t get lost in the crowd.

I find YouTube is great for this, people have been ‘found’ on YouTube because they put their material up there for the world to see, at the moment for me I’m still trying to figure out how to get more than 1,000 – 2,000 views on a video though. I love that people from all over the world can see my films and at the end of the day I’m like every other filmmaker out there looking for a break through by hopefully some big Hollywood exec seeing the film. We can all dream.


Elite episodes 2 and 3, Don’t Expect Me Home and Forgiving Amy will be on James’ YouTube channel in 2013.