Cork city filmmaker, Seán Creagh is a regular at ICC. We met up to chat about his career and his involvement with ICC.
What is it that made you want to work in film?
I guess I’m a storyteller; from the very youngest age I was telling stories. It’s what I love to do so anything that allows me to do that is where I want to be. I write as well and I direct theatre from time to time. I recently wrote short comic books for a competition however filmmaking is my main thing. For me, the visual medium and being able to tell a story with everything all together offers the fullest version of a story.
Can you take us through your career path?
I studied theatre from a young age and the odd bit of filmmaking as a hobby. I then studied drama and theatre in UCC in an old department which doesn’t exist anymore as well as studying English. At the same time I was entering short films into festivals. One of the best things I did around this time was to direct ‘Hamlet’ in the Cork Arts Theatre.
When I graduated I realised I was only trained in the arts and that that wasn’t going to make me any money at that time so very quickly and intently I went looking for what I could do to find myself a job. I qualified as an English teacher and worked as that for quite a while. I taught for the summer in Cork and then I got a job in Spain for an academic year in San Sebastian. My one regret is that I didn’t integrate with the local people more and I made a promise that if I was to go over again I would integrate more and make a big effort to learn the language.
After that, I came back here to teach in Cork English College and I stayed with them for three years. That took me up until the point in which my interest in films took over. In my last two years teaching, I was continuously working on a short film called ‘Fallen Angel’. We premiered it last April in the Imperial Hotel and about 200 people attended which was great. I never went to film school so I consider it the project on which I really learned film.
I took two weeks off to film ‘Fallen Angel’ in May 2012. I kept working in the English college until the Christmas before last and that April I started my own company, ‘Ambition Films’. It was a completely different ball game to amateur film making. I got into two Cork film festivals with ‘Fallen Angel’. The concept of the fallen angel is an allegory for homelessness. We made the angel wings which ended up being four and a half metres. Despite all the special effects, it’s about the game of life and the human condition. ‘Fallen Angel’ was a very unique project and it was inspired by a lot of fantasy things and even computer games.
Was there any moment that really changed your approach to film?
Prior to working at Cork English College, I did an internship with a producer called Declan Casey who runs Standpoint Media. He took the time to show me cameras and before that I don’t think I’d appreciated the value of the camera, before that I was just shooting stories. He really opened it up and taught me a lot.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
David Fincher for his craft and visual style; Baz Luhrmann for the way he can tell a story from start to finish in a musical sense, like the story of an opera. They both have a great sense of rhythm in their films which draws you in.
Can you tell us about any of your other projects?
I wanted to be able to show the world that I could do a book trailer. There’s a fabulous group in Cork, called Cork Comic Creators led by Alan Corbett and Colin O’Mahony. They have produced a comic called the Cork Horror Comic and they’re producing a second one now called the Cork Sci-Fi Comic. They are anthologies of works by Cork writers and I was lucky enough to have been accepted twice and I was absolutely delighted. They’re a great group and they really support talent. They’re very much about getting things out there and they respect people’s time. I really wanted to give something back to them because they were getting me published as a writer. I went to them and said I want to get a book trailer out there so I’d like to do one for you. A lot of work went into it on special effects and short deadlines etc. but I’m very proud of it.
A career in film is surely full of highs and lows; are there any particular moments that stand out?
Years ago, when I was just starting out, I was filming a show that I directed, ‘Shadow of the Glen’, it is one of my favourite productions that I ever directed; stellar cast. It was only fifteen minutes long and on for just three nights: I thought I’d pressed the record button but I hadn’t so I lost all the footage! Thankfully I learned from that mistake and it’s never happened again.
How about some of your favourite moments?
The closing night of Hamlet after the curtain went down, I was just backstage, looking at the set, looking at what had happened and I just appreciated it as a great moment.
Another time was at the screening of ‘Fallen Angel’. I was behind a little screen and I was the one pressing ‘play’. I couldn’t see the film but I could see the audience so I was watching their reactions and that was pretty cool. Anytime the work is shown in front of someone that makes it worth it.
One of my proudest early productions was a film called ‘Ashes’ in a young person’s festival. It starts with the bong of a cathedral bell and I made it very loud on purpose to startle people and someone behind me screamed which I thought was great! I’m not as sadistic as Quentin Tarantino but I do like a reaction!
What are some of your current projects?
I’m making Wedding videos at the moment and I’m enjoying it. I’ve kind of gone shy on the artistic stuff for financial reasons. I’m also working on a 60 minute corporate documentary which is finishing shortly.
What are some of your plans for the future?
I’m interested in expanding my work in wedding videos. I’d like to meet people who are interested and to get some good reviews. You have to go look for clients and advertise yourself in order to build up a portfolio. I have a website which was another big learning curve! (Links available below)
Was it difficult self-teaching about film?
I did get accepted to IADT (Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art and Technology) but instead I chose UCC. In hindsight, if I had accepted it, it would have speeded up the process or else I could have gotten really caught up in art films and not been able to do anything afterwards. Was it difficult self-teaching? Yes. Do I regret it? No. I learned the things that are relevant and that’s an advantage.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I was told every story is about characters. For a long time I didn’t understand that concept. It seems like a basic one but I really had to challenge that concept until the point I couldn’t knock it down anymore and then I started to see the benefits of it when I started directing. It’s important to see the organic characters in actors and to listen to people’s natural dialogue.
How about the worst advice?
Just ‘Go for it’, as in don’t think or stop. While it can be true, you do have to put a lot of thought into it because you can make yourself sick from not taking breaks. You have to know when you’re running yourself into a rut. Don’t make yourself sick. Don’t make yourself unable to do anything because you’ll end up not being able to finish the project you’re working on. Include the rest of your life in your art; it’s not all about your art.
What advice can you offer those looking to work in this area?
It’s going to be tough. It can feel like hammering against a brick wall. You either have to get better tools and keep hammering, or else you have to give up on the wall!
Find out whether it’s something you want to do as a hobby (five hours a week realistically) or full-time. There is a completely different amount of dedication required. Most artists aren’t business people so basically you have to teach yourself art as a business; simple concepts like time is money and knowing whether something is worth investing in or not. What’s really heartbreaking is, if you don’t treat it as such, you may have to let go of what you want to do.
What has been your involvement with ICC?
While filming ‘Fallen Angel’ I was going in waves, sometimes I loved it sometimes I hated it. I needed a break so my mind went back to Spain. I had heard through my English teaching of Las Fallas – a festival in Valencia and believe me when I say it is one of the craziest experiences ever. So I decided I had to do this; they set giant statues on fire all over the city, it’s unforgettable! I decided I wanted the full experience and I wanted to learn Spanish as well but I wanted to have enough Spanish that I could speak confidently. I had learned a bit before but I wanted to be able to have conversations. I got a book and I worked my way through it. Before going to Valencia, I heard about ICC and decided to chat to Csaba. So, I went along for about a month before I went. ICC has social aspect and there was the added interest that I met Miryam (my girlfriend) who after Valencia I came back to and then I kept going from there. It was social, I met a new crowd, and that allowed me to get back to what I was doing.
What do you like about ICC?
In only a few weeks, I built up enough confidence that I could go to Spain for a month. In terms of learning to speak a language, there was nothing like it in Cork. Now, I come for the social side and the enjoyment. There are people who I only know through ICC and I come back to see them.
The social side is big draw for me now. It’s important to get outside your own group, I sat at Spanish table the whole time when I was trying to improve my language skills. What’s good is that everyone is the same in terms of trying to learn a language so they understand what you’re going through. I had only learned Spanish through a book, but ICC gave me the confidence to have full conversations.
Contact Seán at: