Putting in a Shift: Film In Dublin interviews director Megan K. Fox
Since graduating from the MET Film School in 2015, Megan K. Fox has been a prolific figure on the directing scene in Ireland. She has picked up awards and accolades for her short films Slow Down (2015), GIRL (2016), Calling Home (2017) and The Shift (2018), with another set for release this year in Cailín Álainn, a bilingual coming-of-age film about a transgender teen, which secured the inaugural Kerry Film Bursary and was shot this year 2019. Since being selected for selected for the RTÉ/Screen Skills Ireland’s New Directors Multi-Camera Training programme for continuing drama, Megan has been working with RTÉ, including earning her first TV credit this year for directing on Fair City. The Shift, a comedy about young Denise (Fiona Bergin) desperate to get the shift at a Gaeltacht disco, has had continued success at festivals in Ireland and abroad since its release, most recently picking up the ‘little iffy’ award for best short at the July edition of the iffy Short Film Festival. Film In Dublin caught up with Megan to talk about that success, film festivals, and working with other creatives, including the next generation of aspiring Irish directors.
Film In Dublin: Congrats again with the success of The Shift, first at Cork Film Festival and most recently at iffy. How has it been going sharing the film around and bringing this one to festivals?
Megan K. Fox: Thank you! It’s been a really fun film to share thus far. It’s the first comedy film I’ve made so getting to hear and experience an audible reaction from audiences is a thrill. We never expected to win at Cork and that gave us a massive boost at the very beginning of our festival run, and the film has already screened all over the world from Mexico to Canada and Russia following it’s reception at Cork Film Festival.
It’s especially popular at Irish film festivals abroad (for obvious reasons!) so fingers crossed it will continue it’s journey this year with some more US and international screenings. On our side of the pond it will screen at Still Voices Film Festival and the Underground Cinema Awards in the coming months.
FID: How did the experience of directing this compare to your other work? Are there different challenges in directing a comedy?
MF: There was a lot of collective energy around The Shift from the beginning of development which contrasted a little with my experience on previous shorts that I’ve written, directed and produced myself. It can be a lonely time being a one-man band during early incarnations of ideas and projects, so surrounding myself with a creative team who were passionate about The Shift early on was a really positive change. It was the first short I’ve made that I haven’t written, as I’d fallen in love with the idea of shooting in West Cork early last year but didn’t have time to write, so when I saw the Film in Cork Short Script Award open for submissions I was determined to find a great script to submit. I called out on Facebook and Mairead Kiernan got in touch with an early draft of The Shift. It made me laugh out loud and was just so relatable and clever, I knew this was the one.
Then we got Karen Twomey of Bankhouse Productions on board to produce, and once we heard news of winning the Film in Cork funding it was all systems go, with a tight turnaround time of only a couple of months until delivery in time to premiere at Cork Film Festival if selected. This gave the project great momentum and drive, everyone was propelled in to action and collaboration from the get-go. I think for a short, and especially something as low budget as The Shift, tight deadlines are more of a blessing than a curse. You never feel you have quite enough time, especially in post if you have a tight turnaround, but the energy you get from your team and striking while the iron is hot in terms of excitement and support for your project is not to be underestimated. With comedy another layer of joy is added to the working environment on set, it’s an electric moment when the pressure is on to complete a scene and everyone is stifling uproarious laughter behind the camera, you know it’s working!
FID: How was it working with Fiona Bergin on the film as well? She really brings her character to life.
MF: Fiona was the perfect actor for this role. She was actually the very first girl we auditioned in Cork for ‘Denise’ and although we saw an incredible amount of really talented (and super funny!) actresses for the role that day, Fiona had just made such an impression that we couldn’t shake her from our minds. She brought some of the lines to life in a way we’d never even imagined! She and her co-stars Una O’Brien and Ciara Rose Van Buren really hit it off down in Schull when we arrived before filming too, which is palpable in their chemistry on screen. It was a buzz to work with such promising young talent in all of our cast members!
FID: You mentioned that The Shift is going to Still Voices and other festivals, and I know you’ve been working on another short recently (Cailín Álainn) Are there challenges as a director in getting your work out there on the circuit, while also working on a current project and looking to the future?
MF: Yes, Cailín Álainn is in post at the moment and will hopefully premiere late this year, so my focus is beginning to shift towards festival strategy for that. I think in my case it hasn’t been too tricky to balance the cross-over, firstly because the films are very different genre-wise, so I can put a comedy cap on to deal with The Shift and it actually gives me a bit of an outlet to find fun ways to promote it online and engage with festivals and audiences about it while I’m taking a break from focusing on my new project.
Getting your work on the ‘circuit’ as it were doesn’t need to be particularly stressful or time consuming, especially if you’ve had other films do the rounds and kind of understand what festival’s go for and be strategic. I generally do a festival strategy before my films are finished in post and just set reminders or use the Watch List on FilmFreeway so I don’t need to actively worry about submission deadlines etc when I’m busy with new projects. It’s also great to be able to attend screenings and festivals with one film and already have another you can be chatting about and prepping programmers for!
FID: Another thing you’ve worked on in recent times was teaching with the Feature Film School last October, how was that experience of teaching other filmmakers?
MF: I absolutely loved it! I was so concerned going in to it that I’d just be preaching to the choir or stating the obvious, but those who attended actually really enjoyed it and said that a lot of the tips and methods I’d discussed they hadn’t heard of before. I’ve had young filmmakers send me their first projects and work since taking my workshop and that’s so affirming and fulfilling, I’d love to teach again and am discussing the possibility of touring beginners filmmaking labs for young people in the new year with some of the other creatives I’ve worked with.
FID: You’ve also done work on feature projects as well like Byzantium and I Kill Giants, how were they as learning experiences for yourself?
MF: I think it’s always beneficial for young filmmakers to get on feature sets and see how things work at that scale. I was a trainee AD on both of those sets, one before I’d made anything at all (Byzantium) and then I Kill Giants a couple of years ago, when I thought I had a lot sussed out but quickly noted the gaps in my knowledge when I had to step in line with a feature film crew! It’s really the only way that you’ll get to see the other side of what you’re doing as a short filmmaker, the side with big budgets and professional crews of 30 or more people all playing their part. You learn about a lot of industry and on-set etiquette that you wouldn’t be exposed to on your own low-budget shorts, that stands to you when you move forward in your career.
AD’ing isn’t something I consider myself particularly good at I’ll be honest, as I kind of lose my way if I’m not playing the role I feel most confident in and driving the crew in a creative capacity, but it was definitely beneficial in the beginning to learn what standards and best practice are on industry standard shoots.
FID: You’ve said previously that directing your own feature is something you’d love to do, having worked in different genres and approached different subject matter is there a particular direction you would be looking for your first feature to go?
MF: Starting development on a first feature is the goal within the next five years, but as of yet I haven’t found the right script to approach this with. I’ve written two features myself, one a period drama set around the 1916 gun running, and one a semi-autobiographical drama. Neither were at the right stage to pursue as a first feature, so I’m opening myself up to script submissions from more accomplished writers than myself to collaborate with. Some of the stand out indie features of the last few years have been strong drama’s melded with a genre element, be it giving the drama a period twist or sending a socially impactful message through horror or dark comedy.
I’m quite open in terms of genre when it comes to considering what story I’ll tell for my first feature, the key is space for stand out performances and some element, be it in the narrative or design of the piece, that feels unexpected and exciting to an audience. I want to challenge people in the way that my favorite films have challenged me, and it’s exciting to imagine where that could go when I don’t pigeonhole myself in the genres I’ve already directed. That being said, a dark period drama seems like the direction I’m leaning towards.
FID: We can’t wait to see it! It’s great to have a five year plan also. What would your advice be for directors when it comes to planning their next steps? From shorts, to working on music videos, getting the experience of feature sets, and working on TV, it seems like you’ve really challenged yourself to diversify and expand, keep working and making connections in different areas?
MF: I think it’s about always keeping your eyes open for new opportunities and possibilities. Think about the long term impact that making a certain short, or working on a certain music video could have, whether that be forming relationships with festivals for future projects or networking, forging creative collaborations with musicians, or proving a concept for a larger scale project. Attach yourself to work that you can be proud of and stand behind – and that advice goes to actors, producers, anyone in the industry.
The temptation to work on a project that you don’t really believe in, or agree with the politics of, can be alluring if there’s a bit of money behind it in the beginning, but integrity will stand to you in the long run. Promote yourself and your brand but don’t forget to elevate those you’ve worked with as well, especially when people are doing favours and passion projects. You honestly never know what will come of keeping in contact and supporting other filmmakers, many of the funds and opportunities I’ve heard of have been forwarded to me by friends in the industry.
At the moment, I know that the first feature is a long road I’m only starting to walk, so in the mean time I’m continuing to expand my possibilities and skill set by branching out in to TV work and multi-camera training with RTE on Fair City. While feature filmmaking is my ultimate goal, this gives me an income doing the job I love (directing!) while keeping me on my toes, working with crews and learning about new facets of the job and industry. There’s also incredible work being made in TV right now, so getting on to something where you can garner credits to potentially pursue this type of work is great as well. Again, keeping options open and embracing new opportunities!
FID: Finally, sites like us are always asking directors to give advice on what you should do, but what’s the number one thing a director shouldn’t do when they’re making a name for themselves?
MF: Diss and begrudge other filmmakers and creatives. It’s not a good look!
See more from Megan at megankfoxfilm.com