Sean McConville Interview

Sean McConville

By Sarah Yoo

Sean McConville, like many aspiring film directors, hoped to make it big in Hollywood. His drive and passion set him apart from many who may want to but don’t do. Sean took action to pursue his
dreams by selling his house, quitting his day job, and moving to LA in 2002. It was a bold move, but for Sean McConville it was a move that paid off. Upon taking this leap of faith he made his feature film directorial debut “Deadline” starring Brittany Murphy and Thora Birch

Deadline is a psychological thriller about New York based writer Alice, Murphy’s character, who decides to leave the city to complete her screenplay in time to meet her fast approaching deadline. Alice escapes to an isolated Victorian house to not only finish her screenplay, but to recover from an unknown psychological trauma. Upon her arrival, Alice finds a box of mini-dv tapes featuring the life of a couple who lived in the house a few years prior. The tapes slowly reveal their terrifying secret, as well as Alice’s mysterious past.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Sean to chat about his movie “Deadline” and his experiences as a filmmaker.

Sarah: How did you get involved in the film industry?

Write To Direct Your First Feature Film Sean: During the mid 90s in the UK, there was a huge influx of American blockbusters being made because of the strength of the dollar against the pound.  What this meant was there was a shortage of crew, all of a sudden, so they had to start recruiting from outside of the film industry.  My friend got me working on Judge Dredd, which was a Sylvester Stallone movie and that was my first opportunity to work on a film and I loved it.  There were more films being made after that and I got to be a part of the crew of the big feature films.

Sarah: So, that was what fueled your interest in the film industry.  How did you take the leap from being a part of a film crew to directing your own film?

Sean: After I worked on a few movies I started reading the screenplays and became very interested in screenwriting, and then subsequently, directing. Then I found about Raindance filmmaking courses and I signed up to do some and became very inspired and encouraged to take my aspirations of being a director further. So I quit the day job, sold my house, and moved to Hollywood.

Sarah: So was Deadline your directorial debut?

Sean: As a feature film, yes, but I made 3 short films as a writer/director before then. After I made the shorts I realized that I wanted to make a feature film asap, so I wrote a script that was what I call doable. The screenplay had minimal characters, minimal locations, and minimal special effects and I attached myself to direct.

Sarah: That is very impressive because it was a fairly large budget for a first film.  You also had names like Brittany Murphy and Thora Birch attached to the project.  How did that all come about?

Script Consultancy Services in TorontoSean: Because I didn’t want to spend years waiting to get millions of dollars I wrote a screenplay to be filmed for 50 thousand dollars because I knew I could get that money. But in the journey to make the film for 50 thousand I was very fortunate to meet a producer who became my partner for this movie, Roger Betterton. He wanted to produce the film with known actors and very quickly found the money. Suddenly it escalated from being a 50 thousand dollar movie to a 2 million dollar movie.

By Hollywood standards it's still a very small film, but given the designed with the budget in mind
screenplay was an adequate budget. What makes the movie seem much bigger than it really is is
the fact we managed to get movie stars attached, that and the exquisite production design and cinematography which I can't take credit for!

Sarah: Given that you had well known actors and a bigger budget than what most new directors are used to, what were some of the challenges you faced?

Sean: The biggest challenge I had was a minimum amount of pre-production time…we had 2 weeks. That happened because we suddenly had the chance of getting Brittany Murphy. Her schedule was a certain window of time and that gave us just 2 weeks for pre-production. Another challenge was, and this is again because we had very known actors in a small film, is that I never had a chance to meet my actors until the day we began filming. As such there was no rehearsal time and no opportunity to develop the characters or dialogue with the actors, which in an ideal situation is how I would like to work as a director.

Sarah: The movie is primarily shot in the large Victorian house where the main character Alice goes to stay to finish her screenplay.  How did you find that house?

Sean: I drove all over 3 states looking at hundreds of houses. We finally found a house in a place called Houma, Louisiana. It was very important to find the right house because the house itself was a character in the story. We didn’t have the budget to build our own sets in sound stages, so it was important the house looked good on the outside as well as the inside and had enough space to accommodate all the scenes of the film.

Sarah: Getting back to the story of Deadline, what was your inspiration for the story?

Sean: Two things. The first was that the script was designed and written with a view to be able to film it myself as a first time director. Meaning, I designed it as a low budget film and attached myself to direct. The second thing was more specific to the plot and theme in that it was based on an emotion I was going through in a relationship at the time. The movie is about extreme obsession and jealousy. My own situation wasn’t that extreme of course, but I did have those emotions and wanted to write about it. Basically, I exaggerated those feelings and emotions significantly for dramatic purposes and wrote it into Lucy and David's personal story in the movie.

Sarah: I have to ask about the ending of this movie. I compare it to Inception in which the ending is ambiguous.  Was this intentional?

Sean: In the original screenplay I had a clear and concrete ending, albeit still with a twist. But working with the producer and executive producer I allowed their ideas to be incorporated and that made the ending more ambiguous. I have mixed feelings about it. On one level, I’m happy that people talk about it and debate about it like other psychological thrillers with a twist ending, such as Memento, The Sixth Sense, and Inception.

Sarah: Deadline was one of Brittany Murphy’s last films she was in before her death.  How did you feel about it?  Do you feel that it affected the film at all?

Sean: The film had already sold to many territories around the world and had been released before she died so I doubt it made a significant difference to the success of the film financially, though I know some people, especially her fans, were more intrigued to watch it because of her dying. However, what it has done has made the film quite notorious in a good way. By this I mean the film has more awareness and recognition as a film than it otherwise would have if Brittany had not died. People regard it as Brittany's last film, even though that's not true. There was also a controversy over the poster design which fulled further interest from the media. On a personal level, I am very sad that she passed away and will always feel grateful and indebted to Brittany because she’s the reason we got the money to produce our movie, and subsequently she's the reason the movie sold around the world. She was incredibly talented and is very missed in Hollywood.

Sarah: What were the differences you felt as a director working on a bigger budget feature vs. the 3 short films you directed prior to Deadline?

Sean: The biggest difference I would say is that when you make a feature film and you have a decent budget you have access to very talented people, behind and in front of the camera. On Deadline, there was an Oscar winning sound designer, actors nominated for the best acting awards, a production designer that worked on Spiderman and Van Helsing, a DP who shot million dollar commercials and music videos, and so on. So the biggest difference is being surrounded by very experienced and talented people in each department. It elevates the production value and makes my job easier as a director.

Sarah: Can you tell me about any future projects you will be working on?

Sean: I have 2 genre feature films I’m producing right now. A supernatural horror that I wrote and will direct called The Car which we'll be shooting in 3D. The second is a supernatural thriller film called The Calling, written and to be directed by by Stephanie Joalland. We are currently securing financing and will be shooting the movies back to back in Ontario and/or Detroit, Michigan.

Sarah: Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers out there?

Sean: Because of the availability, affordability, and proliferation of digital technology there are no longer excuses not to be a filmmaker. You could shoot a feature film with your cell phone if you wanted to. All you need is know-how. So I would advise you take some courses and develop relationships with like-minded individuals. Raindance provide courses in all aspects of filmmaking, from having an original idea all the way through to marketing and distribution. Their courses encouraged, inspired, and gave me the tools to be a filmmaker, just like Christopher Nolan, Guy Ritchie, and Edgar Wright before me. So my advice is take some courses, write a screenplay that is doable, and take advantage of digital technology. There are no longer excuses not to be a filmmaker provided you have the desire. If you do, I will be teaching a course for Raindance in Toronto in September/October based on my own experiences of designing screenplays that can be produced on little or no budget.

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About The Author

Sarah YooA native of Calgary, Sarah decided to trek her way over to the glam and glitz of Toronto to study Fashion Communication at Ryerson University.  After studies in Fashion she wanted to learn more about what technology can do fused with art.  Therefore, she decided to attend Sheridan College where she graduated from the post grad program for Computer Animation.  

Following graduation, Sarah worked at Nelvana and is currently working at Pipeline Studios as a Texture Artist.  Her experiences include working on animated television shows such as Backyardigans, Grossology, Guess with Jess and Babar 3D.
Recently, Sarah has taken an interest in discovering the many facets that art and media has to offer.  She especially took great interest in filmmaking and enrolled in George Brown College for Continuing Education to complete her Independent Filmmaking Certificate. 

She has also been actively spending all her spare time to get industry experience and enjoying every minute of it.

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Sean McConville Interview