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In the Director’s Chair with Dermot Malone


LBB speaks to Banjoman's Dermot Malone about his debut feature film and expanding creative horizons

In the Director’s Chair with Dermot Malone

Dermot Malone is a man who knows how to tell a story. Afterall, he’s been doing that in the commercial sense for years. 2023 has looked a bit different, though. Banjoman started it off by retaining their title of Irish Production Company of the year, whilst also breaking into the realm of feature film and TV shows. In this interview, we step behind the scenes to find out from Dermot what it feels like transitioning from commercial to film sets. He tells us about the transformative impact that kindness has upon the industry, whilst giving us some intel on what he’s been up to with his sustainability interests, as well as the all too topical A.I in film. 

Dermot’s endearing candour is littered throughout this interview. We learn about why his greatest lesson has been to surround yourself with people who are better than you, the prospect of expanding into theatre, and how Banjoman’s creative roster is continuing to swell. 

LBB> It’s been a big year for Banjoman. Having retained Irish Production Company of the Year at the Kinsale Shark Awards, you’re currently working on a feature film, a TV show, and a host of upcoming commercials. How have you seen the company evolve and creatively progress in the last 12 months?

Dermot> Yeah, it's been an amazing 24 months. I would say the milestone of winning Production Company of the Year for the first time was huge for us. And to build on that for the second year was amazing. And then it's, it's just about, you know, trying to creatively progress from there, I think for us, it's always to try and do better work, and work with more interesting filmmakers on the commercial side. But then, obviously, the entertainment piece is a big swing. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, and we figured that opening up an entertainment arm with my debut feature film would be the best way to do it. I've been working on the film for a couple of years, and it just felt like the right time. 

And then the TV show is something we've been working on with Sam Dennigan, CEO of Strong Roots, for quite a while. And it all just kind of felt like 2023 was the year to really launch this. I also feel like we're creatively progressing by adding to our roster of directors on the commercial side, most notably with Michel+Nico coming in this year. Both of our entertainment projects are now in post and we are learning every day. I guess we are trying to follow in the footsteps of some of those big companies who we admire and trying to move in the right direction. 

LBB> You’re now in post production on your debut feature film, which is set to premiere at the end of this year or early 2024. How has this experience been as a first-time feature film director?

Dermot> It's been amazing. But it's been a massive learning curve. I feel it's like the first time I made a commercial. Making a film is a marathon not a sprint, is what I'm learning. I’m also learning what I need. A seasoned assistant director told me that you need stamina in order to survive in the film industry. And I can 100% see it. You know, a five week shoot is very different to a commercial shoot. And when you're directing, you're in every single moment of it, making every single second come to life with up to 100 people and many heads of departments. It takes a lot. But it's very rewarding. And I'm really enjoying the post-production process. So yeah, lots of learnings on many, many fronts. But I think stamina has been the key one. 

LBB> You mentioned previously that directing commercials has been an amazing dress rehearsal for this project. What insights and experience from working in this field did you take with you when approaching a feature film? Was there anything in particular that helped you with this transition? 

Dermot> Yeah, I think, five or six years ago, I wouldn't have been able to make a feature film. I think what directing commercials has given me a lot of confidence in my own ability of knowing how to tell stories, knowing how to work with actors, and how to collaborate with really talented people. Much more talented people than I am. My style is quite filmic, I guess, from a commercial point of view. So it's been trying to build on that and take all the elements that I've learned over those years, and bring it to this longer scale project. And so yeah, it has been a fantastic dress rehearsal in that regard.

LBB> Alongside your feature film, you also have a TV show in the works. Is there anything you can tease about this? Any exclusive details? 

Dermot> So the show was called The Alternative Route. And I have been working on it with Sam Dennigan of Strong Roots for a couple of years. It’s about identifying and meeting people who are trying to save the world. We're in a crisis of climate change. And, you know, the world is in trouble in a lot of ways. The way we consume, the way we produce our food. The way we produce energy is leading us to a scary place. So what The Alternative Route seeks to do is to meet interesting businesses, people, individuals and pioneers who are trying to save the world in their own niche way. People who are trying to come up with alternative ways of food production, of energy creation, and everything that goes along with that. The show is presented by Crystelle Pereira and Sam Dennigan himself. The first season will be six episodes and we are treating it as kind of a pilot season. It’s funny, it’s interesting, and it’s a really nice & lighthearted way of tackling a really non-lighthearted issue. 

LBB> And how have you found working in this format compared to feature films and commercials? How distinct is the approach to each? 

Dermot> Yeah, madness, directing a documentary TV show is very, very different from what I am used to. Because I feel like, directing it you kind of make the stylistic decisions before you shoot, how it's gonna look and how the cameras gonna move and how it's gonna flow. And then it's just handing over to the subjects, and the show is only as interesting as the host and the subjects and the places you visit. So, from a directing point of view, a lot of the work is done there, so once you set the style and the flow, it's then about just making sure that everyone's comfortable and trying to make sure everyone's kind of feeling natural and authentic. But three very different approaches. Commercials, feature films and documentaries. I found in documentary you are just really trying to make a comfortable space for the subjects to talk freely and engage naturally. So yea, an incredibly crazy, busy start to the year, but very enjoyable too. 

LBB> On the commercial side, Banjoman is currently working on spots for the Irish Navy and Urban Volt. Can you tell us any more about these projects? How do they typify the kind of work Banjoman is doing in this space?

Dermot> So we always want to make cinematic and compelling commercials. The Irish Navy is directed by Michel+Nico, it's just been signed off. And, yeah, it's everything that the guys bring, everything that we love that they do. It’s an interesting, cinematic story, but always real, always feels kind of 100%, authentic, gritty and entertaining. That’s what we love about Michel+Nico: their work is so entertaining. And the guys are so passionate, they care so much and, you know, for their first Banjoman film, we're very excited to have a go out. 

I’m going to be directing for UrbanVolt in my first commercial after the two entertainment projects. It’s again a step in creative progression. We are going to be working with a little bit of AI in a super cool location and with a kind of poetic and beautiful concept. Again, UrbanVolt is the kind of company that has been pioneering in sustainability which seems to be the theme for the start of our year - it's something I really care about and I think it's gonna be a step away from my usual story stuff. I mean, it is storytelling nonetheless, just in a new way. But yea, I’m really excited to work with AI as it is something I’ve been nerding out on over the last while. It’ll certainly be  Banjoman first and will be interesting to see how it looks and feels and flows. 

LBB> Part of Banjoman’s success, you’ve said, is having amazing collaborators buy into your vision at every turn. How vital is this in the commercial space and are there any recent campaigns that showcase this? 

Dermot> It takes a village to make a film. We're just blessed with, you know, regular collaborators and new collaborators all the time. It was really interesting working with people from the film world who don't really have much crossover in the commercial world. One of the best lessons I’ve ever been taught is to surround yourself with people who are better than you are and that’s something we’ve always tried to do. 

One thing that Matt and I have always tried to set as a pillar of who Banjaman are is to be nice people, as simple as that sounds. Surround yourself with nice people, be nice people, and create warm, welcoming sets. We don’t want any closet assholes. It was interesting that when we wrapped the film that a lot of the crew came to say how warm, welcoming and pleasant a job it was to work on, mentioning that it isn’t always that way in the film industry. We always want people who have worked with us to go home feeling that they’ve had a good experience. That’s something we are really proud of. 

LBB> You’ve mentioned that through these projects, Banjoman is looking to support the growth of independent storytelling for entertainment markets internationally. Is there anything else you’re keen to tackle in the future that will help realise this goal? 

Dermot> Yea 100%. Along with growing the commercials roster we want to create these entertainment projects. What we wanna do is create, procure and produce international commercially viable creative projects through T.V, film and theatre. I’m always blown away by what companies like The Sweetshop do with Sweetshop&Green, by what some of the other big guys do in the U.S. I saw SMUGGLER had done Macbeth with Daniel Craig and coming from a theatre background myself, it’s something that I’d love to do; create, produce, maybe even direct. I guess what this film and T.V show will do is give us the first step on the ladder and show that we are capable of producing quality content within this market. It’s the start of something, but of course, baby steps. 

LBB> Finally, how have you kept yourself inspired throughout the past year? Has there been any creative work (films, commercials) or insights from others that have stood out to you? 

Dermott> Making your first feature film that you’ve written feels like a dream come true. So, finding inspiration for that over the past year wasn’t difficult. I watch an awful lot of film and television so I’m always inspired by the work of other filmmakers who I love the most. I love re-watching my favourite films too, trying to steal from them a little bit at least in an inspirational sense. But again, it hasn’t been that difficult, when you work with amazing people. 

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Banjoman, Fri, 09 Jun 2023 15:55:00 GMT