Film in Motion | 1 – Director Peter McNamara Talks Film, Writing and Starting Out

Film in Motion is a series of articles and interviews which look at the different roles needed to produce the visual medium of film. This week we talk to writer and director Peter McNamara.

Writer/Director Peter McNamara -
Writer/Director Peter McNamara

Peter McNamara is a writer/director from Limerick. Peter’s first short film, ‘The Bridge’ garnered him a wealth of media attention and multiple award nominations. In late 2014 Peter was one of three writers selected to take part in the Film Limerick Trilogy. With acclaimed writer/director Gerry Stembridge (Ordinary Decent Criminal, About Adam) acting as mentor, Peter would write a harrowing tale of early onset dementia for the trilogy. The Film Limerick Trilogy will air on RTÉ later this year. Peter has just returned from New York where shooting has wrapped on his current project Narcan.

How would you define the role of director and what they do?

I like to do things differently so I would probably define the role of director in a different way to most other directors. I don’t even like to use the term director. I know there are directors out there that like to sit and watch the monitor, spitting out directions like a general, but I prefer to jump in. If I’m going to work on a film, direct a film, then I want to be part of the group. I want to put my arm around the actor, have a conversation and work with them to get the performance I want. That being said, I have no problem commanding a set. It’s almost like being the manager of a factory. You have to have everyone in their own little segments, doing their own little pieces and hopefully you end up with a good product.


What was it that attracted you to directing?

I’m not necessarily attracted to directing. I direct what I write because I believe that I am the best person for the job. When I write a script, I have a vision. I see everything. What way the camera will move, what expressions the actors will make, how the dialogue will be delivered, because of this I feel that I am the best person to direct this vision into a final product. That attracts me. The end product, I mean.

What was your path into the industry?

As a kid I was always a dreamer, I always thought in terms of stories. I’d spend hours thinking up stories in my head. Then when I was fifteen I started making horror films. I was living in an army barracks that had this huge lot with a load of old houses, so I would order costumes online and go off and shoot in the houses on our old super eight camera. Then I would edit on our VHS between two videos. I started acting after that. I took lessons and did workshops, performed in plays and short films.

Next was a night course in video production, which was when I started thinking, really thinking, that if I want to act then maybe I should write something for myself. I had come to a stage where I didn’t want to go through life without fulfilling a dream. It was a passion. Every time I watched a film in the cinema, I thought about how it was made, could I have done it differently. I started writing and directing, went back to college as a mature student and began what I guess is my career now as a writer/director.

What training or experience did you find most helpful?

That’s an interesting question and it goes back to the last one. I have studied two years of a film production course and I have literally learned nothing. The experience of being on set and actually doing it, that’s where you learn. On the set of my last film Narcan, I learned more than I learned in the two years of college. Also from speaking to people that know more than you. I know that sounds very simplistic, but people that have a flair for filmmaking are very good to talk to. Then you take little nuggets from everyone, add your own bits and pieces and go and do it.

When you are directing are you thinking about the audience?

No. Absolutely not. When I’m writing I think about the audience. I write the script, then I put on my directors hat and think what way I will shoot this. Which leads to months of pre-production meaning the audience doesn’t come into play when I’m physically directing.

What is you favourite thing about directing?

I think working with the actors and the script is probably what I love most. I love rehearsing and I love being there and shooting. I love when we shout action and the magic happens.

What have been some of the greater challenges in your work?

Right now, the hardest part for me is the administration that goes with it. Being an independent filmmaker means that I’m not just the director, I’m also the producer. The person running around organising all the paperwork, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Hopefully I can get to the stage where I can work predominately as a writer and a director and I don’t have to worry about that stuff.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on two different projects. I’ve just finished shooting a short film in New York called Narcan and now I’m writing a feature based on that story. That might seem like a chore but it’s not because the short was so big it wasn’t far off a feature and I’ve got a wealth of stories to tell. It’s just a case of sitting down and amalgamating all the different stories into a structure. I intend to direct the film as well. I am also contemplating rewriting an old feature that I have put away on a shelf. At the moment it’s about the writing and hopefully in the next six months we will get to shoot something.

What advice do you have for those looking to direct?

I remember reading an interview with Brendan Gleeson and he was talking about the question he gets asked the most. How do I get into acting? His answer was plain. If you want to act then you go to your local pub and you hire out a corner and you act, you write a play and you act or you write a short film and you act. It was great advice and again it’s very simplistic. If you want to direct, then get on a set and get as much experience as you can. Get a bunch of people together, write something and make a film. That’s how you will learn. You’ll learn more on a set than in a book. That’s my advice.