A Friendly Chat with The Middle Finger’s Séamus Hanly

The Middle Finger is the second film by writer/director Séamus Hanly. It’s a low budget coming of age comedy about a reluctant superhero, i.e. the best kind of film, and it’s made by and stars some of HeadStuff’s favourite Irish comedians. It’s being distributed by Troma Entertainment which is a big deal imo. I sent Séamus some questions and he politely answered them even though they’re only ok questions at best.

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How does it feel to be a Troma director?

I see we’re starting with the hardest question. Short answer: I don’t know!
This all happened so fast! It’s exciting enough to finally have someone pick up your movie for distribution, but for it to be Troma puts it on a whole other level. I suppose it’s like a rollercoaster in that it’s a lot of fun but also terrifying at the same time! That said, I’ve never been on a rollercoaster.

Iseult Casey and Séamus Hanly in a scene from The Middle Finger
Iseult Casey and Séamus Hanly in a scene from The Middle Finger

What was it like making a feature compared to sketches?

Considering how low budget the film was, the only real big difference was the scale and length of the schedule.
We shot this roughly over two months so there were some long long days and some short ones. But once we got into it, it felt like the usual routine of “action, cut, action, cut…ok we’re good let’s move on”.
At the same time, I have a bad habit of producing things in a very low-fi manner and with no crew (not just with  sketches but with my last feature film too). So, it was a healthy upgrade to be doing proper sync sound and to have our cinematographer Conor O’Toole setting up lights and giving us more considered shots.

Conor O'Toole in a scene from The Middle Finger
The Middle Finger cinematographer and actor Conor O’Toole in happier times

What’s The Middle Finger about? Who’s in it?

The film is about an awkward teenager called Dennis, who has been held back at school and has to repeat classes, while his friends have gone off to college and are forgetting about him. As if that’s not enough to deal with, he is also suddenly transformed into an embarrassing looking superhero by a being from another world and becomes tasked with saving Earth. So you know, it’s about a guy with a lot on his plate.

I play the lead and the movie also stars talents such as Matthew Kelly, Conor O’Toole, Rebecca Dore, Casey Jones, Simon Mullholand and Iseult Casey with appearances from many others.

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How did you end up with Troma?

We had been proverbially going door to door, contacting a lot of distributors. Troma was one we had our eye on as The Middle Finger was very much inspired by the Troma classic Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD.

What helped us get their attention though was my friend Tom Rowley. Tom’s a very talented filmmaker, and even cameos in the film. He had recently moved to New York where Troma is located and was working for them as a video editor.

He very kindly offered to put in a good word for me and I was asked by them to send a screener of he film. The next thing I knew they were sending me a contract and I was talking to Michael Herz on the phone, and then meeting Lloyd Kaufman in London!

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Do you think there are supports in place for low-budget filmmakers in Ireland?

That’s a tough one. The short answer is no, no there are not. But it’s complicated, and things are constantly changing.

There are some opportunities and film courses in Ireland, and the truth is we do have a film board. But everything feels very limited. I have to be honest though, and admit that I personally have never approached the Irish Film Board, but it seems that they don’t often support what you would call “genre” movies. Like I said though, everything’s constantly changing.

The good news is you don’t need a lot of money or much equipment to make SOMETHING and The Middle Finger is proof of that. Other self-funded Irish films like Demon Hunter and Darkness on the Edge of Town have found success too so, while the community may not be very fluid, it is a time where it’s easier to be independent.

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Why did you decide to make a superhero film with special effects and fight scenes? Why not something set in a cafe about coffee friends?

Excellent question! The Middle Finger has so many locations and varying scenes that I found myself trying to think of an idea that stays in the same place for my next film.

A big inspiration for me as a filmmaker early on, was Kevin Smith’s movie Clerks and I’d love to make something that’s all dialogue and set in one place.

That said, my brain keeps running off to weird big ideas, but hopefully some day I’ll be able to focus on writing something smaller scale and more character based.

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The Middle Finger is available to stream RIGHT NOW on Troma Now. It’s really good, you should watch it.

All images and videos via Séamus Hanly