The Directors: Dermot Malone
Dermot is a filmmaker based in Dublin, represented internationally for directing. He works predominantly in commercials, however has exciting drama projects in development for production in 2021/22.
Dermot likes to think that classical storytelling and garnering authentic performances are where his strengths lie and although he aspires to make film/TV throughout his career, he too has a genuine love of good advertising.
Name: Dermot Malone
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Repped by/in: Banjoman/Ireland, Sweetshop/Global, Quad/France, Zauberberg/Germany, Mercurio/Italy.
Awards: ICAD Bells, ADFX Grand Prix (Campaign Films), YDA.
What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
I think when a script makes you feel something upon a first read, it has something special. So many scripts have a “this COULD be great if…”, but when a connection is made on first pass, that sets it apart from me. If a script makes me feel something, I know I’ll want to make it, to bring that feeling to the film and to the viewer.
How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Procrastination is my process, if that makes sense. I’ll read the script several times and get a good idea of it. Then, depending on the deadline, I’ll just do nothing for a few days in terms of writing, however will take notes on my phone as to ideas for it. In my iPhone notes, I’ll get the main headings down that I want to cover and over a few days just throw in bullet points under each section, as ideas gestate. Then, the day before design usually, I’ll write the whole thing in one session of a few hours.
Once I have the text, I’ll get straight onto the guys at AJ Collective for the design, they are wizards.
If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?
So it’s probably pretty rare that you’re not familiar with a brand that advertises on TV. That said, for the international work, you’re certainly not as familiar as you are with the stuff you see on your own TV. Honestly, I don’t look much further than the script and it’s content. I might look at the brands previous commercials, to get a sense of the style they go for, but I wouldn’t be doing massive research as to their strategy/ context. I just want to make the best film I can if I’m into the script. If the script is for a brand that I don’t like or if I disagree with their positioning, I likely just won’t pitch.
For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Tough question. There are so many key relationships. It is integral that I am on the same page as the agency creatives, otherwise you’re in for a messy, stressful few weeks. Obviously the producer relationship needs to be in sync, but it usually already is by the time you’re on set. I’ll also always spend lots of time working with cast and that relationship is very, very important to me. Most important? Probably the DOP for me. This DOP has skills that I just don’t have and it is so important they are on the same page RE your frames, moves, the lighting etc. A great DOP brings so much to the film in a way that you can’t do alone, and when you have one, you can focus on the performances, which are where a directors skillset should be focussing, as you know the image is looked after. Like a QB / Wide receiver type buzz.
What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
Christmas commercials!!! Hah…No honestly I am passionate about work that makes people think, long after they have seen the film, though I truly do have a particular penchant for Christmas work. Aside from that, it is work that ignites questions in people's minds or that provokes real emotion. Of course it’s nice when people say “well done, that was lovely”, but much nicer when they say “That reminded me of this”, “It made me think about my own relationship with…” etc. Work that affects people is what I am passionate about. RE Genre, I love an emotional drama or a psychological thriller. High concept work in the fantasy or science fiction space is also somewhere I would like to go.
What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
That my work is too long. I sometimes struggle to get over the line with 30 second or 40 second scripts, because a lot of my work tends to be brand film or cinema commercials, which allow for more time on screen. My first big commercial was in 2016 for Nissan. A cinema commercial for the new Micra launch. It was about 2 minutes 30 seconds long. Off the back of it, I won more similar length films and in this industry, you can get pigeonholed very easily. It just so happens that the scripts I get happen to work better longer, but I’d love to do more work in the shorter form. That said, in my treatments I will often add scenes to develop characters or story, but it is certainly something that comes up.
Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?
I have literally never even heard that term.
What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
So pre pandemic I was shooting a commercial in Los Angeles. A simple, phone product piece that was more just to get experience of the industry in the US. We cast an actor to play a guitar player for one of the cutaways. Of course his CV said he played proficiently etc. He looks great, is all set and as we call action, he reveals he has never held a guitar before in is life. Client just out of earshot. Within about 15 minutes, we had to teach him 2 chords to strum in sequence, citing a lighting change for the hold up. Stressful times with the curious client 2 metres away, but it worked ok. Rehearsals are important!
How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
This is a funny one, and something I’ve thought about a lot. When I started doing commercials, I would be very closed off to other people's opinions. I would present the first cut and think it was perfect, bemoaning any feedback and sulking through the rest of the process as changes got made. It took me a few years to realise that the agency are often times 100% right in their contributions and to understand that they have lived with the idea for much longer than I have. Filmmaking is a collaborative medium and when everyone just wants the best for a project, feedback and opinion from agency/client can be invaluable. You can also go snow-blind from looking at edits with the editor, so when the agency/client come to it with fresh eyes, they can often see the wood from the trees. Of course, if I feel strongly on something, I will strongly voice that opinion and try bring the agency/client around to my reasoning, but a lot of the time, it is their feedback that elevates the final film to be great.
What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?
I think it is very, very important. In Ireland, gender diversity is at the heart of the Banjoman mission and as a team, we have committed to promoting diversity across directing talent, producing talent, cast and crew. One of the things I have loved about joining The Sweetshop team, is their commitment to diversity. It has taught me a lot about how this industry needs to be much more progressive. Only by being progressive in nurturing talent from all angles, can we promote original voices and celebrate more unique work for us all to enjoy as an industry. I am still pretty early in my career to be offering any mentoring, but it’s something I would love to do, if anyone felt there would be any value in it.
How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?
I guess it will make us much more hygienic from a production POV, but I’m hoping it goes back to normal pretty quick. I hate Zoom. I love being in rooms with people and seeing faces. Really hoping it doesn’t influence how I work going forward too much.
Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working?
Ah the old SoMe side to directing commercials. So, personally I will always focus on the full frame film. Being conscious of framing for Instagram etc is never something that I think about, as I think that approach might diminish the final film. Selfishly, I want the film to be as cinematic and as visually impressive as possible, as this is the approach of the films that move me. It is also what I am known for. That said, I do think it needs to be thought of if making a film for online use only. You’re not going to shoot anamorphic for an instagram campaign, but if the main film is for TV/Cinema, those are the mediums I will focus on.
What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?
So I used the Unreal Engine tech on a commercial last Christmas. It was amazing to see the capabilities of world building coming down the tracks. I really want to get into high concept storytelling in drama down the line and Unreal Engine seems to offer so much possibility, despite being early in its development. Other than that, my shooting is usually quite traditional and 'in camera', with some fun VFX now and again.