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The Directors

The Directors: Mia Mullarkey

Banjoman director Mia discusses how Pintrest plays a part in her research and the typecasting female directors face in the industry

The Directors: Mia Mullarkey

Mia Mullarkey is a film director based in Dublin, Ireland and represented for commercials by Banjoman. She has directed several successful short films, receiving over 60 awards and nominations globally, and screening at major international short film festivals such as Palm Springs, Aesthetica, São Paulo, Valladolid, Tehran and Helsinki. Her work has been shown on RTE, TG4, Virgin Media TV, France24, ShortsTV USA, Mubi, Discover.film and TogetherTV (Sky UK). In 2018 Mia received the Discovery Award at Dublin International Film Festival for her body of work, and was made the 2018/2019 Filmmaker-in-Residence with Virgin Media DIFF. Alongside directing Mia has devised and taught filmmaking courses, as well as participating in numerous panels and guest lecturing on filmmaking. Under the new Screen Skills Ireland mentorship scheme Mia is currently being mentored by director Lenny Abrahamson for one year. She is a host on the Film Network Ireland Wrap Chat podcast show and a member of Screen Directors Guild Ireland. In 2020 Mia completed a masters in screenwriting at The National Film School in Ireland with a first class honours. She is currently in development with Screen Ireland on a feature documentary and a short drama.

Name: Mia Mullarkey

Location: Dublin

Repped by/in: Banjoman

Awards: 

Nomination - Best Short Documentary at Richard Harris International Film Festival 2020

Nomination - Best Director at Richard Harris International Film Festival 2020

Nomination - Best Overall Short Film at Richard Harris International Film Festival 2020

Best Short Film - Science on Screen Film Festival 2020

Best Medical Documentary - Sci-On! Science Film Festival 2020

Nomination - Best Short Documentary at Fusion Film Festival Warsaw 2020

Nomination - Best Professional Documentary at Raw Science Film Festival 2020

Nomination - Best Short Documentary at Vienna Science Film Festival 2020

Nomination - Best Short Documentary at Santorini Film Festival 2020

Nominated Best Director - Emerging Directors Ireland 2019

Best Short Documentary - Irish Film Festa, Rome 2019

Best Short Film - International Short Film Festival Radio City 2019

Best Short Documentary 2nd Place - Paleochora Lost World Short Film Festival 2019

Finalist - Firenze FilmCorti Festival 2019

Discovery Award - Dublin International Film Festival 2018

Best Irish Short - Dublin International Film Festival 2018

Audience Award - São Paulo International Short Film Festival 2018

Audience Award - Irish Film Institute International Documentary Festival 2018

Finalist - Goldentree International Documentary Film Festival 2018

Audience Award - Bleeding Pig Film Festival 2018

Nominated Best Documentary - Fastnet Film Festival 2018

Nominated Best Irish Award - Still Voices Film Festival 2018

Nominated International Shorts Award - Ethnocineca International Documentary Film Festival 2018

Best Professional Documentary - Raw Science Film Festival 2018

Best Short Documentary - Cork Film Festival 2017

Best Short Documentary - Galway Film Fleadh 2017

Best Short Documentary - Largo Film Awards 2017

Best Short Documentary, 2nd Prize - Rivne International Film Festival 2017

Special Jury Award - Saratov Documentary Drama Film Festival 2017

Best Short Documentary - Wexford Documentary Film Festival 2017

Best Short Film, 2nd Prize - Waterford Film Festival 2017

Best Non-Scripted Award - TriForce Short Film Festival 2017

Audience Choice Award - TriForce Short Film Festival 2017

Science Award - Imagine Science 2017

Audience Award - Imagine Science 2017

Nomination Best Short Documentary - Kerry Film Festival 2017

Nomination Best Cinematography - Oregon Documentary Film Festival 2017

Nomination Best Short Documentary - Oslo Independent Film Festival 2017

Best Actor - Wexford Film Festival 2017

Pinnacle Award - Elevation Indie Film Awards 2017

Jury Award - The Monkey Bread Tree Film Awards 2017

Finalist - ASFF As Film Festival 2017

Semi-Finalist - Wayward Festival 2017

Nomination Best Short Film - The Richard Harris International Film Festival 2017

Nomination Best Short Film - International Short Film Festival Beveren 2017

Staff Pick - GeneroTV 2016

Finalist - Röyksopp Music Video Contest GeneroTV 2016

Voted top 10 Directors to Watch - GeneroTV 2016

Award Winning Music Video - Nikon / Filmbase 2015

Award Winning Video - World Wood Day / Zooppa 2015

Award Winning Video - Yahoo Aviate / Talenthouse 2015

Winner of Best Short Film - Festival Internacional de Cine Medioambiental de Canarias 2014

Best Short Film - Canaries International Film Festival 2014

Nomination Best Short Documentary - Underground Cinema Film Festival 2014

Winner Best Video - Nokia Lumia 930 / Microsoft Film Contest 2014

Finalist - Genero Storyteller's Competition 2014

Best Short Documentary - Aesthetica Film Festival 2013

Best Short Documentary - UK Film Festival 2013

Honourable Mention - Chicago Irish Film Festival 2013

Music Video Voted 6th Best Irish Music Video of 2013 by Goldenplec Magazine

1st Place Client Award - IBM // People For Smarter Cities video contest 2013


What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

Mia> Scripts that allow for interesting visuals, that allow the director to bring their visual imagination to the table. 


How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Mia> I go to pinterest and other image sources and start collecting images. I research a little into the client, to get a sense of their branding, target demographics and overall tone. I have a list of headings in place to give structure to the treatment, and when I feel I have a good collection of images I start assembling the document. The writing usually follows the images. I always try to find meaningful connections with the spot/script/concept, so that I have personal experience to pull from, as well as creative vision.


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?

Mia> I feel my role is to bring directorial craft and vision, and this entails having an understanding of the story I’m telling. So I often do a small dive into the brand to get an idea of their previous marketing strategies, and their overall tone and target demographic. I don’t look into it deeply, as my goal is to bring a fresh vision to each project. 


For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Mia> I feel there are several answers to this. On a piece I did for Standard Life they had a real person, Brian, taking on a new role with them and he was presenting this in the video. I felt it was essential to form a trusting bond with Brian so he would give his best performance. Similarly with a piece I did for Ulster Bank, I worked with a trans teen, Chris, and I built trust with Chris before filming. 

I feel it’s crucial to have a strong relationship with the DOP, as they will be manifesting my vision. I like to have many conversations before shooting begins, and brainstorm visual ideas. 

I love to have great communication with the creative director, or artistic director, from the agency. For me this is as important as the first two I mentioned. Keeping a strong dialogue and creative spark between me and this person, or team, is essential.


What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Mia> For me this has been changing in the last year or two. I started out as a documentary director before stepping into commercial work. And recently I’ve started directing drama. My experience in documentary has certainly influenced my taste, and I think I’m drawn to stories that feel authentic, whether that’s grounded in realism or elevated in metaphor. I like viewers to come away feeling like they saw something genuine. In terms of subject matter, I love stories that have a psychological element, that invite us into someone’s inner. I worked as a behavioural psychologist before becoming a filmmaker, and I’m always interested in work that has a human story or situation.


What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?

Mia> As a female director I think I get typecast as someone who is interested primarily in community and compassion. And possibly as someone who doesn’t want to play with the big toys, the complex tech setups. While I love intimate, vulnerable performances and camera styles, I also love sophisticated ideas requiring intricate design and new technology. 


Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?

Mia> No I haven’t.


What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

Mia> Recently on a short drama I directed we had a scene where the lead actor is just after having a car crash. The scene opens with him waking up in the upside down car. Because of the pandemic, and the limited size of our regional film grant, it was proving difficult to get the people/help we needed. So I started looking into car scrapping companies and found one that could turn a car upside down for us, in the location we needed. We had a medical team on board, and a stunt supervisor, and we notified the gardaí. And with a little push we got the shot.


How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Mia> I think clear and honest communication is essential.


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?

Mia> I’m 100% into this. Any effort to address the lack of representation, and encourage new voices, I’m fully behind. Currently I’m directing a short drama funded by Screen Ireland. Our lead actress is a woman with intellectual disabilities, and we’re working with our casting director to cast actors of diverse ethnicities/backgrounds where possible. I’m always keen to have female creatives on the team, and creatives of different ethnicities. 

Currently I’m being mentored by Lenny Abrahamson for one year, through the Screen Skills Ireland scheme. And I am a mentor with Film Network Ireland, and a host on their podcast show. So I’m very open to the idea of mentorship and apprenticeships.


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? 

Mia> To be honest, I miss hugging people when a shoot is wrapped. And I miss seeing people’s faces. I can’t wait to have that back. But I’m definitely more aware of ensuring good practice around health & safety, and checking in with people. I’m happy to keep this in my practice moving forward. 


Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working? 

Mia> It’s something that comes up in pre-production discussions, and something I keep in mind while shooting and editing. Different social media platforms have various requirements, such as aspect ratio or video size/length, and different platforms have different types of users. Sometimes a client will want a video to be for TV and internet. This means weighing up how much info you include in the video vs using the video to point to other sources. I think it’s impossible to avoid considering the different formats, and it’s something you inevitably become versed in.


What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?

Mia> I haven’t engaged in virtual production but I find it hugely exciting and I get hooked on the bts videos. It’s definitely something I hope to incorporate into my work in the future.


Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?

Mia> The Passion is my first funded short drama. It is based on a short story of the same name by Irish author Donal Ryan. I had a lot of fun on this project, designing the visual and sonic landscape, delving into the performances with the cast, cutting my teeth in the world of drama. I think it reflects the new direction I’m taking as a director. And I’m excited to have more funded projects coming up this year.

Ériu’s Threshold was commissioned by Body & Soul. I was invited to direct the project in January of 2021 and we had an insanely quick turnaround. I poured my energy into building the visual atmosphere of this piece, and am quite happy with how I engaged with the script that was given to me.

End of Career Guidance Councillor was a very enjoyable production. I enjoyed the simplicity of the idea. 

Becoming Chris entailed bringing in my documentary making skills. I spent time with Chris and his mom, getting to know them and researching the elements that I would bring into the film. My goal was to make this feel personal and sincere, so that the story of Ulster Bank offering support felt as natural as Chris’ mom talking about grieving the loss of her daughter.


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