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Q+A: Writer-Director Dan Colley Discusses his Screen Debut of 'The Painted Man'

Seasoned theatre writer-director Dan Colley will have his first short, 'The Painted Man' premiere at Fastnet Film Festival 2024. Samson Films are a proud producer of the short and to celebrate, we had a chat with Dan to discuss his latest project.

What inspired you to write 'The Painted Man'? 

I read an interview with the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. He told a story from his childhood about striking up a friendship with a circus performer and having his eyes opened to a strange and magical way of seeing the world. It was also a story about a friendship between an adult and a child which was very innocent and enriching but for lots of reasons isn't entirely comfortable for the reader. I wanted to make a film that captured something of the wonder and strangeness that story made me feel, to go through something like a dream with the audience so we could ask ourselves; "what was that about?"

What pieces of media influenced this short and how did that contribute to the process? 

I thought a lot about films that slip in and out of different realities like Kirsten Johnson's 'Dick Johnson Is Dead' and Tarkovsky's 'Ivan's Childhood'. I also thought about films that feature theatrical performances within them, and how to situate the camera so the audience feel like they're at the show; particualrly David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet' and Mike Leigh's 'Topsy Turvy'. Animated films like 'Spirited Away' and 'The Snowman' were an important influence, particularly when working with the composer Alma Kelliher to think about how music transports us to a place beyond even what we're looking at.

Seeing as this is your on screen directorial debut, how did you find directing for screen compared to theatre? 

It was like being a baby artist again, but like one of those babies that seem to have lived a whole life before. Like, I knew how to tell a story, make decisions at the time they needed to be made, get a team of people on board and excited about a vision...but like, what's a location recce? How does editing work? What do you mean the music goes on last? I was very lucky to have a much more experienced team who were really kind and interested in helping me get my vision across. 

"I wanted to make a film that captured something of the wonder and strangeness..."

-Dan Colley

Are there any on set moments that stood out to you while filming? 

When we discovered that a fairground had set up on one of our main locations. With almost any other film it would have been a total pain but with ours it was the perfect backdrop. I'd like to say we'd planned it but we hadn't. It's as if someone installed a million euro set just for us.

The film was partially funded by The Kildare Short Grass Film Bursary, how did you find shooting on location in Kildare? 

The film was partially inspired by the locations. I'm artist in residence at the Riverbank Arts Centre in Newbridge, and while I was writing the film I was in and around the area a lot. We were able to get a lot of different kinds of locations in a relatively small area and had lots of really great support from the council and people in the area. 

How does the costuming help to tell the story? 

The Painted Man's performances are arresting and ineffable. George is completely transfixed by him and it's what set George off on the film's journey. So the audience has to see something amazing to feel some part of what George does. As part of my residency in the Riverbank I was able to spend a few days devising the performances with Raymond Keane, who played the painted man, and Saileóg O'Halloran, the costume designer. Each of us allowed the different elements we brought to inform and influence each other. The movement and voice in Raymond's performances were often inspired by the costume that Saileóg would offer, which would then inform how I was going to frame it, which impacted how Meddinah Gabrijela Rahaman, who played George, would react to it. Later Jenn Bowman, the makeup designer, came in and brought those visuals to the next plain of otherworldliness, which Raymond was able to use to use in his performances so wonderfully. It was all the elements working and conversing together, without any one artistic form having precedence. 

How are you feeling with the upcoming premiere of 'The Painted Man' at Fastnet? 

Terribly excited. I've heard so many good things about the festival and have always wanted to go. Now I get to go as a filmmaker. Yay!

'The Painted Man' will have it's world premiere at Fastnet Film Festival 2024.


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