29 November 2021 The Irish Film & Television Network
     

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IFTN talks to Heavy Man Films, Makers of Samhlú Croí Cruthaitheach: TG4’s season of Short Art Films
29 Jan 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Samhlú Croí Cruthaitheach on the TG4 Player.
We spoke with director Tomek Ciezki and producer Wesley O’ Duinn of Heavy Man Films to get a better insight delivering 12 short art films for TG4, shooting during lockdown, and developing a unique approach to capturing artist’s creativity on camera.

Samhlú Croí Cruthaitheach, a season of twelve commissioned abstract short-films featuring artists and creatives, is the second phase of the Samhlú programme, which focuses on celebrating the artistic endeavors and creativity that has endured throughout Ireland despite a very challenging year in 2020.

This new cultural partnership between TG4 and the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport, and Media’s Creative Ireland Programme launched late last year with Samhlú 2020, a 90-minute journey of music, theatre, and dance fronted by Tommy Tiernan aired in December.

Samhlú Croí Cruthaitheach is currently available on the TG4 Player and focuses on a wide range of artworks and artists from poets and painters to goldsmiths and graffiti artists.  The short films are a visual and audio experience depicting the artistic process of some of Ireland's hidden creatives offering a detailed perspective on how the artist prepares and develops their work in an intimate stylised form.

The Samhlú Croí Cruthaitheach films are produced by Galway based Heavy Man Films. Specialising in bespoke storytelling, the company has grown from strength to strength over the last 10 years, creating unique content for National TV broadcasters, designing and producing TV adverts, online content, documentary, and fictional film.

IFTN recently had the opportunity to talk to Producer Wesley O’ Duinn and Director Tomek Ciezki about Heavy Man’s Involvement with Samhlú Croí Cruthaitheach.

IFTN: How did the opportunity to get involved with this initiative come about?

Wesley O’ Duinn [producer]: “At the time when the Croí Cruthaitheach project came up, we had been working on a number of adverts and TV segments. We’d recently done The Fleadh Cheoil TV show stories with another production company for TG4 and the Galway 2020 advert; both of which I’d produced. We were in a good workflow at the time we received the brief.”
Tomek Ciezki [director]: “It was a week before my wedding; I was in Poland at the time and promised myself to take that week off. It all changed when I saw the brief. Together with Wes, we worked on the proposal and budget around the clock and send it off the day before I was going away to get married. The crew was pivotal to the application and we managed to lock in Burschi Wojnar for DOP and Daithi for music, which, along with our own offering, really helped the application.”

Wesley: “The main thing to get across was the vision for the project and how it would be realised, which resonated with TG4 and Creative Ireland. It's one thing to lay out a vision and another to establish how to get there. And that all came down to the talent of the team and the trust put in them. I knew Burschi well, we’d worked together before and he and Tomek made a great pairing. Everyone was excited to have Daithi for the music. We also had a super, well-established post-production team in Eamonn Cleary, John Talbot, and Paul Rowland.”

IFTN: It looks like such a fascinating project to be involved in. Can you tell me about the preparation and selection process?

Tomek: We worked very closely with Seán Cathal Ó Coileáin, Creative Director at TG4 during the selection process. We were trying to strike a good balance of craft, art, spoken word, diversity, and location. This took us to the North of the island, to the South, East, and West. There was a lot of road covered during the 12-day shoot.”
“The idea was to create a series of visual poems so the main emphasis was to have a selection of visuals, textures, and colours to work with for each episode.”

Wesley: “This wasn’t easy, to be honest. We really searched high and low and exhausted all avenues. We thought about what we wanted visually and who we wanted to get that would suit best for the show. Heading out on the road, we were still locking in some of the slots. Seán Cathal was brilliant in TG4, he was with us every step of the way.”

“Burschi and Tomek took to the project like they’d been working together for years and their passion and compatibility really helped with the preparations. I could leave them to work on their approach, and let it filter down; they were all over it in fairness.”

“The artists themselves were only delighted to receive us, as you can imagine every industry is going through a difficult patch, so for all the creatives we filmed and worked with over the shoot, they were really welcoming and excited to be doing such work with a film crew.”

IFTN: With such a diversity of creative talent on show. How did your approach/style change when filming each project?

TOMEK: From the beginning, it was supposed to be an abstract type of mini-documentary with no interviews, so everything had to be told with visuals, sound, and music. I wanted to surprise viewers with unusual angles, hence the use of the wide macro lens. It even surprised the artists themselves as they had never seen their own work from such an angle. Combined with drone shots on many occasions, added another level of abstraction to the story.”

“We had an initial conversation with each artist before the shoot day to establish the uniqueness of their creative process and the elements best representing it. So we went to each shoot with a certain idea but only when the artists saw what we were trying to capture and the methods and techniques we were using, did it open up different avenues to achieve what we were after.”

“The artists picked up on our process and started opening up immediately with new ideas and facts about their work. It was a beautiful dialog, which contributed hugely to what we managed to get.”

“Burschi had a lot of amazing suggestions to the way we shot after me explaining the feelings we needed to capture. It was like a ballet. Each creative process was different and required a unique way of presenting it.”

“We decided not to roll any sound but to have a strong but subtle sound design. We didn’t want to capture the real sound but to add another layer of abstraction and understanding of the creative process of each artist. Paul Rowland did a beautiful job on the sound design which complemented Daithi’s music. And the cherry on top of the cake were the colours John Talbot brought out from the beautiful images with his grade.”

“Each episode is different but at the same time, they all have something in common. We included some Irish language in a form of glitchy text overlays. Guys from Unthink did an amazing work with the text animations.”

WESLEY: “It was not a case of Tomek coming on set and giving instructions, it was a conversation that happened before and throughout the shoot between each artist, director, and the DOP as the vision developed, it was a very unique and collaborative shoot that way.”

IFTN: How did COVID play a part in the production, and were certain short films more heavily impacted than others?

WESLEY:  “COVID was of course an issue, booking accommodation and organising meals during a pandemic was challenging, especially in more remote areas. The rules around working on set are strict even when we were off set, we had to be mindful. Having a COVID Compliance officer on the team took a lot of pressure off though. Planning wise, you were always aware of it, it was just another challenge to overcome. 

“Some projects were all indoors, so we limited who was in there and took regular breaks, we only had the artist in there when needed. The outdoor shoots were much easier and safer, but my god it could get cool outside in the evening.”

TOMEK: The food choices were very important to me. The experience of telling stories of food producers, chefs, restauranteurs, and talking to some of the best chefs in the world at Food on the Edge over the last few years, made me even more careful with the food choices for the crew.

“We had a few vegans and one vegetarian in the crew so we wanted to make sure everyone was happy. The knowledge of good food places around the country came in handy during the shoot. I think everyone appreciated the efforts. It was like a cosy shelter during a storm.”

IFTN: Can you give us some insight into the day to day of production in the current COVID environment?

WESLEY:  “Well, daily we would have a brief from Niamh our Covid officer, a station needed to be set up, an evaluation of the set needed to be made each morning, and plans put in place for everyone’s safety, this included when and where people could eat for instance, who should be where and how necessary that was.

“No one could touch any equipment unless designated to do so, each artist and anyone at the place we were filming needed to be briefed. Constant cleaning of hands, surfaces, changing of masks, it was trying at times, but we all knew how necessary it was to be careful.  As we had to limit our contact time, the biggest issue was that we couldn’t visit many locations before the shoot day, which was challenging.”

IFTN: It must have been incredibly challenging working across 12 different short films, but hugely rewarding. Can you walk me through some of the harder parts of the project?

WESLEY:  “Every day brought its own challenges… from climbing mountains in Kerry with all our gear to flying the drone when a storm hit us in Galway… There were some moments.”

“For the team, each film had its own unique set of challenges related to the location and the activity; some required a very technical approach, which was slow; some workshops had fire and machinery, which we needed to understand to some extent for safety and to get the best out of the shots.

“Getting access to some locations was tough; in Donegal getting the camera trailer on set was a big challenge.

“I think the hardest was when we got word the day before we were due to visit a tin-smith that he was hit by COVID and we had to find a replacement. We ended up having to wrap early and travel 5.5 hours that evening, Donegal to Limerick. One crew member’s van broke down and I had to go back to collect her.”

“On the shoot, it bucketed down, and getting around Limerick with the equipment and team was hard, there was nowhere to shelter, you couldn’t just pop into a bar, so we had to keep going. Still, that day turned out to be one of the best days, in the end, it’s often the way, isn’t it? When a team is under pressure they come up trumps and this team did a great job that day to remain focused and open to changes and creative suggestions. It was the last day of a long shoot too, so fair play to them.”

IFTN: Why do you feel an initiative like Samhlú being done by TG4 is so important right now for the creative industry?

WESLEY:  “As a producer, it’s a dream to get a chance to be involved in something like this. To get a team together on such a project is not hard, everyone wants in on it. It’s a very unique take on the process of creativity. Most of the time, we see interviews and we never really get to see behind the brush, the pen, the clay, whatever it is that the artist works with, we always seem to be on the outside looking in. So, this was very much a different approach and as such, it brought with it a visual challenge that once met, I believe, gives an audience a fresh new take.”

“It’s hard to do new things in film these days, but I think TG4 are great at that, there is a serious buzz about that station and the work they are doing at the moment.”

TOMEK: I think projects like Samhlú gives people room to contemplate on their own creativity and hopefully encourages them to take on some form of art they were thinking of for a while but never had a chance to give it a go. And the whole situation right now is just perfect timing for it.”

IFTN: What else would you like to see broadcasters and screen organisations do to back emerging film & TV talent during COVID?

TOMEK: Direct conversations always brings some great new ideas. By talking to producers and directors to find out what they want to create, broadcasters can give an opportunity for presenting a different approach to many subjects. Things we see online and on TV are still quite different. Opening broadcasters to ideas, which so far resided only online, would create an interesting hybrid of creations, which could attract an even wider audience; even more openness and trust.”

WESLEY: I think there are a lot of opportunities been given now to emerging talent. There are short film funding schemes in Cork, Fisin, Kildare, Offaly to name but a few, as well as some great Screen Ireland schemes. This is where to cut your teeth really and showcase your skills. From there, it's about taking steps and being aware of what’s happening and taking advantage of opportunities.”

“For the broadcasters, they should know that this is a great time to utilise filmmakers, a lot are at home with equipment, writers are ready to write, editors are ready to edit. A lot of recent grads are doing to do some work.

“I would love to see a weekly Zoom from broadcasters and commissioning execs where people could sit in and share ideas, and get some advice and network; Use this time. If broadcasters set out weekly or bi-weekly challenges for filmmakers to make something in their 5k radius, and broadcast the best of those each week; that would be epic. It’s a strange time, but it can be a great opportunity if the thinking was right.”

Samhlú Croí Cruthaitheach is currently available on the TG4 Player





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