Kenny Gaughan – Co-founder, Little Cinema
Kenny is a co-founder of Little Cinema, a monthly short film showcase screening local filmmakers of all levels. Kenny also co-founded Wonderful Life Productions, a video production and photography business.
Tell us about the path that got you here today?
I was born and bred in Galway; I'm from the Ballybane area of town. I always loved comedy and film. When I left school, I really wanted to do film and TV in college, but figured there were no jobs in the industry in Ireland, so I did a course in GMIT called Office Information Systems. After that I worked at Boston Scientific for six years working on the line, then I became trainer, then a supervisor. I was 27 at that stage, which was quite a young supervisor and there was lots of pressure. So I decided to go off travelling with my mates. We went to Thailand and Australia and while in Australia, I got pancreatitis. It was through a mix of things - a crash on a moped in Thailand, along with the amount of drinking and partying we were doing. I spent eight weeks in a Brisbane hospital in incredible pain. When I was lying there, all I could do was think and so I made the decision then that when I got better, I'd change my life.
I stopped drinking, and when I got home in 2008, I started a one-year film and television course in Galway Community College. At the time, I just wanted to see if any of my ideas were transferrable; I wasn't even sure if I'd like the course. But I did. They just gave you cameras to go off and do shit, which was all I wanted. Doing that course, I met Julia (Puchovska) and Liam (Doherty). I was always looking for people to work with because I had pages and pages of ideas. So we started making sketches together. Julia would film them and Liam and I would act in them. After a few months of filming, we found that we had a lot of material, but nowhere to show it. We were looking for some feedback - we knew some of it was crap, but you don't really know until you get that audience reaction. While there were film festivals, our work wasn't' anywhere near good enough for a festival, and so, in Julia's house in Wellpark one afternoon, we filmed a few sketches, sent an email to Kelly's Bar saying, 'We want to do this Little Cinema. It's going to be open to everyone, there'll be no criteria of quality'. They gave us the chance. We did it with the idea of it being a one-off screening. There were about 35 people there at the first one and we were really buzzing off it. One of the guys, Max Webb, submitted a film and in his introduction to it, he said, 'Galway needs this. Galway needs this platform'. Hearing that was cool, and I've never forgotten it. Max was the first guy to submit to us and so we always remember him. After the first screening, we said we'd do another one and then we decided to do another six months and then another. Each time we'd get to the end, we decided to do more and it grew like that. We never set out with a game plan of what we wanted to do. It grew organically and it grew with the way that the audiences wanted it to. The one thing that was important for us from the beginning was that we had to be open to everyone. It didn't matter whether it was huge, with brilliant quality or someone's first time ever in front of a camera; if they submitted it to us, we'd screen it. And it's always been that way, because we never put ourselves in the position of the judges of these films - we're just there to screen them. The only rule is that the film has to be under ten minutes and you need to be able to be there to introduce it. We've stuck to that.
You've been going for almost six years. What do you personally get from doing the Little Cinema?
I love the community; I love meeting those people. Because like with Julia and Liam, I'm always looking for people who I can click with. It's a strange trait I have that if someone makes me laugh, or if I'm able to have a bit of craic with them, I immediately like them. If I see someone's film and they make me laugh or I like their style, I immediately know I'm going to like that person. And so I have this community of friends that are all on the same wavelength as me. In the Little Cinema, people feel like there's no real barriers between them. If someone likes a film, they can go up to the filmmaker and say that and have a chat. So it's this feeling of making lots of friends that I wouldn't have made otherwise because in lots of ways, I'm an extrovert, but I'm also quite introverted. I won't go up and say 'hello' or try to make friends; I'll just stand in the shadows and hope for something to happen. So the Little Cinema makes it much easier to meet people and to talk to people. That and you do get a buzz when you see a good filmmaker introducing a film and have them telling you how cool it was to have the film screened and to have the audience reaction. You get this warm fuzzy feeling inside. Every month is like a new opportunity to have the craic. I love laughing and I love being made laugh. I love feeling like I don't know what's going to happen. Even if you've seen the films, you don't know how the audience is going to react. Sometimes a film gets a huge reaction from the audience and sometimes, a film that looks great doesn't get as much of a reaction. So from that point of view, it's the audience who decides whether it's good or not.
So it's about community, and a forum of sorts for the filmmakers of the city.
Yes, and sometimes there's someone who has ideas but isn't into cameras - he just wants to write stuff and there are other people who have a camera and they are just itching to make something but they can't write, or there's someone who just wants to be an actor. So the Little Cinema is an opportunity to give those people a chance to go and talk. We always say to people, 'If you like someone's film, go up and tell them, go up and talk to them'. It is through that kind of feeling of being able to talk to whoever is there that makes it more accessible for people, that encourages them to not afraid to go up and say, 'Hey, I liked your film'. Because we're in a pub, it's not like a movie festival where you feel that you don't want to disturb people - that helps to keep it really relaxed and it makes our job easier to get people to chat and mingle and relax.
What about the community of budding filmmakers in Galway? Were you surprised at the amount of quality in Galway?
There's definitely a lot more filmmakers out there than we had expected. There are a few film colleges in Galway - the Huston Film School in NUIG, there's GMIT, there's GTI, GCC (Galway Community College) and so we knew there were a lot of student filmmakers, but we weren't sure whether they were making stuff. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of films that were getting made. There's a lot of films that get made that we would have never known about if it wasn't for them being submitted to us at Little Cinema. You look at it and go, 'Fuckin' hell, this is being made in Galway on no budget'. So for us to be able to see these films and to be able to show it to an audience is cool. I think having the Little Cinema probably helps to bring those people out of the shadows as well, because a lot of people used to say to us at the start that they were a film maker and they used to submit films to film festivals or put on the film festival circuit, but wouldn't get in anywhere. After a few rejections, they'd just go, 'Why am I spending money on submitting to festivals?' - you get disheartened, decide not to bother to continue. But then you get this monthly screening where you can make something and submit it that month and you could do the same thing every month for a full year. It gives people an impetus to say, 'I can do stuff now, I can show it to people and I can meet people who will help me make it'. Having Little Cinema did help to reinvigorate the filmmaking scene in Galway, because it was possibly a bit stagnant because people felt you either get into a festival or it's Youtube. And if you put something on Youtube, you just get lots of shit comments, even if you make a brilliant film. That's the beauty of Little Cinema - it gives people an outlet to screen something, while also giving them a deadline of the next Little Cinema screening.
Out of all the people who have come through Little Cinema over the past five years, has anybody really stood out?
A couple of guys that were making music videos - Kevin Minogue and Sean Ryan - they made a couple of music videos for the band, 'Funeral Suits'. The videos were brilliant - they've got over a million hits. Kamil Krolak screened his film here first of all - '50 People One Question'. Julia was camera on that and that got a really good reaction. Luke Morgan, he makes films for us and he's a really good actor as well. He runs the Theatre Room and one of his films has been selected for Cannes next year - so that's amazing. It just shows that there's people in Galway who have the talent. A lot of people might have this impressions of, 'Meh, short films, I'm not really interested'. They think it might be crap at that level, but when people come in, they're always genuinely surprised at how good the quality is and there's always a broad range of films. There have been loads of films that have gone through Little Cinema which we've thought are brilliant.
So how do you fund Little Cinema?
This year, we got €2,000 from Galway City Council. It's a help, but it doesn't really pay for much. But we met Chris O'Dowd through the Arthur Guinness Projects. They had asked people to submit ideas and we submitted Little Cinema. The fund was ten grand, and the idea was that we'd buy some film making equipment and we'd get more films made in Galway. Chris O'Dowd was on the judging panel of that, along with two other people. We didn't get the money, but Chris rang us the following week, saying, 'Look, I love what you're doing, I think it's brilliant and I wish I had it when I was starting out. I'm sorry I couldn't give you the money for the Arthur Guinness Projects funds, but I'd like to give you €5,000 of my own money to help you'. It was incredible; I'm rarely speechless, but I literally wasn't able to get any words out. He came to a screening last year and we showed him the 'Best Of Festival' - he was blown away by the films we screened and at the end, he said, 'This is super and I'm going to keep giving you five grand each year'. That helps to either buy equipment or to help with the running of Little Cinema. Other than that, Julia and I run a little business called Wonderful Life Productions where we do video work and photography for weddings or corporate. So really it's funded by Julia and I - the work we do with Wonderful Life Productions, but Chris O'Dowd is a Little Cinema's greatest financial supporter. Last year, when we were coming towards the end of the year and we hadn't enough money to pay the rent, not enough money to cover electricity, we were like, we can't keep doing all this stuff, we can't keep doing Little Cinema without funding because it's taking too much time. It was that week that Chris gave us the second five grand and it literally let us pay for our rent, our electricity and we bought some film-making equipment as well. It meant that we were able to keep going as a business and as Little Cinema.
Having someone like him, not just give you money, but showing faith in you makes you think, 'What we're doing is right, we have to keep doing it'. You can get down from time to time when you're looking at the amount of work you're doing and thinking it isn't getting paid for. But you can give yourself the one bad day, then you have to slap yourself in the face and go, 'Right, get that work done'. You just have to keep pulling your socks up and believe that something's going to happen eventually and we'll be happy we did this. In the first year of Little Cinema, Julia and I were walking around town putting up posters - it was pissing rain, we were soaking wet. When we got back home, we were like, 'What are we doing? This is such a waste of time'. Then we logged onto the computer and in our Gmail was an email from one of the submitters who said, 'Here's our film for this month. We're really, really excited about screening it. We just want to say thanks so much for starting Little Cinema. It's so great to have'. We looked at each other and went, 'OK, this is why we're doing it'. That email probably meant the Little Cinema kept going. It raised our hopes and raised our spirits.
What are your hopes for Little Cinema for the future?
Ideally, what we'd like to be able to do is move towards the production side of things, to be able to help more filmmakers to get films made. But it all takes a lot of time. Even if you're not director, you still need to assign jobs, you still need to make sure everything's done right. So we don't want to take too much of a step without being able to do it properly. If we're going to make films, we want them to be made really well so that anything with the Little Cinema name on it has got the seal of approval. That wouldn't be a problem with the quality of people we have, but from the production side of things, you need to be sure you have enough money to make a set, enough money to make sure it's lit properly, enough money to make sure we have little props to take it from an average film to a very good film. We've also talked about doing Little Cinema in other cities, maybe Dublin, Cork or Limerick. But again, it's not something we could ever do unless we've got enough financial stability. We'd also really like to do feature film as well, but we'd need some backing to do that too.
What do you enjoy doing most about film?
I love comedy. I used to do standup but I stopped about two years ago. I started off with absurdist, surreal comedy and then started doing one liners. I got sick of my material then because I was doing it so much. I just didn't find it funny on stage, I'm a bit particular like that - I need to really believe what I'm saying.
It's a brave thing to do - stand up in front of a crowd of people and try to make them laugh...
A lot of people say it's their biggest fear, but it's one of those things where you get up on stage and go, 'I'm a fucking ejit. What am I doing? This is stupid.' You do have that thought and you look at your sheet and go, 'Nothing here is funny'. Then you go on stage and you get a laugh and you go, 'Maybe it was a bit funny', and you get another laugh and you go, 'OK, it's a bit funny' but you never really believe it's hilarious; you're never able to let yourself believe that it's really funny because you're so full of self-doubt.
I like writing and I like filming, but I'm not good at storyboarding, I'm not good at preparing stuff. I just turn up and start shooting. Whereas I think to be good filmmaker, you need to be able to plan in advance - have a storyboard of everything you're going to be doing so that it makes sense. When I write a sketch, I always write it as simply as possible; you could film it anywhere. I keep a crew very small - maybe a sound person, two cameras possibly and then two or three actors. But everyone's different. I like it to be as easy and as quick as possible.
What drives you?
It's like a fear of not doing. I hate losing and I hate losing to anyone, so if I stopped Little Cinema, I'd feel like I'd lost. I'm very, very, very competitive; stupidly competitive - with myself, with anyone who chooses to compete with me. If I stopped doing Little Cinema, I'd feel like I'd given up and that I'd failed. There are times that we have chats saying, 'Can we let it go? Will we stop?'. But I'm always saying, 'I can't, I have to keep it going'. So it's like an unwilling inner desire to not let myself lose. That and it's the craic and the community. I've met so many extraordinary people through it and I know there's so many more who will be joining us. You feel that there's a responsibility to keep it going as well, because there are a lot of people who rely on it to showcase their stuff. It's a main social meetup for some people who wouldn't be big drinkers or might not be the most sociable people or mightn't be good in big crowds. This way they can make a film, showcase it and and talk in front of a crowd, which they never would have done under any circumstance. But because it's their film and they're comfortable with it, they'll go out of their comfort zone and be a completely different person to what they usually are the other 29 days of the month.
Are there any major mentors or influencers along the way that have inspired you?
Being a big comedy fan, I loved Monty Python. Once I got it, it was like this bomb exploded in my head. They used to break all the rules in their comedy sketches. I took huge inspiration from people like that who were changing the way things were done. In terms of my personal life, when I was in Galway Community College, there was a lecturer there, Philip Cribbin, who was really, really good. He taught us media analysis, and he kept saying to just write that email, ask people to do stuff, put yourself out there and see if people can work with you. He'd fill you with so many ideas.
I was always very introverted; I'd be afraid to go up and ask anything. When you're by yourself, you don't feel like you can do anything, but when I had Julia and Liam with me, I had a bit more character about me and I'd probably have done stuff I wouldn't normally have done. The three of us complement each other - we all bring something to the table. So if Liam wasn't there, it wouldn't work, and if Julia wasn't there, it wouldn't work and if I wasn't there, the same thing.
How would you describe yourself?
I'm funny, sarcastic, honest, shy and friendly. Probably rude at times as well. If I meet people for the first time and I feel that I think they might be funny, I'll say something really rude to see how they react and if they react in a certain way, I'll know immediately I'm going to get on with them forever.
What impact does living in Galway have on you creatively?
Galway is one of those cities where it feels like stuff is possible. From a creative point of view, you have this feeling of 'Yes, I can do that'. Everyone is so friendly and everyone is so welcoming and accommodating. If you go into a pub and say, 'Can we film here?', it's like, 'Yeah, work away'. It's that kind of relaxed feeling, that vibe. It's creative freedom in a city where you feel that anything is possible.
The Galway International Film Fleadh is amazing. We've been in the Fleadh the last two years in a row and the buzz is electric. It's the pinnacle of filmmaking in Ireland, it's one of the best festivals and it's globally recognised. So for us to to be there and to be able to show our stuff, and you never know who's going to see it there, it's the perfect opportunity for filmmakers to promote themselves.
What would you like to see happening with Galway, particularly with regards to film?
More resources need to be given to filmmakers. So instead of giving 50 grand to one person, give 20 people a grand to make a film and you could get 20 films made. Also, there's so many cool places in Galway that would be ideal to film in, like derelict warehouses. I'd love to see a space given to filmmakers with an editing studio, and let them have at it - make films, make TV shows. Something that filmmakers of a lower level have access to, not just filmmakers that are going to be filming really high quality stuff. Galway is the Unesco City of Film and it has a heritage of film, so we need to make sure that the new filmmakers that are coming along don't feel like they need to go to Canada or America or Australia to get a job. We see all the time, filmmakers who are really good, churning out these good films and then they go, 'Right, I'd better head off to America or Canada'. That whole group of NUIG students, nearly all of them have gone on to leave Ireland because there's no jobs for them here. There's no feeling that they can make a living out of it. So if we had some place for filmmakers to be more creative and to have access to cool stuff, that would be great.
If you could change one thing about the current system for supporting the arts?
The application for arts funding, because you have to fill out this application online which is mind-numbingly long and mind-numbingly intricate and if you make any mistakes, they just pay no heed to the application. So what happens is, you have organisations who have their official persons who put the application together and each year, it will be those same organisations that have good applicators who will keep getting the funding, because they tick all the boxes. It's disheartening; you spend a few days putting in this application and it gets you nowhere, and you think, 'Why are we doing this?'. There's a body in the country that's responsible for funding the arts, but they only want to fund people who are able to fill out an application form - all you're doing there is finding the best people at bureaucracy in the country; you're not finding the best artistic people in the country, which drives me mad. It should be a face to face interview where you present your work. All they want to see is your business financial projections, but when you're running something like the Little Cinema, which runs a monthly screening. We're not a business, we don't cover the rent with the money we make. How can you expect financial projections?
In Galway, we're always astounded by the amount of people who are extraordinarily creative, like Macnas. The people who run Macnas are just incredible. Anytime you see one of their parades, you just get a sense of how cool it is to be from Galway. It gives you a sense of, right, they're leading the charge and we need to follow them into battle and show that Galway is the head of the arts, not just in Ireland but the world.