Charlie And The Blank Page



The Woodstock Film Festival, 2011, from left: Tim Palmer, Terry McMahon and Moe Dunford. Trailer for Charlie Casanova (2010)

This one is for you.

Facebook just reminded us that nine years ago a bunch of lunatics turned up during the worst winter on record to make a psychotic movie about the cancer of the controlling class.

Staring in panic at a blank page for a long time, before projectile vomiting a political script onto ninety of those pages, I was an unproduced hack, who had never directed a short film, much less a feature.

We had a budget of nine-hundred-quid, and our borrowed camera had to be back eleven days later, so that became our production schedule.

Snow bombarded the city but nobody backed out. Frost incapacitated the equipment but filming never stopped. Doubt crept in every second but nobody backed out. Eleven days later we got rat-assed drunk in the way that only a group which has been through hell together can. Awoke the next morning, aching to the bone, wondering if the footage we captured would get anywhere beyond the bottom of a drawer.

What chance did a messed-up little Irish film about a controlling class psychopath have on the world stage? Home-burned DVDs with the title hand-scrawled across them were submitted to film festivals, and we waited for Godot.

Then, Janet Pierson, head honcho of one of the world’s great film festivals, wanted our film to be the first Irish movie ever selected for the coveted SXSW Narrative Feature Competition. And we nearly shit ourselves.

‘Charlie Casanova’ ended up being picked up for distribution by Studio Canal and released in UK and Irish cinemas before being kicked to death by our critics.

We presumed we’d never make another film, particularly since we wanted to address the dehumanisation of people with mental illness; another subject nobody wanted to touch at the time; but five years later those same critics would pick our second film, ‘Patrick’s Day’, as Best Irish Film of the Year. Yet the more things change the more they remain the stagnant same.

Nearly a decade later it’s never been more difficult to make political cinema. Or political television.

The explosion in cheap technology in that decade should have opened the floodgates. But where are those films? Where is that cinematic rage? The controlling class, which we denied even existed a decade earlier, used austerity to relentlessly attack our most vulnerable. But perhaps they also succeeded in sidelining our artistic culture. Or are we just cowards?

Who the hell knows what our collective future holds. Nobody could have believed a decade ago that we’d become the country we are today. What we become in the next decade is wide open.

There are brilliant filmmakers out there. Some of them we already know. Men and women born to make magic. But maybe some of them are as yet unknown. Maybe some of them have yet to dive into the madness of their first movie, penned in panic and made for no money. Maybe some of them have yet to put pen to their first blank page.

Maybe one of them is you.

Terry McMahon is a filmmaker and can be found on Twitter @terrymcmahon69

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43 thoughts on “Charlie And The Blank Page

          1. Killian G

            Hopefully Bodger can provide a better link to where to watch it becayse I do not know how much of that $9 if any would find its way to the film maker. I am sure Apple would swallow a bit fat chunk of it

  1. barelylegal

    i stopped reading at “projectile vomited”

    not much professional development since, then, terry?

  2. Harry Molloy

    Whether it was good or not (and I suppose that is subjective …to an extent), fair play for getting up and creating someone.

    There’s a smartphone film festival in Dublin this year, the first, where anyone else who thinks they have a decent idea can submit something. Or go along and look.

    I think if we put our heads together we could come up with something (no dirty jokes please …)

  3. Andrew

    Terry, what kind of camera would be the minimum requirement to use to make a film?
    I’ve heard of people just using mobile phones but haven’t seen an actual film made with one. Or maybe I have, unknowingly.
    edit: Just saw Harry’s post above.

    1. Harry Molloy

      I’m going along, think they’ve been doing it elsewhere for a while, don’t think you’ll ever make “cinema” on a mobile in the foreseeable but it could be an interesting an accessible sub genre

          1. Killian G

            You have obviously never experienced the passion of a Mayo Man across the hood of his Massey. THAT will be the high point.

          2. mildred st. meadowlark

            And what are you planning on doing to impress me, young man?

            I don’t see any tractor pulled up dramatically in front of MY workplace.

          3. mildred st. meadowlark

            Not to worry. He just showed up in a 181-D Volvo, funny enough.

            Now that’s style.

          4. mildred st. meadowlark

            Certainly not. Plenty of growing room left there.

            That growth spurt you were promised will definitely happen this year.

  4. wellness

    Perhaps the problem lies with the way in which we now view film. We look to film for entertainment rather than answers. On another note, a film that lacks nuance and self-awareness will always be slated by the critics. A thought – provoking film is one in which the audience is drawn in and allowed to think for itself. It never ever goes for the obvious .

    1. Killian G

      Thank you for that comment. Very interesting. Sometimes I feel I am alone in making constructive and informed comments here. Today I feel less alone.

  5. Frilly Keane

    I got to “,,, being kicked to death by our critics”
    Before my lipstick smeared from the curling underneath

    As least they were given the courtesy of being referred to as critics

    And not trolls

    How’s that for psychopathic behaviour

    Or is it simply taking the knee to suit self interest

  6. b


    ….checks Irish Times review…

    “frequent shadows of the idiotic Fight Club; that plot point from Bonfire of the Vanities. But having Charlie begin his diatribe with (intentionally or not) the opening line of Albert Camus’s L’Étranger is an allusion too far.”


  7. Zoella

    Terry McMahon is not still dining out on this piece of, ahem… work of art, is he? That was half a century ago and I doubt somehow that it has improved with age.

  8. Michael Dunford

    Terry, thank God Ireland has someone like you with your vast amounts of genius, social conscience and balls. F… The begrudgers, and we seem to have lots of those. “For evil to triumph, all it takes is for good men to remain quiet”. Well done Terry. RESPECT!

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