From Shorts to Features with Kate Dolan

Giles Alderson sat down this week to chat with writer and director, Kate Dolan. They chatted about her highly successful and inspiring filmmaking journey that lead her to make her first film.

You Are Not My Mother was Kate’s first feature, which got “a couple of good reviews when it was released in the US recently and then we got certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.”

Growing Up Surrounded by Cinema

Cinema has always been a big passion of Kate’s, especially growing up with her mum and grandmother, who were both cinephiles.

“My granny had a real encyclopaedic knowledge of old Hollywood. We watched a lot of classic movies together – Rebecca, Gone With The Wind or The Night of the Hunter. She was really into brilliant films of her era, so that was a great education.”

Her mum was also into films, and together they watched a lot of the “great movies of the nineties.

A great education altogether. And I got the bug and I started reading Empire magazine.”

After school, she attended film school in Ireland and then worked in an ad agency as an intern, before working as a trainee in the art department in films and commercials.

From Art Department to Directing

“I’ve done many different jobs over the years, it’s not a straightforward path. I did lots of odd jobs for lots of different kinds of people and I think that really helped in making contacts, getting to work on set, and seeing other directors working. It was a winding road, but I eventually got there.”

Kate made a short film, funded by Screen Ireland, called Catcalls that did well at the genre film festivals. They also fully financed You Are Not My Mother because of a newly initiated POV scheme for first-time feature filmmakers.

“I had just finished the festival run of Catcalls and Screen Ireland said we’re doing this scheme for first-time feature writer/ directors. We feel it’d be good timing for you. I had an idea that could be done on this micro-budget and put it in for the application.”

Working With Children

It was interesting for Kate that “the first couple of shorts I did had kids in them. Little Doll was all girls between eight and ten. I love working with kids and whenever I get to work with kids, I really enjoy it. Because they don’t mince their words.”

She said that when you explain something to children and they don’t know what you mean, they’ll tell you, which makes you realise that you need to explain it better.

“It’s a good education as a director because sometimes adult actors won’t always tell you when they don’t understand. Kids are great because they gave me an education of needing to explain in a way that is more understandable to somebody that hasn’t got (my) image in their mind.”

Keeping It Simple

“I’m not the filmmaker that has an urge to use fancy equipment or do things just for the gimmick of doing the shot or the trick. For me, it always has to serve what you’re trying to do. With Catcalls, I wanted to prove that I could scare people and make something that was frightening as a short film.”

Kate and her editor, John Cutler – who also edited You Are Not My Mother, watched a lot of movies together, taking their favourite scenes and breaking them down before putting them back together to serve the film.

Wearing Many Hats

After the producer of Catcalls decided that she didn’t want to work in film anymore, Kate was left to her own devices.

“Any festival submissions, I did myself and paid for myself. We got into Fantasia and that was a real gateway into everything else because once it had played there, in a popular section” she was contacted by various other genre festivals, as well as from managers, producers and studios.

“It had a great festival life at the genre festivals and that year I got a manager. I got an agent off the back of that and it was surreal. I have a real love of Catcalls because it did so much for me.

Being Prepared

The time that you have to prepare for a feature makes filming less stressful for Kate, than her experience (and the timings) of making a commercial, short or music video.

“When you’re doing short form, you don’t have a lot of time to actually shoot them. One thing I loved about the feature was that your first day is really nerve-wracking and terrifying, and you’re absolutely bricking it, but once you’re a week or two in, you have time to actually get your shots.

And as we were working through the shoot, we were giving footage to the editor and he was putting together selects and was very helpful in letting us know what we might need. I find that element of it really enjoyable because we’re going to actually have everything that we need in the end.”

She went on to say that they “did a lot of pre-planning. When we got on set, we knew exactly where the camera was going to be for a shot and we had a Google drive with everything in it. So everyone knew. We used as much prep as we could to get it really clear for everybody.”

To find out more about Kate Dolan’s behind-the-scenes experience, listen here.

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