15th Dec2017

Interview: Director Séamus Hanly discusses ‘The Middle Finger’

by Philip Rogers

With the recent release of The Middle Finger on Blu-ray from Troma Entertainment I got a chance to talk to the multi-talented writer, director and actor Séamus Hanly what we can expect from Irelands newest superhero, working with Troma and the growth of independent films in Ireland

middle-finger-poster

How did you first get into filmmaking?

I’ve been making films since I was little. When my parents got a camcorder, me and my brothers would make animated shorts with our toys, and as a teenager I made cartoons and home movies. After school I did a film course and have been working as an editor and making sketches for the past couple of years.

What can we expect from The Middle Finger?

The Middle Finger can be best summed up as a good laugh. It’s a silly film, but it has a nice enough satirical edge. We worked hard on making sure it was a film that offered a good bit of atmosphere and heart, as well as laughs. It was described on the Film Ireland Podcast as “Dumb in a clever way”, which we were delighted to hear.

What inspired, you to write a superhero movie and where did the ideology of The Middle Finger come from?

The idea began with just the image of someone bearing the large image of a middle finger, as though it was something they didn’t want to carry. When I imagined the same scenario in a superhero context, something clicked. I didn’t really put these ideas in consciously, but when we were coming up to shooting the film, I realised most of the fun was coming from contradicting what made a superhero cool.
People will talk endlessly about Batman/Superman/Spider-Man’s motivation and nobility. But what if your superhero wasn’t all that motivated or noble? And that’s not to say they’re unmotivated or without nobility. What if they’re just normal? They have a decent understanding of morality, but just aren’t great at handling that kind of responsibility. Something about that gave me a chuckle.

How did you become involved with Troma for the distribution of The Middle Finger?

With the film finished, I’d been shopping it around to distributors and submitting to festivals. We’d had a screening or two but weren’t getting many offers. Things turned around when a buddy of mine, Tom Rowley (who cameos in the film) offered to put a word in with Troma. He had moved to New York and was editing videos for them. I sent them on a screener and heard back a week later with an offer, and nothing’s been the same since.

And now you are officially part of the UK Troma Team…

Yeah, man! I’ve been over to London twice now to see Lloyd and help out at Troma screenings. Unfortunately, Troma doesn’t have an Irish Team just yet, but I’m hoping to work on that ;)

There has been some recent success with independent films from Ireland, which includes another film which you were involved in called Demon Hunter (2016). Do you think this will start to open up opportunities for more independent films from Ireland?

I think it’s a growing thing for sure. There’s enough affordable tech and love for the craft around for indie film to live a sustainable life. But I still wonder what will actually become of it. Ireland has its own national broadcaster and national film board that are going on strong, but the kind of films and tv that come out of there are restricted to a certain selection of types.

Meanwhile movies like The Middle Finger or Demon Hunter, which I guess fall under the experimental genre category, are very much made on their own. The good news is that in this climate of filmmaking, you can put together your own movie for a really small amount of money, and it can get distribution. But the flip side is that there’s a blurring effect when everyone has an indie film. Max Landis has said that it’s getting easier to get your film distributed, and harder to get anyone to watch it, so the hope is that a strong community can form from all this and we aren’t just all individually making stuff for ourselves.

Shooting on a restricted budget is always going to be difficult and The Middle Finger was a self-funded. Did the budget cause you any issues during filming?

Not really. Fortunately, the script was written for the budget we had. So, we really didn’t fall on our asses and things went very smoothly. That said, I did have to take up a night job to support myself for a few months right after we finished. In fact, we had a small wrap party that I couldn’t drink at and had to leave early because of my job.

Were there any elements of the original script which had to be adapted during filming?

We managed to stick to the script and didn’t have to compromise majorly. In fact, we kept adding new stuff here and there during production, so we ended up with a little more than was on paper.

Did you find it difficult both directing and acting in the film and did you find it helpful or a hinderance to making the film?

Not at all weirdly enough. And people ask me that a lot. I’ve been acting in my own stuff for a long time, so I was pretty used to it. And it’s actually very freeing when you have one less actor to direct, because you already know what you want out of your own performance.

You have experience working various positions during filming and in post-production. Do you think this has helped you as a director?

Absolutely. I work mainly as an editor, and tend to look at everything from that perspective, which is especially helpful for shooting things quickly, because you have a good idea of what you need.

What was your favourite scene in the film to shoot?

Probably the party scenes. They were all shot in the same night and I didn’t have to wear that bloody superhero costume! Also, when we wrapped the fake party became a real one, and we all just hung out.

Do you have any new projects which you are working on?

Yes. Currently writing some stuff at the moment… one idea I’m working on might be a Middle Finger sequel… but I can’t guarantee anything at the moment. The goal is to be filming something next year and just keep the wheel turning!

If you had the budget to create your own dream project, what would it be?

Oh wow! Well, I have some big script ideas that would require a big budget, that I’d love to make. But when it comes to the realm of “dream projects”, all I think of is stuff like books or comics I’d love to adapt, or older films I’ve thought of remaking. But I dare not name any specific titles right now.

If someone is looking to direct their first film, what advice would you give them?

When you want to make something, anything, I’ve got three simple rules to live by:
1. Do it.
2. Do it now.
3. Why haven’t you done it yet?
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The Middle Finger is available to stream on Troma Now and available on Blu Ray from Troma.com

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