Monday 23 September 2019

Behind the Scenes with... Irish film producer Julie Ryan

Julie Ryan (front) on location at the English Market, Cork for The Young Offenders movie
Julie Ryan (front) on location at the English Market, Cork for The Young Offenders movie
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Behind the Scenes: We meet key Irish and Ireland-based talent working behind the scenes in the TV, film, radio, theatre, and music industries. This week we're chatting to Julie Ryan, head of MK1 Productions, and one of the producers of The Young Offenders movie.

How would you explain what a producer does?

"Producing can mean different things on different productions. For me it mainly involves finding scripts or shows that I’m excited about. I then either pitch them to networks and raise or manage the finance.  Putting out fires, foreseeing problems that might arise, and solving the random issues that pop up on a daily basis are a large part of my job, which can be very challenging at times. Bringing together a great team for me is the most important element of producing. It can be long, arduous hours but also a great sense of achievement when a project comes together."

Why did you choose this career?

"I always knew I wanted to work in film and TV except for that brief period I thought I wanted to be a lawyer after consuming multiples series of Ally Mc Beal back to back. I absolutely love watching movies and being transported into different worlds. I wanted to figure out to how they were made and I’m still figuring it out. "

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Julie Ryan with The Young Offenders star Hillary Rose

How did you start out? Is it a tough industry to break into?

"I trained in TV3 in the sports department as a reporter straight out of college - moonlighting as an autocue operator, continuity announcer, and news librarian to pay the bills. I then went on to become the world’s worst weekend sports anchor in 98FM. The legend that was Johnny Lyons trained me and used to call me up after the sports news enquiring as to how I came to the pronunciation of certain football teams. Tottenham was a hard one for me.  I’m still training in every new project I do to be honest. Luckily Ireland has a band of Irish producers who all very supportive in their knowledge sharing enabling growth in our industry.

"It's definitely tough to break in but I think there’s always a place for people who want to work hard. I was given the opportunity to prove myself on multiple occasions and I try very hard to make sure I give others that opportunity as well. Sink or swim isn’t just a saying that’s for sure."

Is it male-dominated?  Do you feel you are ever treated differently because of your gender?

"I have had amazing male and female mentors throughout my career.  However, I am acutely aware of instances of gender inequality throughout the industry. I think it’s amazing that women everywhere are speaking up to share their stories and the wave of change taking place within all industries."

How do you feel about the recent sexual harassment allegations?

"I worked in Los Angeles for a period and indirectly came across stories of incidents. Unfortunately, I believe most people knew about Harvey Weinstein but were afraid to speak up at the time. I think it’s important, and courageous of people like Irish producer Laura Madden who has spoken up recently."

Read more: 'I locked myself in the bathroom and asked him to let me go' - Irish producer on working with Harvey Weinstein 

What opportunities are there for training in the industry now?

"I’m a big advocate for training and mentorship in the industry. The Irish Film Board and Screen Training Ireland have really stepped up their programmes in the last year and are running brilliant courses. I try and take as many courses as I can. Even courses like Health and Safety were really helpful in starting my company. I was lucky enough to be taken under a few wings and continue to reach out to industry experts when I come across a conundrum. Of course people are busy with their own projects but sometimes a simple piece of advice can change your whole perspective on a situation which really rang true for me recently.  On the last film I did, we had students from Kerry ETB and IADT who were such a great addition to the crew."

What are the main challenges you encounter as a producer? 

"I’ve definitely had major challenges and mishaps in my career. I like to take on new challenges and step outside my comfort zone and with that come teething issues. Recently, I feel like most mornings I wake up I have a major challenge ahead. I’ve been looking outside of the film and TV industry for different work practices on how to learn from other industries especially the tech sector. I share an office in a co-create space in-between productions and working in an office with people outside my industry has opened my mind to a whole other way of working and thinking which has been really great."

Are tighter budgets on projects a help or a hindrance?

"I think tighter budgets definitely have led to creativity on my past projects. Most importantly for me, working on lower budget projects, I’ve learn to reframe problems. Most things are solvable really when you think about it, there’s nearly always an alternative way to do something that spawns the same result if not better."

What's the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

"Who doesn’t love a challenge? It’s a reason to get up in the morning besides the prospect of listening to The Greatest Showman soundtrack on repeat. The variation in projects is what excites me the most. You just never know what you’ll be doing from month to month or even day to day sometimes. We were tight on time on this project I just finished so I ended up being a horse riding stunt double at one point!

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Julie Ryan as a stunt double on Christmas Perfection

Luckily, I was the same height and hair color as the lead actress.  I couldn’t tell you right now what I’ll be doing in a couple of months. Keeps me on my toes. It works for me now, perhaps that will change in the future."

How does working in Ireland compare to working abroad?

"I’ve always wanted to be able to work all over the world and I’ve worked in any job that paid the bills to achieve that from printing shops in Hawaii to racing yards in Australia. In the last six years I’ve been lucky enough to work in film and TV at home and abroad. Any excuse to travel and work for me but I do love Ireland as well."

Tell us about setting up MK1 Productions

"I originally started the company for a project I created and I also wanted to call myself out to see if I could do it. There are so many talented writers in Ireland and around the world with stories to tell and I’m looking forward to partnering up and bringing some of these stories to the screen. I’m excited about the projects I have currently lined up and I’m also currently looking for and developing a slate of female driven projects. The main benefit for me starting up my own company is I can make a decision and act on it immediately. I like to work fast."

Can you tell us about the experience of working on The Young Offenders movie?  Did it feel like something special from the start?

"The Young Offenders was an amazing experience from start to finish.  The cast and crew were truly inspiring and we created something special that I don’t think any of team will forget. I certainly won’t. I’ve had to watch it a million times and once I got over the sickening feeling of how people would react to it, I learnt to enjoy it.


I could watch it over and over and remember what happened behind every shot with a smile plastered on my face. For the film to be recognised internationally and on home soil in so many categories at the 2017 IFTAs was brilliant for everyone with the brilliant Peter Foott taking home the Best Script award."

What are you working on at the moment?

"I’ve just wrapped on a Christmas movie led by the brilliant actress Caitlin Thompson (This Is Us). I’ve always wanted to make a Christmas movie and I couldn’t believe it when this script came to me so I was delighted. It’s a fun and heart-warming family script when the lead character magically wakes up in her perfect Irish Christmas village.

L-R Gary Hetzler, Norma Sheahan and and Caitlin Thompson Christmas Perfection.JPG
Christmas Perfection shoot. L-R: Gary Hetzler, Norma Sheahan and and Caitlin Thompson

It’s a veritable ball of Christmas fun with horses, sheep, and most importantly a magical snow corner. You just need to follow the rules of magical realism and you are sorted! I hope to make lots of Christmas movies."

What are you working on next?

"I’m in pre-production on a project set in Tyrone with the Tyrone born director Colin Broderick (Emerald City) and the DOP is also from Tyrone, Shane Kelly (Boyhood, Last Flag Flying, Friday Night Lights). Starring former boxer turned actor John Duddy 'The Derry Destroyer' and the wonderful John Connors (Cardboard Gangsters, Love Hate) supporting. We’re just searching for our female lead at the moment which is exciting."

What advice would you give to budding producers?

"I would say it’s not an easy path and definitely not for everyone. If it’s what you love, then work hard and the results will come slowly but surely. Other than that, ask me in 10 years time - I could be herding sheep on a ranch in Texas."

Read more: 'I’ve had women who are my senior completely kick the ladder out from under my feet' - Irish producer Hilary Johnson 

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