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Breaking Bram - On Filmmaking

I was up until 3am watching the finale of Breaking Bad. I had four episodes to go and planned to watch maybe two. But that's Netflix for you. And that's Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad rewrote all the superlatives concerning TV drama, with its great writing, incredible acting and stunning cinematography. At its heart, it's a buddy story, primarily concerned with how two characters develop and how they interact, their chemistry together. And wow. We got plenty of that.
Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad.
What I liked best about Breaking Bad was how each individual episode had the scope, breadth and depth of a feature film. In time, individual episodes will be judged as separate pieces of art, with self-contained character and plot dynamics. I know of a few episodes that I will watch again, selecting them like rare fine wines from Netflix's seemingly infinite cellar of plonk.

Having recently completed my first short film, Vampire Story, as writer and director, I now appreciate more than ever how much work is required to make a movie. I'm convinced that, having been through the mill, I genuinely enjoy quality work in a way that I couldn't otherwise. Making a film, however short, is a great way to learn, to develop new skills and to appreciate others' talents. If you're considering making a short film, here are some tips:

1. Story is king
Vampire Story is about a writer of vampire literature, how he deals with rejection and the pain of living forever. There's a nice twist when we discover who the writer is and it was this twist that made the film worth making. Breaking Bad is unique story-wise in that the good guy, Walter White, becomes the bad guy, while Jesse starts off as a (vaguely) bad guy who turns good. This story arc alone makes the project different, compelling and intriguing. The script for Vampire Story was rewritten many times during filming and the story was changed even more during editing. So be prepared to change the story as you go, but have a clear script to begin with.

2. Acting is hard
Bryan Cranston's performance in Breaking Bad has been described by Anthony Hopkins as the best acting ever and it is certainly that good. In making Vampire Story, I learned that acting is tough, so tough. The ability to say a line so that it means something more than words, to communicate an emotion with just a look, to have a genuine presence on screen and to do all these things take after take after take is a true skill, is art.

Philip English on location at Poolbeg, Dublin with Marcus filming.
Good acting must be truly appreciated as it is actors more than anyone in the filmmaking process who cause the audience to suspend their disbelief and to go with the story. Breaking Bad didn't just luck out with great actors in the key roles, pretty much everyone on screen is quality. My favourite, besides Bryan and Aaron, is Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman and I just can't wait for his own spin-off series. Vampire Story had a lead actor with great screen presence, Philip English, great support from Jessie Doyle and a host of dedicated talent.

3. Lenses matter
Breaking Bad was shot on 35mm film. This would have accounted for a fair chunk of the $3 million per episode budget but the payoff was gorgeous depth and rich colour. We didn't have the luxury of film for Vampire Story, shooting on Canon 5D HD digital SLR cameras and using some of our total €1,200 budget on lens rental. Lenses, or glass as they're called, add real depth to digital film and can cost more than the camera.

Mark filming Wendell outside Anglo Irish Bank, St Stephen's Green, Dublin.
The Canon 5D, with great glass, offers cinema quality results, especially when in the hands of an expert, like our DP (director of photography) Mark Downey. I'm especially pleased with the scene of Wendell watching from his car as Philip arrives at the bank and also the extreme close-ups of the girls applying make-up that we shot in the Shelbourne Hotel, but the whole thing looks great.

4. Planning is everything
Between cast and crew, we had about twenty people on set for our main interiors shooting session. It was across four sets and was planned out shot by shot. It still went from 6.30pm to 2.30am, much longer than anticipated. It could have been better planned, as some of the actors had to hang around for hours until they were needed. When nobody's getting paid to make a short, you need to not squander their time. Making a film is a really complex project, so talk it through, plan it out, make schedules, use common sense.

Planning shots in Crumlin, Dublin.
Above all, expect everything to take twice as long as you expect. And the more people you have to help out, the better. I used to wonder why it took so many people to make a movie or a show like Breaking Bad. Not any more.

5. Sound and music are as important as visuals
Breaking Bad set up every episode with that theme. It worked. But it also had perfectly fitting music from ZZ Top, The Monkees, JJ Cale, Bach and many more artists. Songs really matter and when a TV production doesn't have a budget to stretch to some classic or specifically-penned songs, everything suffers. Vampire Story was lucky enough to have singer Carol Keogh team up with synth legend Aidan Casserley.

Aidan and Carol perform music from Vampire Story, live at Night of the Machines, Dublin.
Carol and Aidan composed original songs and music specifically for the film and really took it to another level. The other aspect of sound that's crucial is atmospheric sound effects. For us, this meant taking a Zoom (an amazing, compact, stereo digital sound recorder) to the beach, to Dublin city centre and on location. We had seven audio tracks in Vampire Story as that's all the video editing software would allow. Seven more audio tracks would have been better. Sound is such great fun to do and, as you add each layer of sound, the film genuinely benefits.

Another aspect of sound is recording dialogue. We had some technical problems while filming one scene, so couldn't record dialogue. I assumed it would be easy to record later and match it up (this is known as ADR - additional dialogue required). Wrong. Matching dialogue later is seriously tricky so do your utmost to record dialogue while you're shooting. You can worry about all the other sounds later.

So go. Go make a film.

You can see Vampire Story on YouTube at

You can see Vampire Story with French subtitles on YouTube at

You can connect with and comment on Vampire Story on Facebook at

Vampire Story

Cast and Crew

Director of Photography
Mark Downey

Philip English as The Writer
Jessie Doyle as The Woman
Damien Murphy as The Singer
Wayne Fahey as The Bank Manager
Wendell Marinho as The Vampire Hunter
Bernadette Byrnes as The Vampire Hunter
Jenny Doyle as The Vampire Hunter
Tara Fahey as The Vampire Hunter
Matt Houlihan as The Slaughterman
Kieran Woodfull as The Victim
Eden Byrnes as The Captive Child
Molly Doyle as The Captive Child
Gary J Byrnes as The Bank Worker

Production Designer
Padraig Darmody

Editor and Second Camera
Marcus P Campbell

Creative Consultant
Joel Conroy

Special Effects
Pyrotechnics & Effects Ltd

Set Design
Matt Houlihan

Set Production
Matt Houlihan
Kieran Woodfull

Sound Recording
Marcus P Campbell

Hair and Make-up
Bernadette Byrnes
Frances Murphy


"Grind Decay"
written and performed by Damien Murphy

"Killer Heels"
"What a Pain"
written and performed by Carol Keogh and The Wazp

"Sunburn (instrumental)"
"Season of the Wolf"
"The Bite"
"Industrial Horror"
written and performed by The Wazp

"Longing Distance"
written and performed by Carol Keogh

Title Design
Joel Conroy

Subtitle Translations
Pierre-Adrien Buisson

Elton Mullally

Suzanne Thompson Fahey
Jenny Doyle
Jessie Doyle

Sun Video
Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams

The Producers Wish to Thank
The Shelbourne Hotel
The Sugar Club
Alan Hanna's Bookshop
Rage Records, Fade Street
Dublin City Council
Catherine Lyons
Mary Meaney
Elton Mullally
Tara Byrnes
Luke Doyle

Filmed in Dublin, Ireland

Written and Directed by
Gary J Byrnes

Produced by
Padraig Darmody and Gary J Byrnes

Copyright © Gary J Byrnes, 2013


Degenerates: Art and the Nazis

As the fascinating story about the discovery of a vast horde of art masterpieces in Munich broke this week, I was struck by its relevance to the novel I'm working on now.

TO EAT THE WORLD is a New York-set thriller, featuring a cabal of Nazi bankers using their control of the art world - through plundered art works - to set off a chain of events and take over the US economy. The Munich discovery, with all its unanswered questions (eg: why has it taken a year and a half to make the find public?), adds a delicious slice of timely truth to my literary cocktail.

As you can learn from the BBC report embedded above, it's believed that the Nazis seized about 16,000 pieces of art from Jewish owners and art galleries as they conquered Europe. It is truly ironic that the Nazis labelled much the art 'degenerate' - art by greats like Picasso, Chagall, Dix and Beckmann - seizing and hiding it so as to protect public morals while Hitler and his cronies set about dismantling the very concept of morals, classifying certain types of people as animals and foisting the ultimate horror on Europe.

Painting by Marc Chagall, seized in Munich
How many art galleries built their collections on the Nazis' spoils? How many art dealers built their fortunes on the misery - and extermination - of others? Do we still consider Nazi ideas of degeneracy as valid when considering 'modern art'?

Perhaps it is time, given the scale of the crimes against humanity and art committed by the Nazis, for a genuine re-examination of what values modern art holds? Can we continue merrily along the same path and consider what emerges from Munich as simply filling in the gaps in art history? Or must we start asking deeper questions?

Who, exactly, are the degenerates?

  1. 1.
    having lost the physical, mental, or moral qualities considered normal and desirable; showing evidence of decline.
    "a degenerate form of a higher civilization"
    synonyms:debaseddegradedcorrupt, corrupted, vitiated, bastardimpure
    Source: Google Search

TO EAT THE WORLD by Gary J Byrnes, coming soon to all ebook stores. For release date news, stay tuned to and join me at Google+ here.