In THE GUY: THE BRIAN DONAHUE STORY, we take a journey through the checkered career of veteran stunt actor Brian Donahue.
We spoke with director Director E.J. McLeavey-Fisher about the short film. Read more with E.J. below, and catch it in the “Characters Welcome” short documentary film block on Saturday, June 22 at 9:30am!
NFF: Please say a little about your inspiration for, or how you found your subject of the film.
E.J.: I met Brian during a casting session for a commercial I was directing for a healthcare company. We needed to interview stunt people about their histories, and Brian came in and blew me away. Turns out he wasn’t the right guy for the commercial (as he will tell you “they wanted the beautiful twentysomethings”) but I emailed him that night (with that bad news) and then asked if he’d be interested in discussing another kind of project. We spoke on the phone for two hours the next day, with Brian spinning the most incredible stories about his time in and out of the industry, and I knew we had to make something together, which is what ultimately became THE GUY: THE BRIAN DONAHUE STORY.
NFF: You're in the documentary block. How do you balance entertainment value with a factual accounting of events?
E.J.: We always wanted to approach this project more like a narrative than a traditional doc project, so we shot our first day, the main interview day, then started to build our visual story around that. Using Brian’s story as our guide, we tried our best to either capture or re-create each scene in the most cinematic and powerful way possible without the style interfering with the viewer’s ability to connect with Brian as a real person. I don’t think a stylized approach like this is always appropriate in doc work but in our instance, when you have such a big character like Brian at its center, not to mention the fact that it’s a film about stunts and movies, it made sense. I must say, it’s also a lot more fun shooting this way and having a bit more control rather than following someone around with a camera and waiting for something to happen!
NFF: What do you find the biggest advantages and challenges of making a short as opposed to a feature?
E.J.: I think shorts are great because there’s so much flexibility in what the story is that you ultimately want to tell. Despite the approach I mentioned above, we were still creating a documentary and weren’t working off of a script, and until you get into the edit it’s hard to know how long a film needs to be. If you’re filming a short documentary the story might be twenty minutes or you might realize it’s better off being half that length- this is a luxury that doesn’t exist with features. You’re boxed-in to a stricter format in terms of duration.
The challenge with short films, for me at least, is that I spend as much time on them as I might shooting a feature otherwise. I haven’t done that yet so I can’t exactly compare, but we worked on this project for about three and a half years and only actually filmed 8 days in total. This was due to the fact that everyone involved with it had to work on it in between our paid work (for the crew, shooting commercials and for Brian, splitting his time at UPS and his acting and stunt gigs)- trying to coordinate all of our schedules was incredibly tricky, but we eventually made it happen!
NFF: What are you working on currently, and/or where can we see more of your work?
E.J.: I’ve got a few projects in various stages of development: one super short profile piece about a guy who has been teaching himself to skateboard at age 40 and documenting the process daily on YouTube, a baseball story about Armando Galarraga’s near-perfect game, and a music doc about a band with a cult following from the 70s (who I don’t want to mention yet because I’m waiting to hear back from some lawyers about whether I’ll be allowed to pursue it). You can see my previous short docs COMIC BOOK HEAVEN and THE DOGIST on my website at www.ej-mf.com, along with some of my commercial work.
NFF: Why are you excited to screen in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences might relate to or takeaway from the film?
E.J.: I’m really excited to screen at Nantucket because I grew up on Cape Cod but have never had the opportunity to screen my work on the Cape and Islands until now! Hopefully it’ll be the first of many at NFF.