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Mattress Men and El Zorerro Films - the Journey of a Documentary

Mattress Men film poster.

As part of our celebration of the 25th anniversary of the MEDIA programme, we are highlighting Irish companies who have received Creative Europe MEDIA funding. We look at their MEDIA supported projects, their company development, and ask them to reveal the secret of their success!

The Company: El Zorrero Film

In this instalment, we feature El Zorrero Films who received Single Project Support from Creative Europe MEDIA for their documentary, Mattress Men. El Zorrero Films is the brain-child of Dave Clarke and Ciarán Deeney, set up with the goal of creating projects that they can be passionate about. They have produced a wide range of projects including the innovative multi-platform documentary, Man on Bridge (RTE); the gritty documentary series like Premier Ambitions (Setanta Sports); and the formatted TV series, Pioc do Ride (TG4).

Mattress Men was directed and shot by Colm Quinn, produced by Dave Clarke and Ciarán Deeney, edited by John Murphy, and features music composed by Michael Fleming. The film has its Irish premiere at the IFI Documentary Festival on 22nd Sep, and will be released on 7th of October. The release of Mattress Men will be a DAY & DATE release which means that Mattress Men will be available to view online on at the same time as it is released in Irish cinemas including the Lighthouse Cinema and Irish Film Institute both of which are members of the MEDIA supported Europa Cinemas network.

So there’s no excuse to miss this story of mattresses, friendship, austerity, and the man behind the Mattress Mick cult YouTube videos, Paul Kelly. Mattress Men is gaining accolades at festivals like Hot Docs in Toronto and Sheffield Doc Fest, and is set to become a cult sensation and a word-of-mouth crossover hit with audiences of all ages. Mattress Men is unlike any other documentary you’ve seen before – you’ll start out laughing but come out crying. So be warned!

The People

Ciarán Deeney is co-founder of El Zorrero films along with Dave Clark. Ciarán and Dave have produced a range of innovative projects including the multi-platform documentary, Man on Bridge (RTE) as well as work for other production companies, such as the feature film The Guarantee for John Kelleher Media and the Oscar short-listed, SXSW winning animation Coda for And Maps And Plans. They have won awards and recognition at Sheffield Doc Fest, Hot Docs Film Festival, Celtic Film Festival and Galway Film Fleadh.

Colm Quinn is an IFTA nominated writer/director in drama and documentary. His work has been commissioned by the Irish Film Board, Filmbase, the Berlinale Talent Campus, and RTE. Films have screened at over 100 international festivals including Hot Docs Toronto, Edinburgh, SXSW, AFI Docs, Tampere, Sheffield DocFest and Sao Paolo. Awards have been received from the Royal Television Society, the Cork Film Festival, the Galway Film Fleadh and Unicef, amongst others.

The Questions

1. What was the original inspiration behind the making of Mattress Men?

Ciarán: I think one of the big starting points for the film to exist was our office location, bizarrely enough. We’re based just a few doors away from Mattress Mick’s shop on Pearse Street. We’d all walked by it hundreds of times and were very curious about the very loud and very bright shop-front.

Colm: I first met Paul Kelly, the main character of Mattress Men, as he stood smoking a cigarette at the front door of the shop. As I walked past he grinned over and asked if I had ever seen any of Mattress Mick’s videos? Responding that I was a fan, Paul insisted that I come in to check out the green screen studio where he made the magic happen. Presented with the outrageous contrast of a green screen studio somehow existing inside a run-down mattress shop, a film idea started to brew.

2. How important was it to receive MEDIA funding in the early stages of the film’s development? And how did it help?

Ciarán: MEDIA funding came at a crucial moment for the project. It was the bridge between development and production. The IFB had got us going with initial development funding but considering the project is observational and filmed over such a long period of time, we needed more funding to keep following the story whilst also bringing the project to Sheffield Doc/Fest Meet Market to attract further funding. For us, the MEDIA funding felt like a big vote of confidence for both the project and the team. It proved to us that Mattress Men could travel outside of Ireland and become an international doc.

The application for the funding was quite daunting, in that it takes time to get setup on the system, the application is quite large and the funding is strictly for development, not production, which for a documentary like this, it can sometimes be difficult to separate the two. It has to be said that throughout the application process, Eibhlín from Creative Europe Desk Ireland MEDIA was a fantastic support and really us with the application.

3. Colm's cinematography and storytelling in Mattress Men is wonderful! Are there European cinematographers or documentary film-makers who have inspired you?

Colm: There are so many influences to mention - Agnes Varda, Andrew Kotting, Viktor Kossakovsky, Joris Ivens, Mark Cousins, Carol Morley, Ken Loach, Werner Herzog, to name but a few…

4. Sometimes in the film it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry but the gorgeous music, composed by Michael Fleming, helps guide us through the film’s very emotional journey. Tell us about working with Michael and deciding on the music?

Colm: We were so lucky to have Michael’s involvement on this film. His score is essential to navigating those emotional peaks and troughs that the story presents. It was a real challenge to reconcile those tonal shifts between the comedic and the poignant, Michael’s judgement with this was so sharp, and it was essential to creating an overall narrative flow for the film. His score has deservedly come in for much praise at the various festival screenings we’ve had so far.

5. John Murphy’s editing paces the story so well - did he have his work cut out for him in the editing room, or did you all work together in crafting the story from an early stage?

Colm: Having John’s experience on both feature drama and documentary was vital to a project of this nature. Confronted with thousands of hours of footage, John managed to battle through in shaping a compelling story. Largely it was myself and John in the edit suite, we fuelled each others tea addiction to an unhealthy degree. Ciaran and Dave offered the unfolding rough cuts real perspective and guidance throughout the process. Overall we edited for around 6 months and somehow we’re still sane after it, I think…

6. Did you intentionally set out to make a film about the personal costs of austerity or did that emerge as filming went on?

Colm: That was the aim from the beginning. It was clear that the struggle faced by Paul Kelly and Michael Flynn was representative of what was going on in both an Irish and European context. Austerity measures are destroying lives, equality of opportunity hasn’t a hope in such a scenario. The fact that Paul and Mick managed to find their own angle for survival within such a toxic environement is remarkable.

Ciarán: From a producer point of view, austerity was always at the forefront of the pitch. Initially we did a pitching workshop at Lisbon Docs in 2014 and there was a forum attached. Through that process, it became quite obvious early on that the strongest selling point for the film outside of Ireland was the idea that somehow Paul and Mick’s own personal re-invention in a time of austerity was relatable outside of Ireland. As Colm says, the aim to create an austerity story was there from the beginning but the development process and indeed even the application for Creative Europe funding really brought that out, front and centre, and became the heart of our Creative Europe application.

7. Lastly, where to from here for El Zorrero?!

Ciarán: We’re currently working on broadcast projects at the moment and really throwing ourselves into development. We learned quite a lot from the process of making Mattress Men and one of the big takeaways is making sure that the next feature-length project we undertake has the same ingredients that make a project relatable outside of Ireland. That’s quite hard to find!

Thanks to Colm and Ciarán for a very incisive interview, and wishing them all the best with their future projects! If you would like to know more about Creative Europe MEDIA funding schemes, training programmes, and other initiatives look through our website, or go to the European Commission portal for more information, and do get in touch with us if you would like further information.

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