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Profile of Irish company, Fantastic Films

Vivarium; Fantastic Films
Vivarium; Fantastic Films

Interview with Fantastic Films

As part of a new series to mark the 25th anniversary of the MEDIA programme, we highlight Irish film companies and other organisations who have ‘grown up’ with MEDIA. We look at the various paths they have taken through MEDIA-supported training programmes, funding programmes, and marketplace opportunities.

Our company profile series is also a celebration of the very significant achievements of, and high quality submissions by, the Irish companies who have been successful in their funding applications. Since the launch of the Creative Europe 2014-2020 programme, Ireland has performed very well with a high number of quality projects being submitted and going on to receive funding.

About Fantastic Films

Taking its name from the great tradition of European Cinema Fantastique, Fantastic Films is an OSCAR™ winning film production company based in Dublin, Ireland. Focusing on high quality genre and niche films, the company directors, John McDonnell and Brendan McCarthy are at the forefront of producing varied and groundbreaking films of the highest quality. Their MEDIA supported films include VIVARIUM and SEA FEVER.

Brendan McCarthy, Head of Development, Financing & Distribution Brendan co-owns Fantastic Films with John McDonnell. Brendan oversees the development, financing, and distribution of the company's slate, and all co-productions activities. As well as producing, Brendan has also written two of Fantastic Films’ recent titles - the critically acclaimed HAMMER horror Wake Wood, and wiccan folk horror, Cherry Tree.

John McDonnell - Head of Production and Company Manager John, co-owner of Fantastic Films with Brendan, oversees all aspects of production and post-production of Fantastic Films’ slate and co-production opportunities. John was also executive producer on the Sundance award-winning documentary, The Summit and I Am Not A Serial Killer (2016); and co-produced John Boorman’s, The Tigers Tail.

Deirdre Levins, Production & Development Executive. Deirdre joined Fantastic Films in 2010 having previously worked at the Arts Council. At Fantastic Films, Deirdre coordinates the development slate and project manages the company’s many successful development and production funding applications. Having recently been selected for the prestigious Rotterdam Lab, Deirdre has also produced two short films, a web series for RTÉ’s Storyland, and is a recent graduate of EWA, the European Women’s Audiovisual Network training in Multiple Revenue Funding.

Fantastic Films' Projects Funded by MEDIA

i2i Audiovisual

  • 2009 - WAKE WOOD
  • 2009 - OUTCAST
  • 2012 - STITCHES
  • 2012 - LAST DAYS ON MARS

Single Project Development

  • 2010 - GLASS HOUSES
  • 2012 - A LIFE OUT LOUD
  • 2014 - SEA FEVER
  • 2015 - VIVARIUM

Slate Development


The Questions

1. Fantastic Films is inspired by the tradition of European Cinema Fastastique which celebrates quality genre film and embraces fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Brendan, you wrote Wake Wood and The Cherry Tree - what are some of the European films that have inspired you? And John and Deirdre?

BMC: Pans Labrynith, Eyes Without A Face, Let the Right One In.
JMD: The Descent, Moon, Trollhunter, To the Devil A Daughter
DL: Under the Skin, The Orphanage, The Skin I Live In.

2. Brendan, you attended EAVE which is supported by MEDIA – was this an important part of the development of your career? And how have other MEDIA Training programmes, such as Screen Leaders, helped you along the way?

BMC: Yes, I participated in EAVE early on in my career. It was an important and eye-opening insight in how the European film arena worked as well as creating important networking opportunities, many of which continue today. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to develop a greater understanding of how different production models throughout Europe work. I’ve also participated in numerous other European training and mentoring opportunities over the years, including Scale Strategics, Equinox, and more recently Screen Leaders (a Creative Europe funded company development programme). These training opportunities are key to helping us focus our company strategy and create the knowledge and support to produce films in an international context. The film industry is constantly evolving so it’s important to keep up with what’s happening in Europe and further afield.

3. John, you were Producer on the Move in Cannes, 2006 and part of ACE (both of which are MEDIA-funded) - do you think these kinds of initiatives have aided you in your career and in developing the company? Do you remember your first MEDIA application and success?! How has the company’s approach to the application process changed over the years?

JMD: Both Producer on the Move and ACE are terrific opportunities to network with like-minded professionals around Europe. Inside Pictures, also funded by the MEDIA Programme, was a great insight into the North American model and helped bridge the gap between Europe and American, meeting with high level film executives and seeing how the studio structure works. The industry is changing so fast that MEDIA training initiatives along with our own Screen Training Ireland are a vital way to keep up and stay ahead of these changes.

From a Fantastic Films perspective, our first successful application was i2i Audiovisual for Wakewood. Sadly, i2i is no longer available but at the time it provided invaluable support in order to help complete our films.

In terms of development, our first successful application was in 2010. Since then, the application process has been significantly stream-lined. In the past, it took much longer to prepare the applications and then there was that mad dash to the post office!

Over the years we’ve certainly seen that funding has become more competitive and we have continued to refine our approach. For example, we now focus a lot more on the distribution and marketing strategies for our films, which of course is a natural progression, given the changes in film distribution overall.

For us, the MEDIA Programme is a vital support for our company. It has enabled us to allocate more time and resources to project development and now that we’ve received Slate Funding we can continue to do so. The next few years are a very exciting time for Fantastic Films! We are very proud of our strike rate of turning self-developed projects into completed films.

4. Deirdre, how did you come on board and what did you bring to the company? We hear you’re a whiz at MEDIA applications!

DL: I joined the company in 2010 with a focus on coordinating the development slate and the funding applications as well as managing participation at markets, dealing with post-production, and delivering the films to sales agents and distributors. My work with Fantastic Films is varied – every day is different. For example, at present we are completing post-production on P.O.V, a super scary hospital horror that will hit the festival circuit in late 2016, or early 2017.

As John mentioned, the application process for MEDIA funding is much more refined than it was when we first applied. Fantastic Films is a very experienced company with a ‘fantastic’ (pardon the pun!) track record. In terms of preparing an application for MEDIA, my best piece of advice would be to start early. Use the application process to review your company’s previous successes and future ambitions. Don’t assume people already know. This is a very competitive arena so you must sell yourself and your project(s).

Start with familiarizing yourself with the guidelines published by the Creative Europe MEDIA Programme. It can be quite daunting to begin with. If you have any queries, do contact the Creative Europe Ireland MEDIA Desks in Dublin or Galway for advice. We were regularly in touch with Orla and Eibhlín, and their guidance was invaluable.

5. Congratulations on your Slate Funding award! What can you tell us about the slate of projects that have just received Creative Europe Slate Funding? Do you have a secret favourite amongst the projects?

JMD: We are lucky that we only take on projects where we can see a clear path to production and which we are passionate about. All of our films are our babies so each one is different and they will all grow to be unique and distinctive. That’s what makes them exciting to us. Our favourite ones are the coolest ones that live up to their potential. The projects, which are part of our successful Slate Funding application, are at different stages of development. Some are with new and young creative teams and some come from long-standing relationships. What we can say is that they are all genre and commercially focused.

6. What is your favourite Fantastic Films film?!

The next one! We’re very proud of all of our films and thrilled by how much our fans have enjoyed them, both in Europe and worldwide. We are lucky that all of our films sell extremely well worldwide. Going forward we have some really exciting projects coming down the line. Watch this space! For more info please come visit Fantastic Films Facebook page.

7. So what’s the secret to Fantastic Film’s success?!

BMC: Having a 'niche' focus has very been important. Doing one thing and doing it well is the big lesson we’ve learned. There is a lot of talent across Europe and a lot of great films being made. So how does a company based on the periphery of Europe make a 'space' for itself? We decided we needed to focus on content that would set us apart and that we could do well. We are huge fans of genre films so it was an obvious area that we could bring both passion and expertise to.

JMD: Absolutely, this is a very competitive business. Being massive genre fans is really important in what we do - life is short so you gotta enjoy what you’re doing and have fun with it!

DL: Ditto!

Thank you for a great interview and best of luck with all of your 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 here for more information, and do get in touch with us if you would like further information.

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