Filmmaker Series: Frank McGowan
Hello, my name is Frank C. McGowan. I am a Scottish indie film-maker, producer/director, entrepreneur and rock drummer for Eric and the Bunny Boilers. I grew up in Glasgow’s North side, in Blackhill and Provanmill, and currently live just outside the city, near Bishopbriggs.
What initially got you into filmmaking?
I had an accident at home when I was eight years old, and was paralysed for two years. The doctors didn’t think I would recover. But, I was determined to walk again! My Mum wheeled in the big TV from the front-room (this was the 80s, it was a REALLY big TV!) and watching late night TV, I became fascinated with horror.
I loved old movies like 'Night of the Living Dead' and monster-comedy shows like 'The Munsters Today' with Hilary Van Dyke. There was an episode when Marilyn Munster made a movie, so I said to my parents “thats what I want to do. I want to be a director like Marilyn”. My parents and teachers scoffed at first, but my friends brought round books from the library on films and film-making. Using my Dad’s friend’s camcorder, we made our own movies.
Many, many years later, I’m still doing what I love, and am lucky enough to be doing it professionally with an amazing team of friends, who are like family.
Who are your biggest influences and why?
I read a lot of books about the film and TV industry, and father and son producers Sherwood Schwartz and Lloyd Schwartz are a big inspiration. I fell in love with their behind the scenes stories. Such innovation! The same with Joss Whedon and Tobe Hooper, who are both so creative.
I’m also a big fan of Ivan Reitman and Oliver Robins, and recently got to spend time with them both to talk about cinema. You can learn so much from people who have actually been there, and who share that process and that journey - either personally, or via books. These guys have all got such exceptional vision, and dedication to their craft.
How important is film as a medium and art form in the world, today?
Film and television is a great way to look at a collective social narrative, especially retrospectively when we look back at a decade or a point in time to learn from the voices and the characters back then. Sometimes I cringe to think how society used to, for example, look at women, people of colour, or the LGBT community. It’s interesting to see where we think the future could go too from a specific point in time. Sometimes there’s insight or irony in how a director can look at the future.
Entertainment is such a great way to reach an audience and really connect with them, engage them, share a moment with them, and even represent them – their truth’s, their secrets, their thoughts, and their fears. I guess we all consume media for those reasons; to feel understood, represented, entertained or connected somehow. It’s very important.
Do you have a set process when making film?
As a director, I like to be as involved with the cast and crew as possible from the first day, to get the most believable performances from the actors, and the best out of the crew technically. One of the benefits of a returning drama, or a children’s programme is being able to look at the wardrobe tests and screen tests to detect problems early on, and work with the writer and producers if any changes need to be made. It's the same with short film and genre cinema.
I’m a post-production editor too, so the rushes are a great way to look at a project and estimate what the impact with an audience could be. My process when writing is a very interactive one too. I’m lucky to work with a co-executive producer who will say, “Frank, that’s an awful idea,” or, “maybe try something different with that”.
What has been your favourite film to work on and why?
My favourite film was definitely ‘Elizabeth’ (2010), starring the lovely Mary Waters. Mary is one of the most genuinely talented Scottish actresses I’ve ever worked with. I always look forward to working with Mary. She brings one-hundred-and-ten-percent to any project. She’s very selective about the work she does, and I respect that.
‘Elizabeth’ was filmed on location at Moorpark House in Scotland, which was just such a stunning location too. We had a small but skilled crew on that shoot, and achieved everything we set out to really quickly. It’s one of the projects I’ve had the most comment on from fans.
Which genre do you enjoy working in?
I really enjoy family drama, so projects like the ‘Ninety Eight Percent’ series are just so much fun. It has a mix of black comedy and an element of crime. It’s a very real, well written show, and directing the cast is just such a delight. We kept a lot of the cast from the original pilot episode, and I can’t wait to work with them again on more.
Is filmmaking your primary source of income?
A lot of our early short films were self funded by cast and crew. Nowadays, we work with sponsors and brands to raise the budget for projects and productions. Myself and my best friends from school founded the production company in 2008, and using a very different business model, have gone from strength to strength.
With every production we make sure to give any opportunities we can to home-grown talent, in particular from North Glasgow - where we grew up ourselves, where people tend to be written off. Ultimately, our aim is to put Scotland on the map globally, but the funding from creative organisations here in Scotland makes it difficult, as they tend to favour larger production-houses that are coming to Scotland from other places around the world.
I do feel there is still a very anti-working class agenda within the Scottish creative industry, and how we actually appeared on the scene upset a lot of people at the time; within just a few weeks, and while we were still students, we had been nominated for our first BAFTA. People were like, “who the hell are these guys?”, and “wait, they didn’t go to film school.” We make no apologies for where we grew up, or where we went to school. The industry is slowly changing for the better, though.
What is your definition of success?
Success for me as a young film-maker was to be sitting down with my idols, sipping coffee, sharing ideas and setting collaborative goals that could bring positive change. Just before lockdown, I got to hang out with Whoopi Goldberg in New York, and play golf (badly!) with Bill Murray at St Andrews.
I think back to what my fourteen year old self would think about that, and smile. Thoughts do become things, and with the right attitude, hard work and listening to your instincts, success can be an amazing project, with amazing people - some of those people just happen to be from Hollywood.
What advice can you give our readers, should they wish to pursue filmmaking?
The best advice I can give is to read books and make networking part of your agenda. Meet people, send connection requests, set up a virtual coffee, go to events, and most importantly ask questions. Never be afraid to ask for help either, you never know who could be in a position to help, and could actually be looking for someone with your skills in return.
Do you ever suffer from creative burnout? How do you combat it?
I always make time for getting outdoors and walking to avoid burnout. A long walk with the dog, or visit to a local green space is usually enough to de-clutter the noise in my head, or remove any blockages. It’s a great way to look after your mental health and regulate yourself, which is paramount for the success of any creative. I use a lot of productivity apps too, to monitor my goals and my time.
What projects are you currently working on?
A lot of Bad Pony Media’s main projects have stalled or been postponed due to Covid-19, so I’ve been doing a lot of writing and behind the scenes work. I’ve been working on the script for “Evening of the Dead” - which is my first feature film as writer/director. It’s a US and Scottish co-production, meaning we have talent from both sides of the pond.
I’m also working on pre-production for a documentary about America’s First Family of Fright, The Munsters, called ‘Our Munster Memories’. I’ve recently completed my own podcast series, “Hollywood Insights” - which looks at the behind-the-scenes of film and TV. Another podcast, “Pop Goes TV” is in the works, as well as my own chat show “Frankly Speaking”, which will have special guests.
I’m also doing voiceover work for a new digital edition of Marshall Cavendish's iconic “Storyteller”, which is quite exciting as I grew up on those stories as a kid. I’m also working on my first novel, “October Storm”, about life, love, friendship, and growing up gay in North Glasgow.
What are your hopes for the future?
I look forward to picking up on projects that had stalled due to Covid-19. I’m especially excited about some short film projects, and the “Ninety Eight Percent” series, which had seen some early delays 2013-2016. We lost a cast member from the NEP series due to cancer while we were in production in 2014, then had some casting issues after someone else had to pull out. We also had some scheduling problems, which saw the project enter an almost semi-permanent hiatus in 2016.
My own health took a bad turn too after I fell and broke my neck after a shoot. I also fractured my skull, my back and broke some ribs. I was so depressed, I was suffering from PTSD after a violent assault the year before, and was emotionally running on empty after the break-up of a long-term relationship.
It’s good to be back at the helm of projects now, and I’m just really excited to see these projects move forward.
Lastly, where can people find you online?
People can find me on all the usual platforms –
Check out my personal website www.frankmcgowan-official.co.uk for project news and my blog.
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