THE SHORT CUT: An Interview With Director Damian Mc Carthy

The Short Cut is a new column on Under The Gun that showcases the careers of short film directors. Shorts are often overlooked when it comes to the entire spectrum of film, and by including interviews with the directors themselves and information about their creative efforts, this column will highlight the work of some of the category’s dignitaries that we feel deserve your attention.

If you’re a director of short films or know someone who is and would like to be featured in The Short Cut, please send an inquiry with your information to

The ability to tell an interesting story with little to no dialogue is an impressive feat. To execute it visually with no budget is even more impressive, and Ireland’s Damian Mc Carthy is one such filmmaker that has the chops to accomplish these rare feats. Mc Carthy has carved his niche with his own unique style, creating horror/comedy hybrid short films with precise execution and exciting outcomes. Such shorts as Hatch and He Dies At The End as well as some of his older works have been recognized by popular sites like Short Of The Week and have furthered his popularity in the short film community.

Damian Mc Carthy recently took some time to talk with me about how he got his start in filmmaking, some of his biggest inspirations and plenty about his short film catalog that has viewers laughing and screaming with ease. Read through and get familiar with a very talented director and his amazing short films!


For those that may be unfamiliar with your work, can you state what it is that you do?
I make very simple short horror comedy films. Usually with one actor, one location and no dialogue.

When did you first get involved with film-making and what inspired you to start?
My parents had a video shop in West Cork when I was growing up. Possibly the worst video shop in Ireland. Hardly any horror or sci-fi or action movies, just a lot of true stories and bad TV movies for some reason. Real cheap downbeat films dealing with real-life issues. Nothing you would watch for a bit of escapism or entertainment. When something cool would finally appear on the shelf it just stood out. My Dad was always a big fan of horror and sci-fi and thankfully irresponsible enough to let me watch films like Robocop and Alien and things like this when I was small. I think I knew Predator off by heart by the time I was 9.

I left school when I was 15 and started working as an apprentice electrician. I wanted to have something to do with filmmaking but this was before digital changed everything. There was nothing like there is now. Things have changed so much in such a short time. The only low budget filmmaking success you ever read about back then was Robert Rodriquez or Kevin Smith shooting on 16mm. Midway through my apprenticeship I discovered the Evil Dead 2 and it just woke me up. I think seeing that film at the height of boredom learning about capacitors and diodes just made me realize that I had to have something to do with film. In my early twenties I joined a filmmaking course in St. John’s college in Cork where I live and started making short films. That was the start of it.

Do you think that short films get the attention they deserve or are they under-appreciated?
Short films do launch careers and they do find audiences but I suppose a good short film is still something that has to be reccommeded to you or something you just come across by accident. They don’t make themselves known to you the way features do. Film festivals are terrific places to discover short films and new talent. I wish they would show more short films in cinemas or at the start of a feature. Alma, Oculus, Boys and Men, The Perri-wig Maker, The Furred Man, The French Doors, 9, Vincent. They’re all worth tracking down.

What has been the biggest obstacle for you as a film-maker?
I think finding the right people to work with took some time. Every filmmaker has to find the right collaborators. You can meet someone who is very talented and really knows their stuff but you might have nothing in common with them, or they might just be a nightmare to work with. I think the last few short films I’ve made worked because I enjoyed making them and that’s because I worked with people that are both talented and just nice to be around.

Have there ever been times when you thought you would want to stop making movies?
I didn’t make a short film for about 4 years after leaving college. I was very disheartened after it. I worked so hard on my college films but just couldn’t get them screened anywhere. Looking back, film festivals were right to reject them as they were pretty bad. The time away from filmmaking did me a lot of good, as I watched a lot of different films, everything from Harold Pinters The Caretaker to Cannibal Holocaust. I tried to see something new everyday and I wrote every night after work. I then made He Dies At The End which I learned a lot from. I think if He Dies hadn’t worked though, if it had been another rejected short film, I don’t know if I would have stuck with it or at least have had the confidence to make Hatch which I think took confidence as there was a lot in it for a no budget film. Thankfully He Dies did work and I’ve been very proud of the short films I’ve made since, so something must have clicked with me during that time off. I probably just figured out where the camera should be placed from watching so much different stuff. I don’t think anything will ever put me off making films again.

What has been your most challenging short film to make?
Everything in college was a nightmare. I had no idea what I was doing and was working with people who had no interest in what they were doing. I think everyone wanted to direct! It’s good to have a difficult start though. It toughens you up. Hungry Hickory wasn’t the best experience in terms of filming. Brilliant cast and crew but the room was just too small. It looks like Valerie is sitting in that room all alone but if the camera moved an inch left or right you would see a bunch of sweaty, tired, crew members huddled together.

What inspired the idea for Hatch and what specific techniques did you use for its effects?
It was a mix of Annie Hall and The Thing. The joke Woody Allen tells at the end of Annie Hall about this guy’s brother that lays eggs… I remember thinking it sounded like a short film. A guy that lays an egg! What would come out of it? You’d stick around to find out. Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite films so I think the visuals in that really inspired me. Even though that movie is set in a research station in the Antarctic and my short is set in an old pub in the southwest of Ireland. If you look at it though, Barry Callan playing the guy who lays the egg has his Macready style beard and then there’s the tentacles and the way the creature in the egg doesn’t seem to have any definite shape… The FX were all in-camera and were done using old Evil Dead style tricks like reversing the footage, strings and sneaky framing to hide hands and rods. Very simple stuff. I’m not a fan of CGI at all. It’s just not real. It takes me out of a film straight away.

What are some of your favorite horror and comedic horror films?
Ringu, Don’t Look Now, The Shining, The Descent, Spoorloos, 28 Days Later for straight no-intentional-laughs horror. Comedy Horror – evil dead 2, ginger snaps, john carpenters the thing, day of the dead, vampires kiss. I only discovered this film last year. It’s nuts. It’s shocking and funny and Nicolas Cage is really brilliantly over the top in it. The original Fright Night has always been one of the best comedy horrors. What every actor did with their character big or small I think is equivalent to what the back to the future cast brought to each of their roles. They really just made it their own.

How do you think you would react if you laid an egg?
I would do exactly what Barry did in Hatch and take it to the pub. Any excuse.

What have been some of your favorite reactions to He Dies At The End?
It’s been all over the world at this stage but I still think one of its first screenings was my favorite. It played to a full house in Leicester Square in London at Film4 Frightfest. We all traveled over from Ireland to watch it so I had my parents, my brother and sisters, my girlfriend & her family and my best friend Fintan Collins who starred in the film. We were all sat together and when the nervous laughter started in the audience it was a great feeling. It was really lovely to know the film was actually working. It was the first bit of success I’d had with filmmaking so to be in such a place surrounded by hardcore horror fans was great. The reaction at the end was brilliant too. I guess it was the idea of being caught out by such a stupid looking monster. It does all boil down to cheap gag but the tension in the crowd was great right through.

What do you enjoy about combining horror and comedy in one scenario?
Horror and comedy are so similar anyway. It’s all about getting a reaction. A laugh or a scream. I think when making horror films you have to realize there are only so many ways to catch people out. Yours won’t be the first scary movie the audience has seen. They’re going to expect you to do certain things or try certain tricks to scare them. I think having some comedy in there lets the audience know that you understand they’ve seen it all before, so you’re going to use what they know about horror movies to entertain them, while at the same time using what they know to scare them. Let them think it’s going the way it always does, and then just do something else. Having some comedy in there also just makes it so much more entertaining and rule one of making films should be to entertain.

Are you currently working on any new projects?
I’ve just finished working on a short film to coincide with the release of The Haunted Book which is a great new horror novel by Jeremy Dyson. Jeremy co-created the BBC show The League of Gentlemen and the amazing horror show Ghost Stories. That’s taken up the last couple of months so I’m back in the office now looking at what script to film next. I’m between something about a werewolf, a demonic intercom and a creepy car journey. All should be a lot of fun to make!

Have you had any involvement with full-length films or plans to in the future?
I’ve been writing something that I think would make a really cool feature horror film but I don’t want to rush into it. I like the idea of someone watching my short films and then seeing my feature, whenever it gets made, and knowing they were done by the same guy. I’d like them to have that same feeling, that same sense of humor and horror.

What has been the biggest highlight of your career thus far?
I went to see Ghost Stories in the west end in London and it was one of the best live shows I’ve seen. Real classic horror. Afterwards I got to meet Andy Nyman as he had seen my short films, which was very exciting for me as I was a huge fan. He’s a terrific actor and writer. He had seen my short films and showed them to Jeremy Dyson which resulted in my getting a chance then to work with him. That was very cool. In terms of making a film I loved Hatch. We shot it in West Cork in Ma Murphys bar and it was just the best fun I’ve ever had filming. It was tough going but the film turned out so well. I also got to travel to the Landshuter Film Festival in Germany earlier this year where I was presented with an award and met loads of interesting people.

What is your biggest goal as a film-maker?
Horror filmmaking is something you can always do on a low budget, but I do daydream and imagine working my way up to to a place where I can tell bigger stories and not worry so much about how I’m going to achieve things as I write. I think once I finish with horror films I’d like to move to sci-fi, as sci-fi and horror go together just as well as comedy and horror do. Films like Alien and The Fly are good examples. At the moment though I’m very happy making horror movies and for years that was my goal so I’ll enjoy this for a while.

Written and conducted by: Brian LionFollow him on Twitter

Brian Leak
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2 Responses to “THE SHORT CUT: An Interview With Director Damian Mc Carthy”

  1. Dan Bogosian says:

    1. Hatch = The Thing + Annie Hall? wow.
    2. Nicolas Cage reference.
    3. The Thing is comedy horror? tear
    4. Great interview.

  2. Brian Lion says:

    Haha seriously. Thanks, Dan. I believe this one happened because of you…