BFI Future Film Festival 2023
Having left without warning months prior, Conor has returned to his hometown after dropping out of university across the water, meeting up with his father for a tense reunion on the town’s seafront. Set against the backdrop of the Northern Irish coast, Homebird explores the relationship between an emotionally reclusive father struggling to reconnect with his estranged gay son, and a son learning to forgive.
Hi Caleb, it’s great to talk with you, how has everything been going?
Things have been going well, a bit chaotic but in the best possible way!
Congratulations on having Homebird part of the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?
Thank you - it feels great! I really had my fingers crossed for BFI Future as it’s such a fantastic festival, so smiles all around!
You are nominated in the Best Writing category for Homebird at FFF, what does it mean to you to get this type of recognition for your film?
To be honest, I was hoping that if I were nominated for any award, it would be for Best Writing. It’s fantastic to have your craft validated in this way and to have your work resonate with people on a level that makes them feel you’re worthy of an award. Over the moon!
And winning Best Debut Fiction Short at the BAFTA/Academy Qualifying 34th Galway Film Fleadh must have been amazing, what do you think it is about this film that has connected so much with people?
The most amazing thing about the Fleadh experience was that it was also the premiere of Homebird - so it was just an incredible moment for our team that really made the long nights on the coast worth it! I feel it’s maybe the honesty that the film brings forward, as it’s partially inspired by my relationship with my dad. There’s something a bit raw about it, and in a way that encourages a bit of hope rather than sadness.
How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?
The BFI Future Film Festival is unbeaten for its ability to platform young voices. Being faced with the wall of festivals once your film is complete is terrifying, and there aren’t many opportunities for emerging filmmakers to have their work considered in a serious way. So being able to say at, for example, 18 years old you’ve been nominated for a BIFA qualifying film festival is an experience like no other!
Can you tell me how Homebird, came about, what was the inspiration your screenplay?
I wrote Homebird after having to move back into my family home for the first time in about 5 years, during the first lockdown. I left home for university at 18 when my relationship with my family after coming out was a bit rocky. But, spending about 4 solid months back home made me realise just how much better my relationship was with my family - in particular with dad. From there, I wanted to write something that brought about a bit of hope for young queer people who felt they needed to run away in order to be accepted and to show that there are two sides to the coin when it comes to a decision to leave.
"Having most of the film set at night meant that we had to wait a long time for the sun to go down. But, also we needed the sunset for a key scene - the sun set too quickly!"
When writing a film like Homebird how self-reflecting do you allow yourself in your writing and character creation?
Pretty much entirely self-reflecting haha! It allowed me to see past experiences in a new light, and to look at how things could have gone differently if communication was on the table. When you’re young, everything feels very intense - and for someone dealing with, for example, a trans kid when they’re in their late 40s, it’s an entirely different world than what they are used to. So I didn’t just have to look back on my own experience, but what that experience would have looked like for my dad - to reach in and create something that felt like a self-reflection and universal at the same time.
How much flexibility did you allow yourself once you started going into production?
I quite enjoy input from my actors when moving to production, and the great thing about directing your own written work is that you can allow yourself as much freedom to re-mould as possible! It’s 100% a collaboration between me and the performers, and some of the best ideas can come from taking a bit of a risk in the way something is delivered.
What where the challenges you faced making Homebird?
The main challenges were the timing of things. We shot across two nights (11 pm-7 am and 7 pm-3 am) during the late summer of 2021. Having most of the film set at night meant that we had to wait a long time for the sun to go down. But, also we needed the sunset for a key scene - the sun set too quickly! So battling the light constantly was the biggest issue we faced.
Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from making this short?
The most valuable lesson I learnt while making Homebird was keeping a calm head when things go wrong. Shooting in one of the most popular summer spots in Northern Ireland meant that we had a lot of hassle with people deliberately trying to ruin shots. But, it all worked out in the end!
Where did this passion for filmmaking come from?
I’ve always been a fan of filmmaking, and just film in general. I now have a Masters's Degree in Film! It’s just something that once I started getting interested in through my young teens, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else - be that making films, writing for films, writing ABOUT films - all of it!
Are there other themes and subjects you are looking forward to exploring with future films?
With my newest BFI-funded short film Malcolm - I explore a bit of a weird, dark comedy side of filmmaking that I’ve always wanted to try! While I am a big fan of social realism, I also want to push myself to make weirder and more wonderful things! So after Homebird has finished its festival circuit, I’m very excited for Malcolm to enter the world later this year!
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
100%! Film gets boring if we stick to the same conventions over and over. While it’s great to re-tell a narrative from your own perspective (And that can be super freeing!) it’s also exciting to continue to push beyond what people expect of you. Break conventions, it’s really fun!
What top 3 tips would you offer a fellow filmmakers?
My top 3 tips for filmmakers would be 1) If you write, write all the time. Doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, but practising leads to some really interesting places you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise! 2) Experiment! Especially for young filmmakers - you really can just make anything you want! 3) Be original - this can be just putting your own voice into something that already exists, or going off the wall entirely! But when something is authentic, people will connect with it more.
And finally, what massage do you hope your audiences will take away from Homebird?
I hope that audiences come away from Homebird with a warm fuzzy feeling and a sense of hope for young queer people who maybe feel a bit lost in the world.