19 September 2023
“One of Ireland’s most exciting filmmakers.’
Whenever you hear that phrase there’s a better than even chance you will also hear the name Dermot Malone. He is a commercial and film director whose moment is arriving in unignorable style.
But for anyone who knows his work, it was always only a matter of time. Dermot demonstrates an exceptional level of craft and clarity of storytelling and has been widely praised for his cinematic visuals and the impact he has on audiences. Or, as Dermot himself unassumingly puts it:
“From a commercial standpoint, I guess my style is quite filmic. I definitely lean towards cinema verite; observational and emotional rather than super-stylised. Probably because that’s what I like to watch myself.
Though, such is the demand for his talents it’s hard to imagine Dermot has any time left over for personal viewing. In just a few short years he has amassed an enviable body of work, including major commercials for Tiger Beer, AIB, Lucozade, Nissan and LinkedIn along with beautifully filmic pieces like his much-loved Weir & Sons ‘Ambition’ spot, Brown Thomas ‘Belong Together’ and his excellent short film ‘Runner Up’.
“I love making ads and my ultimate goal in that arena is to direct the kind of legacy commercials that become absorbed into the culture. And then to do the same with feature films.”
And on that score, the news couldn’t be more exciting - or imminent. Dermot’s first feature film King Frankie is in post-production as we speak and slated for release in early 2024.
It’s a stunningly absorbing drama with a stellar cast about a man with a dark past named Frankie Burke. The ghosts of a terrible sin find him on the day of his father's funeral and no able to longer run from the music, he is forced to turn and face it.
“Making King Frankie been amazing - and a massive learning curve. I feel like I did the first time I made a commercial.”
Which brings us the perennial question: Was directing always in his stars or did he just fall into it?
“It very much was my dream. Movies have been my passion since I was a kid; I used to skip school with my friends and watch them back-to-back at the cinema. We were all just obsessed with films. I studied business in college as a half-hearted attempt to take the steady path but soon fell into shooting stuff any chance I could.”
Dermot believes a piece of work should be able to communicate a message almost purely on visuals alone; without a tagline or even dialogue.
“All the stuff I love of mine seems to have a cinematic quality. My commercials tend to end up mini films too. There’s nearly always an initial three minute-cut of whatever ends up running.”
But if you ask him what the thing he does best is, don’t expect answers like clever cross-fades or this week’s en-vogue post-production trick.
“I don’t even know how to turn a camera on. My thing is directing actors; making them comfortable and malleable. There’s a real art to talking to them and it’s one of my favourite parts of the whole process. Even now, many of my friends and my brother (Dermot’s best friend) are actors so I feel like I know how to communicate with them.”
As the saying goes, ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal’. A statement probably a little too blunt to hang on Dermot, but he’s certainly not afraid to let his influences be known.
“Really, I’m influenced by everyone. If I see a shot or a sequence I like, I think “Fuck, I have to use it. I love directors like Ken Loach and Chris Nolan and would happily steal from either.”
And as is also true with the greats, whatever Dermot does always seems to come out feeling uniquely his. He offers ingeniously simple advice for aspiring directors too:
“Don’t overthink it. And lean on people who have more experience than you.”
He’s a firm advocate of healthy and sensible living during filming too. You won’t find Dermot arriving on set feeling dusty from the night before.
“I make sure I eat right and get enough sleep while I’m on a project. Otherwise your energy can crash, or you can’t think properly. And I always try to watch a film the night before a shoot, just to get my head in the right place.”
On the set, Dermot is the very essence of cheery calm - and famed for singing his way through the day.
“I am very non-pressurised because I want the cast and crew to feel like that too. I keep things happy by singing, usually all day. If I’m singing it means I’m relaxed and it seems to keep everyone else on an even keel too.”
That’s not to say nothing irks him either. Dermot has a wonderful piece of withering commentary for gleefully picky critics that all creative folk will identify with - and also stand up and applaud.
“It’s difficult to explain how hard it is to make something, and then have people who make nothing shit on it. People should know that.”
Not that he wastes any time dwelling on them. Dermot Malone is far too busy working and living in the moment, and enjoying the ride as his career goes into new levels of overdrive, seemingly by the week.
No wonder he’s always singing.