DERMOT Malone Talks Frankly About King Frankie

22 June 2024

Written by

Shots Craft

Sweetshop director Dermot Malone's debut feature film will be released later this year. Here, he discusses making King Frankie on his own terms, the debt he owes to advertising, and why commitment is the key to success.

The Sweetshop

Shots > Have you always wanted to make a feature film?

DM > Always. I am a film nut, nerd and fanatic. I grew up lost in Middle Earth, the wider Galaxy, on adventures with James Bond, Indiana Jones and going back in time with Alan Parish or Marty McFly. 

Today, I’m still lost, just now it’s in the worlds of David Fincher, Thomas Vinterberg, Ken Loach and Chris Nolan. This has always been my dream and it has been a rollercoaster ride to take my first step on the ladder. It’s been that dream come true.

Shots > Why did now feel like the right time to take the project on?

The right time was always going to be the moment I had the self-belief needed to take that leap. I’ve been directing commercially for a little while now and

Banjoman, my Irish production company, and I have enjoyed some success and recognition over the last couple of years.

I’ve been turning this story over in my head for a long time, and I finally felt ready to bring it to life. 

Shots > Where did the idea for King Frankie come from, and what were your influences?

It is a deeply personal story, but with a mask on. My family went through a pretty traumatic boom to bust experience at a formative time in my life. I wanted to tell the story of redemption and change from a place of ambition and greed. I had seen it so closely that I knew I would be able to tell it. 

Once I knew the arc, I fabricated the details of the story so as it would move away from my literal experience. As I developed the script, I immersed myself in films that reminded me of that time and feeling, films like Manchester by the Sea, Uncut Gems, American Psycho.

Shots > It's a micro-budget feature, produced with your friend and long-time producer, Matt D'Arcy; how challenging was it to get the film made?

It was wildly challenging. If we’d been on a commercial we would have struggled to stretch our budget to a week’s shooting. We needed to make it cover five weeks, a huge production design and all the bells and whistles of cast and post and anything and everything between. 

It was only possible with the connections we’ve made through our work in commercials. Some of the clients I’ve directed for commercially came on board to support the film. The crew were incredible, everyone involved bought in so completely to what we were doing. We received a huge amount of decency and support from our friends at every level on the film.

Shots > Was the plan always to make the feature outside the established process and, if so, what are the positives and negatives of that approach?

Matt and I have never started from inside the establishment. We didn’t know anything about advertising when we launched Banjoman, and we didn’t know anyone in the industry to get a foot in the door. I think we’re just used to working that way, to not waiting for permission. We didn’t apply for any funding from the traditional sources until after we’d shot. We didn’t want to wait for someone else to make a decision for us, and it freed us from the normal ladder of development.

That’s not to say working this way didn’t have its drawbacks. You’re not in the system, so no one is aware of your film. And, of course you’ll always learn so much working with people who have been through the process before. Ultimately, we wanted to make this film, our first one, on our terms. Next time, we’ll work with Screen Ireland from the start. They have been amazing since coming on for completion.

Shots > How different was shooting King Frankie to working on a commercial project?

Massively so. It was maybe even more pronounced as this was such a deeply personal story. I love the commercial projects that let me pour something of myself into them, but everything about this project reflected my life, my family and friends. So, every decision felt a little like life and death. 

I couldn't turn it off for a second once we started pre-production. That’s maybe the second biggest difference, and the one I was least prepared for, the sheer stamina needed on a shoot that lasts five weeks.

For the next one, I’m going to approach it like a boxer in camp, if that doesn’t sound daft; make sure I do those little things that we quickly forget about, like eating well, getting enough sleep (hard enough with a toddler at home) to ensure I’m mentally and physically ready to do the best work.

Shots > How much did you bring from your experience of commercial shoots to the feature?


I would never have been able to make this film without advertising.

Over the course of my commercials career I have learned from so many incredible collaborators. I have learned how the technical side of filmmaking works, how to work with actors, to know that each actor, HoD and stakeholder needs a different approach when directing them. 

I learned to work under pressure, to a schedule, to a deadline. The incredible thing about this job is that you learn something new on every project. Some of our long form partners couldn’t believe how quickly we prepped, shot and screened King Frankie. We worked far faster than they’re used to in the features world, driven on by that commercials rhythm. I guess we’ll find out if that’s a good or bad thing.

Shots > Do you think more directors should attempt to get their films made this way?

I wouldn’t begin to tell another director how to work. I love the opportunities I have to talk about the process and learn from other directors, but maybe one thing I am always struck by is how differently directors approach every stage of a project.

Jim Sheridan said that, to be a filmmaker, you have to be an entrepreneur. That has always resonated with me. It’s not enough to be able to direct a film, you have to be able to persuade people to give you that opportunity... and the money. My first commercial projects were self-initiated with local brands here in Ireland, it’s how I built a reel to win work with agencies and bigger brands. But, obviously, there are other routes to commercials directing, just as there are other, better trodden routes to directing your first feature.

Ultimately I think two things are true; as a director you need to know what your strengths and weaknesses are, and surround yourself with people who compliment those. The other is that no one is going to give it to you. Whatever 'it' is, you’re going to have to go and get it.

Shots > What was the biggest challenge in making King Frankie?

Being mentally engaged in one story for so long. To make a film takes years, from writing the first outline to delivering the DCP for your premiere. You fall in love with it, out of love with it, think it’s great, think it’s shit, come back around etc. 

To stay committed to the characters and story over year, for me, was the biggest challenge, but it is worth it in ways I cannot describe. You always have the belief, but it is such a long road, and the toughest part is to just keep walking when times are tough in the process.

Shots > Are you planning to make another feature?

The next script is in development!