Meet The Artist: Joe McStravick

Joe McStravick is a Film and TV Director from Moira, County Down. Joe studied Graphic Design and Photography at college and soon realised that he was more interested in photography than design. Once Joe finished college he decided to pursue Film Production and so he studied a degree in Digital Arts, Photography and Film Production in London. After University Joe moved back home and began to develop his screenwriting skills whilst working part-time in a local factory. Joe decided that he had developed enough ideas and treatments for possible scripts and he took the plunge in becoming a full time freelance director. 

What genre / style do you create in?

Up until last year I was directing drama and fiction films whilst also directing and producing documentary films. During this lockdown I decided to stop directing and producing documentaries, so I’m now fully focused on directing and writing drama (in various genres).

What would you be best known for?

I have no idea. I have directed quite a number of short films and I’ve also directed and produced a slate of short documentaries for TV. If it’s any of my previous work in drama and fiction then it might be Vultures (2015), which screened on RTE 2 last year and the year before that. I was also released by Shorts TV and Shorts International. Or it might be The Wedding Speech (2017), which is based on the award-winning short story by Isabelle Broom. The film won an award and it was showcased as part of the EUNIC Short Shorts of Europe in 2019.

Both these films screened at international film festivals, including BAFTA and Academy Award accredited film festivals.

What would you consider your biggest achievement?

Raising two kids (so far, so good) and somehow managing to balance my hectic family and work life.

What would you consider to be the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your industry?

To be self-sufficient. To survive in this industry you have to self generate your own work. I never intended to be a screenwriter or a producer, in addition to being a director, but I had to learn those skills to help become a working director. If you work hard and sharpen your skills then offers will come in at some point, but you cannot wait for the call or the email.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

I almost directed my first feature in 2010 but the “great opportunity” did not turn out to be the project that was pitched to me by the producer. When the project went through some finance issues in pre-production I took 2 pay cuts and called in a lot of personal favours to keep it afloat. When I was asked to take a further pay cut I decided that I had completely lost faith in the producers. The experience had left me heat broken and during my flight home from London I decided that it might be a good time to quit the industry.

After a few weeks of stewing on it I decided to stay in the industry but I told myself that if I was offered anything in the future then I would not let my excitement, (by the project) get the better of me again, and that I would scrutinise all future offers or “great opportunities” that came my way.

Tell us a little about your personal life, are you married, kids, hobbies etc?

I’m married to Katie and we have two kids, Eoin (7) and Mikey (4) and a dog called Maisie.

Tell us about your most recent work?

In December last year I competed work on a short film called The Familiar Sting (2020), which was written by Paul Skillen and produced by Chloe Langton and I. The film, which was funded by NI Screen and BFI Network, is now on it’s international film festival run.

In February I directed and co-wrote a film called Day 351 (2020). The film, which is based on a true story, was commissioned by Stalking NI to raise awareness of the severe lack of anti-stalking laws in Northern Ireland and to lobby government to pass anti-stalking legislation. The film was funded by the National Lottery Fund, Communities Fund. The film was produced by Chloe Langton and I.

In June I wrote, produced and directed an advert, for the new TCL 10Pro mobile phone, called “Made for Watching – Everywhere”. The advert was commissioned by ALTER Agency and TCL UK & Ireland.

In May I was awarded funding by Future Screens NI to research and develop a project called Spectrum Stories, which is a slate of film projects – and an AR/VR project – that are about and/or inspired by autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What would you like us to tell people about?

I’m working on an adaptation of “The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir” by Lesley Allen. The book is being adapted for the screen by screenwriter and author Colin Bateman and Lesley Allen. I’m thrilled to be working on it and I’m really looking forward to directing in the next few years.

I’m also working on an experimental sci fi thriller called The Gathering Pitch. I had been developing it back in early 2018 but I got distracted by other projects, but lockdown has led me back to working on it. The project is being developed thanks to funding from Future Screens NI and The Arts Council.

If you had to describe your work to someone who has never heard of you what would you say?

I make films that I hope will be thought provoking and appealing to international audiences.

What’s the funniest experience you’ve had in your business?

There are too many to list. I always have a great time on set and on post-production. It’s the advantage of working with a great cast and crew each time out.

What would your advice be to young people hoping to pursue the same industry?

This is not an easy industry to enter or work in, especially if you intend to write, direct of produce, raising funds to self generate work is incredibly difficult in this industry, especially these days. Be self sufficient. Self generate your own work (if you’re a writer, director or producer). Network as much as you can, network with the right type of people, they can help you and you can help them. If you are offered a “great opportunity” then read the small print, ask lots of questions AND get the answers to those question in writing.

Rejection is difficult to deal with. I have been rejected so many times for funding, directing gigs and film festivals, but it gets easier to deal with (I promise you it will). Nepotism and favouritism are alive and well in this industry and you will miss out on opportunities because of them (I have, on many occasions). It’s disgusting! Film festivals, spend your money wisely and research each festival before you enter your films.

Anything else you want to tell people about yourself or your work?

I still shoot a lot of photos as a way to inspire my film work but also as a way of keeping me ticking over and from loosing my mind, between film projects.

Who do you look up to and why?

I admire and look up to my mum. My mum raised my sister and I, as a single parent, on a low income. The council estate we lived in, when I was a child, was becoming increasingly sectarian and we were threatened and attacked on a few occasions. In response, my mum saved up a deposit and bought a house in another area so that we could live without fear and sectarian abuse.

At the time people told her that she “a single parent” could not afford to buy a house but she was determined, and she proved them wrong. She pushed for us to work hard at school and to get a job that we loved and wanted to do, not one that “we would hate, but have to do”. It’s fair to say that I get my determination from her.

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