Perhaps it was this year’s long anticipated Academy Awards or the inspiring success of the Canadian film Juno, but for whatever reason the Hollywood scene seems to be calling your name.
For Michael Sheehan it was a six-year climb from writer to respected film director with his quirky comedy short, Known Doner.
“Known Donor is 25 minutes long, 16 mm. colour. It took a year to finish and a lot of money to make,” he says.
But this labour of love took dedication.
“When I turned 31. I was changing careers and breaking into film was a ploy to get my girlfriend’s attention,” he says.
Sheehan received his break in the industry as a writer/researcher. He got a master of arts at the University of Toronto and knew every trick in the book about how to get information from more than 100 different sources on five pages. And how does he do this?
“With footnotes! Sharks, ancient astrology, sail racing, drug addiction — whatever the question, the answer was in some dusty corner of the library. Being a research geek made me the man of the hour for doc companies.”
As a researcher he was paid to study documentary drama scripts, but it didn’t take long before Sheehan had talked someone into letting him write one himself.
“Want a job in film and TV? Be a good writer.”
The transition from writer to director, however, wasn’t easy according to Sheehan. “Everyone wants to be a director ... you can barely stand the sound of yourself saying it at industry parties. People roll their eyes. Few make it.”
Luckily for Sheehan good writers can make a decent wage so he used his income to finance his film while completing the certificate in film studies at Ryerson’s G. Raymond Chang School.
“I had an idea for a comedy that had never been tried before, wrote a short script, and took advantage of a Ryerson production program that helped me get affordable and insured equipment, and went for it.”
Sheehan got the idea for the film when an ex-girlfriend asked him to donate his sperm and be a Known Donor. With this on his mind he went to the library and found some brilliant articles on the subject and his docu-comedy was born.
The film won Best Short Comedy at the New York International Film and Video Festival in 2007 and from it Sheehan acquired his first commercial directing gig for the Discovery Channel.
One of the common misconceptions according to Sheehan is the film industry is purely a shmooze-fest based solely on the “who you know, not what you know” rule.
“Film is the same as any industry ... to make it, you have to be good at something. But OK, a little personality does go a long way,” he says.
“The toughest thing about making it in film was also keeping a life. It took six years of intense work to make director — and it took a piece out of me and my girlfriends.”