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Banker to filmmaker: 'The parties got bigger, the amounts I was gambling got bigger'

I left a safe career in finance to follow my dream of becoming a movie director, writes Alan Mulligan.

Alan Mulligan Film director

IN A CORPORATE driven society where dreams are the size of our monthly salary, I was one of those chasing that particular dream.

Amid maxed out gold cards, late night fancy parties and growing depression, there were two particular incidents that led to me leaving a safe career in finance and gambling everything on the dream of becoming a movie director.

Something was missing

I graduated in 2001 with an honours degree in Commerce and quickly became the youngest qualified tax consultant in the country. I got a job as a finance manager with one of Ireland’s leading banks.

I had made it, but yet I felt something was missing.

In 2004 the first incident occurred that made me start to question things. After a long struggle with cancer my mother passed away. A personal downward spiral began.

The parties got bigger, the amounts I was gambling got bigger. They needed to get bigger as I was looking for a distraction. A distraction from the infamous black dog that was creeping into my life.

One Christmas, after spending two weeks alone in bed, I asked myself: “What have I done in the last year that I’m proud of?” I couldn’t think of a single thing. I couldn’t think of single achievement from that year or the previous ones. It was then that I gave up drinking, partying, dating and gambling. I wanted to achieve something in life.

In 2011, after a lot of failed searches, I applied for a short filmmaking course. It was just eight evenings long but the obsession was instant.

When you are from a small town in Mayo, a movie director is not seen as an obtainable career, it’s not even on your radar. But I made a short film called “Trust”, that I wrote with my brother, Anthony. It aired on RTE in 2012. Finally I had an achievement hat I was proud of and my desire for more was growing.

My mind was elsewhere

I began writing a feature film. It was about a young banker who is disillusioned with life and feels limited by his career. My goal was to get the audience to empathise with James, instead of judging him when he goes against the corporate system and starts to break society’s rules. The film is called The Limit Of.

I was still working in the bank while writing it, but my job was beginning to suffer as my mind was elsewhere.

Then, in the midst of the recession, the second incident happened. A long-standing customer, who reminded me of my own father, sat down in front of me. He was looking for a loan of €5,000 so himself and his wife could go to America to see their daughter get married.

I had to say no

He was a loyal customer and had borrowed money on numerous occasions for cars and for his family home. All loans had been paid back. I had to decline him. He started to cry in the office, it was awkward and hard to watch. I didn’t agree with the bank.

He then wiped his tears away and asked: “Can I just borrow €2,000 so that I can send my wife to see her daughter get married?” Again I declined. I decided it was time to leave my career and gamble on my dream.

Financially it was a nightmare. I started to lead a minimalist lifestyle and spent my days writing while figuring out how to actually go about making a film. I thought it would take two years, but it took five.

The Limit Of premiered at the 29th Galway Film Festival in front of 400 people and received a standing ovation. IFTA then screened it as part of their private screening season for their academy members.

Overcoming hurdles

There were so many struggles during the last five years. These included everything from raising finance to finding and convincing over 60 cast and crew to give their talents to the project. It took nearly nine months of searching to find a suitable lead actor.

There was one moment in particular that was extremely tough. My brother and business partner was diagnosed with a brain tumor just weeks before shooting was to commence.

Anthony underwent two brain surgeries. I relocated home to Mayo to help my father care for him. We had to cancel the film shoot.

Thankfully, everyone involved was very supportive and six months later, the very same cast and crew came back to shoot the film. Post Production almost killed me. It took 12 months longer than expected.

It’s been a dream come true to make it and I’m looking forward to the next part of this journey.

Alan Mulligan’s film will be released later this year. 

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About the author:

Alan Mulligan  / Film director

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