Last year was a significant one for Belfast-based film company Six Mile Hill Productions. Following a successful debut by Bad Day for the Cut, its maiden feature, at the Sundance Film Festival, the picture went on to enjoy a theatrical release and positive reviews.
For producer Brendan Mullin, then, 2017 represented something of a professional arrival for himself and Six Mile Hill co-founder Chris Baugh, the movie’s director and, alongside Mullin, its co-writer. Such progress, he says, was not without its obstacles. ‘As with independent filmmaking, there were a number of years of frustration.’ He describes faltering attempts to turn one of the duo’s shorts, Boys from County Hell, into a full-length piece as ‘a learning curve’, indicative of the ‘difficult climate in which to make independent film.’
Yet, following a number of collaborations with Northern Ireland Screen, including shorts such as Messages for Maria, Mullin remembers how the path became suddenly clearer.
'NI Screen were saying “You guys are ready now. We think you’ve been ready for a while to make a feature.” '
That vote of confidence would quickly give rise to Bad Day for the Cut, which received the green light via NI Screen’s New Talent Focus fund.
Nigel O'Neill in Bad Day for the Cut
The project, a gritty revenge thriller telling the story of a lonely, unassuming farmer (Nigel O’Neill) and his pursuit of the home invaders who murdered his mother, would be penned in 2015, shot in 2016 and released the following year. ‘It ended up going from a few years of frustration, trying to get the first feature away to what is actually considered quite quick, in terms of the process of writing, to shooting, to Sundance, to now,’ Mullin says
Hailing from Strabane, this Queen’s University Belfast film graduate has been working in the industry for the better part of the last decade, starting with short filmmaking before moving into script editing and development with Mammoth Screen in London. He and Baugh, a native of Eskragh, County Tyrone, established Six Mile Hill in 2012: ‘We thought we’d open up our own shop, as it were, and give it a year to 18 months and see how would get on with that.’
Behind the scenes with Stella McCusker
That move saw a number of commissions come the firm’s way, including a 30-minute Ulster-Scots gothic horror tale for the BBC, as well as involvement with RTÉ’s online Storyland strand.
That said, promoting one’s work at Sundance seemed some way off. For Mullin, taking his film west to the United States, and one of the world’s foremost platforms for new cinema, was a formative experience. ‘It’s regarded as the premier independent festival,’ he says, ‘and we grew up at a time when Sundance was hosting the likes of Reservoir Dogs and other early '90s movies.’
He and Baugh ‘never dreamed’ that Bad Day for the Cut would be selected for the programme. ‘I thought there was zero chance,’ he recalls.
‘Once it was selected, it was very encouraging to see that the film travelled… By and large, audiences over there were very receptive.’
Chris, Brendan and Nigel at Sundance Film Festival
The recognition garnered in Utah led to a limited distribution arrangement and, perhaps more impressively, a licensing deal with Netflix. That’s not a bad run for a genre flick comprising a (very) modest budget and a plot centred firmly in the distinctive wilds – and vernacular – of rural Tyrone. 'It was our first feature and we just wanted to get it in the can, so it couldn't have gone any better,' says Mullin.
He goes on to suggest that, given the fervent activity in the local sector at present, now is as good a time as any for the generation following behind to explore those angles.‘There’s definitely lots of opportunities. There’s a greater awareness of the film industry as a viable career path. When I was growing up and doing this, it really wasn’t discussed or thought about. But NI Screen started to push that and bringing in the likes of Game of Thrones made people see that pathway because of the economic by-products of those kinds of things shooting here.’
Cinematographer Ryan Kernaghan with co-writer Brendan Mullin and director Chris Baugh
His advice is simple. ‘To anyone who ever asked me “How do I get into it, what do I do?” I always say that it depends on what you want to do. If you’re passionate, you have all the technology in the world now.’
There is, says Mullin, a good deal of scope to ‘just go out and do it.’ He does, however, encourage aspirants to engage with NI Screen and seek out openings in the myriad production crews and companies dotted around Northern Ireland.
‘My biggest bit of advice,’ he concludes, ‘is to find what you really want to do and go for it. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Collaborate and foster those relationships.’
Bad Day for the Cut is now available on Netflix. Stay up to date with Six Mile Hill's future productions by following them on Facebook.