Why ‘a wee dead bird’?

I admit it’s a strange name for a website. But hopefully it’s a memorable one. The full expression is “As happy as a wee dead bird.” And it’s an expression I often use when someone asks how things are, or how I’m doing. In fact my use of it amused my colleague Trevor King so much that he bought the domain name as a gift for me.

I don’t know where in the dim and distant past I picked up the expression. But I do recall that when my daughter Rachel was in primary school, the pupils were asked one day to complete various phrases such as ‘As greedy as a…’, ‘As cool as a…’, and finally ‘As happy as…’ And while ‘As happy as Larry’ was the answer the teacher expected, of course Rachel said “As happy as a wee dead bird.” Much to the amusement of the teacher and the rest of her class!

I’ve been meaning for a long time to get round to having a website, primarily to bring together some of the films I’ve produced and directed over the past 35 years or so. But I’ve got Trevor to thank for it happening now. I hope those of you reading this will take a look and hopefully find something that interests you. I don’t expect a big audience for them, but I know they’ll be of interest to some.

I’m in the very fortunate position of having a career in journalism and programme making for almost 50 years so far, and I’ve pretty much loved it all. It never really seems like a job in the way most other people have jobs…work that they go to and come home from. Writing, making films and telling stories is simply what I do and part of who I am. And I’m fortunate enough to have some of the best people in the business around me while doing it.

I suppose I’m a bit of a control freak in that I like to do as much as possible myself. I love coming up with ideas and researching them, then meeting people I want to talk to on camera, and where possible doing all the interviews myself. There’s often a lot of trust involved. I might be talking to people about deeply personal things, sometimes even areas they’ve never talked about before.

For me trust is probably the single most important thing in my work. I can interview someone for an hour or more and maybe use only a few minutes in a film. What I’ve always tried to do is represent the totality of the person, as far a I can. Sometimes that’s meant deciding not to use a controversial comment they’ve made that would certainly grab the headlines, yet be unfair in my attempt to represent them accurately. Trust is the key thing I encourage in younger film makers.

I’m amazed sometimes at the lengthy credits on some documentaries. I’ve always tried to keep my team small. My ‘go to’ cameraman has always been David Barker. A friend, a mentor, a visionary in the early days of independent production in Northern Ireland, and a man who has undoubtedly – unofficially and unpaid – trained more young directors and producers than anyone else I know.

I’ve had many great road trips and travels with David, and nearly as many with John T. Davis, director, cameraman, musician and song-writer. I could easily write a book about John and his exploits but I don’t need to. Just go to johntdavisfilmandmusic.com and you can find out about him.

My sound recordist of choice, and someone who was in her teens when we first worked together, is Christine Barker. In recent years she’s also been shooting my online films exploring the world of holistic health.

Jane Veitch was my long-suffering assistant for several years, and she was kind enough to write the ‘About Michael’ section of my website. Jane was fresh from university (Trinity College, Dublin) when we met, and I’ve watched her develop rapidly from fresh-faced researcher to assistant producer, then producer and presenter, and now Senior Producer with Macmillan Media. MM was founded by Michael Macmillan, my old sidekick from Downtown Radio back in 1976, later my political correspondent when I ran the newsroom in UTV, then ITN reporter, BBC Correspondent in the Middle East and America, and Sky News presenter.

I couldn’t have made the films I made – and had the fun I’ve had doing it – without these, and many other people to whom I’m indebted. In recent years I’ve worked with a trio of younger director/cameramen, who inspire me, make me feel good about the future of film making in Northern Ireland, and who I reckon are some of the best guys in the business these days. Sam Jones, Matt Gould and Sai Kelly. You’ll see work from all of them on my website, with more to come.

If not for Sai, I couldn’t have managed to get this website together. He’s cheerfully put up with all my demands and once again is the one I turn to when I need something technical done. It was Sai who co-directed, shot and edited That Vitamin Movie. I hope you’ll have a look because his opening sequence in particular is just stunning.

I’m also indebted to the other independent producers I’ve worked with and their willingness to help me get these films together: Brendan Byrne, Hotshot Films; Janine Waddell and David Cumming, Waddell Media; Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt, Doubleband Films; Stephen Nolan, Third Street Studios; Alison Millar, Erica Starling Productions; John T. Davis, Holywood Films; Hardy Pictures; Macmillan Media; David Barker Associates; Trevor King Media.

And so, the adventure continues…