Sean Duncan is a film maker and owner of Redcap Productions, based in Belfast. Sean’s list of clients is a testament to the hard work and dedication he has put into to making his own company a success, having filmed for Culture Night Belfast, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Warner Bros and Capitol Records to name but a few. For a full list and examples of work click through to here.
In addition to that, his music video productions have featured on MTV, Scuzz, Kerrang! and RTE.
DB: So how’s it going? You all good?
RC: Good to go man yeah.
DB: Awesome, so I have a bunch of notes here to give us a loose structure and we’ll just go from there but if anything pops up, we can sort that after.
RC: Should be fine, I’m not a fussy guy.
DB: So, what sparked your interest in making videos? I don’t know if you want to tell the whole story but just where it began?
RC: Well, when I was a kid, I never knew I was obsessed with films in the way I was. I actually didn’t really realise that until I was about 18 or 19. But, as a child I was always recording stuff off the TV. I was probably the only kid in Northern Ireland that had the whole Child’s Play trilogy on the tape, you know? I suppose you know, you have memories, when you’re a kid, going to the cinema, things like that. I always liked something, it’s the same with art, it’s larger than life. It’s an unreality, and I like that unreality.
DB: So that then stuck with you and led you to studying it or what happened beyond that interest?
RC: Basically what happened was, I was 18 and I sort of didn’t know what I wanted to do.
DB: Like a lot of people…
RC: Haha yeah like pretty much everybody, still don’t know what I want to do but we went to university and I studied management for a year. Then, I felt I was essentially learning nothing and I’d be better just going out, on the road and setting up a business or something like that. I started a film degree, sort of as a minor in the degree and I noticed that nobody was really that excited about it. Whereas I was just constantly going in and for example, getting to see this film on the cinema screen from the 1940’s or like Soviet Era montages and no one else was really excited about it. I felt they should be as excited as I am, if not more.
From there, I started working out how things came together. Edits are always quite difficult to understand. There’s certain rules, but I just sort of knew them in my head from watching years and years of film. So I Studied film at Queen’s, graduated in 2008, and my main interests then were Soviet cinema and just, editing. Because the difference between photography and film is that a photograph can mean something on it’s own, but if you put two images together, you can get a third meaning or more than that, it can grow. You know, that’s why I think it’s such an exciting medium.
DB: Yeah, I agree, totally. And so do you think university was essential to your journey or would you have got there without it.
RC: No, I genuinely think it kicked me along but it did not teach me nearly anything that I needed to learn. I taught myself, 100% by myself, on YouTube.
DB: So do you mean in terms of the process of actually learning how to film? Or did you gain anything from uni, in terms of business acumen, making connections and stuff or was that all after the fact?
RC: Well, I have always had a slight business mind and that’s where my academic career was going. I did computers, business and accounts which obviously helped me with my business in the long term. But to bring it back, university for me, was more about people skills and time management, but I’d say the degree I did was completely moot to me having a career. It didn’t give me a career or teach me how to have a career.
It may have changed in the interim, but when I went to university you did one module of practical film making. The rest of the time was spent watching films, being told that it meant something that you thought, “It doesn’t mean that.” You know, make it everything about a feminist parable when it’s a just a film about a man and no women in it. (Laughing)
DB: Haha yeah okay, so were there any influential people then or was it just the film and what you’re taking in, in that sense?
RC: Well, yeah, i was always into people who didn’t need a huge crew, didn’t need a huge budget. People like Robert Rodriguez, his whole thing was based on, take what you have and what’s available to you and make the film from that ‘cause that saves money and makes things easier. So, he had a turtle in a film 'cause he had a turtle, had a guitar in a film ‘cause he had a guitar. His friend was the main star in his first film, El Mariachi. (I have attached an interesting 10 minute "Making of..." with Rodriguez below.)
So, sorry, what was the question again? Ah yeah, well, I mean by the time I finished university, cause I had the illness or whatever, I had a wee bit of money and I just saved it all together and just bought a really cheap kit, camcorder, whatever. I looked at the music industry here and I seen that you could make a short film, in the context of that, like a three minute film with no money, no budget and no professional equipment and it was just quite exciting I suppose.
DB: From there then, in terms of equipment and process. Obviously we just see the end result but how has that changed over time?
RC: The tech that I started off with would be sub par to even an iPhone in regards to the visual quality, you know, it was literally a camcorder. And I just bought, well, downloaded an editing suite, but you might want to leave that out haha.
DB: Nah I’m keeping that shit in haha!
RC: See if I get done for this.
RICHARD TRAINOR : It was a thirty day trial.
DB: Which got extended to forever...
RC: But yeah, I’m a big fan of owning all your own equipment, doing it yourself and organically growing. Because there’s people out there who’ll set up a production company, new one appearing every week. And they’ve got the latest equipment, spent like 15 grand on equipment for it to sit there.
Whereas, I’m still using sort of, pro consumer grade equipment but it’s just what you can do with it and you learn a lot more starting off with that and amping yourself up. I could step in and use a film camera, for example, ‘cause I know how it all works, whereas, someone who’s started off, just buys a DSLR is going to be sitting going, ‘What the fuck do I do with this?”
DB: So what is your current set up?
RC: I shoot on a Canon 6d with mostly Prime lenses, so fixed focal length. I find it’s better, like if you set down a camera and it’s got a zoom lens on it, you’ll zoom in and get a shot, but you find you’re sort of accepting almost a mediocre shot. Whereas, if you have a Prime, you have to really hunt for it and out it down at exactly the right position ‘cause there’s no cropping cause of the quality of, what I shoot in the camera is exactly what appears, you know, frame size.
You could go into Jessops and probably buy two thirds of my equipment, but you won’t be able to use it in the same way, unless you’ve done 8 years of…
DB: Yeah, like it’s the experience that has led you to that point.
DB: What do you think about iPhones and stuff then. You said what you started with was probably sub par but would you ever incorporate it or completely separate it’s use?
RC: It depends on the aesthetic you’re going for, say you were shooting this in LOFT, or some sort of crowd thing. But, if you’re shooting a video and someone says I have this iPhone video I want to stick in, you can notice the difference, but you could make a whole music video and people are. You have people making car adverts and everything pretty much with an iPhone. They’re sticking like a ten grand lens on the optic part of it but at the same time, all it is, is a digital process of information.
DB: I suppose an extension from that, What difference do you think there has been, from starting your business, probably without social media to now?
RC: Well, Facebook was coming to the fore. I don’t think Instagram existed and Twitter was definitely not used as much. What I would say about it, is that there’s a lot of people just making noise without actually doing anything. You know, people say to me, you’re really busy, but it’s only because I constantly put that out there. I sell myself as a company of more than one person, but it’s essentially me. So, it’s hard to keep all those wheels turning.
I’m not great with the written word and sometimes I think I come across a bit wrong in writing, end up offending the wrong people ‘cause they might not understand the subtleties. There’s so many companies though, that are all promotion and nothing else. Ultimately, if you let people know you’re doing work, you get more work. You find that as well? (turning to Richard Trainor)
DB: No! Not at all! Haha! So is it a positive or negative impact?
RC: Well, say, I set up ten years before I did. I wouldn’t have had a company. Nobody would hire me. It’s very hard to get into the industry and I’ve found it’s sort of a blessing as it’s put me in control of my own destiny. If I’m questioning why am I not getting work? It’s because I haven’t put the effort in to just constantly re-iterate that I’m available and I’m doing work. People want to hire someone with less hassle. They want to leave something to you, you turn up and you just send them an invoice and that’s it.
I suppose it’s the same with the music side of things. Haven’t done a music video in a while but we’ve got two coming up.
DB: Who are they for?
RC: Son of the Hound and well the second isn’t 100% but Smith’s band.
DB: Oh Green Monkey? Sweet.
RC: Was meant to meet him today but I’m gunna meet him tomorrow.
DB: What track is it? Do you know?
RC: In effect, I think you call it? But they want to shoot in the Limelight, ‘cause they’ve got their gig. But I remember when we shot The Bonnevilles, the stage is a nightmare and they’re a four piece, you know?
DB: In terms of lighting or what?
RC: Ah it’s desperate man, you either get no light at all or just a flood of red light and that flattens images. Bringing it back though, social media and the internet has allowed people, who might have possibly been left behind and had to potentially do a career they didn’t want to, get on the same page. People say “You’re lucky”. I’d say I’ve gotten some lucky breaks…
DB: So it’s an essential component, but…
RC: Yeah, I think if you don’t do it, you’re missing out on a trick. You can end up getting stuck in the noise of everything so you really lose what the actual sense is. At times it doesn’t seem to even matter what you’re producing as long as you say you’re producing something. I think there’s a lot of companies like that and the monetisation of it is something I have a huge issue with.
DB: Aw yeah, paying to promote…
RC: Yeah, ‘cause no one will see what you’re doing unless you pay them money and even when you do, it’s not real engagement.
DB: Yeah it’s suppressing the actual idea of connection.
RC: 100% yes. At the end of the day, people realise that they’re doing that for a business purpose, Instagram, Facebook all make their money doing certain things. I don’t think they’re the enemy but you don’t have to get sucked into it.
A lot of people would go to your website and maybe want to see that you’re legitimate so you sort of, have to exist on all these other plains. Just to check you’re current and not just some eejit with a camera. Which I am haha!
DB: I suppose for some people, Facebook is their internet, which I’m battling with as well cause you’re just wondering why you can’t “reach” people whereas you should just be able to put it out there without an algorithm telling you what to see.
RC: Yeah, I mean some people seem to just live their lives through the vacuum of Facebook. You know you could literally spend...this is the flip side to what I was saying, you could spend months and months working on something and a thousand people might see it in a year. You have to get out of that mentality though. I’m not going to make something half arsed because I think nobody’s going to go see it. I don’t see the point in entering into that realm if I’m not gunna do it 100%. So, I think Facebook, especially really dents your self confidence and ego a little bit. I find anyway, when you put something up and you think it’s great and nobody gives a shit, but that’s just the way it is.
DB: I don’t know if this is a good thing for you particularly, but video seems to be the future in terms of what people are doing on Vine, Snapchat and Facebook etc. Have you thought about that in terms of creating work? Your avenue seems to be bigger than ever at the minute.
RC: The one thing I’d say to counter that. Most other mediums, obviously if you’re creating a piece of art, it’s good to see it in person but you can translate the image to a jpeg for example and show what it is. When you make a video, the video that people see on the internet, isn’t the video you made because of the quality. Even if you put it up to full HD, it doesn’t look the same and it’s a little bit depressing ‘cause it’s like someone taking your piece of art and scrawling on it. But again, that’s the nature of it, where else are people gunna see it?
DB: Do you have a preference then to shoot in film or digital?
RC: I shoot everything digital. It’s just, nobody shoots in film, like I used to but you end up with boxes and boxes and boxes of tapes and you don’t know what to do with them, you don’t want to use them again and all that sort of stuff. But with digital, my work flow’s probably about three or four times quicker than it used to be.
i can just put a card in a computer and convert that file into something else and that’s me ready to go whereas it used to be, connect your camera up to a tape, log the tape, and then you realise….
DB: Well, how long is that process?
RC: Doing stuff on DV tapes used to be real time so if you had a 45 minute tape and press play, it’s 45 minutes, then you get told it went wrong and had to do it again haha!
Whereas, digital is just copying it over and converting into the formats that I edit in ‘cause the format that you record on is a delivery format. That’s the format you’d put out to YouTube or whatever. So the colour space of it, uncompressed gives you so much more latitude to do colour corrections and balances and stuff.
DB: Is the editing process where you flourish then?
RC: Editing’s my main skill. I like the fact that I shoot and edit everything myself because there’s no excuses. If the footage is crap, it’s crap and it’s my fault and if the edit’s crap it’s my fault. Well, it’s usually the clients, but let’s not talk about that.
DB: Well, let’s be honest and talk about that. What’s the back and forth like for you. I mean, as a painter doing commissions, for example, you could do something you think you’re putting your stamp on ‘cause that’s why they came to you. Then they come back asking for changes…
RICHARD TRAINOR: Yeah they want it to look more like something else that isn’t your style.
DB: So what’s it like when it comes to video?
RC: Most clients are quite reasonable. You find that the more public body someone is, the more difficult they are to deal with. I might be shooting myself in the foot here.
DB: Well it’s honest.
RICHARD TRAINOR: Yeah, they’ll have to read it first.
DB: Unless I pull a quote out to post or something haha!
RC: Well yeah it’s when you’re working for big bureaucratic organisations. Nobody wants to say, but when you get those big companies, everybody lives their lives on never making a decision.
DB: Yeah, so the idea is just filtering down and and down through people for a brief, for example?
RC: Yeah, so you’ll have about a hundred people giving you a committee comment on your video. Whereas, say something like Culture Night where you have Adam who’s the main man. Every time he’s done he’s just said that’s grand you know?
DB: How many Culture Nights have you shot then?
RC: I’ve done three and this year will be the fourth. So yeah, Adam is someone who’s from a sort of Community Art’s background. He’s an organiser and he’s someone who’s respectful enough to put you in a place and say, I know you’re good at your job. Do your job and I’ll pay you for your job. Whereas these other companies have a budget of £500 and want to have 14 meetings…
DB: And you’re probably chasing them after that then. It’s probably a lack of respect or understanding for the creative medium itself.
RC: Yeah, they generally don’t give a shit man. They aren’t looking at your work and saying it’s worth this amount and this other guy’s worth this much. They’ll always pick the cheapest one. So sometimes you’re in a race.
DB: Do you battle with that then?
RC: Well maybe like 5-10% of all tenders I do, I get. And I’ve just sort of specialised in living quite a cheap life. I live a life I want and I’m never sort of, skint. I’m always, nearly skint, but I seem to manage to hold on and keeping relationships good with people is part of it. There’s sometimes you want to tell someone, something’s happened, you aren’t getting paid or whatever and you’re getting really angry and then you realise you’re caught in some sort of admin system you know?
DB: Yeah, but you can get emotional about it because you’re the one supplying the work?
RC: Yeah, exactly. So you get people like that who put who in an awkward position but stuff like Culture Night. They understand the logistics much more and they understand that they leave you to do your job. They pay you the rate and they pay for the quality…
RICHARD TRAINOR: Probably because they come from the creative background as well…
RC: Yeah that’s entirely it.
DB: So, what’s Culture Night like for you as someone who’s working on it? When we did the show here in LOFT and subsequent events, I remember thinking, fuck I want to get out and actually see Culture Night. So do you shoot all night?
RC: I shoot from about 1pm to midnight so it’s a full day and it’s non stop.
DB: Do you kind of vicariously enjoy everything then or?
RC: Well yeah, you have the benefit of instantly going to the front row, just walk in every door, red t shirt on like let me in. You find the thing as well with Culture Night is that because I’m involved in the art scene, coming from music videos and stuff. Belfast, is one of those places, that it’s surprising how many people you know, when you’re out and about...
DB: It’s like a village in that respect...
RC: Especially in the arts side of things. So yeah, you walk in and you don’t have to explain yourself, they know I’m the guy that shoots the video so I find that I get better footage. I think a lot of people are quite sheepish when it’s someone who they don’t know filming them even if they’re out in a big crowd. It’s all the same thing. So I find that my position and my background has made that a joy. It’s hard work, really hard work, but it’s the most exciting night and my favourite job every year, pretty much.
I get to bump into people, like last year, you know Verz? Tim?
DB: Yeah, yeah
RC: I was around the town shooting. He was around with his wife and kids, he was like, “ Sean, you’re looking parched there”, and just grabbed out a couple of Heinekens and we stood and had a beer and you know I’m on the clock. But, if Adam or whatever walked past, they wouldn’t give a shit, you know?
DB: Yeah, it’s just part and parcel..
RC: Yeah, you know it’s not interfering with my job or anything. It’s not making me, you know, if anything, sometimes it helps.
DB: Hahaha yeah, loosen up or whatever…
RC: But, genuinely one or two beers really helps me out.
DB: Yeah, I’d agree. Well I think Culture Night’s completely vital to Belfast. I wouldn’t say we’re short of things like that to do, you have late night art every month but in terms of events that are all encompassing, Culture Night is top of the pile.
RC: The thing about Belfast is, well, I’ve been in tonnes of major cities, I think the deep cultural side of Belfast is sort of, slightly hidden in a way? It’s not like a tourist will walk down the street and say, there’s LOFT and Drink & Draw but I’m sure it’s happened occasionally but you know what I mean. Actually, you remember the woman that time?
DB: Hahaha yeah…
RC: (Explaining to Richard Trainor) This woman fucking escaped from the hospital, came up the stairs and she sat down with me and you know what they said? They thought it was my girlfriend!
RC: So, Sean’s brought a date. She’s wearing a dressing gown. I just thought it was, you know the way art people are quirky?
DB: Ah man, that was so bizarre. We got an ambulance sorted and stuff anyway but yeah, strange.
RICHARD TRAINOR: Guys, probably a good time, I’m gunna shoot on.
RC: Was good seeing you man.
DB: Yeah, the door should be open man.
RICHARD TRAINOR: Pleasure to meet you as well.
DB: You too man, laters! Right, well I’ll probably leave all that shit in haha. Okay, lets’s see, oh yeah, I maybe should have out this in at the start. Where did Redcap come from, the name for the company?
RC: Mmmmm well it was basically when I was younger, I always used to wear hats, you know, as I still do.
DB: Got that X-Men hat on today.
RC: Yeah, I got X-Men hat on today. And, well, my mates sort of always had this weird hatred for Limp Bizkit, but I thought it was really funny. And in one of the songs, he says “Now this red cap gets a rap from these critics.” (Take A Look Around) That’s literally where it comes from.
DB: That’s pretty cool.
RC: ‘Cause they were always saying red caps getting rap from the critics, and it was me cause I wore hats haha!
DB: Haha yeah man, that’s actually a pretty sweet connection.
RC: It was one of them ones though where I genuinely wanted to change it at one point, and I still sort of don’t really like it.
DB: Yeah, but that happens all the time man. Happened to me with the clothing stuff. You’re like yeah this is a cool idea and after a couple of months, it’s a NOPE.
RC: The good thing about it though, I’m kind of glad that you had to ask, if that makes sense?
DB: Well yeah, I had thought it was to do with wearing hats but I didn’t know the full story.
RC: Yeah, I was tortured endlessly about it, but it was because it was obviously when I wasn’t taking as seriously you know?
DB: Well, what would you change it to? If you could, did you ever think deeply about it?
RC: I think I would maybe change it to Redcap Films, but maybe you would sound a bit more pretentious but I don’t know I wouldn’t even be able to think of something.
DB: Okay, well one of the last things I have down is what you’re currently working on? I know you mentioned Culture Night and the music video. You’re talking about having complete control and you own all the equipment, do you see anything down the line in terms of expansion or do you like it being your own thing?
RC: Well, I hire, Rick there, is he still listening? Haha anyway he’s like, world class photographer.
DB: What’s his web address?
RC: It’s www.richardtrainor.com. It’s more, sort of, commercial stuff, but Rick’s a really good guy if you want someone to go back and forth with. Even just to tell you you’re right. Not in an arrogant way, you know what I mean? ‘Cause you’re sometimes, slightly, second guessing yourself.
My thing is that I like the fact it’s just me and I have total creative control. I can go on holiday when I want, I go on the off season and stuff. When you start being responsible for staff and stuff like that, you’re just putting yourself in a position that when you’re not working, you’re just spinning the wheels and spending money that you don’t have. I don’t earn stupid money at all man.
DB: Yeah, it’s enough for you.
RC: Yeah, at the same time, I get to walk my dog in the park everyday. I can get up when I want most of the time.
DB: Yeah, it’s a good lifestyle haha!
RC: Well, I don’t want this to be career suicide hahaha!
DB: It’s good to be honest about the actual lifestyle that comes with it because you’ve put yourself in the position to do what you want, get out of bed when you want, that’s the ultimate goal, that’s what everyone wants to do
RC: I wanted to be an artist, but I just have zero ability at drawing or anything approaching drawing.
DB: You’re still on the same page though. I don’t think the term “artist” puts you on a pedestal. I actually think being a creative in general is a really positive thing you know?
RC: Yeah, but if I had the ability to do anything, I would have been an artist, but the reality is I have zero talent. What I do is very different in the sense that, I use technology as a canvas.
DB: That’s how you translate what you want to say.
RC: So there’s certain things that I would be up that others wouldn’t and it’s the same with art. You have you own aesthetic. i get hired because people like my visual style and others get hired because clients like their style. It’s just allowed me to stay in the realm of something I have a passion for “cause I love art. You know, if I was rich I’d just hire some full time artists to just create.
DB: Yeah haha!
RC: But you know what I mean. I always had a slight jealousy for it. And you guys get all the girls as well for fuck sake.
DB: Hahaha! Well beyond Culture Night then, what else do you have lined up?
RC: Just some stuff to pay the bills really man. I’m doing some stuff forma company though where the Chief Executive is an absolute dude. He’s a great client who I’ve become friends with, and we’ll just talk about coffee and stuff.
But yeah, I think what happened was, with the music side of things, you can make a video with nearly anything. A lot of the bands I used to shoot with, sort of, got old and got real jobs. A lot of them are still involved in music, have studios and stuff but I definitely want to get back into the music side of things. It’s not necessarily about money, you know?
Sometimes my job can be a bit of an office job. I have to reply to every email and stuff and it’s not as if that isn’t exciting cause I know I’m doing it for myself. But, stuff like the video for Son of The Hound is very odd, very different. I’m not going to say what the concept is ‘cause there’s a twist but it’s like a western. Dead serious though.
DB: So a western with a twist? Haha! Two protagonists?
RC: Yeah, yeah, pretty much. they came to me with a rough idea then I just put a spin on it and added to it to make it more me I suppose. I haven’t done a music video in quite a while so I’m excited about it simply because I sat and looked at the footage and thought, this is fun, you know? Sort of like a break from doing commercial stuff.
DB: What’s your favourite production you’ve done so far then?
RC: Well yeah, I love doing the Culture Night stuff. The music video for The Bonnevilles that I did with all the wrestling in it. That’s like my two loves together.
DB: Wrestling and music?
RC: Sweaty men and music haha! I don’t give a shit anymore. But yeah, that was a real passion project of mine. Rick actually worked on that with me and we got together with the Pro Wrestling Ulster guys.
I watch so much wrestling that when people who don’t watch it point stuff out, it annoys me because I could point out a hundred more things.
DB: It’s purely entertainment value.
RC: Yeah, like I know when they’re talking to each other. I know when they’re doing this and that.But that’s not the point. So, I got to work with the company and script a match. The video has a full match in it. Stuff like that isn’t about the money.
DB: What was the name of that track again?
RC: Good Suits and Fighting' Boots. But yeah, when I was doing music videos I found that people just wanted them playing in a room looking cool for four minutes and I just got really disillusioned with that. So I thought why am I doing this?
You know, it’s like being a graphic designer, you’ll do stuff you enjoy, but half the time you’re sitting doing a brochure for some crap restaurant. It’s just the nature of it like.
DB: Yeah, completely agree. Well, man I think that’s a good, true note to end on. Thanks for doing that and I'll see you on Culture Night.
RC: No worries man. Cheers!