18 April 2021 The Irish Film & Television Network
Frank Shouldice Talks 'The Man Who Wanted To Fly' With IFTN
28 Mar 2019 : Nathan Griffin
The Man Who Wanted To Fly
IFTN caught up with director Frank Shouldice to find out more about his debut feature documentary ‘The Man Who Wanted to Fly’, which releases in Irish cinemas this Friday, March 29th.

‘The Man Who Wanted To Fly’ tells the irresistible story of 80-something bachelor farmer Bobby Coote from Cavan who has had a lifelong dream to fly a plane. Enlisting the help of his neighbour Sean, the two set out to build their own field of dreams, cutting out a runway in Sean’s farm and even build a hangar in this small rural community.

Bobby will get no encouragement from his brother Ernie, another octogenarian in the Coote family home.  Ernie thinks the whole thing is daft but Bobby is determined to take to the skies if it’s the last thing he does. Capturing the wonder of one man’s dreams ‘The Man Who Wanted To Fly’ is a unique journey into a disappearing border hinterland and is sure to delight audiences across Ireland.

‘The Man Who Wanted To Fly’ is directed by Frank Shouldice and produced by Trisha Canning and Cormac Hargaden from Loosehorse with funding from Screen Ireland, RTE and Dublin Aerospace.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with Frank to find out more about the feature documentary.

IFTN: How did you first cross paths with Bobby?

Frank: “Well, Dave Perry, the cinematographer, and I had been looking for a project. We'd put in a lot of work in current affairs but we were looking for something that would be a project of our own. Dave actually does some flying around Bailieborough and one day he was out flying on a paramotor, which he described as a cross between a handkerchief and a hairdryer.”

“He was flying over just a couple of miles outside Bailieborough and he noticed this small car following him around. He literally got home and there was a ring at the bell. When he opened it there's this elderly man in a baseball cap and a lumber jacket. He asked him, ‘Was that you up there in the sky?’ and Dave didn't know who the man was and said, ‘It was. Why?’ and the man said, ‘I would like to do that.’ This man was Bobby and that was literally the introduction to the whole idea.”

IFTN: What captured your attention about that encounter and how did you land on the narrative you chose?

Frank: “To begin with, it was just the fact that there was this man fired by a dream and inspired by the sight of seeing somebody do something that he wanted to do that caught our attention. Then we spoke about it as an idea. It was a great idea but whether it would come to anything was another matter. What really got my interest was when Dave told me that Bobby lived with his brother Ernie outside Bailieborough and they shared a house but had separate front doors and did their own thing.”

“For me, I felt that if we could get Ernie to come on-board, then we would be really onto something. It would give the story a richer context through the discussion of bachelor farmers; deeper issues and themes that we could start exploring outside of the Pursuit of a Dream, which had its own charm. We meet the two brothers and told them what we had in mind and they were up for it and that was literally the start.”

IFTN: And what was it about Bobby that made you believe that his dream could come to fruition?

Frank: “Well, it was always a bit of a mystery as to whether it would come to fruition. From the first day of filming to the last, was five and a half years and there were many moments during that time that we really did wonder whether it was going to go anywhere. There ended up being a number of these parallel journeys because when Bobby got stranded, to various degrees so did we and it just became part of the story.  Bobby wanted to fly, whether he had the where with all… We didn't know, but he had saved money to look for a plane and we knew the desire was real.”

“While we were filming this documentary, Bobby became known around Bailieborough as the ‘man who never flew’ because he always talking about flying - Yet, he was never seen doing it. There were plenty of naysayers and the more they slagged him off about it, the more resolute he became - He was determined to prove them wrong!”

IFTN: As a filmmaker how did you approach funders to support such an unpredictable project? (Loose Horse coming on board as producers and Screen Ireland supporting the project)

Frank: “They didn’t actually get involved until a much later stage. It was quite an unusual one in so far as we started this project on our own. We were working on it for three and a half to four years, funding it ourselves because we didn't know where it was going to go and it was something that we were doing on our own time when we could. There were also long intervals where little happened. Some of this was literally part of the story but it's hard to film nothing happening. It got to a point where we had a fair idea of what we wanted from the film but it wasn’t until we went to Cormac Hargaden and Trisha Canning at Loose Horse that they turned the filming into a production.”

“However, we couldn't suddenly break the kind of intimacy that we had built up with the two lads and some of the other people in the documentary. They were used to a two-man crew; a director and cinematographer. That is what they got used to and it paid off. It was that trust and the comfort that got us such an organic response in front of the camera. So when it became a production, it wasn’t a case where suddenly there was a larger film crew. Loose Horse came on board and put a ton of work into preparing a proposal for Screen Ireland. Happily, just like Loose Horse could see that there was potential in the project at that point so too did Screen Ireland. We couldn't have done it without Loose Horse. Then as a whole production, we couldn't have done it without Screen Ireland.”

“The ambition was ours but we needed to get other people aboard to really turn it into a proper production. Emer O’Cleary edited it and Giles Packham wrote the score, both of whom made it possible to expand the idea based on the ambition that we had ourselves. For everybody, it is one of these things that start very small and it's still a modern enterprise in a way but everybody has a stake in it and so do the people in it because this is something that just feels very real and reflects real lives.”

IFTN: On the funding front, I suppose that worked in your favour due to the fact that it was a much longer process than originally envisaged. You probably avoided the pressures of meeting deadlines that typically come with development funding?

Frank: “It's very true. It was open-ended because it was our project, which is a luxury. However, I don't think we could go five and a half years every time we have an idea… but due to the fact that it was the two of us, we were able to just go with it. The difficulty for Bobby executing his dream or getting closer to it was that whenever he hit problems, it meant that the film stuttered. That would have been quite difficult to explain to backers at that point if people had already come on board and started asking questions because we wouldn’t have had the answers.”

“You raised a really good point because the film is as organic as it looks, and that's how it was. As far as possible, we felt it was to let it unfurl the way it actually did rather than us try to intervene with it. Now in saying that, we needed Jerry Snodden, the flight instructor up in Newtownards to come aboard to help. The guys up in the flight school showed such a generosity of spirit toward Bobby. I suppose it’s because people who are already in aviation and have a passion for it recognised Bobby’s desire and decided that it was something that they wanted to make happen. They just saw this man in his 80s who wanted to fly and he hadn’t lost the aspiration and really they came together and said, ‘Can we help him get there?’. It was nothing to do with making the film, it was the idea that they loved.”

IFTN: In relation to the editing process, a large amount of footage must have been collected during those five and half years of filming. Can you tell me a little bit about the editorial approach that you took to such a vast quantity of footage?

Frank: “We did amass a lot of footage and there were a lot of scenes, but when you're looking at keeping it tight (it's now 82/83 minutes long), there were things that you have to let go. I spent a lot of time on it.”

“Even though we had a long period doing it, it wasn't five and a half years of continuous filming. There were long periods where there was very little going on. It was initially working on paper editors because the true line was clear enough but the richness came from what was happening around us. In the end, I suppose like anybody, there were things that were really hard to take out because there were some absolutely fantastic, beautiful scenes but in the end, you have to let go.”

“I found that hard but it was essential and I worked with Emer O'Clery who edited the film and did a fantastic job. For what we had that we didn't use, there were a lot of other issues that we would have liked to get to but within it we covered a lot of ground. We could have gone further but for every filmmaker making documentaries, it is inevitable that you will have to lose certain scenes. Maybe if we ever get a DVD together we can put in the missing scenes because there are a couple that still stand out in my mind!"

’The Man Who Wanted To Fly’ will release in Irish cinemas on March 29th.

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