Rising Star Brendan Byrne: “Who the hell wants to sit there and watch 90 mins of middle-aged white men banging on”

…who the hell wants to sit there and watch 90 mins of middle-aged white men banging on. Not me. I prefer to pick a film that has a mix of race an gender; it’s just more appealing and to a wider audience. Thirdly, actively think about it. I have been a victim to my own […]

…who the hell wants to sit there and watch 90 mins of middle-aged white men banging on. Not me. I prefer to pick a film that has a mix of race an gender; it’s just more appealing and to a wider audience. Thirdly, actively think about it. I have been a victim to my own narrow-mindedness at times. I wrote a film, and started casting it and looked back over it something was missing… The script was good, but it lacked depth, character, and culture. “Oh, that’s why”, I said, every character appears to be white for no apparent reason. This wasn’t due to racism or bigotry or anything like that, I simply didn’t think about it, being a middle-aged white man I just stuck to what I knew instead of advancing my own culture and experience, needless to say, I re-wrote it, and it worked a lot better, but you just gotta be open to it.

As a part of my series about TV’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Australian Actor and Filmmaker Brendan Byrne, who lives by the motto “It takes a certain degree of obsession to succeed”. Brendan has credited roles in some amazing films such as Marlon in ‘Bleeding Backs’, Jay in ‘There’s Something In The Pilliga’, Kit Fisk in ‘Death’s Waiting Room’, alongside Aussie legend Roger Ward (Mad Max, Boar), Patrick Prescott in the international multi-award winning short film ‘I’m Here Too’, aimed at teen suicide prevention, which he also wrote, directed and produced, and Bodhi Garrington in the new Aussie horror film ‘Paid In Blood’ starring Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th, Victor Crowley).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I remember from a young age, always going to see my Grandmother and Aunty, who were theatre actresses, in their productions and admiring my sister in her school plays (and eventually theatre productions and films herself). I remember always thinking “that’s what I want to do, I want to be an actor”, and that’s about the time the naivety took over.
 I took up a drama class at school to try and “break into the industry”, but it actually had an adverse effect on me. I was always a little reticent in my younger years, I got bullied a lot as a kid and early teen, for various reasons, the main one being my weight, so confidence wasn’t one of my strong points. Having a whole audience’s eyes fixated on me, waiting for me to deliver Shakespeare in a tongue that I wasn’t accustomed to became almost crippling for me mentally. It wasn’t what I expected nor wanted, so I said “to hell with it” and gave up.

I then just plodded through school barely scraping by with my grades. I cared more about being the class clown and rebelling than I did about my schoolwork (which I later came to regret in life, as cliché as it sounds).

Can you share a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It wasn’t until I left school and was struggling financially from job to job, that I decided to answer an ad in the local paper looking for extras and from there I quickly found myself on varying professional (and amateur) film and T.V sets as a blur in the background. But it wasn’t the, being paid generously to sit on set drinking coffee for 12 hours, socialising and being on set for three takes that interested me, (some would say that’s a dream job), it was being on set and seeing the whole film come together. Everything intrigued me, from the Producer’s organisational skills to the A.D’s multitasking. From the science behind the lighting and sound direction to the intensity and attention to detail from the actors. Everything was inspiring. It wasn’t like drama in high school, doing a Shakespearean monologue to parents and teachers, this was the real deal, this was where I wanted to be. So I started working my butt off towards my goal.
 At 21 the naivety was still there. “I’ve tried and failed”, I said. But the issue wasn’t that I had tried and failed, it was that I hadn’t tried hard enough. I had heard stories about actors and filmmakers who caught their lucky break walking down the street, and I was waiting for the same opportunity of a lifetime to fall into my lap. After speaking to a lot of other people in the industry, realism began to set in. If I wanted to succeed, I would have to create my own product, and what better way to learn the in’s and out’s of the industry then to be right in the heart of it.
 I spent the next few years placing myself in situations surrounded by professionals in the industry and took the opportunities to pick their brains, ask questions, and analyse what worked and what didn’t. Once I felt confident in my ability I created my film production company “Shadow Wolves Productions.”
 From there I began writing scripts and then moved onto Directing and Producing them, starting with short films then evolving into features. So far, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some fantastic cast and crew which have helped me hone my skills as an Actor, Director and Producer. This has now given me the opportunity to be able to mentor others in the art of filmmaking, so they too can gain the confidence and skills to follow their dreams.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I was doing research for a role that was pretty deep psychologically, and I remember reading all these articles on depression and suicide etc. I reached out to a few of them to gain a deeper understanding, but a lot of people (obviously) didn’t want to talk about it. I feel that suicide, in general, is a very confronting and taboo topic, and it makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. But just cause we feel uncomfortable about it, and some choose to ignore it, it doesn’t make it go away. We (as a society) need to start taking more responsibility and talking about these things a lot more, and not judging people as harshly that may be going through hard times. I knew I had to re-visit this topic a little later, so I made some notes and continued on with the other film.

Three years had passed, and I found the notes, “now was the time to do it” I said, so I began writing a short film on teen suicide prevention. Then “13 Reasons Why” came out and I saw how it was received, for the first time in a long time, people were openly talking depression, suicide and mental health issues. I knew that I had to make this film to help keep the topic of conversation open. So I did.

I Wrote, Directed, Acted and Produced the multi-award-winning yet controversial short film “I’m here Too”. The film tries to break the stigma and stereotype of depression. It shows teenager Claire (played by Carol Elsden), in her seemingly perfect world, and how she suffers in silence, and how we as family and friends can try and be a little more receptive to what others may be feeling on the inside.

It’s been nominated for 24 international awards and won 10 during its film festival run. Then shortly after we went down the generic path of getting the film distribution, and released it on VOD, however, we weren’t making any money back from the sales. We then sat back and looked over our marketing strategy and remembered why we did this film. It was never about making money for us, or anyone involved. It was about the message, opening up a conversation, making a difference.

Someone who is suffering from depression or is suicidal isn’t going to sit at their computer and ‘Pay’ to watch a short film about how they are feeling; we were missing our target audience. So we decided to put it on YouTube for free. If there is one thing we know about YouTube and the internet is that it watches what you search. So if people are searching for similar videos, then this might pop up, that one person we were looking to save might just watch it.

The film has now received over 1,215,000 views on youtube and has had over 8000 comments from people saying how much this film has impacted their life and some even claiming this film, my film, saved their life. That to me, or any actor or filmmaker for that matter, is the best thing you can ask for. I like to do things with a purpose, and as a filmmaker and actor, I think it’s important that whilst we may make fun and exciting films with the sole purpose of entertainment, that we also use our craft for a greater good at times.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It was actually at an audition, my first audition for a feature film. Initially I attend the audition for a supporting role, however once inside the directors asked me to read for the lead. I was quite nervous and hadn’t even learnt the lines for that script, but you can never turn down an opportunity in this industry. So I asked for five minutes to read over the lines, and then I went for it. There was a part in the audition where my character gets up and loses his cool and throws a camp chair. So naturally, I jumped up, and ‘pretended’ to throw the chair, but when I swiped my arm my finger got caught under the backrest, and I flipped the chair over. I was slightly shocked (as were the Directors), but I ran with it. You’ve just got to own these things. Next day I got the call, I landed the role, and they mentioned how intense the chair bit was. The lesson I learnt from that was that you can’t be afraid to give it your all, sometimes you might have to throw a few (metaphorical) chairs in order to get what you want.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m looking to head over to the US (from Australia) in early 2020 for a few things so if there is any work going, don’t be afraid to reach out. But prior to that, I have a new-age horror feature film that we’re working on called ‘Paid In Blood” (www.imdb.com/title/tt6680138).

It’s about a group of friends that get an invitation to the biggest social media party of the year. But what they don’t know is that the party has been orchestrated by a deranged serial killer who is seeking retribution for a past tragedy.

This film really stands out from other horror films by utilising the contemporary social media twist. Our Antagonist is a little more creative than merely stalking their prey in the dark, and our Protagonist makes smarter decisions, no more running up the stairs when they should be heading out the front door. We have also added a new-age element into the slasher genre where our antagonist uses the faux reality of social media to lure the victims into their world and gains their trust.
 I wrote the film and will star in it alongside some film luminaries such as Kane Hodder (Jason Vorhees from Friday the 13th, Victor Crowley), Roger Ward (Fifi from Mad Max, Boar) and Linnea Quigley (The Return of The Living Dead) along with a plethora of who’s who in the social media age — added to all that we’ve also been lucky enough to secure the directing duo Kenny Gage & Devon Downs (Anarchy Parlor, Cynthia, Kung-Fu Girl) to direct the film which is a magnificent opportunity. The script is shoot ready, but we are still looking for investors for the film, so if you’re interested in an investment opportunity, please get in contact.

I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

1. Film is usually represented by the culture/ society we live in so to portray realism then it has to portray diversity.

2. Different people portray different cultures etc. If a story needs to be told adequately, then you would generally need diversity to do that. Take the movie “Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom” for example. Idris Elba gave an award-worthy performance. However if the role were portrayed by someone like Al Pacino (as amazing as he is), it just wouldn’t have done the film (nor the person) the justice it so well deserves.

3. It’s an ever-changing society; I like to think we are evolving, it isn’t like it was in 100’s of years ago. So as our society changes so too should our film industry.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Well firstly, don’t be soo narrow-minded; If the roles have to be filled by a specific gender or race etc. due to its relevance in history, storyline biography etc., then that’s fair enough, but if it’s not an issue, then look outside the box. Secondly, gender and race diversity might actually help your film and the industry as a whole, who the hell wants to sit there and watch 90 mins of middle-aged white men banging on. Not me. I prefer to pick a film that has a mix of race an gender; it’s just more appealing and to a wider audience. Thirdly, actively think about it. I have been a victim to my own narrow-mindedness at times. I wrote a film, and started casting it and looked back over it something was missing… The script was good, but it lacked depth, character, and culture. “Oh, that’s why”, I said, every character appears to be white for no apparent reason. This wasn’t due to racism or bigotry or anything like that, I simply didn’t think about it, being a middle-aged white man I just stuck to what I knew instead of advancing my own culture and experience, needless to say, I re-wrote it, and it worked a lot better, but you just gotta be open to it.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

I’ll share five quotes with you that I wish I had learnt early on in my career. I have these quotes up in my office.

1. “Rule number 1: Fuck what they think” — Joseph Gordon-Levitt

· You’re never going to keep everyone happy, and sometimes, unfortunately, some people just can’t be happy for you, whether it’s jealousy, bitterness, or due to a lack of understanding. Do what is right by you and the people around you that actually matter, cause at the end of the day they’re the ones who will pick up the pieces if you shatter and will share your smiles and laughter.

2. “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done.” — Marilyn Monroe

· Every minute you waste (over) sleeping, every minute you waste procrastinating is another minute that you’re behind everybody else; you’re actually helping them attain their goals easier because you aren’t as much of a threat.

3. “Don’t read the comment’s” — Matt Groening

· Matt once said, “No matter how good the video on YouTube is, don’t read the comments, just don’t, because it will make you hate all humans.” I wish I had learnt that a lot earlier on in my career, people just troll looking for a negative reaction out of people.

4. Success is not final; Failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill

· You won’t do only one successful thing in your life, and you won’t only fail once. Every single day filled with complications and obstacles, but it’s up to you to decide where your focus and energy should be utilised.

5. “The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit.” — Morgan Freeman

· Simple. DO NOT QUIT. Have the courage to keep fighting, keep moving forward, expect a million no’s but hope for that one yes. Ask the awkward question; the answer is always going to be. No unless you ask. It’s okay to have emotions and get down, but pick yourself up and keep chipping away at that dream.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Remember to take a little time out for you. You need to find the fine line between a healthy obsession and delusion. Sometimes taking that moment to sit back and relax, inspires a different thought process and gets the creative juices flowing. And if it all gets too much, have a little time out. There is shame in taking a break; it doesn’t mean you have to ‘quit’.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve never really thought about it, to be honest, but I would have to say that I really respect what Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and other similar charities accomplish. I have donated to them for years now; I just try to play my part, no matter how small it may be. I would love to see legislation brought in that made it mandatory for people that earn over a certain amount to give some (not a lot) to a charity. A lot of people already choose to do this which is great, but I would like to see it happen a lot more.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My family is honestly the main reason I am where I am. Every smile and tear, shaped me into the person I am and brought me to where I am. My wife and son (soon to be sons) motivate me every day to continue chasing my dreams. I don’t think I could honestly do what I do without the support of my wife, she understands the character development involved in acting, and while she doesn’t necessarily like it, she does appreciate and respects it. She helps build me back up if I break and isn’t contaminated by the negativity of the industry, my family gives me the ability to keep grounded and is great for a little reality check from time to time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It takes a certain degree of obsession to succeed.” If you don’t become obsessed with something, you aren’t putting your whole into it, especially acting, a lot of the time starting out there is a lot of negativity and judgement, but you have to create some thick skin and remember why you’re doing it. I don’t think a lot of people would continue if they weren’t obsessed with this industry. Because while you’re taking time off or sleeping, that other person is honing heir skills and nailing that audition.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have hundreds of very influential people who I would love to have a chance to meet, however at this point in my life; I would have to say the top picks are Jason Blum (Blumhouse), Eli Roth, Al Pacino, Tom Hardy, Vin Diesel and Leo DiCaprio. They are all very inspirational to me in different ways and have all had a huge impact on my acting and filmmaking career at different times, so I would like to get the chance to tell them how much their work has inspired others. (Yes please tag them 😉)

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @brendanbyrneactor (https://www.Instagram.com/brendanbyrneactor)

Facebook: @brendanbyrneactor (https://www.facebook.com/brendanbyrneactor)

Twitter: @brendanbyrne83 (https://www.twitter.com/brendanbyrne83)

YouTube: Shadow Wolves Productions (https://www.youtube.com/ShadowWolvesProductions)

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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