An Interview with editor Michael Fitzpatrick.
During the pandemic, the demand for mental health and suicide prevention services soared. In February of this year, the Central Statistics Office released their fifth ‘Social Impact of Covid-19’ survey. It stated that of those aged between 18 and 34, almost three quarters of those surveyed (1,621) said the pandemic was having a negative impact on their mental health.
When ‘I’m Fine’ was uploaded to the RTÉ Player two months ago, it couldn’t have come at a better time. This powerful documentary features four young men from different backgrounds; Lorcán McMullan, Ray Connellan, Conor O’Keeffe and Hugh Mulligan. The four men, who have separate careers, interests and hobbies, all speak about their individual struggles with their mental health.
Lorcán moved from Belfast to Dublin and started playing inter-county hurling for Dublin, which was a dream of his. However, the pressure soon took its toll and and his mental health began to suffer. Ray is from Athlone in Westmeath and is a county footballer. He experienced depression in his teens and twenties and is now speaking up in a bid to help others.
Conor, an ultra-marathon runner, was born in Cork and is an advocate for mental health and opening up. He experienced his own struggles and it is shown in the documentary how he patched his life back together. Hugh is a Dublin-based musician (Malaki) who experienced depression when he finished school. By using his art, he is speaking to anyone who is going through what he went through.
The four men are honest and open about their struggles with mental health and as a result, we gain insight into their lives and what they went through. It’s an emotional series that is, in my opinion, extremely important to watch.
This documentary was directed and produced by Andrew Ascough, the cinematographer was Conor Hayes, the editor was Michael Fitzpatrick and the executive producer was Killian Connolly.
So what goes on behind the scenes and how is a fantastic piece like this created? I spoke to the editor Michael about how they came up with the idea, how they got the men to participate and the personal pressure he experienced while working on it.
“The original ideas behind this came together quite nicely. Lorcán is actually my housemate and is one of my closest friends. As you see in the documentary he had been putting a lot of pressure on himself to excel at the sport he was at, which was hurling, but unfortunately at the cost of a relationship that he didn’t want to lose,” explained Michael.
Michael and Lorcan had been speaking amongst themselves about sport in Ireland and how players sometimes find it difficult to speak out about problems they may be facing: “He [Lorcán] knows I’m a filmmaker and these are the kind of stories that I like to tell. He was asking me to make a documentary about this someday”.
At about the same time they were discussing this idea, Michael started becoming friendly with Conor Hayes and Andy Ascough.
“One of the days in Blackrock I was chatting to Andy. He was talking about an idea that himself and Conor had, where they wanted to talk about the negative effects of sport on men. Obviously, there are so many positives, but they wanted to explore some of the negatives,” said Michael.
Michael, Conor and Andy had personal connections with young male athletes in Ireland, who were achieving success at a high level: “Conor’s younger brother Ronan also plays hurling and he knows Lorcan quite well, which is funny. Andy’s younger brother plays rugby so we were all connected to these lads achieving massive goals in sport”.
However, sometimes success can come at a cost: “But I know definitely in the case of Lorcán, it seemed like his mental health was slipping a little bit. Lorcán wouldn’t mind me saying that.”
They had the idea, so the next step was collecting the sources. I asked Michael if the young men were hesitant to participate in the documentary and if it was important to them to show diversity.
“That hesitancy came mostly from Lorcán. Ray I actually grew up with, he’s from Athlone as well. I had noticed that he started posting more about his mental health online. I kind of had an idea that he had gone through some difficulties, but we were in different schools.”
Michael continued: “I noticed he was doing more interviews for various podcasts and he was being very outspoken about his mental health, around the same time that myself, Conor and Andy were developing this idea.”
Michael works with Hugh in Dublin “quite frequently” on music videos and other projects. Hugh is an artist who Michael describes as being “really open and a thoughtful, sensitive guy”.
“Then there was also Conor O’Keefe who Andy connected with a couple of months previous. From what I could tell from his approach to social media, he was an absolute perfect fit for what we were going for,” Michael further explained.
In terms of diversity, that was very important to the trio: “That was an absolutely huge element of it and we were a little bit apprehensive about having two people from the GAA. If we had somebody from a different sport or did something else, it would have probably reflected more diversity across the lads that we picked.”
Michael continued: “But we just felt like their stories were different enough and that it wasn’t going to seem like an attack on the GAA. That was something we were a little bit worried about in the early stages.”
This definitely comes across in the documentary. Due to its diversity, it’s impact can be felt and is representative of most men in Ireland. Therefore, it allows anyone watching it to relate to either all or some of the four men’s stories.
They had the idea and sources, so where did they go from there? The trio arranged zoom calls and set up a creator’s account with RTÉ. One day, Conor pitched the idea to the broadcaster “for the craic”.
“We fully didn’t expect them to get involved. And they did. They actually got back to us and said that they were developing something like this,” said Michael.
The trio got the go-ahead in March this year and managed to get an office space in Blackrock “at a cheap price”. They started filming about two weeks later.
“Originally we wanted to do four separate pieces on each guy. When we spoke to RTÉ about it they said it made way more sense to interweave all four of their stories together and try and look for similarities,” Michael said.
He continued: “There was back and forth with RTÉ about that and a good bit of writing. We had calls with them to guide us. The three of us are filmmakers but it was our first time doing anything near to this level of size or scale. We definitely appreciated the support they gave us.”
They conducted the interviews in one day; Andy asked the questions, with Michael and Conor working the cameras.
“From there we went straight into shooting B-roll and overlay clips of the interviews. For most of that week I was in the office by myself putting together rough cuts of each interview so myself and the two lads could watch them together and decide on the similarities we were going to follow for the storyline.”
He continued: “We were all worried about the first draft of the video because it wasn’t sounding or looking like anything we had imagined. It took a good bit of pulling out of hair and smacking our heads against the wall trying to figure out how we were going to make it work.”
Michael explained to me that he felt an enormous amount of personal pressure while working on this piece: “I also felt a lot of personal pressure being quite close to three out of the four lads and knowing I had to do their stories justice, especially when handling such sensitive material. It was a stressful month of editing.”
He continued: “Some of the days I would leave the office and have a massive pit in my stomach. I was constantly re-living these harrowing stories from some of my closest friends. It was rough at times but absolutely worth it in the end.”
Aside from the pressure, I asked Michael to describe how he felt being a part of such a compelling documentary, to which he replied: “honoured, blessed, and proud”.
‘I’m Fine’ was broadcast on the RTÉ Player in early May, in line with The Late Late Show’s Darkness into Light/Pieta House episode. In June, it was featured on TV on RTÉ 2. It was met with rave reviews, with the Irish Times labelling it as a “gripping film about emotional challenges for young men”.
If you would like to watch this documentary, which I recommend you do, click here.