Patrick Finnegan

United States Naval Academy’s “Freedom” (short film)

Patrick Finnegan


1) How did you get into directing?
Having worked for over 25 years in the film industry (mostly commercials, some features and television) I rose through the ranks; initially a commercial actor with close to 50 nationals in my resume, then moving behind camera as a construction coordinator, then key grip and many years following as a DGA 1st A.D- always watching, learning and honing my skills. Being a single father with a handicapped child, I had to take bankable work that put being a parent first, with little opportunity to pursue the risks of transitioning to directing.

Over time, with the age prejudice for new directors in our industry, I saw dwindling prospect I would ever get my chance to prove my directing skills and vision. Interestingly, that opportunity came through an organization that has innate respect for the depth of experience and knowledge that can be garnered with age, the US military.

2) What is your most recent project? 
A branding project I designed for the United States Navy using commercial branding to sell an idea to young officers: honor in leadership. 

I suspect only directors of low budget features and documentarians have experiences as varied as mine. Creating this project the ground up, I developed concept, aided fundraising, managed client relations, produced the filming campaigns, wrote, was co camera and director the spots and finally oversaw every step of the postproduction pipeline. 

With the development of digital cinema, there is been a democratization of filmmaking that has put high quality, low cost tools in the hands of filmmakers and opportunities like mine are developing new directors and skills in ways never before possible, affording us intimate involvement in every aspect of our craft.

3) What is the best part of being a director? 
I believe great directors are impassioned by stories they want to tell using the tools of nuance, performance, visuals and light. The world seen through the lens is less like the world of our eyes than of our dreams. Like dreams, powerful stories are told through suggestion and a framing that skews the world slightly and reaches into the unconscious. 
Great directors are not only visual thinkers but see the world through symbols. 
The best part of being a director is not only having those tools at your disposal, but access to the incredible professionals of our industry who can help you use them to their fullest. I learn everything I can about my tools; about performance, cameras, lighting, editing, and color correction. The more I know, not only the more I appreciate the masters of each of these storytelling tools but also the more skillfully I channel their talents.

4) What is the worst part of being a director? 
The single worst part of being a director is not directing. 

Directors are made through real world trials of experience, mistakes, vision and passion; yet I suspect directors are also born. When it feels like this is what you were born to do, that it is in your very blood to not only to be responsible for the direction of your creative vision but for leading the teams of professionals who help you realize that vision, to be denied access to those opportunities is a creative hell.

I learned over time not to edit in camera, that mistakes I thought I made shooting (an out of focus shot, a missed framing) at times turned out in the edit to be surprising jewels. It’s this kind of real-world experience that is irreplaceable. Directors need both to direct and see their work through the entire pipeline to truly grow and develop.

5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 
I love to tell stories that encourage human beings to be the best versions of their selves, which uplift and inspire. 

Commercials are a kind of poetry of the screen and features, its prose. In a commercial you communicate through brevity of language while in a feature you have the breadth of long form to develop wider ranging narrative. 

Both art forms compel me artistically. . 

My experience with the Navy project as shown me the wonderful opportunities available in providing corporate branded content. Institutions take pride in their identity and helping them express that to the world can be creatively enlivening and fulfilling and working with the military over the course of years, I have only the deepest respect for their passion, courage and commitment.

6) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you? 
There are scores of innovative, talented and visionary people in film and over the course of hundreds of productions, I have worked with many. Some of those talented people were a delight to work with and some, frankly awful.

Lao Tzu once said that the true leader is he or she who when the job is done everyone says, “Ah, what a good job we did!” The director, while under enormous pressure, is often treated like a king. While talent seems plentiful, mentors who have inspired me the most in my career have not just lead with their talent, but understanding a king’s responsibility to also serve those they lead, inspired the very best from their team by both their humanity and decency.

7) Who is your favorite director and why? 
With much of the focus my professional experience in the commercial film industry, some of my most creatively inspiring experiences were with directors and teams out of Europe. Unfortunately, advertising in this country sometimes is constrained by committee decision-making in which all members don’t necessarily share an inspired sense of the bigger picture.

In general, European teams I have worked with have had a more exploratory spirit about ideas, concept and creative improvisation and directors seem more highly valued. For instance, while commercial directors are rarely part of the edit in this country, they are intrinsic to the edit in Europe. 

Harold Zwart and Barney Cokeliss are two directors I have worked with that come to mind for both range and creative curiosity.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
My favorite movie is “King of Hearts” with Alan Bates; so honest and simple, perhaps even childlike and yet manages to put a profound lens to the world through which most of us often don’t see. The performances of the cast of characters in the French town are absolutely delightful.

I feel HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is the best production currently on television. As a fan of the books as a younger man it’s stunning how deftly they have translated both its sheer human scope and visual majesty to the screen. The production value is second to none. 

Some of the Budweiser commercial spots with the Clydesdales are mythic examples of simple storytelling.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 
I grew up in the Midwest but left by 17. 

I spent years fighting forest fires in the Rockies, working fire lookout towers, was a student of Zen and traveled throughout the world, most notably for four months across India. I built my own solar powered home in the New Mexico mountains, owned a restaurant, was a professional woodworker and furniture designer and even had a stint working an assembly line in a coffin company before landing in LA to pursue a film career. 

The greatest job of all was being a dad to my two sons.

On his deathbed, Steve Jobs reflected he had spent his life in pursuit of money, only to finally realize a human being’s greatest possessions are our memories. It is an honor to be chosen by SHOOT Magazine for my work. Wherever it may or may not lead professionally, it’s a good memory.


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