Searchlight: Conor Byrne

Having a father who is managing partner of international production company Hungry Man is certainly a headstart in life when you want to be a film maker. It may open doors but you’ve got to be good, really good, to cut it with the rest of the industry and that’s just what Conor and Tyler Byrne have done. Their few films have been a hit on the festival circuit, and their short Foureyes picked up the 1st Prize Award in Short Film Northern America at the YDA show.
We talk with the siblings about having film-making in their dna and when it’s time to call for mum

 Describe your childhood please. What were you obsessed with as kids?  

We were reared in idyllic River Edge, NJ – sort of a Bedford Falls-esque suburban town about 20 minutes outside of Manhattan. Our parents are NYC transplants; our dad is a commercial producer and our mom is an actor, so we’ve been surrounded by “the biz” (do people call it that?) for as long as we can remember.

Our film education started early; we’ve been on a steady diet of VHS tapes and DVDs since we were in diapers. Growing up, we religiously watched (and rewatched) movies like Hook, ET, and Robin Hood that transported us to far-off worlds beyond our bedrooms.

We were always pretty different dudes, though. Conor was more of an indoor kid – obsessed with odd habits like meticulously redesigning NBA team logos, and Tyler was the captain of every sport, with ever-growing collections of athletic trophies and love letters from girls in his class. Our childhood and suburban upbringing is a central influence on all of our work together.

When did you both realise you wanted to make films and when did you first work together?

We’ve always collaborated in one capacity or another; we even played bad emo music in high school together. As brothers, we have an inherent creative shorthand; we pull from a similar set of experiences, memories, and influences.

As for filmmaking aspirations – aside from being born into it, I think we realized we wanted to make films after seeing movies like Rushmore, Fargo, Boogie Nights and Being John Malkovich that made us aware of the presence of a real authorial voice behind a movie. We both studied film at Wesleyan University under Jeanine Basinger, which was a tremendously formative experience. This shared academic background helped form a consistent approach to thinking about movies. Wesleyan also instilled in us a common love for Anthony Mann, Minnelli musicals, and screwball comedy.

Do you work out of a studio where you both rock up at 9am or is it still the kitchen table?

We work wherever we can, really. I’m writing this from a tiny hotel room in Koreatown, where we’re staying while in LA to shoot a commercial. In New York, where we’re based, we work out of an office. Of course, there’s also something still so sacred about returning to our childhood home and setting up shop in the dining room to work creatively. The Jersey ‘burbs are quite holy to us.

How does your partnership work with the creative process. Do you both work on ideas and narrative together and evolve the scripts together?

We collaborate all the way. I (Conor) usually bring an idea to the table, and Tyler and I tear it apart and rebuild it together. Our on-set roles are Conor as director and Tyler as producer, but we’re united in our meticulousness throughout the process. We develop and workshop all aspects of every project side by side.

Are there any differences of opinion and how do you resolve them? 

There are certainly disagreements, but we’ve learned that the most heated debates often yield the best solutions. Sometimes, though, we have to resort to settling things as true brothers do – stripping down to our skivvies and wrestlin’ in the backyard until one of us starts crying or Mom finds out.

So far you have been focussed on making short films – are you interested in shooting commercials or music videos or is the long-term plan to shoot features?

Narrative work is our passion and our central focus. The long-term, big-picture plan is to make feature length films – audience-pleasing fare with a keen balance of pathos, comedy, and visual style. That said, we’ve grown up around the world of commercials, so we’re diving into that field as well, which is proving to be both challenging and rewarding in its own right. Really, we’re open to making work of all shapes and sizes – commercials, features, series, branded content, etc. – and are excited about new modes of production, distribution, and consumption. These days you can watch Gone With The Wind on your wristwatch. Who knows what’s next?

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