What I love the most about performing music is making my Gran happy. She loves to hear me playing and she’s always so incredibly supportive. It’s fun to see her enjoying a hip-hop song she would usually hate just because she’s glad I’m playing and enjoying. Her favourite song is House in New Orleans, so that’s one I’ve learned and practiced lots. Every time I play it for her, I’ll add something new – I still have a drum stick strapped to my guitar from when I tried to play, drum, and sing all at once!
My name is Luke Connelly and I’m a 19-year-old 3rd Year Computer Science student at UCD. Tech has always been in my life – when I was young, I used to make PowerPoint presentations ranking my favourite films and footballers. Once I developed that slight bit of computer literacy, I started showing my brothers how they could do it and also learned more at a local CoderDojo. From there, I started teaching a small group of primary school children how to use Scratch. I used to draw pictures in a vector editor for them based on their ideas so their game would feel more personal. I loved doing the coding and also bringing that creative element to the projects, so I think that’s kind of where I got it into my head that tech would be a good fit for me. I still try to bring that creativity now in my course, and I’ll volunteer to do graphics or music or art anywhere on my projects that I can.
I’m from Roscommon, but the county is not a very busy or high-tech place, so Dublin was my favourite choice for going to college. I’m glad I chose it – I love the city and I love the freedom of being one person in a million.
Outside of college classes, I love making films and performing music. I first became interested in filmmaking when I made home films with my brothers when I was around 7 or 8. We used to have a movie night on Fridays where we’d all sleep in the same room and watch films together, so I think that’s why we wanted to start trying to do it ourselves. I don’t think they enjoyed working for me though; I used to be giving out to them for laughing in the middle of the scenes at my cringe-worthy dialogue or ridiculous homemade props – it was a bit of the joke to them, but I really wanted to be a very professional 8-year-old about the whole thing. I first started thinking about the actual impact of film when I was about 13 and I cried watching Gladiator – I was kind of shocked that film could reach people in that way. I looked into it mostly through YouTube, watching videos on the film techniques, learning more and more about how films make you feel so strongly about imagined characters in contrived situations. It was an obsession; every night I’d watch more and more, learning about how to write, direct, and edit films in a way that they can be impactful and meaningful.
What I love the most directing films is the collaboration and interactions. You’re working with people through the entire process from writing to shooting to editing, so the collaboration is absolutely vital – just like in software engineering. There’s developing the dialogue, working around problems on set, and deciding what does or doesn’t make the final cut – I have massive respect for anyone who can do that alone (I certainly couldn’t). I love to have a fun atmosphere on set, with jokes between takes and everyone just working together to make sure everything comes out as best it can. When I was working on my last film, there was a shot where someone tries to escape a set of handcuffs, and we had bought a cheap children’s set to use. They broke in half on the very first take, so for the rest of the takes for the scene, I sat under the table gripping onto the handcuff chain to make sure Lia (our lead) could pull and convincingly make it seem like she was properly stuck. I think the actors (like my brothers) might have found it hard to take me seriously when I was giving out my directions in a constant squat under a small table, but I’m still happy watching the scene back and seeing the struggle!
I use a lot of different equipment in my film production and post-production. My first film where I worked with a crew was with UCD FilmSoc, so all the equipment was provided by them. I think we had a Sony camera (which had been donated) and some Snowball microphones. It wasn’t fancy, but I think the biggest trap filmmakers fall into is thinking they need incredible equipment to be able to make good films. Most iPhones will come preinstalled with iMovie and Garageband, which you can use to make decent edits and scores. Combined with the camera, it’s basically everything you need to practice. I put together a Rocky-style montage to me programming as an extra thing to submit for a school project – I did this in 30 minutes on my phone. It’s simple (stupid in my case) ideas, but every time you do something small and follow through all the way to the end, you’ve improved and learned. It can be jokes for friends or small ideas you’re passionate about – it’s all transferrable skills you pick up, and learning what works and what doesn’t firsthand is invaluable.
The short film I did with UCD FilmSoc, Forget Me Knot, has been released online during the pandemic. It would have been my first work shown in a cinema, but I’ll unfortunately be waiting for a while with the Covid crisis. It’s a psychological horror short based on a short story I wrote preparing my Leaving Cert, and it was pretty much three years in the making. I started with the story which I wrote in secondary school, adapted it to a script, and sent it to the UCD FilmSoc when I started college. They got in contact with me a few months later to say that they wanted to produce it. I was on the train home from college when I got the email and I cried (much to the discomfort of the strangers around me). It was massive for me.
We then started casting – I went through making notes for every audition I saw on my phone, ending up with around 1500 words on 30 auditions. We got in touch with everyone to see who was available and eventually settled on Lia and Dan as our two leads. I wanted to make sure I was prepared, so I storyboarded the entire film. I think I went a bit over the top in a lot of areas for a student film, but I wanted to make the most of the experience and I know it’ll all be good practice for the future.
Looking at my other activities, I also love Performing Music. I started parent-mandated piano lessons (like I’m sure lots of younger people have) when I was 5 and I played mostly classical music for about 8 years. I absolutely hated it and tried to quit lots of times. Eventually, I did quit so that I could start playing the songs I wanted to play (rather than ones I had to learn for exams). I started with classic Rock and Roll songs on piano – some AC/DC, Guns n’ Roses, and KISS – which was exactly as awful as it sounds. Around this time, my Gran gave me a guitar and encouraged me to start learning. It took me 2 years of picking up the guitar twice a month, playing for 10 minutes, getting frustrated, and walking away to get to a level where I could play what I wanted to. I went music-mad then, learning to play lots of different songs on the guitar and singing along a little. The theory I learned in piano lessons came in useful, as I was already aware of a lot of the fundamentals of scales, chords, keys, and harmony. I bought myself a set of drums, an acoustic guitar, an FX pedal, a mandolin, and a second amp in the space of about a year so that I could play and learn more and more. I now mostly play loop and indie covers on guitar, some film scores on piano, and playing/improvising some stuff of my own across all of my instruments.
My favourite instrument to play and perform is my electric guitar. My gran found it in a skip in England and brought it back for me; I fixed it up and now use it to play when I perform. The tone isn’t great, but I bought myself an FX and loop pedal that I can use to tweak it so it comes out better. Mostly, I play with a loop pedal using that guitar and a mic, but I also play drums and piano when I’m home from college on the weekends.
I think practicing my singing has been one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had – I was very self-conscious about my voice, so I wouldn’t sing very often. But with the guitar, I would practice alone and I’m proud to say after a few years, my voice is now at a point that does not cause long-term trauma. Aside from that, playing for my family at New Year’s was a nice moment and I always enjoy the interactions and jokes with people listening along.
I have several future goals with my filmmaking and music. I want to direct a script I haven’t written personally; I think collaborating with someone to bring their vision to film would be a great project and a really rewarding experience. I want to continue to build my directing portfolio, and hopefully see how far I can go. With music, I think my only goal is to keep it up, continue learning and playing. It’s an extremely comfortable thing for me to be able to do, so I really want it to always be there as a way for me to relax, express myself, and enjoy.
I think Computer Science projects and filmmaking are really similar. They’re both primarily about collaboration; software is very rarely made by one person and a director can’t do everything. You have to take suggestions, practice, and improve to become experienced and offer more to your team, be it a team of actors, editors, and writers, or one of the software developers. It’s also about making the best of what you have – I did the entirety of my first two years of computer science on a laptop that struggled to load Facebook, much like how I shot and edited everything I did before my short film on an iPhone. I play my music on a guitar I got from a skip. Practice, personality, and perseverance make a far better filmmaker, a far better musician, and a far better coder. I also think that the motivations are the same – when you make a film or perform a piece of music, there’s always a message or a feeling you want to share. To me, technology is all about spreading messages and information to help those around us.
My experiences with these pastimes will definitely be a benefit to my technological career. There’s nothing I love more than getting an opportunity to use my personal experience to improve a project (coding or otherwise). I always jump at the opportunity to do graphics, animations, or music for any projects that come my way. I really believe when your work involves what you love, it doesn’t feel like work at all. After my studies, I hope I can find work in an area related to my interests, such as editing software or a way to learn music through technology.
My advice to anyone interested in filmmaking or music is don’t be too shy to start and keep going, even when you don’t feel good enough. These are all skills that develop over time – natural ability is a myth. It can be embarrassing to start; you’ll find yourself cringing a lot at your first films or attempts to play music. It all comes as you practice, so just keep going. Don’t worry about playing for other people at first – ultimately, you should be doing these things for yourself.