Originally Published on 21 September 2018
Acting is a great way to experience time travel and parallel universes. It is a challenge of the skill sets, life experience, and lengthy filming endurance. In one week, I could go from a Knight in Medieval Armour knee deep in the battlefield mud to a Stormtrooper in Sci-Fi Armour pacing the corridors of a Starship and back to my engineering day job in between. Many workplaces require passion, commitment, and delivery – the key is to try and achieve a balance of leaving that at the workplace door at the end of the shift. Similarly, at the end of the day of filming, you are hanging up your sword and shield and washing the stage blood from your face to go for a beer with your mates and watch the football. Acting enables you to be in the moment for the role, and this is true for an Engineering & Project Management role too.
My name is Micheal Fitzgerald. I’m an Aerospace Engineer, and currently a Senior Planner in Biologics & Life Sciences. I wanted to build starships and racing cars as a kid and that’s why I went to study Aerospace Engineering in Manchester. Biologics is an ultra-high-tech industry with many Irish leaders across the Life Sciences of the world.
My interest in acting started when I moved to Australia in 2008 and I wanted to try a new skillset. I’m used to getting a lot of rejection from girls, so the rejection of the audition process was always going to pale in comparison.
Miguel Sapochnick has been a big influence on my filmmaking, and I’ve been lucky to see how he works on Game of Thrones. He has directed the biggest episodes in the series, including the Hardhome & Battle of the Bastards episodes. I most admire how he listens to the key crew, who themselves will also bring lifetimes of experience that would be remiss not to activate and enable. Filming can be akin to fighting a war against time to achieve the scene specification with an army of resources that must be drilled.
I’ve been lucky enough to win acting opportunities in Australia, the UK & the US (being Irish was always a bonus in these markets). The hardest market to win opportunities is in Ireland. Unfortunately, the industry in Ireland is very capital-based, and the opportunities usually fall to a small group of gatekeepers who draw from a familiar pool of talent. This does mean like any other industry today, there is a great opportunity in diversity, disruptors, and new talent to film projects of our own and win opportunities on our own initiative.
Ireland has so much more potential, and major productions like Game of Thrones up North, Vikings in Wicklow and Nightflyers in Troy Studios in Limerick all demonstrate epic can achieve handsomely in Ireland. The only limitations are the ones we set for ourselves.
My short film Stormtroopers (2016) was made to show high-quality productions could be made in any part of the country regardless of budget and to showcase new Irish actors and crew that could seamlessly deliver an entertaining and high-spec film as good as any other production.
I co-wrote and starred as the Platoon Leader in this short film. With Stormtroopers (2016), we made a conscious effort to collaborate early with peers in Crew & VFX to ensure what we were planning could be achieved. I collaborated early with a first-class Director of Photography in Matthew Kirrane and Irish animation house Dog Day Media to work through all our scenes and locations ahead of filming. We engaged with critical locations early and worked with them at all times to ensure their locations were filmed to their best potential and we always returned them in better condition than we got them. Stormtroopers (2016) was filmed in 40 degrees in The Pinnacles desert in Western Australia and finished in the back of a tank in the Irish Military War Museum in Slane. We had one suit of armour which we modified the configuration to create additional distinct characters. It was filmed using Australian & Irish crews.
The next episode, Stormtroopers (2018), was on another level of cast, crew, and resources. It’s enabled us to work on a greater landscape of challenges and build a really awesome team of people. Directing this episode has enabled me to delegate my vision to a skilled actor, actress or crew member. Adding actors and actresses of great talent and experience added greater legitimacy to the Stormtroopers universe and new points of view. Often, the strength of the actresses and actor’s performances re-wrote several subsequent scenes because of how they brought their characters to life. It was really special to experience how much better the whole can be for the sum of the parts. It will be awesome to apply this arsenal of talent with the lessons learned to another episode and a greater adventure.
Another major passion of mine is race driving. My two passions came together as I was an early adopter of GoPro cameras, and my short film Wakefield Park gave me an opportunity to pair the excitement and glamour of the race track and the in-car narrative of a racing driver. I thought race driving would be a great way to impress girls, but then over time, I realised they were much more interested in horses.
I worked with WilliamsF1 in 2000-2001 to design several eCommerce strategies for them, including building the 2001-2002 WilliamsF1.com website. Race driving gave me an opportunity to understand the qualities and values of the company and industry much better. It also gave me a significant challenge, and each chance to test or race has been a point in life absolutely lived to the fullest. The most influential person in my racing career was Frank Williams from WilliamsF1. Frank was in a car crash in 1986 and is a tetraplegic as a result. Any weekend that WilliamsF1 was not racing in some corner of the world, Frank Williams would come to the factory on a Sunday afternoon. It was a real eye-opener to the value of someone leading by passion and commitment even when there was no one there to see it.
The most exciting part about race driving is the chance to do better than you did last time out against yourself, the car, or against your peers. I enjoy the engineering preparation and the economic obstacles to get to the grid but even after that, it’s you alone against a grid of combatants. Hand & Eye coordination and a certain level of natural ability are very important. However, racing skills can be learned and developed. I’m not the most gifted driver in the world by far, but I will try to focus on other qualities in which I can excel. I will make an effort to train right in the gym and prioritise life commitments to enable a healthy mind for a race weekend. For someone new, I’d advise lots of karting to get the eye and toe in.
My favourite race tracks in the world are Wakefield Park in New South Wales & Barbagallo in Western Australia. My best racing experience is going wheel to wheel against the best of Western Australia talent at Barbagallo, lap after lap after lap with the sun setting behind the grandstand just in time for when you spot your apex point for the turn in while braking from 220kph.
Acting & Race Driving gives me the opportunity to develop diverse skills and experiences that definitely transfer to a technological career. Just like a part in a film, we have roles and responsibilities in our careers to play, while Directing & Racing Driving are both parts of the greatest university of problem-solving under time and resource constraints which are always welcome to any complex project. Acting & Directing allows me to pre-visualise many science fiction concepts in film in the absence of those technologies and universes actually existing. There is a strong correlation between engineering, design and science fiction.
The greatest achievement in life is to be remembered. How you are remembered is up to you. You can only be the best you can be in your ability not someone else’s ability. Everyone is different and that’s the reward of diversity. Some people have unbelievable talent and some have a great engine of work ethic fuelled by passion. On set, the race track, the hurling field, or the project office – the people who consistently work hard with respect towards others are the ones who are always remembered best.
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