How an industry leader followed a creative passion in Ireland
Unless you’re on Sean Duggan’s LinkedIn feed, you might not know about the creative project outside of the longtime executive’s work hours. For nearly four years, Duggan moonlighted as a documentary filmmaker from his position as vice president of advertising sales at SXM Media, where he oversees policy.
His first feature film, a documentary on the origins of surfing in Ireland entitled “keep it secret“, was created on November 1st in Belfast, and a week later at the Doc NYC festival. It has since racked up 10 festival screenings.
C&E: How did you find a balance between making a feature documentary and your daily work?
Duggan: At first it was holidays and a few weekends. I was also very lucky because some of the pioneers [surfers] who were in the film made me discover certain events, certain reunions that were happening, and I was able to go and collect a lot of my master interviews in a few days. But it was my free time. My knowledge of sports and other things definitely declined during this time.
C&E: Has making a film helped you better understand the campaign industry?
Duggan: We work with a ton of creatives, whether it’s a commercial agency in New York or a creative team working on an ad shoot for a candidate. I understand much more intimately what it takes to get that 32nd place and tell that story in a really compelling way.
C&E: Have any of the skills you learned translated into what you do in this industry?
Duggan: This project could have lasted another year, but I was just determined to do it. So I think that aspect of my daily life of hitting targets and goals, that’s a huge part of being a producer and keeping all those [parts] the progress of the project.
I personally set myself a goal that I wanted to submit to Doc NYC, which is the biggest documentary film festival in the United States, and I think, in the whole world. I was just like, I would love to premiere it there. And that’s why we’ve been really rushing to try and get the movie finished for the submission deadline, which is June 30th. And it was super exciting and humbling when we got accepted for the movie’s US premiere there.
C&E: Where did the idea for the documentary come from?
Duggan: Cinema has been a big passion for me and about four years ago I decided that if I didn’t do something about it I would kick myself, probably forever for not trying it. . So I started working on projects that I would consider producing, having never done a film before.
One of the ideas I had on a yellow notepad was the origin story of surfing in Ireland. I thought maybe it would be a scripted story, not even a documentary. And then I started doing some preliminary research, and then I started connecting with some of these pioneers of Irish surfing, who had started in the sixties. And I started to see the opportunity for an even better story than I could have found by going the scripted route.
C&E: How did you get funding?
Duggan: The first shoot I did was basically on a credit card. I went to Dublin, I found a cinematographer and a sound engineer, then I had a friend, an ex-Pandora colleague who was studying for her MBA in France, she became a production manager while we were doing interviews in Ireland.
Crowdfunding actually enabled the final editing and much of our final production of the film over the past six months that we finished last year. This provided the finances to complete the film and bring in a professional editor. Previously, I edited my own first edit of the film after using LinkedIn Learning to learn Avid.
C&E: Any advice for other practitioners working on a creative side project?
Duggan: I think the best advice I can give is, hey, if you have a project you’re thinking about, whether it’s a business or creative project, I think the most important thing is just to start taking the first steps. Looking back, for me it was a phone call and a Zoom interview over three years ago with an Irishman [surfer].