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It’s All About the Story: A Mike Houlihan Update

February 14, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Megan E. Doherty

Mike Houlihan

Mike Houlihan is a hard one to keep up with.  With a career spanning nearly four decades, he has acted, directed, produced, written and filmed.  Oh, and he’s been on the radio, too.  On December 13, DIY Film caught up with Houlihan – owner of Mike Houlihan Creative – to hear about his latest exploits (you can read the original feature here).

“I’ll be 63 years old next week, I want to put all my concentration and effort into making art,” he said.  “The politics of regular business isn’t my thing.  I don’t want to dance to another fiddler.”

This sentiment, not exactly uncommon among creatives of all stripes, had prompted him to say goodbye to some of the more lucrative work Mike Houlihan Creative has done over the years – such as advertising and public relations – to make room for more artistic endeavors, such as his radio show, film and book projects, as well as screenplays.

No sooner had he made up his mind than he got “sucked back in” – this time, to politics.  Currently representing two political candidates in Will County, he still finds ways to be creative on the job.  “What’s the biggest sport in Chicago?  Politics!  It’s exciting.  It has a beginning, a middle and an end, just like a play or a film.”

For Houlihan, art and politics are more similar than most people think.  “It’s all show business!  It’s all about the story,” he explained.  That, and “you get paid.  Upfront, too.”  Be that as it may, Houlihan still sees the political game as a means to the end of furthering more artistic projects.

For example, he had been working on a new screenplay, My Brother, the Zombie, which he completed a month or so ago.  He dreamed his brother, who died seven years ago, came back, well, as a zombie – and apparently one with a sense of humor.  “I hope to pitch it to someone…like Charlie Sheen,” he said.

Houlihan, who still pens a monthly column for the Irish American News, was also working feverishly with his radio co-host, James “Skinny” Sheahan, to resuscitate Chicago’s South Side St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which was only recently announced would return this spring.

“It was a tradition for thirty-one years,” he said, “and an annual reunion for anyone who grew up on the South Side.”

Since August, they were fighting to bring back what was shut down in a “rush to judgment,” all thanks to a couple “hooligans” who ruined it for everyone.  Houlihan, a self-proclaimed hooligan himself, is at least one of the funny – and non-destructive – ones.

Now, he spends much of his time with his documentary, Our Irish Cousins, which he is “scrambling” to finish by March for a hopeful WTTW television debut.  The film, which attempts to answer the question, “What makes us Irish?  Location or lineage?” was primarily shot on a Panasonic DVX 100, with their back-up camera a Canon Vixia HV30.

Joe Fitzgerald, Cousins’s director of photography, discussed how their low budget “use what’s available” situation worked out.  “The two cameras were a good compliment to one another because the DVX, when programmed properly, had truly beautiful color rendering, and Mike’s palmcorder had a slightly flatter image but better overall resolution.”  Fitzgerald also maximized the DVX’s twin audio inputs, using one for a Sennheiser MK2 shotgun, and another Sennheiser G2 wireless lav.

Houlihan and Fitzgerald first crossed paths while working on Tapioca, Houlihan’s indie feature film, which turned out to be one of Fitzgerald’s first jobs.  Now, with a little more experience under his belt, Fitzgerald could handle what shooting Cousins threw at him.  “The thing about documentaries is that you are always at the mercy of your environment,” he said.  “Let your constraints help shape the look and feel of the moment.  You can always drag someone over to a more quiet spot in the room to grab a sound bite.  Or, sometimes the essence of a scene can be better portrayed with our main interactions occurring in silhouette.”

“You’re shooting guerrilla-style,” Houlihan said.  “You don’t know what the lighting will be, what the sound will be, and you can’t say, ‘can you do that again?’”

Talking about the film means talking about how he came up with the title – and with Mike Houlihan, that means telling a story.  “When we were here in Chicago, shooting at all the book signings, I did one at a place called Harte’s Saloon on the South Side.  Mike Harte, who owns it, says we ought to look up his cousin [when we film in Ireland], who has a bar there called Harte’s.”

Eventually, while filming in the emerald isle, Houlihan and his team found themselves treated to lunch at the Harte’s in Galway.  “We bring greetings from your cousin Mike in Chicago!” Houlihan said by way of hello.

“I don’t have any cousins,” came the gruff reply.

To settle the matter, Houlihan decided to call the Chicago Harte, who insisted, “he is my cousin!”  Then the Irish Harte gets on the phone.  “I hear him go, ‘ARE YOU MY COUSIN?,’” laughed Houlihan.  “He came back and he’s all happy and I asked him, ‘so, are you cousins?’  He said, no!”

Yet, to a certain extent, “we’re all cousins,” he smiled.


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