Shane McCabe speaks on Vikings mentorship




I haven’t been up at 5.30 am to head to a set in a while but when Birch Hamilton called me to ask me if I’d like to do a day’s mentorship with Ciaran Donnelly on Michael Hirst’s Vikings the early start didn’t even come into the equation.

Arriving at the Unit Base at Moghermore Beach in Co. Wicklow at sunrise I was very glad I’d thought of the thermals and wellies. Ciaran was more than generous with his time considering he had an eleven hour day where he had to shoot a huge beach battle scene on three cameras with over 250 cast and crew involved. I was happy I’d gone for the dirty big fry up breakfast.


I cannot stress enough the value of SDGI’s Mentorship Program. Having the opportunity to shadow not alone a talented director like Ciaran but to watch a script written by Michael brought to life by a multitude of talented artists both in front of and behind the camera under a talented director stewardship was a real learning experience.

What struck me the most during the course of the day was the ease at which Ciaran got through his various set-ups. Very little seemed to go wrong in what was a heavily choreographed battle scene with over 40 stuntmen and women involving close up hand-to-hand combat. But sitting in the director’s tent watching playback on three monitors it soon became obvious to me it was the huge amount of work done in prep which helped make the shoot run smoothly. The detailed storyboarding of the multitude of different shots was key.


The light remained pretty constant throughout the day so that was a big help and meeting Michael Hirst was simply an added bonus because he is such a genius on the page, but what really stood out for me was was the strong collaborative effort by the Director, the DOP and the three Cameramen in executing the storyboarded shot list which really helped cement a seemingly flawless transition from the page.

This was certainly augmented by the planning and rehearsals, even down to making use of when the tide would be in or out. We started at 8.00 am and finished at 7.00pm on the nose. Watching how the director handled the politics of the set with such a huge cast was indeed very interesting.


I highly recommend it to anyone given the opportunity.


Shane McCabe