Sheridan O’Donnell is a freelance commercial and film director in Albuquerque, NM. His production company, Hardline Films, is a full service production company specializing in high-quality video content. Additionally, Hardline Films is comprised of CMI alumni. Recently, Sheridan directed a Mother’s Day commercial for eHarmony that has garnered a great deal of attention and praise in the advertising world.
Although some projects are sometimes small in scale, I feel really lucky to essentially direct for a living. The jobs don’t always come and some months are harder than others, but I make a living solely working in film, and I’m extremely grateful for that. It’s not an opportunity everyone gets, and I’ve never taken that privilege lightly.
What are some projects/jobs that you’ve worked on since graduating?
Probably the most substantial thing was I directed a 27 minute short film called “Wolff’s Law” starring Brendan Meyer, who stars in Netflix’s ‘The OA’. I’ve done client work for eHarmony, Zooppa, the Isotopes, etc. More recently, I directed another short called ‘Slow Wallet’ starring Matt Page of ‘Enter the Dojo’, and a couple of episodes, including the finale, for the Albuquerque web series “Thank You, 5”. I also just started a production company called Hardline Films in Albuquerque with my partners (and fellow CMI alums) Keagan Karnes, Jenn Garcia, and Sam Pool.
What classes and learning experiences at CMI were the most valuable in building towards your current job?
Rod McCall telling me to ‘be weird’ was really encouraging. He was always telling us to just be ourselves and that our specific voice was important, and that made a big impression on me. I also learned a lot of self-starter skills at CMI, which is crucial when you’re on your own after school. Also, learning the gamut of departmental jobs on set has been invaluable to me. It’s a lot easier to your communicate to your department heads and to understand how the ecosystem of a set works when you’ve done a lot of those jobs yourself.
What are you doing when you aren’t working?
Not working. Getting out of the hustling mind set, which I’m learning more and more can be toxic to real creativity. I read books and screenplays, travel, enjoy time with my wife, play with my dogs, exercise, and write for pleasure. That yin and yang is like an accordion. You have to inhale before you can exhale. You have to absorb before you can express yourself.
What advice would you give a CMI student (or maybe potential CMI student) about their time at CMI?
Absorb everything. Get involved. Work on everyone’s films in every capacity. Forget about your ego. Avoid that tribal mentality that some people fall into in college. Maybe to someone reading this it seems like I just fell into directing, but back in CMI even though I knew I wanted to direct ultimately, I was a PA on sets until I was grip until I was an AD and after years of that, I finally earned the privilege to be able to direct an entire cast and crew. Respect your collaborators. Learn from them and accept that they do what you could never do. And if you want to direct, you’re a director. You’re not ‘trying’ to be a director. Be confident. Forget about the ladder system as contrary as I’m sounding. Having a focused end goal was pivotal in my growth as a filmmaker. No matter what job I was doing, I was always relating it back to directing and taking notes on how to get better. If you’re a PA on set, listen to how everyone is communicating. Stand by the director and observe. See how they communicate to their department heads. See what they’re doing that seems right and even what’s wrong. Sometimes being on set you can learn as much by learning what ‘not’ to do. Do not get caught up in the current trend of camera and sensor worship. A frame that records moving images is all you need to learn how to tell stories visually. And do not let the curriculum of the school define your work ethic. Shoot a few shorts outside of school so you’ll learn how to do it on your own without any supervision or outside influence, which will be the rest of your life after you’ve graduated. Self-discipline is probably the most valuable trait you can have as a filmmaker. If you don’t have the natural impulse to get up and tell stories without someone telling you to, you may not be in the right profession. But also don’t be daunted by that. That impulse may come every so often and be a flicker at first, but through years of dedication and perseverance you can turn it into a flame and eventually a fire.
Where can people see your work?
Anything else you’d like to say?
Since my advice section was growing too long, I just wanted to add that you should respect the work you’re doing. Film is a transcendent, moving way of expressing yourself. It’s the medium of miracles and time travel. Even being behind the camera and knowing the illusion, I still consider it magic. And while it’s an undeniable reality that the majority of films in America are more entertainment-minded, that doesn’t mean it can’t be personal and meaningful. Film as a means of personal expression is my favorite kind of cinema, and I encourage you to stay exactly who you are in the face of these realities if you’re struggling. I’ve stuck to that principle for the last eight years of my filmmaking career, and while things have moved slow and haven’t always been easy, I’ve never had a day of my life where I don’t feel a real and intimate connection with the work I’m doing. It’s about what the work means to you as much or more than what it means to others.
What’s next for you?
I can say unflinchingly that my next big move is writing and directing a feature film, hopefully in the next year or two. There’s an electricity in the air, and the group of us up here in Albuquerque are all ready. I’m in the development/writing stage of it and it’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I have no doubt that I’m going to do it. It’s been that outlasting dream I’ve had for the last decade of my life, and I finally feel ready as a filmmaker as a person to realize it.
Thank you, Sheridan, for taking the time to share your experiences with us!