By Emily Mullen
Dubliner Erynn Coogan charts her journey from a panic attack while sitting maths paper 1 to working on her second feature film with streaming tycoons Netflix.
Slaves to their Twitter feeds may have seen Erynn Coogan’s mike drop tweet, which she posted a few days after the Golden Globes. “i can’t believe i’m only 24 and going to work on my SECOND feature film for netflix!!! lads i failed my leaving cert, anything is possible,” she wrote. The response this tweet elicited was mainly intrigue from head-scratching film students (“I’m a film student so I’m curious as to how you got in the door?”) to film industry workers confirming that skills and contacts alone can open doors, to others bemoaning the Leaving Cert and our societal emphasis upon it.
Coogan’s intent behind the tweet was probably the latter. Speaking to us after starting her new role as feature film production coordinator with Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon, the 24-year-old was quick to point out the pressures placed on her as she came to the end of her second-level education. “I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do. Looking back on it now I feel like my school really pushed me to apply for college courses and the stress that put on me was mental,” she said.
“Not only did I have exams to worry about, but I was then being forced to decide on a career in the space of a couple of months.” At a loss for what to do, Coogan enrolled in a makeup course, in an effort to “just to get people off my back”. But the pressure came to a head for Coogan when she sat down to do maths paper 1 during her Leaving Cert and had “an awful panic attack”. She left the exam room after an hour, with the exam paper left “pretty much blank”. The temporary release of leaving the exam and somewhat alleviating the panic attack was replaced by an awful realization that by leaving that paper blank Coogan had failed her Leaving Cert.
With the key to so many career paths snatched away from her, Coogan started her makeup course that she had been accepted onto for a couple of weeks, before hearing about a role in the graphic design studio Equator Media that required no previous experience or education. The then 17-year-old Coogan applied and ultimately secured the role of a junior researcher at the company, a job that made her drop her makeup course and set her off on a completely different career path. Securing the role gave Coogan the experience and confidence to take a path away from the formulaic third-level education track.
Coogan describes the surreal setting of starting the job a week after her 18 birthday and receiving her Leaving Cert results shortly afterward, “I was the youngest person working there and everyone was really excited for me to get my results. I remember pulling my manager at the time to the side and letting him know that I was pretty certain I had failed my leaving cert, and he told me that it didn’t matter what points get, they were really happy with my work and they would be keeping me on regardless of my leaving very points.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Coogan now realises this to have been one of the most important points in her career. Her success in her new job in spite of her exam results led her to realise that “a piece of paper won’t predict my future”.
“Having failed the Leaving Cert and never gone to college I guess I’m proof that believing in yourself and going after what you want is very much achievable.”
Coogan’s departure from graphic design to animation production began just three years ago when at the tender age of 21 (when most are finishing their degrees), she felt like she needed to make her “next big career move”. Sending “pretty much” every animation studio in Ireland an email to say “hi, and that I was looking for work,” eventually led to an animation studio with a focus on YouTube-production taking her on as a studio assistant.
From there Coogan moved on to Boulder Media, where she worked on the My Little Pony animated movie as a production assistant, and then as the project developed she was promoted to a production coordinator. The nature of the work was groundbreaking in an Irish context, with the Netflix film being the first computer-animated production in Ireland. “All other animated films produced in Ireland up until now have been 2D. So it was a fantastic opportunity for me to have been part of,” Coogan said.
“I’ve worked hard over the last seven or so years since failing my leaving cert and I’m at a point in my career where I can proudly say that I have my dream job.”
Currently based in Dublin, Coogan’s next project alongside the Oscar-nominated studio Cartoon Saloon will bring her to Kilkenny. Working on the upcoming feature film in conjunction with Netflix which is called My Father’s Dragon is based on the novels by Ruth Stiles Gannett, Coogan’s excitement of the project is evident, “the excitement is real!” she said.
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