Hugh O’ Conor attended the Berlinale this year with Corduroy, the third film in his directing career. It was produced by Eimear O’Kane with EMU Productions as part of the Irish Film Board’s Signatures scheme and tells the story of a young autistic woman who, after a traumatic experience, is brought to the West of Ireland by a carer to learn how to surf. Corduroy screened as part of the Generation 14plus competition along with 11 other shorts including filmmaker Spike Jonze’s most recent short film, I’m Here. O’Conor is an established household name due to his acting career but the move to behind the camera is an exploration of his recent interest in photography. He is currently working as a director with new Irish production company Sweet Media who specialise in advertising. He talks with Beatrice Ní Bhroin about the making of Corduroy and its vision.
What initiated the making of Corduroy?
Having become interested in photography a few years ago, I really wanted to try and tell a story visually, and when I heard about a group who take young people with autism to the west to learn how to surf, I thought it could make an interesting story.
The film has a dynamic style, what’s the idea behind this?
I talked with various experts on the subject and they explained how autism is an audio-visual condition, so it seemed like it could work as a film which is also principally about the audio-visual.
How did you create this look?
Working with the cinematographer Ruairí O’Brien we tried to design the visual landscape for the film, using swing and tilt lens to recreate her interest in details, while the production designer Francis Taaffe created 2-D props to slightly jar with the other ‘normal’ props on display, so we would question what exactly we were seeing.
How does the sound play into this?
Steve Fanagan put together an amazing sound design that again slightly disorientates our senses. We all felt a duty in dealing with this condition to give some sense of what it’s like, and the response from Aspire [the Asperger Syndrome Association of Ireland] has been brilliant. That in itself has definitely been an achievement for me.
It was very important for you to show an understanding of autism. How did you achieve this?
We met and worked with Aspire, especially the drama group run by Carmel O’Sullivan from Trinity, and we were able to workshop the script with some of the young people who take part in the group, which was an incredibly valuable experience.
The actors are perfect for the roles. Were they always in mind?
I had seen Caoilfhionn [Caoilfhionn Dunne] in a couple of plays in Dublin and knew she’d be right for the part, and I’d always wanted to work with Domhnall [Domhnall Gleeson], so I met with them and explained what the idea was, and after taking on board what they thought I went away and wrote the script.
How was the film received at the festival?
The response to the film in Berlin was really positive. As I said in my blog for the Film Board, the Berlinale audience has a tough habit of clapping when a film finishes, then waiting for the credits to roll, and deciding to clap or not again once they’ve finished. Fortunately we got a generous double clap at all our screenings. It was also lovely to get nice words from the other directors and audience members. It was a very supportive atmosphere.
What are you working on next?
As for my next directing/writing project, I am working on a feature script but it’s still in the early stages. Writing for me is both terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time, and ultimately a way of getting to make a film (hopefully), which is what I’m most passionate about. With all these other projects going on will you continue acting? I just finished acting in Killing Bono in Belfast and I did a film with Timothy Spall in England late last year, a family comedy called Re-Uniting the Rubins written and directed by a first-time English director. I acted in and wrote a bit for an Irish sketch show, Your Bad Self, before Christmas with a lot of my friends, and that was a great experience. And I’m starting rehearsals for a Tom Stoppard play, Arcadia in the Gate Theatre here in Dublin in a few weeks’ time. Acting is something I hope I’ll always get to do – not only because it can be so much fun, but also because you get to work with some amazing actors, writers and directors, and learn from them. Every experience is different. I think that’s why we all keep coming back for more…
To visit the Asperger Syndrome Association of Ireland’s website, click here: www.aspire-irl.org