27 Q&A on Charlie Casanova with Terry McMahon
Describe your movie in a sentence.
A ruling class sociopath kills a working class girl in a hit-and-run and uses a deck of playing cards to determine his fate.
Could you give me a little look into your background.
From a small town in Ireland and estranged from my family for some time, as a teenager, for about a year, I lived alone in a series of abandoned buildings. I had been young enough for words like ‘fear’ and ‘loneliness’ to be little more than abstractions, but, now, usually around four a.m. their meaning started to become less abstract. To drown out the tricks the night played I’d tune into the late night music of a small battery operated radio. That’s where I first heard the Andante from Mozart’s Concerto No.21. The transformative high of art hit and I was an instant addict. Fitting all I owned into a bag, I hitched a lift to the city and, too young to get welfare, I got a job working in a fish and chip takeaway, which was enough to pay the deposit on a single-room lodging. The hours were long and the pay was crap but those late night engagements with nocturnal creatures of Dublin gave a darker, more compelling drive to the four a.m. fears and I knew I was drawn to those outsider stories. Buying a hand-held tape recorder, I began secretly taping the conversations of a group of hobos I ended up hanging with. Not having completed secondary school, leaving three years before completion, I carried the chip on the shoulder that comes with an incomplete education and kept this new desire to write a secret but it was with these people that the hack seeds of aspiration were sown. Dangerous and sometimes mad, they were also occasionally noble beyond measure, incredibly protective of me, and, beyond their broken souls and bodies, they had more humanity than the dismissive multitudes could imagine. They’re all dead now but the shadow of their dark, comically twisted danger and insatiable drive to get to the extreme humanity of every endeavor would permeate throughout all my future writing.
No longer selling fish and chips and old enough to get welfare at eighteen, I signed on the dole the very day of my eighteenth birthday and spiraled fast down into a world of isolation rediscovering the loneliness that hangs around like cancer and the people who are so afraid of contagion they unconsciously smell it off you. I used to walk around Saint Stephens’s Green Park in Dublin from early in the morning, making sure never to sit down in case anyone spotted my shame at having nowhere to go. I’d collect butts of cigarettes at Connolly Train Station because people tended to light up for a final quick drag of a smoke before stamping on the butt and catching their train. Watching lovers embrace their hello or plant their farewell kisses I’d roll my own cigarettes from the collected butts and smoke away an empty stomach. Because they had heat and you could walk around for some time with apparent purpose without attracting the security guard, music stores and bookstores became cathedrals of sanctuary and the books originally picked up to evade the knowing eye of staff who were beginning to recognize the freeloader in me soon became more than mere evasions. On welfare day I’d buy food, deluding myself into believing there was enough until the next week then decide which cut-price books I could buy. Books were drugs, I was hooked and life became half fiction. I remember reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and relating so profoundly to Raskolnikov I feared I might murder my landlady. Thankfully that feeling went away but the loneliness didn’t. I remember trying to engage the woman who worked in the welfare office in polite conversation and, when she gave no response, realizing I literally hadn’t spoken to another person since her the previous week. I saw an advertisement for Dublin Youth Theatre, a free group of young actors and directors who met weekly. Barely capable of coherent speech, I feared I would vanish into nothingness if I didn’t somehow reach out to something, so I turned up for the audition; and, after standing in line, wailing in my head ‘you can’t walk away,’ my turn came and, as I stumbled into that room, it may have been only two in the afternoon, but that old four a.m. fear ripped through me like an old lover who you know you shouldn’t see yet can’t help being excited by.
Sitting in a coffee shop afterwards, trembling with adrenaline, one of the others who had auditioned invited himself to join me and, as I blanched with social inadequacies, he effortlessly strut his stuff, with me in awe of him. He told me about a full-time course he had just started which was free if you were on welfare and suggested I should get a couple of monologues together and see if I could get a late application. He knocked back his coffee, told me what a pleasure it was meeting me and left me with the bill. I don’t think I said more than a single sentence the entire time but he was so shit cool I didn’t care. Next day I went to the head of the course and, after the audition, he offered me a place, to begin the following afternoon. I didn’t sleep that night, picked up my welfare that next morning, and turned up at the school to be told the other students were at lunch in the local bar and I should join them. Paralyzed by shyness, I loitered outside the bar for ten minutes. Head down, I went to the end of the bar, ordered two drinks, and discreetly listened in on the confident conversations of my fellow students. I downed both drinks and bolted out of the bar. They were experts on every facet of acting, throwing about phrases on Stanislavsky and Chekov like inaccessible confetti. The full sum of my knowledge on acting was the certainty that Montgomery Clift and Lee Marvin pissed all over cinemas vacuous slew of new pretty boys but Chekov? And who the hell was Stanislavsky? It took me two weeks to learn how to make just pronouncing his name sound casual. I was in over my head and loving the drowning. Movies now joined books as co-addictions and, with the local video rental store doing a five-film deal, that same relentless junkie chasing every impossible high now gorged on everything cinematic. Guilty as charged then, worse than ever now, and long may it continue.
Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question ‘When I grow up I want to be a …’ Finish this sentence, please!
My only thought was, when I grow up I want to be anywhere other than here.
Charlie… is your first major writing/directing project (at least according to IMDB), what was your background in the film industry prior to this?
Having acted in and written, conveyer-belt style, for dodgy soap opera, along with occasional acting forays in hugely enjoyable to work on but equally dodgy Roger Corman movies, daily life was supplemented by commissioned screenplays that got green lit then never got made. One too many of those and, with no money, I had to find a way make my own movie.
What were your primary inspirations for this story?
Two similar incidents happened in Dublin around the same time that provoked my own evaluation of the class system in Ireland. There was a gang attack outside a nightclub in Dublin where a kid, Brian Murphy, got killed. When we hear of phrases like ‘gang attack’ in Ireland we equate it with bad haircuts, tracksuits and working class accents. Brian Murphy was beaten to death by four educated Blackrock (the elite college in Ireland) students whose fathers were connected. The standard laws that apply to the aforementioned working class were suddenly open to obscene manipulation and Brian Murphy’s death became a footnote in the lives of his protected killers. The second attack was on Grafton Street. A rural Librarian was beaten into a coma by two middle-class tennis players whose position in society and father’s wallets bought them out of a conviction. Always fascinated by what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they are men and the obscene machinations of many of those in power these two events were the seeds of the idea to create a dangerously pathetic modern Walter Mitty whose deluded deal with fate makes him a sociopathic God.
As a film school graduate, what I most gained from the whole experience were the relationships I formed…but you seem to have gracefully bypassed that ordeal. Is Charlie… the great experiment gone right for social networking in lieu of film school?
What a beautiful euphemism, ‘gracefully bypassed that ordeal.’ Charlie Casanova could not have been made without Facebook, it’s as simple as that. Yeah, I knew some people in limited ways in the Irish film business but it felt wrong to try to solicit from either them or others that I didn’t know so Facebook allowed me to put it out there and let people decide whether or not to contact me rather than the other way around. I knew Ireland effectively shut down after Christmas so there was only a window of two weeks to get things rolling. I knew there would be the odd wack job, which there was, (occasionally the nut job ratio was a little too high for comfort) but I also hoped the lack of precedent for this kind of balls-out endeavour combined with the seriousness of the script might provoke some interest in the more serious minded out there. Relatively new to Facebook I didn’t know if it even had the power to be harnessed in this way. (I never deleted any of the status posts relating to Charlie Casanova on my Facebook page so if you go through it – the page is open – you can detail the entire history from inception to completion.) I was very nervous posting the status on Facebook and rightly feared I had made a public fool of myself but what I didn’t reckon with was the level of generosity from some very experienced people who were willing to offer their talents and time for gratis. That stunned me. Still does.
For those who don’t know the whole story, could you summarize how you recruited your primary cast and crew?
Frustrated by three green-lit projects collapsing during finance stage, I had the words, ‘The Art is in the Completion. Begin.’ tattooed onto my body then typed into my Facebook status: Intend shooting no-budget feature, Charlie Casanova a provocatively dark satire, in the first couple of weeks of January. Need cast, equipment, locations, and a lot of balls. Any takers? Script at terrymcmahon.org. This is sincere so bullshitters fuck off in advance. Thank you.
I hesitated, stared at the screen, pressed send, and had no idea what was going to happen next. No idea if such a naive endeavor so full of ambition, full of impossibility, or full of shit was doomed to still birth failure before it began. I had seen people make ten-minute short films that cost a hundred grand and here was I blindly believing a bunch of strangers solicited on a social network site could make a feature film for free. Would people, with full justification, snigger at another muppet wanting to make another pointless movie? Another egoist wannabe with no idea of the reality of what it takes? Would they think this, and would they be right? It took less than a minute for someone to respond. Within twenty-four hours a hundred and thirty people made contact. Camera department, designers, production managers, assistant directors, continuity people, gaffers, actors… I got back to everyone insisting they had to read the script before going any further so they’d know what they were getting into. The script was a bit of a bastard you see, and, as we all know, bastards aren’t welcome in the land of legitimacy; but they read it and they ‘got it’ and, with the first day of principle photography only three weeks away, with this renegade crew of strangers and actors, lead by me as writer and director, a mass blind date was set, and Charlie Casanova was dragged kicking-and-screaming to life.
So within twenty-four hours of posting on Facebook you had more than your entire above-the-line and below-the-line crew eager to help you in realizing this film? What do you attribute to such an overwhelming response? (Hint: don’t be modest.)
Luck and timing played a huge part in it. Apparently, in times of war, many people loose their inhibitions to such a degree they are suddenly willing to do things they would normally consider inappropriate. And I’m not referring to the extremity of killing for country or anything like that, I’m talking about so-called ordinary people doing remarkable things to and with each other, from acts of hitherto inconceivable sexual passion to acts of astonishing selfless courage. At the time, Ireland was under siege. To a degree it still is. Obscene corruption and incompetence from those in power left the once proud nation going though such profoundly ugly changes that I think I may have accidentally tapped into that siege mentality. I hoped that, if timed properly – the first two weeks in January, when Ireland effectively shuts down after Christmas – there might just be enough people to step up but what I hadn’t figured on was a frustrated and talented youth and the articulate invention of experienced counter-culturalists. Of course there were multiple problems along the way but, when all the deadbeats revealed their ineptitude or the deadweights were cut free, it was tapping into the fury and focus of those two groups that made everything possible – the ambitious youth and the experienced counter-culturalists – and it’s to those two magnificently radical groups a small film like Charlie Casanova owes its twisted existence and a small country like Ireland may owe its future to.
After securing your cast and crew, what were your biggest obstacles in making Charlie… ?
Two empty pockets.
What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?
The script for Charlie Casanova was unlike anything people had encountered in Ireland before so it was treated with initial suspicion then casual rejection. There was the patronizing possibility of it being engaged with by the national broadcaster if I acquiesced to substantial rewrites but I knew there was something important in there as it was and, though I was broke, I remained adamant that the script shouldn’t be emasculated by the limitations of conventional tautology. Even at that early stage Charlie Casanova was dividing audiences, with some astute and trusted readers rubbishing it and other equally astute and trusted readers passionately championing it. I had written many scripts in the past that divided readers but Charlie Casanova seemed to be evoking an unprecedented level of extremity either for or against and I knew that was precisely what it should be doing. It had to be subversive and provocative, yes, but it also had to be much more and I needed the reader to bring that final ten percent to it, which they did, with gloriously extreme responses. However, I also knew it was never going to be made within any conventional framework, and more and more I felt the only person who was going to drag it off the page onto the screen was the author, which is why I got the tattoo and uploaded the Facebook status. Filming was difficult, of course, and postproduction was its own exquisite madness, but once we kicked in there was nothing going to stop us.
What camera did you decide to use to shoot your film and why? Also, could you speak a little bit on the process of selecting your DOP [Eoin Macken] and to what informed that choice?
Eoin Macken, a twenty-six year old model-actor-filmmaker, contacted me as a result of the Facebook status. An old acting student of mine, Pauline Brennan from a community group called Bradog, had very kindly donated the use of two Sony X1 cameras for the eleven days of the shoot and I needed somebody who knew how to operate one of those cameras, so when Eoin verified he could, the decision was made; it was a simple as that. I knew the look I wanted and the colour palates but I also knew I would shoot with whatever became available so there was no room for aesthetic maneuver. Because everything was going to be determined by what was available at source – hence the name Source Productions – I had to trust that somehow whatever was available would make sense. We met to discuss the look of the film poor Eoin left confounded because I explained to him there was no budget for lights and everything would be shot using source lighting. I could never understand why filmmakers, when using video would try to imitate film. My feeling was the limitations of video could become its strength if utilized properly. As the first day of principal photography drew closer, Eoin secured a magnificent deal on lights and called me to tell me he could get a few thousand euros worth for only seven hundred quid. It was such a proactive thing for him to have done and I really appreciated it but as I explained to him that the issue wasn’t just money it was also aesthetic, the poor man rightly thought I was an imbecile and it was simply not possible to shoot a film they way I was describing. At this stage, so many experts had told me what was impossible I winced then explained to Eoin that if I was only one percent uncertain at the end of the first day of principle photography I would immediately get him the cash and he could have the lights the next day. Eoin, being a gentleman, agreed to this and we ended the conversation with him still thinking I was a fool and me thinking, shit, I need at least one or two lights, just in case. So I went to a cut-price hardware store and bought two simple brown lamps for five euro each. If you look closely at the film you will see them appearing everywhere, and they became our only other source of lighting, because, after we shot all the restaurant scenes on day one – twenty-three pages worth of material – and reviewed the dailies, our cinematographer looked at me and quietly frowned as he said, ‘I don’t know how or why, but somehow it worked.’ Cocky with youth and good looks, there were a few times when he couldn’t make it or had to leave early and I had to operate myself, but Eoin also had precocious substance to him, and when he stepped up, he made magic.
How involved were you in the editing of Charlie… , and how much do you believe that the post-production shaped the film into what its final product?
Tony Kearns, our editor, had cut some landmark music videos but had never edited a feature, which kind of suited me because I knew I wanted to try things in the edit that a more experienced feature editor might have talked me out of from day one, but, because he was a relative novice and a gentleman, Tony didn’t flex his editor muscles to talk me out of the things I wanted to try. The script was already a semi-fractured narrative and, with the free flowing orchestrated single takes I had chosen to shoot during production, I wanted to now use the cut to get back to the original intention of the script and put the audience inside Charlie Barnum’s head. I knew they’d be reluctant because inside Charlie Barnum’s cranium is a cesspool of cowardice and prejudice, but I hoped that if we could somehow squeeze the viewer in there, and keep them in there, they might actually take some time to have a look around the inside of Charlie’s hellish head. I tried explaining that to Tony the editor and the poor man understandably hung his head. And who can blame him? We spent weeks holed up in his edit suite getting to know the film and each other and at the end of it we were two broken men with a fractured narrative film that somehow made sense. Then I spoke with Nikki Moss, the sound designer, and I used equally abstract terms about pushing the natural ambience combined with sucking the sound out of the room and expected him to look at me in incomprehension but when I finished by asking him how far we can push sound design using natural sounds he grinned that shy Nikki Moss grin and softly intoned ‘These go to eleven.’ The incredible Eimear Jenkinson was working in Windmill Lane postproduction house at the time, as was Brian O’Malley and Richie Smyth, two great directors and two great friends of mine, at the same time as Nikki Moss and, between the four of them, they got Windmill lane management and staff interested in the film. And how they stepped up. With astonishing generosity and sustained belief they supported Charlie Casanova beyond measure. And now, between Tony Kearn’s cut, Nikki Moss’s sound design, Marc Ivan O’Gorman’s superb soundtrack, then Matt Branton’s grading, Charlie was fully formed. Then when SXSW kicked in the deliverables were a huge issue the staggering commitment and generosity of Richie Smyth through Windmill Lane dragged it up the mountain. They brought it to life and it would remain a bunch of long takes on hard drives if it wasn’t for them.
Each of the female characters in this film appears to fulfill a certain role–I won’t say ‘stereotype’ because they are too three dimensional to be confined in that manner, but could you elaborate a bit on what informed the constructs of these women and why they were assigned to their specific male counterparts?
Charlie is one of those pseudo-intellectual alpha-male imbeciles who regard women as ‘full of half-truths and complete fallacies.’ When I watched these kind of men in action I marveled at how the women, strained smiles stretched over their sunken faces, not only indulged these men but came back for more. Then I talked to them in private and they slowly revealed their characters and there seemed to be three categories: The kind of women who tolerate this sustained level of piggery seemed to be are either deluded by deliberate blindness, anesthetized by religious conservatism, or ones who revel in their own kind of alpha-female and those are the three wives in Charlie Casanova. Ulgy pretty and pretty ugly I feel for these women because they could and should be so much more yet remain instrumental in their own suppression. I love writing powerhouse roles for women as you’ll see in my screenplay ‘Simple Simon’ but it would have been untrue to the world of the characters to write powerful female roles for Charlie Casanova.
How did you schedule the film to be shot? Was it sequential, or was the shooting order determined by other factors? If it was not chronological, how do you think that affected your actors’ processes – especially that of Emmett J. Scanlan [Charlie]?
I had read somewhere that the best way to secure the swift respect of the crew is to select a simple shot, get it in the can with minimum fuss and move on. In and out. This guy knows what he’s doing. We’re behind him. A contented crew and an efficient director. It’s excellent advice. I recommend it. And if I weren’t such a fool I might have heeded it. Not that I didn’t consider it. I did. But a couple of days before we were due to shoot, the hernia inducing fear bringing with it its own insomnia, I was late night watching, probably for the tenth time, the documentary on the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire When We Were Kings; Norman Mailer’s excitement at his recollection of the underdog Ali beginning the fight with a leading overhand right. We started the fight to make the film as outsiders on every level but here I was subscribing to conventional thought on how to approach the first day and I realized whatever limited chance we had of succeeding by beginning brave we didn’t have a shot in hell if we restricted ourselves to a conventional approach. We had to be brave. Balls out brave. I contacted the cast and first AD, and, as news spread we were going to shoot twenty-three pages of script on day one, the crew instantly respected the crazy courage of their director. Did they fuck. Separately they may be of varying talents and intellects but the collective mind of a crew is a brilliant bullshit detector and they accurately asserted that not only was their director a madman, he was worse, he was an imbecile. That first day, standing with a young crew, these beautiful people, most of whom I had met for the first time that day, and a cast courageous beyond measure, most of whom were now shitting themselves because they had spent a couple of days rehearsing with me and were in a state of shock at the physical and linguistic gymnastics they were going to have to achieve in uninterrupted takes; all of them wondering if this freak show writer-director was going to drag everyone down the toilet with him. They weren’t alone. I was wondering the same thing. We shot the film in eleven days. Pickups or re-shoots were never going to be an option because the equipment, which had been donated, was due back at midnight on that eleventh day. Our final scene was shot on a dark and dangerous roof top in sub zero temperatures, the equipment was returned, we all went to a nightclub, where cast and crew made close by near impossible endeavor, raised a glass or twenty to a film in the can. It was done. Somehow. I went to a secluded corner of the nightclub with my mate, Johnny Elliott, who plays Jimmy in the film, paused a moment, gently smiled, and violently puked up my innards. It was done and I was done. And I did what any director worth his salt would have done in those circumstances. I collapsed.
Next day, my three kids, who had forgotten what their daddy looked like, wondered who the stranger was in their home, and their mother wondered why in hell she hadn’t hooked up with somebody else. I looked at all of them, honest to God love in my heart, and lied that I had gotten it out of my system and now we could go back to our reality. I would get back to our real life and my real job – writing completely non-real fictions for bad television soap opera – and I would under no circumstances make the same mistakes all those other foolish directors had made by obsessing about the edit, and the sound design and the credits and all those other things that people with no grounding in reality like to distract themselves with. I would be the embodiment of restraint. And it worked for a time. The next day, as I sat at the breakfast table listening to my loving family, it was at least twenty minutes before I felt the pull of Charlie Casanova in the pit of my stomach. The day after that it was twelve minutes. The third day it wasn’t even a matter of minutes because it had seeped its way into my sleep and was determined to firmly plant its spoilt corpulent ass there until it had successfully solicited my undivided attention. I had become slave to this moving image mistress and had yet to learn that film is not just the most jealous of mistresses it’s a skanky succubus conjuring painful obsession even as it ridicules your inability to bring it to climax.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?
Obviously Robert Rodriguez remains the benchmark maverick in terms of having the balls to make a movie for next to nothing then progressing on to a remarkable career. Throw the amazing cinema of John Cassavetes into the mix and what Paul Haggis achieved with Crash and you got the triumvirate inspiration for Charlie Casanova. The great directors are just as obvious, from the work of Scorsese and DeNiro on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull on back to Ingmar Bergman, Sidney Lumet, Elia Kazan, Louis Malle, John Huston and Frank Capra; and, of the current pool, Spike Lee and PT Anderson remain for me the most exciting filmmakers of their respective generations, both of them somehow having the ability to make the most complex themes incredibly compelling. As for actors, I know they’re not exactly firefighters or soldiers putting their lives on the line, but on a different level I find actors to be the most fearless people I have encountered. I know we have this notion of spoilt brat nonsense but I have found there exists in actors an astonishing bravery. Who knows if we have a soul or not but, whatever that raw tender thing is that hides within us, talented actors somehow take it out so that the rest of us might be transformed by it. Documentary filmmaking is a magnificent art form but, as a random example of how fiction and the actor’s alchemy can transcend the limitations of ‘reality’, I defy anybody to watch Monty Clift’s ten-minute performance in Judgement at Nuremburg and not feel a sudden and profound insight into the horror of sterilization. There are so many we could be here all day but a few other random examples would be Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons, Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter, Al Pacino in Scarecrow, Giovanni Ribisi in Heaven, John Turturro in The Big Lebowski, Maggie Smyth in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Daniel Day Lewis in In The Name of the Father, Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, Denzel Washington in Training Day, Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way – the list is endless.
How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?
At the risk of sounding naïve, I just want to be involved in great cinema. If that takes the form of multi-million dollar films or no-budget films, if that comes in the form of NC17 films or kids films, I really don’t care, just as long as it is provocative, visceral and hopefully unforgettable cinema.
If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?
I’m probably going to come off as some beauty pageant nonce but I worked with the mentally handicapped years ago and it was the only other job I’ve done that came anywhere close to the transformative power of filmmaking.
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
It’s imperative. When something is without precedent like Charlie Casanova people are often understandably wary of it but when someone like Janet Pierson at SXSW puts her reputation on the line for an unknown film the critical/media response kicks into gear in a way it never would have if Janet hadn’t stepped up. Sometimes we need to be given permission to see things differently and critical celebration and media examination of that celebration facilitates bravery in an otherwise reticent audience.
There are many significant themes standing out in Charlie… : regrets, personal responsibility, absolute freedom, morality, culpability and of course–the predestination of the working and of the middle class–what do you believe to be the primary theme of the film, and why did you choose to create a story based upon said theme?
I don’t know why but I have always been fascinated by what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they are men, and the world of one dimensional black and white compels me far less than that grey area deluded playground between illusion and reality. On the surface Charlie Casanova examines the darkness that hides in emasculated class separation but the deeper issues of self-loathing, the hypocrisy of personal and social justice and the casual hatreds that manifest in domestic relationships are thematically just as important. Each one informs the other. The most common description from people who have seen it is always the same: American Psycho meets A Clockwork Orange and I understand why it evokes that comparison in people but I’d also throw into the mix that Charlie Casanova is a very modern and very twisted Walter Mitty meets Billy Liar.
If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?
When I was eighteen or nineteen there was an old run down cinema on Abbey Street in Dublin, I think it was called The Curzon. This was during the recession in the eighties and they couldn’t compete against the bigger cinemas so they charged a small fee to see repeat double bills of films whose shelf-life had long passed. You got a large container of popcorn on entry and smoking wasn’t illegal in cinemas at the time so I often spent the last of my cash on a ticket and a pack of cigarettes. Arriving early in the day and leaving late at night, sustained only by cigarettes, popcorn and an addiction to cinema, that cinema was my church. The clientele were mostly lonely people too scared to face the outside world but every so often a horny couple would slip in and all the lonely ones would pretend we weren’t discretely watching the exhibition. Years later I was in a similarly squalid cinema on the corner of Hollywood and Vine and the ghosts of that old cinema in Dublin were everywhere. If I could go back in time I would love to screen Charlie Casanova to my eighteen-year old self in that broke down but beautiful place.
What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?
I’m attracted to the noisy manipulations of huge movies as much as anybody but sometimes the only way we can hear the real human truths is in the smaller whispers.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie (if at your own screening or another movie you attend)?
Why would I say or do anything? What right do I have? I believe that people, during a movie, should have the right to speak as loudly as they want or text their entire damned autobiography if they feel like it; in precisely the same way as I should have the right to take a baseball bat to their jabbering jowls and tip-tapping Philistine fingers.
What do you love the most about this business of making movies?
From my limited experience filmmaking is an addictive poison that does almost as much damage as it does good. Akin to chemotherapy, when it works, despite all the pain, it elevates life, but when it doesn’t, you wonder what the hell was all that for? There is madness in it. It becomes its own very real and very dangerous obsession, dangerous in the sense that the truth of reality becomes less important than capturing the generated truths of your own fictions, and, as you struggle to capture the created life in front of the camera, your own life becomes the distracted dream. Filmmaking is a sickness that takes over you, destroys all elements of character and ego, and renders you its humbled servant. What’s not to love?
No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?
You think you need someone to give you permission to make your film? You think you need rubber stamped approval from anybody? You think you need screenwriting classes or acting classes or directing classes? All you need is two actors, a camera and a taboo. Fight for your truth. But fight harder to make that truth compelling to an audience. Pose a life question that’s important to you, a question you yearn to have answered or at least substantially explored. Ask it clearly and boldly but find the silences for the audience to bring their own answers because they are smarter than you. Get ready to be emotionally, psychologically and physically consumed for at least the next two years of your life. There’s nothing wrong with light-hearted films or entertainment, most people rightly adore them, but, if you’re going to get to make one film in your entire life, at least be brave with it. Make a film you can watch in fifty years time with your grown-up grandkids that you can still stand by as a testament to your generation and a legacy for theirs. Finally, ask yourself is this going to be worth living and dying by, because, if it’s not, do something else. It’s too fucking hard.
What are your future projects?
The hardcore prison story The Dancehall Bitch is the one I have been obsessed with making, however the time wasn’t right, until now. The dark tale of Issac Greenblatt, a naïve academic who goes to jail intent on studying man but, when those prison doors slide shut, his cell mates are more interested in teaching him about the nature of woman. Powerful and provocative it has the kind of complex roles that actors rarely get to explore anymore and I know it would be an iconic, unforgettable film. I have several other original screenplays that I also want to make so there is plenty of choice. At this stage, all I really want to do is make provocative and powerful cinema, in whatever form that takes.
Finally, what is your favorite film and why?
If I were forced to choose one desert island movie it would have to be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It just slays me on every level. I’ve watched it multiple times on DVD and recently got the chance to see it projected from an original print and it’s probably the most perfect synthesis of all the elements I have seen. A brave, humane, anarchic testament to the power of cinema, we should all genuflect in front of this enduring masterpiece.