Written and directed by Jason Branagan, Shoebox Memories is an offbeat, musical, romcom. The indie feature tells the story of disillusioned musician and music teacher, Chris, who desperately wants to reconcile with his first love and long time girlfriend, Deb. Wallowing in self-pity after discovering she’s soon-to-be-married, his best friends, Mikey and Al, decide it’s time that Chris gets over her once and for all.
The film’s narrative is written around an album of music, which is also written by Jason, who spoke to Anthony Assad ahead of the film’s screening at the upcoming Dingle International Film Festival.
Mainly the songs. There was an old song from way back when I wanted to be a singer/songwriter that was a dialogue between 2 people. I always wanted to use that idea to maybe write a musical or a stage play. When the idea for the film came around and we were looking at ideas for what we could shoot I had the idea of using a bunch of old songs and structuring a story around them. 6 of the songs were written long before the film and then there’s 3 of them that were written specifically for it. The reason the female lead is Emma Jane was because the song was called Emma Jane. The reason they’re broken up 3 years is because the song is called 3 years. It was an interesting way to approach trying to write a script because you have so much context and content in the songs that you are trying to work out how to fit them into a narrative.
It’s interesting – it’s almost like an adaptation of an album.
As it stands the film has a very linear narrative but initially in my head the idea was much more experimental. It was a film built around an album – which is still more or less what it is – but we just found a way of making it very linear.
Did the actors have access to the songs in relation to each scene before shooting?
We spent longer recording the album than making the film. We recorded before we shot. Myself, Colm Gavin [who plays Chris] and a sound engineer friend of mine spent about 4 or 5 weeks in my living room recording the album. So Colm was well aware of all the music. Colm had never acted before. I wanted a musician in the role and I knew Colm through my brother who had gone to school with him. Having come from that musical background myself I felt that a singer/songwriter would hopefully be able to connect to the material and that would probably help them in scenes.
Outside of that, the rest of the actors experienced the music as we shot. Obviously, we would do multiple takes but some of the reaction in terms of when Colm plays was the first time they heard the songs. So there were very honest reactions in those moments.
You managed to deliver the film under a microbudget of €2,500. Some filmmakers would consider it a constraint and others believe it pushes them to succeed and think outside of the box. Where would you align yourself?
I believe that constraint leads to creativity. Of course, it’s not always the best – it can be nice to have money to fix problems. But I think it’s good to undertake something like this, even if you never do it again and you only work with bigger budgets. You’re forced to become adaptable and you have to deal with issues as they arise and to deal with them creatively because there isn’t money to throw at them. You’ve got to figure things out on the spot. I think as a director that is half your battle. Still though, I would like to do it with money!