Writer Dave Thorpe talks to Film Ireland about his film Leap of Faith, which is set to screen at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
What can you tell us about the film.
Leap of Faith would probably best be described as a sci-fi thriller. I was pitching it as Rear Window meets Marvel. It’s about a young woman, Kelly, who begins watching her new neighbour, Johnny, from her apartment window. Kelly quickly becomes fascinated with Johnny and is watching him over a number of days. Where this takes a turn is that, one morning, while watching Johnny, Kelly discovers that he has special powers. She only sees it for a moment, but she is sure that what she saw happened… or is she? She thinks she is, but she needs proof. The film then becomes about Kelly determined to catch Johnny out and get the proof she needs. The two of them have a cat-and-mouse game going on. It’s about Kelly becoming less shy and reserved and more confident as she starts to believe in herself and the greater supernatural aspect to the world.
How did the original story come about?
I wanted to do a superhero film from an outsider’s point of view. So if there’s this superhero secretly off saving the world, that we don’t focus on them but we follow someone else in the world that this superhero exists in. I was actually originally writing a sort of cartoony short story about a kid who looked up to his mam as though she was a superhero, and she secretly was. I was also wanting to do a mostly contained Rear Window style of thriller. Then those ideas just both developed into Leap of Faith. I actually only recently came across old notes on my phone from a couple of years ago – character and shot ideas – that ended up being ideas I used much later for Leap of Faith. That’s the cool thing about writing, that even if you write something down for a different reason at first, it never really goes to waste.
Kelly confronts Johnny
You found a director and producer through the Short Shots scheme – tell us how that worked.
I’ve known Mark Smyth, the director, for about ten or eleven years now. We’ve worked together a number of times before but I think this is the first time as a writer and director team. We both applied for the Short Shots scheme separately. We encouraged each other to apply and talked about potentially working together but we didn’t go into the scheme with the plan in mind to team up. We just decided to go in looking for projects or teammates that suit what we wanted to do. I did the speed networking events that Filmbase held as part of the scheme, which were fantastic. It was a great way to meet people who you could work with and it makes you more confident in your story when you pitch it and gauge reactions. But I teamed up with Mark after he read the Leap of Faith script and we were both excitedly chatting about it. It was funny because there was this awkward moment as though we were on a date! We both wanted to team up but we were trying to play it cool and see what the other one was gonna say. But Mark being the gentleman that he is, plucked up the courage and I said yes. It was during the next stage of Short Shots that we both met producer Jonathan Farrelly for the first time. We all got along straight away, but we didn’t complete the team until myself and Mark pitched the film in Filmbase and Jonny read the script. The ball was in the producer’s court in a way so we just had to hope Jonny would go for it as he was who we both really wanted to produce Leap of Faith. Thankfully it all worked out.
What was it that they brought to the project that attracted you to working with them.
I really wanted Jonny to produce it because he was very into being ambitious in the Short Shots scheme. He didn’t want to make something that was very simple to accomplish and he didn’t want to cut down on any ideas for being difficult, expensive or whatever else without really trying our best to be able to pull it off. He has an infectious positive energy about him and he was really pushing for the film to be the best it can be. It absolutely would never have been made to the level it is if he didn’t produce it.
With Mark, I’ve always liked the style he puts into anything on screen. He really thinks about camera movements and styling very carefully. I knew he’d add that cool cinematic flair to Leap of Faith regardless of budget. I knew he wouldn’t shoot anything with the mindset of “Grand. That’ll do.” People often wonder when a writer hands a script to a director if they’re worried they’ll do something with it that you won’t be happy about, but I knew Mark would direct the film that I’d want to see not just as the writer but as a general viewer too. I honestly loved working with both of the lads, we had great craic making it but it was also tough work. They both really went above and beyond, which as the writer is great to see two people working their hardest to make something that otherwise would have just been a document on my computer. Overall I think the three of us worked great as a team.
What advice would you have for future participants on the scheme.
The first thing I would definitely say is don’t write or choose a project just because you think that is the type of film that Filmbase/RTÉ are going to go for. We never thought they’d go for a film where a woman is looking out her window at a superhero! Don’t agonise over what was funded in the past. Apply with a film that is something that you want to see on screen. I also think it’s worth thinking about what you can do within the budget. To be realistic but ambitious at the same time. It’s a fantastic opportunity to make something that you’re really proud of. What I think really helped us with not only being selected at the end of the scheme but to actually make the film better was to start working hard on it straight away. Don’t wait for the ‘yes’ before you put any work in. The moment you’re in the scheme if you are actively working on preparing the project and thinking about it as though you’re definitely going to make it, I do believe that really helps the project in a lot of ways.
Dave on set with director Mark Smyth
How involved were you in the production process as a writer.
I was involved the whole time, I was on set with Mark and Jonny. The three of us collaborated every step of the way, and ran all of our decisions by each other. I worked on the script after we had our locations – to suit any changes that either might have to be made for logistical reasons or to add to the script any cool visual stuff that Mark wanted to shoot. It’s a very visually told film with very little dialogue, so it was great to be able to chat about shots and how to best tell the story even at that stage. After the shoot, myself and Mark took on the editing together and every week when Jonny came down to Dublin from Belfast, we’d all sit in the edit suite and watch the latest cut together. It was a perfect way to work and it made sure we were all making the film that we all wanted to make.
You must be excited about Galway…
I’m absolutely over the moon that it’s premiering at the Galway Film Fleadh! I studied screenwriting at the Huston Film School and lived in Galway for two years so to be able to come back with a film in the Fleadh is an amazing feeling!
Leap of Faith screens at the 29th Galway Film Fleadh as part of New Irish Shorts 3 on Thu 13 July / Town Hall Theatre / 12:00 /