Jim Dunne, a disillusioned actor attempts to make a self tape audition piece. Time and time again he tries to record himself, each time failing more than before. What started out as a ‘Self-Tape’ ends up being a life-lesson, and a hard lesson to learn.
Film Ireland points the camera at Noel Brady and asks him some questions about his short film Self-Tape, which screens at the Underground Cinema Film Festival.
What can you tell us about the origins of Self Tape.
I first heard about Self Tape from John Duggan while we were in production on my feature film Full Circle. John had written the monologue some years ago as part of an acting course. At that time, John had shown the script to Pat Nolan who helped him develop it a little further. Back to the present day, while making Full Circle, John had asked if I would direct and shoot the monologue at some stage, which I happily agreed to do.
Self Tape was never meant to be anything big, with a little direction from yours truly the idea was just to get John’s words off the page and on to the screen. By this time, my feature film Full Circle had begun production. John had one of the leading roles of Ross Stapleton in the film, so Self Tape was put on the long finger.
A little time went by and production on Full Circle was on a break. It was at this point that I really looked at the script and was very impressed with both the bravery and honesty of John’s writing. I could see how much depth was contained within the writing and within the character, so much more than merely an actor making a self tape.
Talk us through the process of script to screen?
In the script for Self Tape we see a man that represents a modern male in today’s society. A man that struggles with being a Father and a Husband. But more than this, this is someone who struggles with what it means to be a man in the 21st century. The pressures to ‘be strong’, to ‘suck it up’, to ‘be a man’. And yet this pretense fades to darkness, as a stifled small voice so lonely, lost and desperate crying out for help… And yet is never truly heard.
The script touched on many issues that I felt gets over looked in today’s society. So much so that I was compelled to make it into a short film. And so I picked up the phone, rung John and asked if he would mind if I expanded on his writing to develop it into a screenplay and ultimately into a short film. He loved the idea and told me to go for it, and so I did.
In the original script the character ‘James Dunne’ is performing a piece for Self Tape – the piece is ‘The Boor’ my Anton Chekhov. This was originally performed three times, with the character stopping having made mistakes. I edited this down to two times, and from here I made only minor changes to the original script. However, I felt that the original script was more suited for stage. As the character speaks, we learn of his thoughts of suicide in the form of a proposed car trip up in the Wicklow mountains. To add a new dimension to the script, I elaborated on the car trip and turned it into the character walking in the Wicklow mountains instead, walking to his end.
I felt that this new element gave the script a good juxtaposition. Having the character walking in the wilds of the Wicklow hills would be a stark contrast to him seated in front of the camera. This particular element really opened up the script and made it more filmic.
In the script his words sounded of desperation, hinting at suicide. Suicide is always a tricky one to tackle, it’s something that pops up a lot in short films. So the challenge I had was not to make it the focal point of the film, rather a crossroads, and more importantly a choice. With this in mind I finished the first draft of the script with the small changes and the added scenes of the character walking. I crossed my fingers and sent it off to John to see if he would like it. Thankfully, John came back to me and loved what I had done and we agreed to set about taking the words off the page and up onto the screen.
John and I had met up and thrashed out the finer details of the script. We decided that we would only see the main character in the film, with his wife only being mentioned and seen in an old photograph. His son would remain off camera and would be represented by toy ‘Nerf’ bullet. This choice would prove crucial in the final film with the ‘Nerf’ bullet becoming a key device in the telling of the story.
Let’s chat about shooting the film…
Production of the film was over two short days of about 5 hours each, with a crew consisting only of yours truly. Day 1 was shot in my house using only natural light that flooded in the front window. A reflector was set up on the opposite side of John to bounce the natural light. Sound was achieved by a carefully hidden Zoom H4 on the table. In essence the film was shot on two different cameras at the same time. With a third camera acting as a prop. Needless to say, this was a no-budget production.
The character in the film is using a simple camcorder to record his self tape. This particular camera was a prop, the actual footage that we see in the film is coming from a Canon 600D DSLR. The screen on the back of the camera was in turn shot on a ‘Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera’, the same camera I’m shooting Full Circle on. The idea of shooting the same scene at the same time using two cameras lends an extra level to the film. We see how the character is in front of the camera that he performs too, while on the main camera we see how the mask falls. This was a technique that I also used on a short I previously made called Alicia’s Mask, starring Doey Mulligan.
The story itself is non-linear.
The chronology of the film is deliberately mixed up, hoping back and forth on the time line to tell the story. As the films begins we’re in the present tense and are introduced to the character as he walks a lonely path in the Wicklow mountains. His voice is heard as he performs his monologue from ‘Anton Chekhov’. As we leave the hills of Wicklow his voice over leads us into the past tense. We cut to where we now see the character sitting in front of the camera. Here just as he breaks the fourth wall, he turns the camera off. Cut to black and the title of the film fades up.
By opening up the film in this way, it informs the viewer of the proposed disjointed style of story telling, and they understand the jumping about in the time-line.
In the film the character continues with his self tape, his voice becomes a voiceover as we cut to days earlier, dark days reflecting the characters journey and his slow decline. Again only natural lighting was used, shooting interior I let the light of the window blow out, the character in essence becomes a shadow, a reflection of how his self worth is slowly eroding.
As a contrast to these images we follow the character as he walks a lonely road high up in the Wicklow mountains. I knew exactly where I wanted to shoot this sequence but could not remember how to get to the location. I had shot at this location before on a TV pilot I produced called ‘Ghostriders’ starring Pat Nolan and Dave Duffy. Gerry Wade was also involved in that production so I rung my old friend and asked if he could bring myself and John up to the location. He kindly obliged and production began on day 2 of Self Tape.
This sequence was once again shot on the ‘Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera’. Sound was recorded on camera for this part of the shoot, but was not usable. The sound for this entire scene was achieved through sound design and a little foley work. I did however record John’s footsteps on the Zoom as this is the first element we hear in the film before truly being introduced to the character.
It was a challenge to shoot Self Tape with no crew, but with just John and I on the shoot it made the production one of the most personal film experiences I have ever had, and a privilege to share with my friend.