Mia Mullarkey talks to Film Ireland about her award-winning short comedy drama about two brothers in their late twenties, Fergal and Sean. Fergal has Asperger’s Syndrome and lives a lonely life, so from a mix of guilt and brotherly love Sean gets roped into helping him down an unseemly path. The two brothers travel to Amsterdam to find the right escort for Fergal.
This short drama was produced by Ishka Films and shot on location in
Galway and Amsterdam. It is something of a family production – written by
my brother Eddie and music composed by my sister Anna – the Mullarkey clan
– all from Galway. Initially Eddie wrote a scene in a café, a conversation
between two brothers about women. I thought it was both poignant and great
fun how this guy Fergal had no idea how people perceived him, while his
brother Sean has to work hard to help connect Fergal to the world, not
without a hint of resentment. I also enjoyed Fergal’s awkward, immature
understanding of women which slowly shifts throughout the film.
We shot a test scene with actor Jarlath Tivnan playing Fergal. Straight
away Jarlath effortlessly expressed the body language and vocal intonation
of a man with Asperger’s. From there Eddie and I were able to build the
world. Eddie wrote lovely nuanced dialogue and I helped create the action
within the scenes.
Eddie had done an actor’s course with Annie Ryan of Corn Exchange and
loved the energy of her performance. Having seen several plays Annie
directed down through the years, which I thought were really brilliant, I
didn’t dream of asking her on board. But Eddie said it was worth a shot.
Lo and behold, Annie joined the cast as Fergal’s mom, a neurotic but
compassionate mother trying to guide her Aspergic son into manhood.
During rehearsals Jarlath said to me that he wished to remain in character
throughout the whole shoot, as there is a particular kind of physicality
that he had to adopt for the role. The great thing was, I didn’t tell the
crew and they never realised. Between takes Jarlath would remain separate
from everyone and get agitated by noises or chaos, and would talk to
himself. The crew were shocked when we wrapped in Galway and I confessed.
The poor lads and lassies had tiptoed around him all weekend.
We had a bit of bad luck going to Amsterdam. Our accommodation booked
through Air BnB turned out to be a scam and we lost a big chunk of money –
pain in the neck on a self-financed project. In a positive twist we ended
up staying in the Red Light District for a decent price, and I reckon it
definitely fed into the atmosphere of the film. It was a grungy DIY
approach, but the team was solid and we laughed a lot. We shot a boat
scene for a full day on the canals without permits or insurance or sun
cream, and it’s possibly the best scene in the film. Not that we had
permits or insurance or sun cream for any other locations. We also filmed
a night-time tram scene. Finding an empty carriage proved nearly
impossible so we disguised ourselves as tourists and waited for the
Our director of photography, Jass Foley, was a power house. Because the
screenplay is full of subtle shifts I wanted to use long takes to let the
actors play out their lines, and for our tiny budget Jass was able to
devise really elegant shots on sliders and gimbals and boats and cars. We
spent time together working out the camera moves and lighting that best
suited the performances.
My sister Anna has been composing for my short documentaries for years,
and she was itching to compose to drama – this being my first short
fiction film. Anna is in a Galway band called My Fellow Sponges – I
sometimes do their music videos – and she plays jazz piano really well, so
my music inspiration – King Crimson and Herbie Hancock – fitted perfectly
with Anna’s palette and imagination. We wanted to create a soundscape for
the characters’ inner conflicts and a feeling of mischievous adventure.
Anna would watch a scene and start playing the piano and I would throw out
small directions to steer the emotions.
The project was part funded through crowd funding on Fundit.ie, which
helped us with post-production and festival submission. The film was
completed April 2017.
Oh Brother screens at IndieCork in Programme 1 of the Irish Shorts selection @ 12pm on Friday, 13th October 2017
IndieCork runs from 8 – 15 October 2017