Ahead of an IFTA screening, Gemma Creagh chatted to the writer/director of The Limit Of… Alan Mulligan and actor Laurence O’Fuarain, who plays James Allen, a man pushed to his limits, and beyond, in a tense thriller set against the backdrop of Ireland’s banking sector.
How did the project come about?
Alan: I studied Commerce at NUIG and from there went into banking and finance as an accountant but I became very unhappy. That went on for a few years before I decided to look for something else. I’m from a small town in the west of Ireland and a creative career never really occurred to me. Then, for some reason, I did a 6-week course in the IFA and fell in love with filmmaking. I went out and made a short film that got into a couple of festivals, made another short film while I was still in the bank that got aired on RTÉ – which was amazing. I had an idea for a feature and started to write. That’s when I came to Filmbase and did a writing course with Stephen Walsh. I decided to leave the bank and focus on writing the feature. I thought I’d make it in 2 years. 5 years later here we are with an IFTA screening!
How long was the writing process?
Alan: The writing took 18 months in total. People say they write drafts. In my process, because I was new to the craft, I was writing drafts of scenes all the time. So I was drafting certain scenes over and over whereas some others just worked the first time. There was 100 drafts of some parts of it in with 5 draft of others.
We didn’t make many changes once we all sat down – some dialogue here and there. It was more that we dropped parts…
Laurence: The first three weeks we just went over the script over and over again. And we just kind of trimmed the fat and cut it down to what it needed to be.
Alan: The dialogue is quite sparse in it. The character James Allen is a very controlled silent type of guy. When he does say something it means something – in the style of Drive and Shame.
I remember sending Laurence a scene and he rang me saying that his character didn’t need to say this and this and this. And I said I know. This is what I want the character to be thinking but I haven’t figured that out yet. We needed to sit down and figure out what he has to say. That’s how we worked together. I was writing everything the character would say as if it was a very heavy dialogue film and he was a very open type of person. Then Laurence would say right I only need to say this line and this…
Laurence: He was doing my job for me really. Thanks for that!
Sounds like it was quite a collaborative process then.
Laurence: Yeh. We worked on it for a long time before we got to shoot – 9 months. It was great because when it came time to shoot we were totally prepared when our feet hit the floor.
Alan: And it meant that because it’s made for 30,000 euro and we shot it for about 16,000 we didn’t have time to redo things. It was very intense, so it was a lot easier to get the takes. Even if we changed something on set, Laurence knew the character so well he could adapt. We weren’t learning the character as we went along. Once we got into shooting everyone knew their characters because they had been meeting with me for so long and they ‘d been doing so much work by themselves.
And how long was the shoot?
Alan: 17 days. It was tight. Great fun though and everyone did really put in the hard work, which was amazing. I guess me not being from a film background it was a real experience to see everyone working late and long hours and putting everything into creating this stuff. It gave me real inner joy to see everyone working for that creative common goal. I remember banking and if you said to someone, I’m doing a financial plan, everyone come over to the house and we’ll work on it through the night… it doesn’t happen, I guess, this level of commitment.
Laurence, tell us a little bit about James Allen, and what it takes to embody a character like that.
Laurence: For me, with James, I just found he was more a boy than a man. What interests me with characters is their connection to everybody else in their life, their connection to the environment and how they see it. James is very controlling. He’s very regimented. In a way, that’s the kind of key to his headspace – that he doesn’t tip over… but he’s not in control. The connection he has most with anybody is his mother, which I can relate to – well Irish men and their mammies… y’know! I tried to integrate that into him as well. I tried to find James within me and then bring that out and then obviously work with the direction from Alan, what his visions were of the character and then go on set and try to be open to anything that happens within the take.
Sarah Carroll, who plays Alison, was excellent. How did she come on board?
Laurence: I remember, once I’d been cast, Alan asked me to help him out with a couple of the other characters that he wanted to cast. He showed me Sarah in Trust, a short he’d done with her. She was fantastic. She fit. I remember we did a couple of readings and it was pretty much straight away. She was amazing to work with.
There was a great chemistry and she had a certain intensity herself that she brought to the role., That was interesting to watch and good for a female character. They can sometimes be written quite flat.
Alan: The same thing again. There’s not much dialogue so the performance of seeing this person is lost and hurt and isolated and feeling a lot of the same things James is – but she’s in touch more with her emotional side. I always say in my head that she’s the heart of the film for me. I think that she is capable of saving herself. I don’t think James is. He’s capable of controlling himself and continuing forward but in terms of saving himself and being happy, he relies on someone else to do that for him, which would have been his mother. And then maybe Alison replaces his mother.
What can you tell us about your influences and the style you brought to bear on The Limit Of…?
Alan: I enjoy European cinema, so it would have influenced me a lot. The Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn… Drive is one of my favourite films. I love the style of the visuals and music. And that precise framing and colour scheme he uses to match characters. I wanted that with The Limit of… Like with Alison wearing a green cardigan throughout the film at different stages – it’s an earthed colour and green is a dominant colour in the house which makes her feel like she belongs.
The cinematographer Daniel Balteanu, who I worked with on Trust, was heavily involved in the style of the film. He was sending me pictures of paintings and that influenced certain framing, certain colours and the lighting we used to create particular moods. Again, that was intense prepping for a few months before shooting.
And, I was saying this all through rehearsal, James Allen has to be still. The camera movement has to be controlled and reflect the whole vibe and tone of the film – and James Allen is the film, so they have to connect with each other. There are only 2 or 3 hand held shots in the film. I wanted that controlled feel to it.
The Limit of… screens on Monday, 18th December as part of IFTA Academy Members VIEWING SEASON Screening
The Limit of… is submitted in the following categories:
Best Director: Alan Mulligan
Best Scriptwriter: Alan Mulligan
Best Lead Actor: Laurence O’Fuarain
Best Supporting Actress: Sarah Carroll
Best Original Music: Stuart Gray
Best Cinematography: Daniel Balteanu
Best Costume Design: Paula Fajardo
Best Editing: Alan Mulligan
Best Production Design: Lilla Nurie
Best Sound: Nikki Moss, Ian McIntyre, Barry Reid
Use of recurring imagery within the film to tell story: