Director/Co-Writer Stephen Clarke Dunne takes us behind the curtain of his drama comedy day-in-the-life type story with a mosaic of seemingly unrelated characters centred around an adult shop.
After a purchase is returned to the shop for a refund, it is revealed that the box contains something of far more importance than just a toy.
It was a crisp autumn day in February 2014, John Sweeney and I were on the way through town to shoot a scene for his show-reel when we happened to pass a pokey little adult shop. In the midst of discussing ideas for future films, we immediately turned to each other and said; wouldn’t it be absolutely hilarious to set a comedy inside one of those shops?
Later that evening, we were messaging each other from around 7pm till 2am in the morning continuously with ideas for the story and characters. We came up with all the story and characters in that several hour burst of creativity.
Over the next couple of months, we finished the full script and did a number of re-drafts with a view to doing the impossible and shooting a feature film without a budget.
We got a production team together over the summer of ’14 and managed to raise a meagre budget of €5k with thanks to credit cards. The production team agreed to work unpaid with the budget being used for insurance, catering, production design and some equipment (whatever equipment we couldn’t borrow – mainly hard-drives).
During the autumn we held auditions – it was hilarious meeting the actors and have them read the characters lines, so much so that myself and the casting director had bouts of laughter so hard that we couldn’t speak for several minutes!. It was amazing, but we actually managed to find an actor that suited each role absolutely perfectly, so much so that you would think that the roles were written just for them.
Once the actors were cast we set the shooting schedule for October and upon completion of the first day of principal photography, the second worst thing that can happen to a film production happened – we lost our main location. The shop that we had booked to shoot for the next several weekends announced that they were closing down within a week. The production shut down.
Everyone was immensely disappointed that the production had shut down, but many of the cast came back to say that they would love to continue to be attached to the project if it was to still go ahead. One cast member in particular, the late Steve Harris, gave me great morale support to try and give the film another go; these things happen and you have to just keep going, and “keep her lit” is what he said to me.
I managed to get my head together, and co-writer / lead actor John Sweeney and I had another go at tweaking the script as we felt this was an opportunity to make the ending stronger and tie in some random characters into the ending. We got a new production team on-board and contacted the cast to see if everyone was still available, and still interested – which almost everyone was to our delight. To overcome the hurdle of losing the location for the first production we decided to attempt to build a set in order to give us the freedom to shoot at times that suited us instead of having to work around a real shop’s opening hours.
We managed to source an old tyre shop just three weeks before the shoot, and in the absence of securing a production designer I had to step up to the plate and also fill the shoes of a production designer. I spent three long, hard weeks with my dad building the set, my fingers literally bled from the hard work that went in to it. We borrowed a lot of the props – it’s amazing what some people keep under their beds and down the back of their wardrobes! and we also bought a few bits of stock to try and fill the shelves. On the first day of principle photography, in order to get the shop ready, we painted and moved props around to get the shop looking good right up until the cameras started rolling. As the lights flicked on, and the last drop of paint dried, another calamity occurred – the electricity went out. After a quick scan of all the building work, we were relieved to find out that a nail must have pinched a wire, and the lights went back on. Finally we were rolling on our feature film – again!
Even with our own shop set, the shoot still proved a major challenge as we had a lot of actors schedules to work around, especially with everyone being unpaid we had to make concessions with people’s availability. After three exhausting long weeks we finally wrapped on all the shop scenes, and the police station location – we were able to use a room downstairs in our tyre shop as an ‘interrogation cell’. This brought the film to around 60% completion – we still had another several locations to get through, including a church, beach, bar, lounge, house, etc. The plan was to pick up at least one location every couple of weekends over the coming weeks to finish the film, this would give us the time to try and scrimp save and organise the loan of equipment to get the film over the line. Also, most people were now only available over weekends.
Sadly, these next weeks would prove to be the most difficult yet for the production, and it ended up taking over a year to finish all the remaining scenes. Initially, it proved very difficult to get people available for their remaining scenes, and then more difficulties piled on top of that: a cast member had to cancel at the last minute to attend the funeral of a good friend, another location was badly damaged in a fire. Then the very worst thing that could ever possibly happen midway through a production happened. I was shocked to hear that my good friend and cast member Steve Harris had been involved in a tragic accident with his brother, Alan, during June 2015. Alan lost his life in a workplace accident. Steve put his life on the line to try and rescue his brother. Very sadly, the following day, Steve Harris succumbed to the injuries he received and passed away. Steve Harris died a hero trying to save his brother.
I shook when I heard the news. I stood on Grafton Street with the world walking past as a blur for I don’t know how long. I also remembered feeling terrible guilty thinking that that was the end of the film now, as we had several key scenes still to film with Steve Harris in them. Then I thought to myself I will do whatever it takes to finish the film as a tribute to him and to dedicate the production to him, as this would now be his final on-screen performance.
After the shock had settled, I spoke with the production team and the cast members who still had scenes left and we all agreed to somehow rally on to finish the film for Steve Harris. John Sweeney and I put our heads together and found a way to re-write Steve’s scenes without him. Thankfully, we had his character’s first and last scenes, so we managed to re-work it so his character ‘goes missing’ from his on-screen wife for the entire middle of the film, and she is hunting him down during this period of time. By some miracle we somehow managed to finish the film, and have it still, somewhat, make sense.
Another long, hard year of post-production followed with many, many technical hurdles, but everyone pulled out the stops to get the film into a deliverable state considering the hardships the production had faced. We had used a myriad of different cameras and various lighting equipment and I was very concerned that film would even visually look coherent. Thankfully, the cost of this post-production process, which is normally a very expensive process, was once again minimised by people offering to help out to get the film finished. We also received a grant from Fingal County Council to allow this post-production process to happen.
Upon completion of the final deliverable of the film, we started the film festival process. We aimed for the big Irish festivals and the big international comedy festivals, another cost which we as filmmakers had to absorb. Unfortunately, despite receiving fantastic feedback, the film only got accepted into a handful of festivals but it did thankfully pick up some awards.
In hindsight, this production which ultimately cost €9k plus another €4k for post-production, was an unbelievable life-learning experience, and despite its immense challenges I am really delighted that it found its way to the cinema for the sake and creativity of all involved. Despite the production’s many hardships and as the tagline says, I found myself thinking “what could possibly go right!?” many times, as nothing ever seemed to be going right. Well, finally what possibly, eventually went right is that we now have a feature film to show and people are now going to get the great chance to come along and see it.
Stephen Clarke Dunne 08/08/2019
In Cinemas September 6