The Movie Brothers – Part 2: Patrick Houlihan


John and Patrick Houlihan at Newsman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios (pic: John Houlihan)

The Movie Brothers – Part 2: Patrick Houlihan

By

James Bartlett

Last month we spoke to John Houlihan, Senior Vice President of Music at 20th Century Fox film studios, and this month we’re going to get the other side of the sibling story by seeing what his younger brother Patrick (who also has the same job at the same studio!) has to say for himself.

Patrick was born in Waukegan, Illinois (just outside of Chicago), and the family moved to the East Coast when he was very young. Like John he was largely brought up in New Jersey, and he also agreed that “rowdy” was a “very accurate description of our childhood. I am still not sure how our parents survived the chaos,” he laughed.

Today Patrick lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two young teenage daughters, but he still remembers growing up hearing some legendary stories about the Houlihan’s Irish ancestry.  

“As far I am aware, we are direct descendants of Fionn mac Cumhaill himself,” he said, adding that his brother John has been investigating their lineage. “He keeps promising that we will need to go scour every pub in Ireland to verify his findings, so I keep a bag packed, my passport close to hand, and I patiently await his call to action.”  

Patrick has visited Ireland before, spending a summer taking some courses at University of Galway during his college years.

“While pretending to study, I spent most of my time trying to see and experience as much of the country as I could. Some memorable moments took place at the Cliffs of Moher, the Guinness Factory and the Dingle Peninsula, but most of all I enjoyed spending time at local pubs meeting the incredible folks of Ireland – friendliest people on the planet. All in all, it was an incredible experience.”

Asked about his job as a music supervisor, Patrick said that “most days I’m on urgent conference calls from the moment I pull out of my driveway. Then I may go to a “spotting session” with a composer and set of filmmakers to figure out the best way to use songs and score throughout each scene of their film.”

There could be many other tasks, including going to vocal sessions to work with an actor who must pre-record their singing for an upcoming music scene, “grinding” on song deal negotiations to get prices down, or simply convincing the owners of a song to approve a clearance request.

There are of course lots of meetings – “sometimes I even have meetings about meetings!” – and every couple of weeks there is usually a test screening “where 400 people from the real world are watching a rough cut of a film and rating all of the elements including the music.”

No two days are the same it seems, but Patrick reckons he is fortunate to have a job that provides him with so many varied experiences. John and Patrick work together regularly, and Patrick says that “while we don’t know absolutely everything about all music, we do know how to discover it all and how to apply it to a film.”

Aside from the huge moments like the Disney takeover, the music business has changed a great deal over the last few decades too, going from vinyl to online streaming.

No matter what the format is however, Patrick says he “still enjoys looking for the needle in the haystack. I think that the digital age and streaming has really opened up a ton of incredible access to music and artists that 15-20 years ago I might not have ever been privy to. They’re very powerful tools.”

He admits that he misses holding CD artwork and thumbing through liner notes, but streaming and the internet is “such a deeper and quicker dive into a new artist. With just a few clicks you get videos, live performances, additional photos, interviews and more. Honestly, I find it pretty mind blowing.”

Unusually, Patrick and John work in the same job and at the same place – but both have different stories of how they ended up where they are today.

“Out of the Blue” by Electric Light Orchestra was the first album I ever bought,” said Patrick. “I was 10 years old, and my brother “co-financed” the deal with me – I guess you could say that is when our collaborative spirit began!”  

He admits that the pair have always loved discovering, creating and exploiting music, and that “it has always come naturally to us. One of us is always spouting out song ideas or suggesting composers for the other’s latest film project.”

As mentioned last month, it was John who was the first to move to Los Angeles with the express purpose to get into music supervision. The year was 1992 and he had just $200 in his pocket, but in time he hired Patrick at the small company he co-founded. John’s wife Julie and another of their brothers, Kevin, works with them today too.

“Yes,” said Patrick. “I do credit John with giving me my start and mentoring me through the dark art of music supervision when old dinosaurs like him roamed the earth, and it is a blast to be able to work closely with him every day.”

“However,” he adds ominously, “in regards to some of John’s “superiority” claims in his interview… well, that is just the drink talking!”

Both brothers have had some memorable moments, and while John told us about using psychic powers on Aretha Franklin and tip-toeing past bodyguards to see a famous rap artist, Patrick says that he has to pinch himself all the time on what he calls a “rollercoaster ride.”  

He did mention a couple of times though.

“I have had the privilege to score Ridley Scott films at Abbey Road Studios, shoot music videos with Celine Dion and Ryan Reynolds in Las Vegas (the famous “Ashes” song from Deadpool 2, which went viral and has close to 60m views on YouTube), and I taught Emma Stone how to play bass. It’s all a dream!”

Outside of work, Patrick is soccer-obsessed. “Whether it is watching Liverpool inch closer to the EPL Title, coaching my girl’s teams, playing pick-up games, or googling “best goals ever scored,” I love everything to do with the sport, and it is what fills most of my time away from film music.”

As for his favorite project, Patrick said generously that his best moments come “when an original song and original score intertwine,” singling out one especially: the collaboration between film composer Teddy Shapiro and singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez on their score to the Ben Stiller movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which included the “stunning” original song called “Stay Alive.”  

As far as the worst one project he had even worked on, he was more discreet: “My mother taught us that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”

Finally, we asked Patrick about his most unusual interest. John had mentioned his love of painting houses, a habit he had picked up working for a company during college breaks, and Patrick had a similar outdoorsy hobby.

“I have a great affection for landscaping – specifically lawn mowing. As a kid, I monopolized the market in our neighborhood, and professional landscapers despised me because I undercut their fees and would end up doing a better job than they could. I find it to be incredibly soothing and get such instant gratification from the end result. In fact, the high art that I bring to lawn mowing is often compared to Michelangelo!”

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Alan Mulligan, Writer/Director of ‘The Limit Of’

James Allen (Laurence O’Fuarain) is a successful, controlling, thirty-something banker living alone and working in Dublin city at the tail-end of the recession. When a family tragedy occurs at the hands of his employer he decides to take action which forces him to face a terrible childhood secret. Meanwhile, his mysterious co-worker Alison (IFTA-nominated Sarah Carroll) has her own agenda, which puts her on a collision course with James, triggering a dark spiral of deceit, revenge, and murder.

Gemma Creagh met up with writer/director Alan Mulligan to talk about his look at modern-day greed and desire, and society’s ever-growing need for control.


The Limit Of was released in cinemas on 5th April 2019 and is still playing in The Eye Galway and Mayo Movie World.

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 34 – Eat Your Slops

 

In a Brexit-themed show, our podders, Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm, discuss junk-checking in Captain Marvel, whip out the Irish Bleakometre for The Miami Showband Massacre, The Hole in the Ground, and Shooting the Mafia. There’s chat about the buffed fingers of Free Solo, the Peeping Toms of Under the Silver Lake, the harsh yellows of At Eternity’s Gate with Willem Dafoe’s demon face and the tragic horror of Us.

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

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Reel Horror Show: Episode 11

Our possessed podcast posse return after a hiatus in the netherworld. Summoned back to earth, Conor McMahon, Mark Sheridan, Ali Doyle and Conor Dowling cast a darkened eye over the likes of Suspiria, The Hole in the Ground, Halloween, The House that Jack Built, Anna and the Apocalypse, The Guilty, One Cut of the Dead, Overlord, Castle Rock, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, He’s Out There and The Monster.

Caution. This podcast may contain thigh-slapping.

Oo welcome, ahhh oo magu welcome to the Reel Horror Show.

 

 

 

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Review: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary

 

DIR: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer • WRI: Matt Greenberg, Jeff Buhler • PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Sarah Broshar • DES: Todd Cherniawsky • CAST: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence, John Lithgow

Doctor Louis (Clarke), his wife Rachel (Seimetz), and their two children, Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage, move from Boston to rural Maine. It doesn’t take long for Ellie to discover the local, paganistic ‘pet sematary’, befriending elderly local Jud (Lithgow) in the process. While Louis finds work at his new practice boring, Rachel is still suffering with memories of a childhood tragedy involving the death of her sister. When Ellie’s beloved cat Churchill gets killed, Jud gets Louis to bury the cat in the strange cemetery, suggesting it may have hitherto unseen powers. Sure enough, Churchill returns from the dead the next day, though there is something quite different about his behaviour.  Louis and Rachel’s’ differing engagements with mortality are pushed considerably further when Ellie dies in a horrific road accident.

This adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel, previously brought to the screen by Mary Lambert in 1989, is a lean, entertaining and effective horror film. Kolsch and Widmyer do a fine job of balancing an absurdist sense of the macabre with resonant and eerie undercurrents and some impressive scenes of body-horror. The film has plenty of cliches and some incredulous moments. It’s never very well established as to why this family would move to a rural area in the first place. Rachel’s’ reaction to seeing to children adorned in Wicker Man-esque masks as they wheelbarrow animal bodies to the ‘sematary’ seems a bit too blasé. The flashbacks to Rachel’s sister’s death are also an occasion where it feels like the film is trying too hard to elicit jumps from the audience. For the most part, however, this is a film that works decidedly well on the terms it sets out.

The directing-duo are helped in no small part by fine performances from the cast. Clarke and Seimetz bring an earthy believability to their performances. Lithgow is superb, seeming alternately sympathetic and untrustworthy, wise and foolish. Laurence plays the dual roles of both her character’s normal and un-dead self excellently. The scene that sees her zombie-self, processing, as she talks to her father, that she is in fact dead, is terrifically eerie and nuanced. For a film with its fair share of jump scares, what stands out most about the film is an insidious sense of dread at our own mortality and an unmistakable streak of humour surrounding the very same thing.

David Prendeville

100 minutes

16 (see IFCO for details)

Pet Sematary is released 5th April 2019

 

Pet Sematary– Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VllcgXSIJkE

 

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Maureen O’Connell, Writer/Director of ‘Proclaim!’

Maureen O’Connell takes us behind the scenes of her short film Proclaim!, which is now available to watch online.

Behind the Scenes Images: Marta Gomez Seanz and Joby Redmond

I came home from London in late 2015. I had trained at RADA for 3 years and had tried living in London as a poor actor for 2 years afterwards. It was punishing. When I returned, I wanted to be involved in any production that was about 1916. Everything was cast or in production already. So, I started about my own project.

Initially, I wanted to make a short film about Cumann na mBan as my grandmother, “Nell O’Sullivan”, had been an active member. I began research in October 2015 and found that it was difficult to shoot a simple story about the Cumann na mBan but I stumbled upon the story of how the proclamation was printed. It was a great story:

Three Dublin printers summoned by Connolly to print 2000 copies of the proclamation in one night and in secret to be proclaimed by Pearse in the morning and their struggles to achieve this. They didn’t have enough type, wax or paper but with ingenuity, they did it.

It was just too good a story that had never really been told or indeed, dramatized before.

Although, my Granny would have been in Limerick at the time of the Easter Rising, I decided to insert her into the story just as a hat tip to her. I make a cameo appearance in the film as my Granny.

I shot Proclaim! over 5 and a half days in February 2016. I was the producer as well as the director so I had to be super organized. I had wonderful support from the cast and crew, though. They were a really patient and easy-going bunch. This made things a lot easier for me.

I had done some of my research at the National Print Museum and they informed me that if I had wanted to film there that they would let me use the old printing press and they’d print off proclamations for me for the film. I don’t think they thought I’d take them up on the offer but I contacted them and they were so helpful and friendly. I featured the two printing volunteers from the National Print Museum in the film itself as a thank you to them, Freddie Snowe and Alfred McCormack.

On the first day we shot for just a few hours at Mary’s Pub in Wicklow Street. It was a good idea to begin lightly as it settled the nerves and got the creative juices flowing. It was a great location and the owners were absolute legends to us for allowing us to shoot there.

AT SWENY'S PHARMACY, THE "CO-OP"

The next day, I shot in the wonderful Joyce Pharmacy, Sweny’s; off Pearse Street. They were so good to us. Initially, I had asked for only a half day to film in their shop but we ended up needing the full day and they let us have it! This was an incredible kindness as, it was, like every other location we shot at, free of charge. Sweny’s became the famous Co-Operative Baby Clothes Store from which Connolly printed his subversive socialist newspapers – and the very first Irish Proclamations. Thanks to the staff at Sweny’s and to our brilliant production designer, Joby Redmond who did an outstanding job.

Shooting outside the GPO was the best day, for me. I had contacted MovieExtras.ie and asked if they had any extras who wanted to be a part of the film to play people listening to Padraig Pearse proclaiming. I said it was unpaid but they’d get coffee and tea, etc. I sent a picture of the type of costume they’d have to wear if they wanted to be in it. I didn’t expect any of them to turn up, to be honest. But all of a sudden, I started getting emails from them individually. I emailed everyone back and told them the schedule and what time to be there at – Café Kylemore, O’Connell Street, 9am – and thanked them… a lot!

Again, I didn’t expect them to turn up.

Forty people in 1916 costume turned up at Café Kylemore at 9am. I couldn’t believe it! I had a 14-foot jib crane with our camera on the end on a remote head, Michael O’Kelly in full Pearse military regalia proclaiming the proclamation and 40 costumed extras… and I didn’t even have a permit. I’d only asked the Garda Sergeant at the local Garda Station for permission and had told him, I’d have a tripod and 10 extras. It was awesome!

In fairness, the Gardai who were there helped us out so much. We only had enough crew to do specific jobs but no one to look after our bags and equipment under the GPO pillars. But the Gardai looked out for our bags and so we shot the whole proclamation scene in 3 hours in front of the GPO on a very early rainy February morning in 2016.

When I conceived the script, I knew how I wanted to shoot it. Lots of shallow depth of field, quick and sudden pans and sharp edits to give the feeling of tension and pace but also to get right into our characters’ faces and feel the emotions with them and to go on their journey.

I also wanted to track and move the camera as much as possible to give a sense of urgency; the printers had to get their mammoth task done fast with no time to spare. I also used lots of racking of focus back and forth between characters, but I racked focus very fast back and forth, again, to bring a sense of urgency.

I shot it to be black and white and had it graded. I wanted to bring out the lines in the printers’ faces, to be able to see the ink and dirt in the crevices of their expressions.

I really enjoyed working with Cian Moynan the DOP. He is a painter and really understood what I wanted from the outset. He did an amazing job especially considering he and I had never worked with a 14-foot jib crane before and our only practise of it was taking it out and assembling it the night before in my sitting-room trying to make sure we knew how it worked!

I had written the Street Urchin character into the film so that I could use her songs that she sings as a way of linking scenes and also as a kind of natural soundtrack at points during the film. In pre-production, I selected the songs I wanted Laura Murphy (Street Urchin) to sing, with ‘The Parting Glass’ being the most important. I also sent this song to the other actors in the cast as I wanted them to sing it with her in the final part of the film.

We recorded these songs separately at my house in my sitting-room. Laura sang them herself and then, the rest of the cast joined her for the final chorus of ‘The Parting Glass’. I was delighted with what they did with the song and how it brings us through the film to the final scene of the proclamation being proclaimed.

I was initially going to use a heartbeat running throughout the film again to raise tension, but when I tried this in post-production, it didn’t work as well as I had imagined. So, I decided on the use of bodhrans to give a rhythmic sense of a heartbeat throughout the film. I worked with the amazing composer Joseph Conlan and he created the beautiful instrumental soundtrack.

I cast the actors mainly from the website Film Network Ireland – it has since become a Facebook Group. All of the actors were outstandingly brilliant and so lovely to work with. I was blessed! I rehearsed them all at different times at my own home and did a rehearsed reading with all cast and crew. It was exciting to see and hear it come alive.

I played the part of my own Granny, “Nell O’Sullivan” and I remember standing on set in Sweny’s Pharmacy, in costume, and getting ready to act and at the same time giving directions, thinking quietly to myself, “What am I doing?!” My legs were shaking but I was wearing a long skirt and no one could see that – if only they knew!

I had a tiny budget of €1200.00 starting out. I then used my rent money to pay my way through the shoot. After editing it, I set up an indiegogo crowdfund to finish it as professionally as possible with a sound-design and grade. I’d no idea what I was doing and had never done a crowdfund before. I needed money fast though to try to finish it in time for the Galway Film Fleadh submission deadline, so I took the shortest campaign one can choose; 15 days. If you hit your target, it takes another week to go into your bank account. I asked for €2000.00.

I pushed it as hard as I could on social media and emailed everyone I knew and had ever worked with. I knocked on the doors of every local business. We managed to raise €2836.00 to my utter surprise!

I got it finished but regardless, the Fleadh did not select it in the end. However, it went on to win many awards and got selected for festivals both national and international securing many nominations along the way.

I’m really pleased with Proclaim! and I think everyone who worked on it is too which is great. We worked so hard and I think it shows. No one was paid. It was all voluntary. Like the printers who printed the proclamation are legends, so too, the cast and crew who made Proclaim! are legends.

And I salute my cast and crew and thank them from the bottom of my heart. I hope anyone who watches it hereafter enjoys what we all worked so hard to make!


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Frank Shouldice, Director of ‘The Man Who Wanted To Fly’

Bobby Coote left school at 13 and spends most of his time in his back shed fixing clocks and making violins, but he has never lost sight of a lifelong dream to fly. He has cut a runway in a neighbour’s field and even built a hangar. And now he’s using his life savings to buy a plane! He gets no encouragement from his brother Ernie – another octogenarian in the Coote household, who thinks the whole thing is mad. But Bobby is determined to get airborne, even if it’s the last thing he does.

Director Frank Shouldice spoke to Film Ireland about his film, which is released in cinemas 29th March.

Dave Perry, the cinematographer, and myself have worked on a number of current affairs related programmes and we were looking for something outside of current affairs as a project of our own. Dave is very much into flying. He lives up near Bailieborough in County Cavan and was out flying one day in his paramotor. When he was flying he noticed this white dot in a couple of places underneath him. Later that same day, at home there was a ring of the doorbell. When he opened it,  there was an elderly man with a baseball cap standing there. He saw behind the man was this Suzuki IQ, a white one and he figures that’s the white dot. It turns out this man was Bobby and he said “was that you up there in the sky?” and he said yes and asked why. Bobby said “I want to do that”. That was his answer and that was the introduction to Bobby Coote.

The idea that this man in his late 70s at that point was having harbouring this ambition to do something that most people would deem was too late for him – it was something that got us thinking… could this be the story that we’re looking for. The premise was strong, the pursuit of a dream is always a romance in itself. But what really turned it for me was when I learnt that Bobby lived at home with his older brother, Ernie, and that the two were unmarried lads who lived in the same family house but had completely separate lives and separate front doors. That to me, if Ernie would come aboard and if Bobby was aboard, would open up a much richer vein that would be beyond the story of pursuing the flight, which would come off for not come off. It would open up into a lot of other more profound themes about isolation, ageing, love, family.

It was very much a generosity of spirit on their part that they were open to this and shared so much with us over such a long time. We ended up on a journey that from the first day of filming to the last day of the edit was five and a half years. It was inspiring getting to know these men now in their 80s – they have a full lived life experience. There’s a kind of wisdom and humour in the experience they’ve had of life. I think it is really key to the film that’s what’s there is real. It’s absolutely real. Some things just happened as they happened. When Bobby gets a very devastating phone call that brings home to him that his dream is finished… that literally happened as it happened. There was no rehearsal or preparation. It happened and actually it was quite difficult for myself and Dave to witness and almost not intervene – to throw an arm over shoulder and say don’t worry we’ll find a way around this or something. That was hard. We were literally watching someone’s dreams evaporating in front of their eyes. We had to remind ourselves we were there to make a film and not just simply to be friend.  

Five and a half years is a long time and before we showed the final cut to anybody, we showed it to Bobby and Ernie. We were a little bit apprehensive that they’d be comfortable in what they shared. Thankfully they were. They felt it represented them. If it hadn’t it would have been very uncomfortable for us because as true and close to the bone as it was, you’d like them to feel that that it does represent them rather than me exposing themselves emotionally in a way that they wouldn’t be happy with. It’s a credit to them for being so generous and it takes a lot of courage to open up and reveal the things that matter to them.

The film hangs on it being real, being genuine. We’ve just been in festivals so far but people are engaging with us. They feel that they get to know the brothers. From the outset, the ambition for me was that the audience would enter into their world for the next hour and a half. Let’s go into that world and stay in the world at that tempo, their tempo, their pace of life. It means slowing down, things don’t happen in a hurry. I hope that we have achieved this with the film. So far it seems to be happening. People accept the life and the community they see and they go with them and engage with it and support it. Maybe it’s an antidote to what else is on offer. This is the world we actually live in. It’s not a make-believe world. It’s out there… maybe we just didn’t notice it before.

 

The Man Who Wanted to Fly has a preview screening at the Odeon Cinema in Cavan Town on 26th March and opens in cinemas in Dublin, Galway, Cork and Cavan on the 29th March.

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Review: Vox Lux

Tom Crowley takes a look at Brady Corbet’s musical drama, which screened at the Dublin International Film Festival.

Actor-turned-director Brady Corbet is interested in what makes a person a leader. What makes one individual special to other people? His debut film, The Childhood of a Leader (2016), adapted from a short story by Jean-Paul Sartre, attempts to depict the early formative years of a future fascist dictator. In his new film, Brady explores the idea of someone born to be famous; this fact is clearly derived from the film’s philosophical voice-over, provided by Willem Dafoe, who delivers his dialogue as if narrating a fairy-tale.

Celeste (played by Raffey Cassidy in her teenage years and Natalie Portman as an adult), is a victim of a horrific and violent attack during her school years. Occurring early in the film, it is a genuinely heart-pounding cinematic moment. In a room full of people, she is the only one to try and take control of the situation. Many years later, she will make the Lennon faux-pas and compare herself to Christ.

Portman gives her best performance since her Black Swan Oscar win in 2010. Is there anybody better at playing a tortured performer? She gives Celeste an assuredness and a vicious streak in her public life, and a manipulative uncertainty in her private life, surely symptoms of megalomania which comes from being a worshiped celebrity most of your life.

Divided (as Leader was) into four stages, indicated by minimalist black titles cards with white text, which seemed perfect in the context of his first film and is brilliantly at odds with this one, Prologue, Genesis, Re-genesis and Finale, adds to the religious undertones (also present in Leader), which Celeste’s name suggests. Corbet has carefully structured a sometimes shocking, sometimes funny and always stimulating film about the modern world, a ‘21st Century Portrait’ the final tie-dyed title card proclaims. The film blends celebrity and terrorism on a wider scale while also creating an ambitious psychological character study which culminates in a Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) still comeback concert. The two films could not be more different. While Rhapsody insists on trying to shoe-horn in every heavily sanitised detail on Mercury and Queen’s careers, Vox Lux wants us to fill in the gaps for ourselves as we take a decade long leap from the inception of Celeste’s career to her ‘comeback’ concert in her home town. Corbet is earnest about his character study but mocks the ‘pop’ genre his character is associated with, in the same way Bradley Cooper does in A Star is Born (2018).

Corbet’s talents are not only in content but also in style. The piercing, unsettling soundscapes of The Childhood of a Leader return, with Corbet again teaming with composer Scott Walker. The soundtrack forces the viewer to feel that something of a significant magnitude is happening (even if it might not be). Corbet presents us with two sequences in fast-forward, a liberating if hedonistic trip to Stockholm by two sisters and a troubled stars hotel room drug binge with her manager. Both sequences are carefully staged by Corbet and shot by Lol Crawley, to speed them up is an indicator of vision. The hotel room sequence is reminiscent of Alex’s bedroom romp in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). At 30 years of age Corbet is already a unique cinematic voice and a director for the future.

Vox Lux screened on 28th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March)

In cinemas 3rd May 2019

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dirty God

June Butler was at the Dublin International Film Festival for a screening of Sacha Polak’s Irish co-production Dirty God.

 

In her first feature length role, newcomer Vicky Knight elicits a mesmerising performance as Jade in Dirty God, a moving film about inner beauty and societal burdens placed on those who are deemed to fall outside accepted images of physical attractiveness. The initial introduction to Jade is pitiless and unflinching. Jade has been the victim of an acid attack with her controlling ex-boyfriend Eli (Karl Jackson), and father of her daughter, to blame for the assault. Opening scenes are tense with close-up images showing the cauterized landscape of Jade’s face and neck contorted in whorls of brutalised body tissue. A heart-beat tempo accompanies Jade through underground raves with strobe lighting casting shadows on her facial scars as she makes her way through crowds of gyrating dancers. A previous romantic interest is dating Jade’s friend but the attraction between Jade and Naz (Bluey Robinson) is undeniable. Naz is able to see beyond the adage and realises that beauty may be considered skin deep but what lies further beneath is beyond compare.  

Various scenes show Eli prowling through nightclubs within sight of Jade – almost appearing to know her every move. When the case goes to court, Jade appears alone and vulnerable locked into a staring match with the ubiquitous steely-eyed Eli. Jade briefly finds freedom when she dons a burqa and dances her way along the balconies of the housing complex she lives in. Invisibility is the currency Jade craves in her search for acceptance.

Jade attempts to kindle online relationships but soon learns that she is vilified for her disfigurement and slowly starts to withdraw. Her shoplifting mother, Lisa (Katherine Kelly), is unable to fully grasp the mental anguish Jade is experiencing as she is rejected at every turn. Ultimately, Jade’s journey begins when she embraces the love of her young daughter and realises that she alone holds the key to becoming a survivor and living life on her own terms.

Sacha Polack, as director and producer of this truly beautiful film has wrought a stunning piece of cinematic mastery. By exploring the tragedy of those who have suffered a similar fate and who find themselves locked in a world where every witness recoils in horror or stares transfixed, Polack has raised the spectre of an apocalyptic post-acid life. What happens after the burns heal as best they can? How do relentless visual presentations of human perfection hold up against a body that seems to be broken beyond repair? The deliberate dehumanisation of another living being is troubling and disconcerting as Jade encounters casual brutality carelessly doled out by co-workers. Moreover, Polack touches upon a system of barbaric annihilation – one that is endured whilst passively existing as an object of love. When rejection occurs, a visceral all-consuming rage follows suit provoking ultimate obliteration.  

Postscript by the reviewer:

I went to see this film in Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema and encountered Sacha Polack and Vicky Knight at the viewing. Knight briefly related how she, at the age of eight, was the victim of an arson attack and was badly burned as a result. Knight outlined her initial reluctance in becoming involved with the project but was persuaded by the extremely convincing Sacha Polack. For both Polack and Knight, this was a perfect encounter and the relationship has engendered a film that exudes authenticity. This reviewer is very much looking forward to the prospect of future offerings from both.   

 

Dirty God screened on 3rd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

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Review: Us

DIR/WRI: Jordan Peele PRO: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Nicholas Monsour• DES: Ruth De Jong  MUS: Michael Abels • CAST: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

I’m still a bit miffed that Jordan Peele didn’t run with my super-cool idea for his film. Picture this: the movie opens with the title card for Us, except it’s obscured by some sort of spooky fog. Then, as the fog clears, the title card comes into sharper focus and – what’s that? Two dots have appeared! It’s not Us as we imagined, but instead U.S.! The United States! On the big screen! Who’d have imagined?! Aaaand, fade to black, the end. But Peele had his own ideas, just not quite as nuanced as my own, and I can respect that. And since Us turned out to be well paced, tense, and genuinely scary, I have to hand it to him: he did not need my help this time.

In Peele’s new horror, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is haunted by a trauma that has remained with her for over thirty years: as a young girl, she was briefly separated from her parents while at a beach-front carnival and only vaguely remembers what she endured while exploring an abandoned hall of mirrors. Returning to the same beach three decades later with her family in toe, Adelaide fears that whatever she has been trying to avoid all that time is about to catch up with her. It appears that her fears are not unfounded when four enigmatic figures, all dressed in red, appear outside their holiday home one night. When they break in and come face-to-face with the Wilson family, the Wilson family discover their doubles staring back.

While Us might not be quite as good as Peele’s breakout debut Get Out, it’s certainly the most immediately scary of the two (whereas the Sunken Place in Get Out had me feeling sick to my stomach, the cat-and-mouse games throughout Us had me watching through my fingers), and surely that is one reasonable metric by which to measure your horror. Starting off evocative of other terrifying home invasion narratives such as The Strangers and The Invitation, Peele’s second film, like Get Out, reveals its machinations originate in a landscape located somewhere between the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Not unlike the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, this enables Peele to explore the implications of the surface of society in comparison to what remains unseen.

Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic as both versions of Adelaide: both the socially awkward loner and over-protective mother protagonist, and the terrifying crack-voiced double who appears to be spearheading the doppelgänger attack. Winston Duke plays Adelaide’s husband, Gabe, a likeable if somewhat bumbling boat enthusiast. What with his square glasses, beard and comic relief, he comes across as something of a Peele-a-like. If I were to fault the casting in any way it would be a criminal under-use of the incredibly funny Tim Heidecker as the father of a fellow vacationing family and frenemy of Gabe (that’s right, I’m taking no prisoners here).

While Us couldn’t really be said to be a sequel to Get Out it does still tackle many of the same ideas, particularly in relation to the commodification of the (both African and non-African) American body. I am already anticipating plenty of discussion regarding the significance of the doppelgängers’ red costumes, for starters. Beyond the immediate nail-biting horror there is plenty to mull over, and indeed it feels like a movie that will reward repeat viewings. All I can say for now is that, after one viewing, Us feels like a puzzle that disconcertingly doesn’t seem to quite fit together: maybe you’re not looking at it the right way up, maybe there’s a piece missing, or maybe you’ve just realised your double is hiding under the table and is really putting you off. Whatever the reason, Us remains disturbingly oblique and is probably all the better for it.

Sarah Cullen

116 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Us is released 22nd March 2019

 

 

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Watch Irish Short Film: Pernicio

In Pernicio, a young man explores his attitude towards life and death when his suicide plans are interrupted. David Fox tells us how he made the film.

Pernicio is my grad film from my final year in the National Film School in IADT, Dun Laoghaire.

The idea for the white ‘execution room’ sprung to my mind some time in 2014. I think there had been a lot of debate surrounding assisted suicide at the time, and my mind began to wonder what it would look like if it was a walk-in clinic and you could kill yourself as easily as buying a Big Mac. The idea began to snowball and dragged capitalistic ideas with it with the multinational corporation that would make money off people’s desires to kill themselves, and lo and behold I had the basic idea for a film.

I sat on the idea for about two years before I put pen to paper, a process which I think worked in my favour on this project. It evolved and developed in my mind for those two years, and when it came to pitching for my final year project in college, this was the idea that was itching to get out.

I finally got on to developing the script in early September 2016. I knew the theme of suicide had been overused and almost trivialised in student films, so I wanted to stray away from those clichés as much as possible. I think I went through 11 drafts of the script in the end.

Dave Fox, Director

The way it works in the NFS is that you get allocated a week to shoot your Grad film at the start of the year, anytime between late January and late April. We were allocated February 6th – 12th. We had one week to shoot it and maybe a couple of days here or there to get pick-ups if we needed.

We held open auditions just before Christmas 2016 and my leads walked through the door and sat down in front of me, something which I genuinely did not expect to happen, but each one of them struck perfectly in-line with the characters. I met with Eoin O’Sullivan (Gary), Danielle Galligan (Sam), Mark Lawrence (Doctor) and Aidan J Collins (Receptionist) about half a dozen times before the shoot. We rehearsed scenes, explored different routes and found our favourite direction before began shooting. That was something that proved to be invaluable to me; I did most of my directing off-set. Two weeks before the shoot I locked the script – finally.

Cast & Crew

We shot 5 days over a week-long period. The big white ‘execution room’ took a full day to build and light properly and we had about 8 hours to shoot everything and tear it down again the following day, which was terrifying and exciting.

Alfie Hollingsworth was my cinematographer and we clicked really well on this shoot. I asked him about the room, how we would light it properly, how to not make it look like a student-film-looking set and how we’d avoid shadows in the jib shots. He came up with the idea of lighting the room through a 16X16 silk which we hung over the set, a brilliant idea. This, coupled with the brilliant production design of Fiona Mitchell gave us the ethereal white light in those scenes that I wanted.

We actually pimped out a super old sound editing hardware that we found in the film school and put some tubes and lights on it for the machine in the middle of the room. If you look closely at the close ups of the machine you can see ‘treble’ and ‘bass’, something which became a lot more apparent when we were screening in cinemas, but I’m hoping no one notices on their first watch.

Our other locations included my bedroom, The Dublin Dental School (the reception scenes), Dollymount Strand, the Dart, and the Lexicon in Dun Laoghaire, all secured by my producer Laura Gaynor. The Lexicon was a brand new building at the time and I thought it had a real retro-futuristic look to it. We VFX’d the Pernicio ‘P’ on the side of the building, with the help of Robert Gaynor. The shoot went very smoothly overall, except for leaving our Data Wrangler behind in the Golf Club on Bull Island, who we only remembered when we had gotten into town – sorry Robyn.

Dani during final scene

Conor Donoghue edited the piece, and did an excellent job doing so. I sat back from the project for about a week and let him do an assembly cut of his own accord. We knew soon after that we had a film. We got really lucky with the sound mix, as our mixer Janneke van Nijnanten was doing work experience down in Ardmore studios on the sound stage. She showed Steve Fanagan what she was working on and he said he would be help us out with a 5.1 sound mix, and generously he gave his time for free. Not many student films can claim to have a professional surround-sound mix so that really adds a whole other dimension to the film when it’s screened in the cinema. Darius McGann put together a brilliantly emotional and poignant original soundtrack too.

Everything came together well in the end. We were well organised, believed in ourselves but also, we got really lucky with a lot of things and a lot of people helped us out on this film, to whom I am extremely grateful.

Student films are hard, everyone is learning, people can be unsure of themselves, and other people can let you down. I’m happy to say no one let us down with this film, everyone outdid themselves. We set ourselves a goal to make a student film that didn’t feel like a student film, and I think, and hope, we achieved that.

 

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The Movie Brothers – Part I: John Houlihan


John and Patrick Houlihan at Newsman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox Studios (pic: John Houlihan)

 

The Movie Brothers – Part I: John Houlihan

By

James Bartlett

 

In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, we interviewed two brothers – John and Patrick Houlihan – who not only both live in Southern California and both have the same job as a music supervisor, but they also both work at 20th Century Fox film studios.

As the oldest of the two, we chose John to go first. Like Patrick, he is Senior Vice President of Music at Fox, and his credits include John Wick 1 and 2, the Deadpool and Austin Powers movies, Atomic Blonde, The Shape of Water and many more movies and television shows. He’s also the co-founder and past president of the Guild of Music Supervisors.   

He was born in upstate New York, “just a couple miles away from where my Great-Great Grandfather lived when he arrived from Ireland in 1867.” In the 1970s the family relocated to New Jersey, which was where he mainly grew up and graduated High School. “It was a rowdy upbringing, being one of five siblings with awesome parents,” he remembers.  

He now lives in Studio City, California, with his wife of 20 years Julie, and three teenage sons. “Daily life is like a sitcom without cameras,” he says, then admits that his official press-release age will stay “mid to late 40s” for as long as he can manage it.

John noted that the Houlihans “are a part of the great Irish diaspora: out of sight but not out of mind,” and that everything has changed in recent years.

“I’ve become obsessed with trying to confirm the Irish towns, churches and neighborhoods where my ancestors once dwelled – it seems around Tipperary. Fortunately for me and my brothers I’ve hit a research wall, so it seems like we need to travel over for a pub crawl across Ireland in order to find the original parish records that hold our family origin story. We’ll bring my 13-year-old son to be our designated driver!” he laughs.    

Both brothers have visited Ireland before, and John’s first trip was part of his honeymoon. “We both fell in love with the people and the land,” he says.

A few years later in 2004, John returned to Ireland – this time thanks to his career. He was working with legendary Irish writer-director Jim Sheridan on the biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which was partially edited in Dublin after shooting in Toronto.  

But what does a music supervisor do? In brief, they get a script and asses the music needs for the story; what the composer might produce, what songs should be used in the background, or in montages, or even sung by characters.    

“There is no such thing as a typical day,” said John, “and that’s why it is a dream job for us.”

Explaining further, he said that they “do the craziest things behind the scenes to help the vision of filmmakers and musicians come true. We jump into the fray and help a dozen different creative people agree on the best music approach for a film when everyone has their own highly subjective take.”

A large amount of time is spent on the business side of things too. Permission and (sometimes large) payments are necessary to use any song that’s still in copyright, but countless other factors can come into play and change everything. As a rule, the more famous the song, the more expensive it will be to use.  

“We can’t just think of music ideas; we need to deliver those ideas by creating new recordings that make movie magic, oversee the formal copyright clearance deals and manage limited budgets.”

John remembered helping a director get $2,000,0000 worth of licensed music choices into their final film on a music budget of $500,000, and said that there have been some strange moments too.

“I was tip-toeing down a recording studio hallway past two snoozing, 300 lb., 6 foot 6-inch-tall, bodyguards so I could crash a recording session and close a song deal with a famous rapper,” he remembers, adding that he even once meditated himself into a deep trance to send a beam of energy across America to Aretha Franklin so she would approve use of one her songs.

“And it worked too!” he laughs.

John – or his brother – can be working on up to a dozen movies simultaneously, “and sometimes we’re juggling 101 problems. We try to flow with it all, and be like improvisational jazz musicians. Coming from a big family was good practice,” he says.  

Though the world of the movies might be a secret to many of us, there is one thing professionals and public alike can relate to: how music has changed from being a physical form (vinyl, cassettes, CDs) to online streaming and computer files.

“I’ve received well over 100,000 CDs over the years from companies and artists pitching their music for use in film and TV,” says John, admitting that he occasionally had joyful clear-outs, junking countless silver discs.

Nevertheless, he’s been unable to go entirely cold-turkey. He tries to be as online and digital as possible in his day-to-day listening, but he and Julie (who, unbelievably, is a music supervisor too) still have some 40,000 CDs in their garage.

He half-jokingly says he expects to end up on a “Hoarders” reality television show one day, “clutching a David Bowie CD set as their psychologist tries to talk me into finally throwing everything away.”

More seriously, he notes that while a large majority of the history of popular music is available online, around 15% or so has not yet – and may never – make the migration to digital, so having as much available as possible gives him every opportunity to find that “homerun” song.

Talking further about work, it was impossible not to ask John about the pros and cons of working with his brother Patrick every day.

John wonders if their boss was “out of her mind to hire two Houlihans,” but then admits that it’s “definitely is fun to see my brother every day, and get the chance to collaborate with him on major film projects.”

Then came the inevitable sibling joshing.

“Patrick himself will tell you that I’m absolutely the smarter, funnier and clearly more handsome of the two of us – not to mention my athletic superiority!” boasts John.

John worked in the industry from his early days – booking bands for school festivals and working as a college radio DJ – and then, after graduating college, he started an artist management company and independent record label in New Jersey.

The two brothers have also worked together for many years; John was manager of Patrick’s indie rock band Daisyhaze in Washington, DC, though in 1992 John was the first to move to Los Angeles with the express purpose to get into music supervision.

He had just $200 in his pocket then, but in time he hired Patrick at a small company he co-founded, and the story continued with Julie and yet another of their brothers, Kevin, joining them (his expertise being in music licensing).  

As John says, “there must be a music secret sauce recipe in the Houlihan’s!”   

It could have been very different, though. John says that when he was in college, he started a house-painting company during summer vacation, and found he had a real knack for it.

“I am at inner peace when I’m painting a house, especially the windows and trim,” he said, adding that his work once moved a watching woman to tears. “I’ll admit she possibly had a drinking problem, but it was still a nice compliment!”

It seems that ultimately then he took the right path, but as for the future, he has an Irish dream that’s not related to music:

“To buy a home on the water in Kinsale. So, if in 20 years you see an old guy in a beat-up fishing boat puttering around the River Bandon before heading to the pub, that will be me.”

Next we talk to Patrick and learn his story…

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Floating Structures

June Butler takes a look at Fearghal Ward and Adrian Duncan’s Reel Art film, Floating Structures, which shines a light on buildings and structures that seem as though they have emerged from another world. 

Floating Structures is an ambient architectural feast that focuses mainly on edifices where glass is considered an essential part of the project.

It follows a narrator as he travels to investigate the creation of German civil engineer Heinrich Gottfried Gerber. Gerber conceived of, and designed cantilevered bridges over the Regnitz at Bamberg and traversing the Main at Hassfurt. Elements of both conduits were then ably used by Peter Rice, an Irish structural engineer in the construction of a number of notable landmarks.

The audience is brought through the assembly of such buildings as the Pompidou Centre (1971), and La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Villette (1986) – both in Paris. However Rice can also lay claim to working on construction of the Sydney Opera House roof (1957), the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield (1967), and Pabellón del Futuro, Seville, Spain (1992). Rice integrated Gerber’s structural concepts and incorporated them seamlessly into the buildings he worked on. La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie featured three greenhouse spaces in the façade which were deemed to be the first glass walls positioned without a frame or supporting fins. Footage from the time of assembly shows Peter Rice putting the glass in place.

What follows is a beautiful journey into the marvels of creation narrated easily in lay-person’s terms – a passage to unfettered imagination. The documentary encourages an interest in maps of the mind and lends visual meaning to the concrete landscape surrounding city dwellers. Both the old and the new are investigated – parallels are drawn between Chartres Cathedral and more modern buildings, concluding that while materials used on recent constructs differ, the overall supposition is that the law of physics remains the same.

Floating Structures is a quiet and unassuming foray into celebrating the genius of Peter Rice and well worth viewing.

 

Floating Structures screened on 25th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March). 

 

 

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Nick McLean

The legendary cinematographer Nick McLean is currently in Ireland for a series of events honouring his work.  We were fortunate enough to have Nick join us to chat with Paul Farren about his illustrious career. Nick is joined by film historian Wayne Byrne, who co-authored a book with Nick which details McLean’s life and work on some of the biggest films and television shows of the past fifty years.

Nick takes us inside Hollywood and shares some fabulous stories, working with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Robert Altman, Vilmos Zsigmond, László Kovács, Brian De Palma, Burt Reynolds, Warren Beatty, Hal Ashby, Clint Eastwood, Mel Brooks, Richard Donner on The Goonies and Superman and working on Friends.

 

Events

March 8 – Triskel Arts Centre (Short Circuit film screening + Q&A; Cobra film screening + Introduction)
March 9 – The Harbour Hotel (An Audience with Nick McLean Masterclass)
                – Palas Cinema (The Goonies film screening + Q&A)
March 11 – The Sugar Club (Spaceballs film screening + Introduction and Q&A)
March 15 – Naas Community Library (An Evening with Nick McLean)
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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Gaza

Irene Falvey reflects on Gaza, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s documentary, set among the communities who live in Gaza.

 

Gaza, a documentary portraying the reality of people’s lives in Gaza, is introduced at its screening during the Dublin International Film Festival by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell who worked on this documentary together. It is clear from their introduction that this joint project required commitment as the production spanned from 2015-2018. The filmmakers’ perseverance was not in vain as this documentary provides an eye-opening insight into the world of everyday people living in Gaza.

In place of documenting the relentless political turmoil in this location, Keane and McConnell’s documentary looks at Gaza from a personal rather than a political point of view. It successfully encapsulates the human response to living in this conflicted space, revealing both defiance and uncrushable human will alongside frustration and fear. Throughout the documentary, the filmmakers record a collection of people from different walks of life, all sharing the same land and the same seemingly hopeless situation. The viewer witnesses a mixture of responses and coping mechanisms that the civilians assume, with an emphasis on humanity and understanding.

To commence the documentary we are given a synopsis of the situation in Gaza, a densely populated strip of land, with closed borders on either side. While there is a long and tense history to be examined here, the film focuses instead on those that are really affected by these events – the people. With this context in mind the documentary can be viewed as an examination of survival, both physically and mentally. How can a community carry on when their basic human needs aren’t being met? How can a community live in a space that is constantly inflicted by war? While the documentary doesn’t shy away from these subjects, it concentrates more closely on the coping mechanisms of the people themselves living in Gaza; it is clear that this is all the civilians can do, to aspire to cope rather than to live.

One of the main themes threaded throughout the documentary is the sea. Initially the sea is depicted as a symbol of freedom. One participant in the film, an educated fourteen-year-old girl called Karma, sees the hopelessness of her situation but says that the sea provides some solace. The sea in the context of this documentary can be seen as a horizon, that there exists a more free life outside of this trapped state. However, the horizon here is a conflicted one; it is an unreachable horizon, a horizon that is off limits. This unattainable border is both symbolic and real – there is a 3 mile border limitation on this sea front.

One of the first people we are introduced to in the film is a young fourteen-year- old boy whose greatest dream is to one day own a fishing boat and be the captain. His life expectations demonstrate that the sea is a barrier rather than a symbol of freedom. Growing up in the context of Gaza, how is an uneducated boy to imagine anything greater on his horizon than captaining a ship that can go no further than three miles?

In the face of adversity one of the most common human reactions is to take action. In the context of Gaza, however, the film portrays this being an unwise choice. Young frustrated men make violent attempts to bring about change with gunshots and stone-throwing, only to end up injured and feeling even more ineffectual.

For several people in the film they fight against the adversity by expressing their emotions through music instead of violence. Karma, a fourteen-year-old girl who dreams of winning a scholarship, finds escapism through playing the cello. While music won’t lift the barriers or stop the difficulties of life in Gaza, it manages to bring some peace and harmony to those that must endure their lives there. We witness an injured young man who becomes a rap artist,  to ensure that he isn’t “a burden to society”. A taxi driver, whose life we follow, sings with many of his passengers, using music as a universal language to strengthen the spirits no matter what strife they must struggle through.

In a place where a community can’t freely come and go as they please, the idea of Gaza as a prison is clearly established within the documentary. The people within Gaza could be viewed as innocent prisoners sentenced and confined, despite not being guilty of any crimes. In a place where education, jobs, electricity and food are in short supply there is a sense of a frustrated acceptance – while the people are resilient, they are also  aware that their situation isn’t going to change any time soon.

While the documentary successfully reveals the strength of these people in the face of hardship, the desperation of the situation they are going through remains constantly present.

The film creatively switches the context of the current situation in Gaza from the political to the personal to show the real effects of the relentless conflict. We witness a people and place that are trapped and frustrated yet ever on the verge of turmoil. Despite the severity of the situation, the documentary shines a light on the pervasive sense of humanity of those that are striving to survive in Gaza. With understanding and sympathy the filmmakers have managed to capture how the toils of war shape the lives of people who are trapped by it.

 

 

Gaza screened on 2nd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

 


 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dark Lies the Island

Stephen Porzio takes on the Mannions in Dark Lies the Island.

Martin and John Michael McDonagh better watch out. Another Irish literary figure has made the jump to the silver screen, bringing something fresh to the country’s trademark dark comedies.

Dark Lies the Island sees author Kevin Barry (City of Bohane, Beatlebone) team up with Irish directing old pro Ian Fitzgibbon (Moone Boy, Perrier’s Bounty) for a pitch-black comedy drama based on characters which appeared in various of the writer’s short stories. Charlie Murphy’s Sarah narrates. She is a bored, checked-out housewife to the much older and rich Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt). Through a chain of businesses, he pretty much runs the sleepy town of Dromord in which the action takes place.

Daddy has two kids from his first marriage. There’s Martin (Moe Dunford), a weak womaniser filling the Fredo role and Doggy (Peter Coonan), someone who went from having a bright future to being an agoraphobe running a dating service from a caravan in the woods. Throughout the drama, these characters – along with Tommy Tiernan’s mysterious newcomer to Drumord and a pair of cousins in debt to Doggy – all converge in a climax where past histories and repressed trauma come to light.

At first, Dark Lies the Island feels like another Perrier’s Bounty, an enjoyable if forgettable sub-Tarantino comedy noir given an Irish flavour. After all, the ingredients for such are in place – pulpy narration, a seemingly scary psychopath in Doggy, eccentric locals.

Yet, as the movie continues and the plot gets increasingly bizarre and dark, one realises that Barry is doing something truly different. He is taking fantastical, heightened tropes that film fans like but is using them to explore contemporary themes like mental health and how patterns of emotional abuse develop within families.

Shot dreamily by terrific cinematographer Cathal Watters, the fictional town of Dromord (its palindromic spelling reflective of its purgatorial nature) is not meant to be interpreted as a real place. Neighbouring a lake – in which we often see ominous fog rolling alongside – it’s symbolic of Doggy, Martin and Sarah’s mental state. These are people living under the dark cloud of the sinister tyrannical Daddy, a nasty weak man who gets his kicks making others feel small.

While these characters all seemed like clichés at the beginning of the film, Barry’s script thoughtfully, as it continues, explores why these people have taken to these almost assigned roles, touching, at the same time, upon sins of Ireland’s past. While the climactic event is somewhat inevitable and all the characters outside the Mannion’s immediate circle feel slightly extraneous, it’s to Barry’s credit that by the end of Dark Lies the Island, the movie feels far less Grindhouse than it does Gothic. This reviewer wouldn’t be surprised if the writer eventually makes the transition to director.

 

Dark Lies the Island screened on Wednesday, 27th February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

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Director / Co-Writer Lee Cronin & Actor Seána Kerslake, ‘The Hole in the Ground’

One night, Sarah’s young son disappears into the woods behind their rural home. When he returns, he looks the same, but his behavior grows increasingly disturbing. Sarah begins to believe that the boy who returned may not be her son at all.

David Prendeville chats to director / co-writer Lee Cronin and actor Seána Kerslake about their horror The Hole in the Ground.

 

Lee, can we start with where the idea for the film came from?

Lee: It wasn’t a lightbulb moment. It was a combination of things. The first little scene of it all was a news story I read about a man sitting in his armchair in Florida. A sinkhole emerged and took him in and he died. I thought that was terrifying, to have the rug pulled in such a fantastical way. That spawned the title The Hole in the Ground which was then rolling around and around in my mind.

At the same time I was developing a story about a mother and a son and a situation of doubt between them after a trauma in their lives –  it was more a concept. The combination of these things over a number of months came together. It felt like the sinkhole that was rolling around my mind would be a great metaphor for the situation that this mother and son found themselves in. The actual development of the film was kind of a slow. Sometimes you have these lightbulb moments when an idea comes fully formed. With this one, it was more a kind of slow creep of different things coming together.

 

Seána, what was it that attracted you to the role?

Seana: I think the challenge of being in a horror movie but to make it feel real to me and real to the character – that challenge was attractive and one I thought that we could rise to. As well, a lot of the physical stuff was a huge draw, like having to be physically ready to go underground and do the fight scenes… They were huge pulls for me. And, of course, the story. I was always interested in that kind of concept of somebody you know not being who you think they are, or slightly off. There’s the idea there – do you ever really know people fully.

 

Were there other horror films you were looking at as reference points – either directorially or performance-based?

Seana: Lee had given me a list of some stuff to watch, but I did steer clear of it because there was some female performances that I knew if I watched then I’d feel maybe I’m going to take from those performances. For me, I just had to be totally emerged in this script rather than other ones.

Lee: We had our  influences and we discussed them, but we didn’t do a deep dive where we were trying to necessarily analyse other work in any way and emulate that. We were trying to be as fresh as we could be in our own way. The reason I wanted Seána in the role was because she was very different to what I had imagined this character would actually be from the get-go. I wasn’t trying to impress upon her or anybody else’s performance necessarily. It’s a case of what I saw in Seána I thought was going to challenge me and challenge the character on the page. That was the way to go about it. We just jumped in and went for it.

 

How did the casting of James [Quinn Markey] come about?

Lee: When I met Seána, she was the first performer that I met for the role, we just stopped the hunt right away. We sat down, had a coffee and decided it was right and offered her the role. But when you’re working with young performances you have to do a greater due diligence. You’re not just getting to know them, you’re trying to understand them a little more, meet their parents, get a sense of how this will all work. Especially you have a sudden responsibility when you’re making a horror film and you’re bringing an 8 year-old out on set to be part of that and to be an object of fear in the movie. So the process was a slower one. You have a casting agent that goes out and looks at a lot of different performers and then makes shortlists. You’ll see someone on the shortlist you’ll like and make mental notes. You might dig back into the longlist and look at someone else. You build these little groups and you’re always analysing and looking at what it is you want. What’s really interesting about James is that he’s not in any way a creepy kid at all. He has this ability to just step into different subtle places. But yeah, it was a long process. We did chemistry tests with Seána with a couple of different young actors. We definitely went through it. It’s the one decision, when you’re casting someone that young, that you can only make with so much confidence until you turnover and roll camera on the first day – despite all the rehearsals, because it’s a different environment once you’re on the set, so you are kind of slightly crossing your fingers. Thankfully it worked out great – he’s a little superstar.

 

Seana, the physicality of the role that you mentioned earlier, how did it compare in reality to what you imagined it to be like?

Seana: It was pretty spot on! It was tough. Brendan [Byrne – sfx coordinator] and his whole team were so amazing. It was exciting to be part of that, but tough work.

Lee: I had said to Seána in advance that it was going to be tough. We didn’t pretend that it wasn’t going to be very physically challenging – that it would be something very different for her to do. Seána had to dive in and do some pretty serious stuff. I don’t want give away any spoilers but later on in the film there are certain physical challenges that are done for real. There’s no hiding.

Seána: I think in hindsight I go “yeh, that was fine” but in the doing off it there were certain moments where I was like ‘suck it up and do it’ or else there’s moments where I’m feeling a little wary –  not so much scared – I’d never say it because I knew Lee wanted me to be scared in parts of it!

Lee: Show no weakness.

Seána: Yeh. I’m like, I’m not giving him that! So in my head, I’m thinking ‘go for it!’ But it was a lot of fun – hard work, but a lot of fun.

Lee: Good hard work.

 

The Hole in the Ground is in cinemas from 1st March 2019.

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Hole in the Ground

Dir: Lee Cronin  Wri:Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet  Pro: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland, Ulla Simonen  DOP: Tom Comerford. Prod Des: Conor Dennison  Ed: Colin Campbell  CAST: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, James Cosmo, Simone Kirby

 

Sarah (Kerslake) moves to rural Ireland with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey). Through conversations between mother and son, we get hints at Sarah’s past abuse at the hands of Chris’ father with oblique references to an “accident” which left Sarah with a scar on her forehead. One night when Chris runs off into the forest and near a bizarre, somewhat otherworldly sinkhole, Sarah starts to notice strange changes in his behaviour. Her anxieties aren’t helped by a mysterious neighbour, considered crazy by the locals, Noreen (Outinen), who screams at Sarah that Chris is “not your boy”. It is revealed that Noreen rejected and possibly even murdered her own child decades before, under a similar idea that he had been replaced by an evil force.

Having received rave notices at its premiere in Sundance and having been picked up for US distribution by the mammoth A24, Lee Cronin’s supernatural horror and feature debut arrives for its homecoming with much fanfare and is unlikely to disappoint fans of the genre. It draws on horror tropes of creepy children and the fears of parenthood to consistently entertaining effect. It’s a film that touches on some dark ideas and resonant themes but is also keen to deliver a rollercoaster ride for the audience. Cronin and his editor Colin Campbell ensure there’s not an ounce of flab on this taut, decidedly effective genre-piece.

Seána Kerslake reaffirms her status as one of Ireland’s biggest acting talents with a performance of complexity, subtlety, charisma and no shortage of physicality. This looks like another step on her way to inevitable international stardom. She is ably supported by Markey who strikes just the right note of sinister unreadability. There are also fine, nuanced supporting turns by Outinen, who makes something more of the creepy neighbour character, and Cosmo, who essays a lifetime of confliction and tragedy in tremendously naturalistic terms.

Tom Comerford’s murky cinematography perfectly captures a sense of the alienation of rural isolation. There’s also terrific use of music. Indeed, the superb opening credits sequence, with a neat nod to The Shining, set up an overwhelming sense of dread from the get-go through the superb camerawork and Stephen McKeon’s deafening score. Cronin also bravely refuses to unwrap all the films mysteries, retaining an ambiguity that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.

A superbly acted, lean and highly entertaining horror film, and a fine feature debut by Cronin.

 

David Prendeville

89 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Hole in the Ground is released 1st March 2019

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dub Daze

Dakota Heveron reviews Shane J. Collins’ take on modern Dublin in his comedy-drama feature, Dub Daze

Director Shane J. Collins has hit the ground running with his first feature length film Dub Daze, which premiered at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on Saturday. There couldn’t have been a better place for it, as it became clear right from the opening scenes that the film was an open and honest love letter to Dublin, written by one of the city’s own.

The film weaves together three discrete but connected narratives of young adults all trying to make a place for themselves in the city, each faced with their own particular obstacles. Dan (Ethan Dillon) and Baz (Sam Lucas Smith) are two friends looking for a way to celebrate their last day of school, but Baz’s recklessness ends up getting them in trouble with a local drug dealer named Petal (Clide Delaney). Sean (Shane Robinson) and Jack (Nigel Brennan) are medical students from Cork looking for a place to stay in Dublin. Sean is quickly accepted by a group of well-off Irish students who make Jack the butt of their ‘fresh off the tractor” jokes, causing Sean to question just where his loyalties lie. Fiona (Leah Moore) has dreams of making it as a musician, but she is forced to contend not only with Dublin’s cutthroat music scene, but also her father’s alcoholism.

It is to the film’s credit that despite the multiple plotlines and numerous characters scattered across its landscape, it manages to avoid becoming confusing or convoluted. The characters are so distinct and well-formed that we as the audience always know exactly who we’re with. This is due in large part to the film’s editing (done by Collins himself), as well as the incredible talent of its cast. There is nothing exaggerated or put-on in the actors’ deliveries; their performances are down to earth and strikingly realistic.

There are moments when the film itself feels like one long session, an unpredictable and turbulent night out in Dublin, punctuated by genuinely poignant moments that emphasize the incredibly three-dimensional emotions and realism of the characters. Scoring this night out is a well-chosen mix of songs largely featuring Irish musicians including Bantum, Majestic Bears, Indian, and This Side Up.

Also central to the film is of course Dublin itself. Dub Daze is clearly a labour of love, and Dublin is the focal point of its affection, the camera lingering just as lovingly on a graffitied wall as it does on the Samuel Beckett Bridge. The film makes a point to bring together its three narratives, connecting the city’s north, south, and center. There is a sense of intimacy in this connectedness, and in the consistent banter and comradery between its characters, painting the picture of a city where, despite its urbanity, ‘everyone knows each other’.

Deadly.

 

Dub Daze screened on Saturday, 23rd February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

Shane J. Collins, Writer/Director of ‘Dub Daze’

 

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Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 33 – Sandblasted and Dehydrated

 

Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm are back in your ear to deliver their take on the Oscars. Plus amongst their reviews, Sarah implores you not to see Dragged Across Concrete, Richard ponders the point of Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson as an avenging Mr Plough and there’s love for If Beale Street Could Talk and a look at… a look at… a look at Happy Death Day 2U. Outside of the cinema, there’s a bit of Netflix chats and on the Irish cinema front Richard finds himself liking Cellar Door.
 

 

Film Ireland Podcasts


 

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Robbie Walsh, Writer/Director of ‘Eden’

Adam is a man left homeless in the wake of the Irish financial crisis. In Eden we follow him throughout one day of his life living on the streets of Dublin. We share in Adams living experiences and sometimes heartbreaking encounters with the different people from every walk of life he has while living rough.

Writer/director Robbie Walsh tells Film Ireland about his film.

“The idea of Eden was inspired in part from a very personal experience I had when I left the military – and which I won’t delve into. When I first began to put Eden together I had seen it as a short film and wrote short two people, talking-head scenes. I was originally to play the lead role of Adam but realized I couldn’t do it, along with directing and producing.

Donnacha Coffey suggested Johnny Elliott for the role, so I contacted, met him and knew he was perfect to play the part. I reached out to some of the most underused and underrated talent around to feature in smaller but very significant roles, Sarah Carroll as a former successful mum forced to “work” the streets, Chris Newman as an obnoxious posh guy, David Alexander as a heavy, Kellie Blaise and Nicci St George Smith in short but great scenes, Stuart Foran and Kevin O’Brien almost steal the film separately.

As myself, Donnacha Coffey and Francois Grey – both on camera and DOP duties – began filming around my hometown, we knew we could get more. So I began asking Johnny to improvise mundane things Adam might do to pass time as we walked between locations. To his phenomenal credit, I didn’t have to ask often as he would improvise as we moved – washing in a river on one of the coldest days of the year still gives me shivers to this day.

We filmed for 2 days and I got a call from my editor Richard Geraghty saying “we need another scene and a bit more footage and we’ll have the feature”. So I wrote what turned out to be the best scene in the film and we filmed an extra day. After a few months edit we had a stunning little film, it hit the festival circuit and was well received – honorable mention in international excellence LA Movie Awards – and was accepted to numerous international festivals over the years, but we couldn’t get any distribution.

A while passed and some re-shoots were required, which improved the film and it became better received than before. Unfortunately, and it saddens me to say, Eden has become far more relevant today and sadder still, a more common occurrence in Irish society. It is not an easy watch and shows the darkest side to homelessness but I’m very proud of the film.

Odeon Cinemas viewed it after they released Split and agreed to show Eden so we could raise money on behalf of the Dublin Simon Community. I’d hoped I was wrong about this situation when making the film in 2012.

Eden shows on Tuesday, 5th of march in Odeon Point Village at 7pm. All proceeds and donations go directly to the Dublin Simon Community

Ticket at www.odeoncinemas.ie

 

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Ross Killeen, Director of ’99 Problems’

 

The colourful and cartoonish ice cream vans across Ireland are synonymous with childhood delight, hot summers and their unmistakable chimes – but the person behind the cone is a character often forgotten about. 99 Problems is a short documentary which delves into the humorous, charming but often murky world of the Irish ice cream van trade. The unassuming ice-cream van business on the surface seems harmless, but has in fact quite a dark undertone, where turf wars are fierce. The self declared ‘king of the ice-cream men’, Pinky, works in the community where he lives. Competition is stiff, but he manages to make a decent living from it despite the challenges he faces. Through Pinky’s one liners, observational footage and animation, 99 Problems unearths unsung toils and troubles associated with this unconventional, yet humble profession.

Ahead of its screening at this year’s Dublin Film Festival, director Ross Killeen talked to Film Ireland about how his short film came to life.

 

99 Problems was something I’d had in my head for years. It all started when my wife was taking driving lessons with a guy called Ken. He was a bit of an hilarious character and turned out he was an ice cream man. So he has loads of stories about his profession and how it actually is quite violent. That there are loads of fights with other rival ice cream men. He told her how he used to be attacked and had to carry a baseball bat in the back of the van. She’d come home and tell me all these stories and we were thinking this is crazy, this would make a great little film. I don’t think people are aware that this goes on – these territorial spats between rival ice cream men. I’m a massive hip hop fan, so it was like ‘OK I’ve got the name of the film’… and then everything just kind of fell into place.

I started trying to meet as many ice-cream men as I could. It’s not something you expect to be doing –  you’re around the pub with the lads and they ask you what you’re at and I’d be saying I was out with Mr Softee or I was with Mr Jingles.

My wife’s driving instructor Ken was Mr Jingles and he introduced me to Mr Pinky (Mark Jenkinson), the subject of the film. Initially, I had this Reservoir Dogs Tarantinoesque type scenario in my head. The metaphors are all there – a man driving around getting the kids addicted to his produce; being territorial about his area and driving other dealers out of it. That was 4 years ago. After a break from production I returned and realised I needed to streamline the focus and settle on one driver and tell that story well. And after listening to Mark’s stories it was clear that the film just needed to be about him.

We focused on Mr Pinky and his route and spent some days observing him. He’s a great character and I really enjoyed hanging out with him. It also made me realise how hard drivers work and the pressure they face every day, including that of other drivers coming on their territory – there are no regulations to stop anyone from doing that. So you’re always looking over your shoulder. But they are enterprising. That appealed to me. I’ve my own company and my father was an entrepreneur before me and I’ve always admired people with a good work ethic who are out there doing their thing. That’s one of the things that drew me to Mark was how hard he worked. It struck me that being an ice cream man was just like any entrepreneur. Work hard, be tenacious and look for new opportunities. In spite of all the challenges Mark’s work ethic was always strong. As he says himself, “I could give you a list of things you’ve to put up with in the ice cream business but I go by what my ma’s philosophy was and my da’s philosophy was…. everybody has a right to make a living.”

We finally shot the film last summer. Did a few interviews with Mark. Got a really talented animator, Jonathan Irwinto bring Mark’s back-stories to life, which really works well. The whole idea was to keep the visuals quite colourful and although there’s some serious stuff there I think the film overall is quite fun.

 

 

99 Problems screens on Monday, 25th February at 6.pm at the Light House as part of the DIFF Shorts 3 programme at the Dublin International Film Festival 2019 (20 February – 3 March 2019).

Buy tickets at www.diff.ie

 

 

 

Preview of Irish Films @ Dublin International Film Festival 2019

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Shane J. Collins, Writer/Director of ‘Dub Daze’

Dub Daze is a comedy/drama set in the north, south, and centre of Dublin city. Get to know Dan and Baz, two friends looking for kicks on their last day of school; Cork medical students Jack and Seán who arrive in the capital to find their way amongst Ireland’s affluent youth; and songwriter Fi who struggles to break through on the cut-throat Dublin music scene.

Shane J. Collins talks to Film Ireland about his comedy-drama feature, “a passion project for all involved, a celebration of our love for Dublin City. I wanted to make a film that explores the different perspectives of Irish youth living in Ireland with classic themes of music, friendship and love re-examined to reflect an updated perspective of modern Dublin.

The film came about from my time in IADT. I had previously written a Northside Story. I met Leah Moore and wrote a Central story based on her. Mark O’Connor, one of my screenwriting tutors, gave me some advice that triple narratives usually work well so I thought I should really try write a Southside story and put them all together. Writing the story, I found passion and inspiration from some of Dublin’s best films, including Adam & Paul, Intermission, Kisses, The Commitments, and The Last Of The High Kings.”

Designed by street artists “Subset”

Self-financed on a shoestring budget, Shane is no stranger to taking on the various departments involved in making a film, “I had a good few jobs. I honestly think a massive challenge was doing the art department myself – that was a nightmare at times. But he insists that is not important “because when the film plays on the screen nobody cares who did all the jobs. They just care does this story work, is the acting good, am I engaged in this film – that’s the bottom line.”

The film’s soundtrack features a wealth of Irish musicians and it was important for Shane to get it right as “music plays a central role with a coming-of-age story, like Dazed & Confused, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, American Graffiti.” Musicians include Brame & Hamo, Bantum, Laurie Shaw, Majestic Bears, Makings, Noel O’Brien, Indian, Rhob Cunningham, Sammy Dozens and This Side Up, “who all gave their music so generously.”

The film features a cast of 44 new acting talent and Shane describes it as a showcase for new and upcoming Irish actors. “I was really lucky, I tapped into the acting community in Ireland and they really knocked it out of the park. We all banded together knowing what this film could potentially be for everyone.”

Talking about the film’s upcoming screening, Shane takes a deep breath. “It’s nearly 20 months since I started this. It’s taken a lot out of me physically and mentally. I think I’ve aged 10 years! But to find out that this film was getting to play is an amazing opportunity. Grainne Humphreys [Dublin International Film Festival Director] has been so kind to give us a great spot on Saturday to screen the film. It really means a lot going forward as I’m very passionate about the future of Irish film and I really want to be able to showcase so much new talent.”

 

Dub Daze screens on Saturday, 23rd February at 2pm at Cineworld as part of the Dublin International Film Festival 2019 (20 February – 3 March 2019).

Buy tickets at www.diff.ie

 

 

Preview of Irish Films @ Dublin International Film Festival 2019

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Watch Irish Short Film: Gustav

 

A young man wakes up with a tune stuck in his head. But what is it and how did it get there? Co-director Ken Williams tells Film Ireland how the short film Gustav got into his head.

 
“I’ve had Billy Joel stuck in my head all day”, said Lindsey, at the desk next to me. “Wouldn’t it be funny if he was actually stuck in your head”, I replied, before quickly following up with “that would make a cool film” as I am prone to do to. And so Gustav was born.

Or at least conceived. I tend to leave ideas gestate before attempting the first draft when I have a deadline for another project. This was the case with Gustav, or ‘Billy’ as it was originally called – but Mr Joel didn’t return our calls.

After a few passes at the script – I’m lucky to have a small network of people who read my work and give feedback –  we were ready to put together a team.

Crew on set

Steven Daly from Brainstorm joined as producer, James Mather, who shot our previous film, The Final Fairytale, came on board, and him and his team, who all generously gave up their weekend for a few bowls of Thai food, were again a pleasure to work with.

The central performance was absolutely key to the success of the film and we thought of Seán [T. Ó Meallaigh] really early on. Denis [Fitzpatrick, co-director] knows him well and I loved him in the Vincent Gallagher short, Love is a Sting, so knew he’d be great. Thankfully, he liked the script and was up for it. Charlene Gleeson is a great actor and naturally very funny so was perfect to play Dee.

Brian Lane from Dissolve Audio, a Corkman based in Manchester, came on board as music supervisor, an obviously important role for this project and his help was invaluable.

Although we’ve been friends since we were 5, Denis is a Liverpool fan and I’m a United fan. We shot on the day Liverpool played United and kept an eye on the score in between takes. Luckily it finished 1-1 so we could enjoy post-shoot pints – we gave the goalscorers Zlatan and James Milner a thank you credit in appreciation.

 

 

 

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Richard Waters, Director of ‘In A Stranger’s House’

Richard Waters explains his journey to making the found-footage horror In A Stranger’s House.

The dreaded sophomore effort. Uff… No matter how well prepared you are, you just can’t ever really be ready.

My journey started off strong in 2010, with the feature film I co-produced with Alison Scarff for director Michael McCudden, called Sodium Party. Just two years later, Alison and I were making the romcom The O’Briens with Sodium star Slaine Kelly, which was my debut as a feature film director (unless you count the terrible feature I made as a teenager). Released in 2013, that little film achieved far beyond its station.

Sodium Party

Those first two features were ultra low-budget, and absolute challenges to make, but our entire team had the passion to make them, and nothing could stop that desire. When we were making Sodium Party, I thought ‘that’s it. After this, we won’t have to struggle to make our next feature’. Then on a very slightly higher budgeted The O’Briens, I thought ‘that’s it. This shows we aren’t a one-hit wonder. People will definitely help us make our next feature’.

Oh boy, was I wrong…

The following years were like a record stuck in a groove. We never had a look in with funding bodies. We found ourselves meeting with more and more people who swore up and down that they could definitely get this or that film made, only to go silent after months or years of time wasted working with them. I made a huge mistake of signing on to a ‘big budget’ crime feature that was ‘funded and ready to shoot in six months’, but of course had no money and no chance of shooting. Ever. But by the point I realised this was dead on arrival, the momentum from The O’Briens had slowed, and I was back in the cycle of trying to get scripts through application phases and meeting people who could “definitely” make the film happen. I never stopped chasing making my next feature, but the excitement of filmmaking became the drudgery of trying to be a salesman of my own ideas and failing miserably. I wouldn’t say I ever lost my passion, but my energy became redirected into my work as an editor for TV and trying to make a living, only peppering my cinematic passions with short films, music videos, the odd skit, and lots of writing that we could never get off the ground.

The O’Briens

My lowest point though, was last year, in 2017, when Alison and I helped make a teaser episode of a TV show we were pitching with some friends, and I clashed quite dramatically – for me, at least – with one of the heads of departments. Feeling compromised beyond reason, the project ended up being disappointing for me, and the experience was a sour one that knocked my usually unwavering resolve and confidence. So I locked myself away from the film world to lick my wounds.

Or at least I tried to. With about a week’s notice, Alison and I were surprised with an invite to attend the inaugural New Blood pitch/workshop at the massively popular Frightfest in London – one of my all-time favourite festivals. The refreshingly candid conversations with passionate filmmakers spurred Alison and myself on to one of our most creative periods, in which we are still in to this day. We continued our conversations and pitches, all the while making secret plans of how to turn a budgetarily realistic idea into a film off our own backs. We could and would figure this out.

Not a month later, I found myself house-sitting in the family home. With the creative spark sizzling, I decided to try something… different. With Alison’s Canon 7D and a creepy porcelain doll I still have no clue why we have in the house, I filmed myself in a found footage-style sequence that involved some camera and editing trickery to bring the supernaturally-tinged scene to life. And it worked.

Definitely not spooky

Bolstered by this, I figured out an entire narrative and began doing research to help fill in the holes needed to make the story fulfilling for a viewer. Drawing inspiration from some of my favourite found footage films and a fascination with creepy internet videos, I went for a raw shooting style to try emulate that feeling of watching something real. The influences of the likes of the Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Creep are pretty clear, but it’s Bobcat Goldthwait’s Willow Creek and the 1963 version of The Haunting that I drew on most, to drive home the realism and bring a more palpable terror than just jump scares.

Surprisingly, shooting the film by myself with zero budget wasn’t all that cumbersome. Beyond some logistical planning for the more ghostly sequences, and editing as I went along to make sure the pace and story were on track, the biggest challenges were losing my camera knowledge to make the footage more amateur, and delivering lines in a less coherent yet more realistic way. Basically the antithesis of a typical film. Not one to usually consider myself an actor, my choice to step in front of – or primarily behind, I suppose – the camera became part of the thrill of the challenge for me.

I had to deliver as realistic a film by myself, starring myself, using techniques I had to pull off alone. And bar the involvement of a few actors for a few seconds of screen time, everything to do with In A Stranger’s House is me. I don’t say that to be boastful. I’d much prefer to be back in my team with Alison, Michael and Slaine, but after the disheartening experience the previous year, and before that, a long stretch of rejection, being able to get back on the horse, on my own terms, was empowering. The stakes felt low, and the rewards high. If I couldn’t pull it off, who else would really know? At the very least, I could look and tell myself I made something without compromise.

Beyond the production, I cut the film, made the music, did the sound design – I could write a whole essay on that nightmare – created the poster, transcribed and timed the subtitles, QCed the film, and I am reaching out to any and everyone I can to share what has proven to be a much bigger endeavour than I expected 14 months ago when I decided to try a little experiment.

I made a genuine passion film using all the skills I could, to try captivate and terrify the audience, and most importantly, not to bore them. The reactions so far have been so much more positive than I expected, with people connecting to the story and being able to tell that this film isn’t something that was rushed together in a weekend but born out of a genuine love for horror and creepy stories.

My ultimate lesson from this whole experience has to be that having money makes filmmaking easier, but in lieu of that, passion and a stubbornness not to quit definitely make up a lot of ground.

 

In A Stranger’s House is available via VOD to buy/rent from Amazon and irishhorrorfilm.com worldwide now.


weirdprettypictures.com

 

 

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Interview with Miwako van Weyenberg

Gabrielle Ulubay introduces Belgium filmmaker Miwako van Weyenberg and talks to her about her film Summer Rain, which screened at the 2018 Cork Film Festival.

Miwako van Weyenberg is a filmmaker from Belgium who has so far produced three masterful shorts: Hitorikko (2014), Il Faisait Noir (2015), and Zomerregen (2017). Her protagonists find themselves in emotionally challenging situations which often lead to personal growth, greater emotional intelligence, or an altered sense of identity. Having grown up at the crux of multiple cultures, van Weyenberg has a particularly astute sensitivity to these issues and to the minute details of life that often change our relationships, our outlooks, and even the way we see ourselves. Hitorikko (or Only Child) , for instance, gives audiences insight into the psyche of a young boy who discovers that his divorced father has since taken up a new girlfriend, re-situating the boy as an older brother rather than the only child he has always been. Il Faisait Noir (or It Was Still Dark), on the other hand, explores the world of two twin brothers, along with the psychological effects on one twin when tragedy strikes them.

Zomerregen (Summer Rain), van Weyenberg’s most recent film, focuses on a ten-day period of time in which a young boy with mixed-race identity stays with his grandparents. The grandfather is faced with his own prejudices, and this tension heightens when the two are left alone for a length of the child’s stay. After seeing this film at the Cork International Film Festival, I had the opportunity to speak with van Weyenberg about her film.

 

Your film Summer Rain addresses all sorts of relevant issues like prejudice, multiculturalism within families, and diversity. Could you talk about your process in making the film.

So first of all, while I wouldn’t say Summer Rain is an autobiographical film, of course many elements of it come from a personal space – like the main character, I am half Japanese and half Belgian myself. I wanted to make something that’s really personal, but I also think that the subject is something that’s really universal.”

 

Would you be able to expand on that subject?

The subject is identity, and the search for identity in many different ways. I think that on one hand, it’s in a family, but on the other hand it’s in the idea of double nationality, where people have this ideas about what you are and what you should be.I think that’s something that can complicate the search for identity, and the search for identity in a family is complicated anyway. You have your father and your mother, and you came out of those two people, but you always look for yourself in that mix. I think when you also have that aspect of culture, that also complicates the search.

 

 

Speaking of the parents, and the idea that each of us are half of each, a choice in the film that I found really interesting is that the audience never sees the parents. We hear the father’s voice, but there isn’t much elaborated on in terms of the mother and father. I appreciated that detail, and have my own thoughts about why that’s a fitting and appropriate choice, but could you expand on what your intentions were in leaving those characters so vague?

For me, the story is just about the relationship between the child and his grandfather, so that is what I focused on. I think that in short film, it’s tempting to want to say everything, but it’s impossible because it’s a short film. So I really wanted to focus on that relationship. Also, he’s dropped there for ten days, nearly two weeks, so he doesn’t have access to his parents. His mom is in Japan, so he can only talk to her on the phone, but then there is still a time difference. So he’s really isolated in this countryside environment in Belgium, which he’s not used to because he’s from Brussels. I wanted him to be really out of his comfort zone, and I think that his parents are the comfort that he has, so I wanted to eliminate that. The grandmother is also a source of comfort, but then she ends up being taken out of the picture. So I really wanted to focus on the relationship between the grandfather and the grandson, and what happens when they are forced to live together and have no other option.

 

I appreciated that, and I also really enjoyed how you used the claustrophobic, isolated space of the home, along with the symbolism of planes in the film. I am glad that there were planes chosen specifically in the film for the child to fold, because there’s that stereotype around Japanese children that they will be folding paper cranes.

[laughs]

 

I think the choice of planes really subverts those problematic expectations. On the one hand, the little boy also likes planes because that’s a very normal thing for a child to be preoccupied with, but I also think that in the context of Summer Rain, the planes symbolize freedom. Could you talk about the choice of using planes in the film, and what that symbol meant to you?


It started from a point of planes being an obsession of a typical little boy, but it has more meaning when he finds himself stuck in a really isolated place. Also, his grandfather being a retired pilot, and discovering that connection, adds symbolism. So for me, the planes have a lot of meaning in a lot of different ways, but it starts from a really innocent obsession with things on wheels, and can fly, and go fast.

 

Right, and I feel like we go on that journey as we’re watching the film: It starts out as an adorable obsession of a little boy, and then the grandmother says, ‘look, he likes planes just like his grandfather,” and it becomes loaded with all this familial significance. It’s not just a plane, just this thing that flies and goes fast, anymore.

It’s not just the object anymore, by the end. I think the plane is the symbol of that relationship between the child and his grandfather.

 

I definitely appreciated that. Could you also talk about the process of casting the film? The little boy was excellent, and it can be very difficult to find child actors, yet you discovered this young boy who demonstrates such depth. Children are inclined to pantomime rather dramatically when they think of acting, but his performance was marked by incredible subtlety.

Right. I always work with children as main characters – this is my third short with children as main characters. For me, the acting process for a child is something that I’m used to. I did casting in Belgium, and I prefer working with children that have no acting experience at all. I did castings for half Japanese, half Belgian kids, and it was a difficult process because they needed to be able to speak Japanese but also French or Dutch, or they needed to at least be bilingual. But the boy, whose name is Kazuki, walked into the room and I knew after one second that he was the boy. And I did second rounds and the whole casting process to be sure, but I was convinced from the moment I saw him. It was an interesting process, because he brought so much to the character, and he became the character.

 

He really did. Did he understand the issues that the film was touching on? Because I think that children are exposed to those daily microaggressions and understand that they are being treated differently on a certain level, but on the other hand, you and I were talking earlier about how children who experience discrimination don’t necessarily understand why they are being treated badly or differently. So did that prompt any conversations with the boy? How do you think his age impacted the language and behavior used around these issues on set?

I think that children don’t really understand discrimination, because it makes no sense, but they do understand that it happens. They understand the concept of it, and of course him being half Japanese, and living in Brussels -that’s how I grow up. A lot of the scenes and the comments made in the film are also things that he gets on a daily basis, because I worked based on what I experienced. He’s an incredibly smart kid, and I never had to explain anything. Actually, I never give the screenplay to actors in advance. We just do it on set. But I read the screenplay together with him, we talked about the story, but we didn’t read the entire script as a dialogue. So we talked about the subject and how he experiences living in Belgium as a half-Japanese kid, but I didn’t have to explain anything. He felt a bit like a small version of myself, wherein he just understood what I wanted to say. He’s an amazing kid.

 

Yes, I can tell. That’s something that we can see an as audience: He embodies this duality between innocence and quiet, knowing observation. Every time someone is subject to discrimination or some microaggression, it’s like the incident is noted and filed away. It adds to this bank of somewhat unfortunate wisdom, and we can see this happening with the child in Summer Rain. Considering the rise of right-wingism, particularly in Western Europe, and the idea of being able to say whatever one wants to minorities without those words mattering, what has the reception been like for the film so far?

It’s really interesting, and a huge compliment, that what I hear a lot is that this film is something we need right now, and that this film needed to be made right now. Obviously it’s a compliment, but it’s not just something that’s needed right now. It’s been my story for my entire life, and it’s been other people’s story for their entire lives. So I think it feels more universal at this point, because people can relate it to what’s happening in the world right now.

 

Right, because it’s just that right now there’s a lot of visibility around those issues.

Yes. There’s more of a clear link between the film and things that are happening right now. It’s nice to hear that people link the story to themselves or things that they’ve heard, because it’s such a personal story for me and it’s nice to hear that such a personal story has resonated. It’s a personal story, but a universal impact.

 

I like the way you put that. I mean, there was a really interesting moment in the beginning when his grandparents think they’re doing something nice by giving him a pair of chopsticks. It was a great moment, because it’s so relatable. As a Latina, I can relate that to people presenting me with something like maracas and saying, ‘Here you go. This is your thing, isn’t it?’ And when the boy asks for a fork instead of chopsticks, the parents clearly think he’s being rude or ungrateful, though in reality it’s just that they don’t understand. So yes, it’s a film that we need now, but that’s because we’ve always needed it.

Yes, exactly.

 

So what made you use chopsticks for that moment in the film? It was such a subtle, poignant image.

Yes, because I think that the moments when I experienced that strangely naive racism – because I do like to call it naive racism – I get it through those small moments. It’s not people screaming at me on the streets like, ‘You’re Asian,’ it’s more like, ‘Here are some chopsticks. I’m sorry we don’t have rice. Is it okay if you have bread?’ [laughs], It’s more of those subtle things that are so naively racist, because it’s such a misconception but so funny at the same time. It’s just absurd, and to them it’s a nice gesture, even though it makes no sense. That’s why I chose the chopsticks, because it’s so racist yet so funny at the same time.

 

I also like that about the film, because it’s not too serious all of the time. That’s not to say that serious films are invalid, because in truth they can be excellent, but sometimes films about racism can be so heart-wrenching and emotionally traumatic that they’re largely inaccessible. This film, on the other hand, has comedy built into it, and it’s also very touching and hopeful, whereas many shorts tend to end violently.”

Yes, yes.

 

There’s also that movement within the filmmaking community that happy endings in films are overrated, but I like that Summer Rain ends on a note of hope. Of course it’s not that traditional, classical Hollywood, Singin’ in the Rain type of ending, but it’s still a positive one. What led you to end the film in that the way?

For me, it was important to have some kind of closure, because those two weeks at his grandparents’ house do something to him, of course. But I also didn’t want to make a full circle, and for me it was important for the audience to know that this was the end of those two weeks at house, but it was the beginning of a whole new relationship with his grandfather that would be even more complex. Then, of course, the hospitalization of the grandmother isn’t explained, and you know that will be a big part of his life from that point on. So, for me it was important to end on the beginning of a new thing.

 

Right, because there was a moment I really liked with the actress who played the grandmother, in which the child asks if she’s going to be home soon and she says yes, but there’s a hesitation in her voice that adults can certainly pick up on. And then the doctor is so kind to the child, but then asks the grandfather to step outside. It’s very jarring for a child to be in a hospital and see tubes spilling out of someone he cares for, but the grandmother tries her best to comfort him very subtly. Is that someone that you directed the actress to do?

 

Yes, for me, in the script and in the way I directed it, it’s very clear that it’s not going well with the grandmother in the film, and I think that’s the habit of adults trying to save a child from the truth. But a child is smart, and they sense these things.

 

Right. I love the line where he says, ‘I’m not stupid.’

Yes [laughs]. I think it’s just that adults like to believe they know more than children, and they may have more knowledge but children sense things in a purer way than adults, I think, because they’re not relying on all of the facts and information. They just sense what’s happening.

 

Exactly. So to start to wrap things up, I think that the medium of short film is overlooked within the realm of film-going. Filmmakers often seem to appreciate and seek out shorts, because they’ve often made them before, but shorts are not promulgated to the rest of society to the same degree that feature are. So, having made three short films, could you talk about the medium of short film and why you find it valuable and more appropriate for certain stories? It’d be great if you could talk about that within the context of your past work and any projects you’re working on moving forward.

I love the short film medium. I think that you can be very direct and that you can get to the point in shorts, because you don’t have the time to go around the story. You just show what’s happening, and you have all the backstory that you need within those 15 minutes.

 

Right, it needs to be very tight.

Yes, and that’s what I love about short films. But of course, like I said, I want to believe that I am make very personal and intimate stories that can reach a universal audience, and to reach a universal audience, short film is a difficult medium. That is why now I’m writing my first feature film, and I feel that it’s just a different form of art, so it doesn’t feel like a feature film is a long short film and short film is a short feature film. It’s just two different things and two different ways of expressing something.

 

It’s like the difference between a novel and a short story – completely different mediums and ways of telling stories. People accept that, but I do think it’s an indication that audiences have yet to fully take film art seriously. Film has been considered art for a long time, of course, but I think many people are stuck in the mindset that films are mindless entertainment, as opposed to writing. So people are less inclined to see divisions within the medium of film art, and are more likely to see shorts and features simply as variations of each other.”

Yes, exactly.

 

Finally, what’s the common thread that runs through your work? What do you tend to focus on?

For me, it’s the search for identity, in many different ways. Of course, they are all coming of age, but I don’t really like the term ‘coming of age,’ because I don’t think it fits. In a way, the search for identity is a coming of age story, but I think that a search for identity can happen in so many different ways, and then it will just so happen to be the story of a child, or a child who grew up in different cultures. I do keep coming back to those search for identity stories.


Summer Rain (Zomerregen)
Miwako Van Weyenberg / Belgium / 2017 / 20 mins / Subtitled
Keita, an 8-year-old boy from a Belgian-Japanese family, has a difficult relationship with his grandfather.
Producer: Antonino Lombardo


Summer Rain screened on 12th November, 2018 as part of the International Shorts 3 programme at the Cork Film Festival.

 

 

 

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Viko Nikci, Writer/Director of ‘Cellar Door’

Cellar Door tells the story of young lover Aidie as she searches for her son while in the grip of the Church. But as she gets closer to the truth, she suffers uncontrollable shifts in time and place that send her spiralling.

Gemma Creagh sat down with writer/director Viko Nikci to open up the Cellar Door and find out more about his moving mystery thriller.

Cellar Door is showing at Cineworld, Eye Cinema, IMC Dun Laoghaire, The Gate and Movies@Dundrum.

 

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Irish Film Review: Cellar Door

DIR/WRI: Viko Nikci • PRO: David Collins, Viko Nikci, John Wallace • DOP: Robert Flood • ED: Viko Nikci • DES: Mark Kelly •  MUSIC: Ray Harman • CAST: Karen Hassan, Catherine Walker, Una Carroll

Writer-director Viko Nikci weaves together a fragmented narrative in Cellar Door that is only fully understood near the end of the film. The film follows Aidie (Karen Hassan), who appears lost and/or trapped in time as she struggles with memories of her pregnancy and searches for her baby. The audience is placed in Aidie’s shoes, wading through her key memories as she continuously cycles through them in search of an answer.

The film begins with a fully-clothed and submerged Aidie awakening in a bath full of water visibly confused. As she takes in her surroundings and her condition she asks herself “what’s the last thing you remember?”, setting the tone for what is to follow. The audience is then taken through Aidie’s conversation with her ailing mother, a classroom in which she is the teacher, a dance with her lover which morphs into her pregnant and alone in a Church, and ultimately in an institution with other unwed mothers. The timeline for these events is shaky, and they repeat over and over, with subtle differences as Aidie tries to make sense of them, sometimes guided by other versions of herself.

While these scenes do become repetitious in places, they bleed into one another seamlessly thanks to the strong cinematography, score and editing. These allow the audience to sometimes feel that they are gently falling between or sliding into memories, and other times feel a sense of entrapment and panic as Aidie fights for a resolution.

Cellar Door is difficult to pin down, not only in terms of its narrative but in its elusion of categorisation. There are moments when one might question if supernatural elements are at play and it feels like a horror, and others that resemble a drama. This uncertainty, however, is deliberately carried across the film so that it can perhaps best be described as a puzzle.

The film requires commitment on the part of the audience to make sense of the pieces as they come, and may suffer from some unnecessary repetition or elongation at times, but when its resolution arrives, making sense of what has come before it, it is thoughtful and poignant. Cellar Door tackles the difficult topic of Irish institutional abuse, drawing connections in a thoughtful way and forcing the audience to think throughout.

Loretta Goff

93 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Cellar Door is released 25th January 2019

 

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Legendary Hollywood Cinematographer Coming to Ireland

 

Nick McLean and John Schlesinger shooting Marathon Man

Irish film fans and cinematography buffs should relish a rare upcoming visit to Ireland from one of Hollywood’s preeminent directors of photography. This March, legendary Hollywood cinematographer Nick McLean comes to Ireland for a series of events honouring his acclaimed work in American Cinema. McLean will be joined by Irish author Wayne Byrne at various film screenings and discussions around the country to celebrate McLean’s storied career in anticipation of their upcoming book.

Kildare-based Byrne is a film historian and music journalist; he writes for Hot Press magazine and has authored books on lauded indie auteur Tom DiCillo and screen icon Burt Reynolds. His next book, to be released later this year is one he co-authored with Nick McLean on the cinematographer’s prolific work behind the camera on some of the biggest films and television shows of the last fifty years. As Camera Operator or Cinematographer, McLean has shot the likes of McCabe & Mrs Miller, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, Marathon Man, Being There, The Right Stuff, City Heat, Stick, The Goonies, Short Circuit, Spaceballs, and many more. McLean was also the special effects cinematographer for George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) throughout the 1980s, shooting effects work for the likes of Ron Howard’s Willow. He was subsequently highly acclaimed and Emmy Award nominated for his work shooting successful television sitcoms, including Evening Shade, Cybill, and later Friends.

Speaking about their collaboration, McLean recalls his working relationship with Byrne, “I had a great time working on this book with Wayne. I have rarely met anyone with his depth of knowledge and passion for cinema. I provided the foreword to his upcoming book on Burt Reynolds and I was immediately struck by his expertise, his enthusiasm and his love for film history. He knew all of my work inside out, even the most obscure ones! He suggested to me that there should be a book on my career and I told I would only do a book if it was with him. Wayne makes it easy and comfortable. He knows his stuff.

For Byrne, McLean’s influence is far reaching and his legacy in film history an important one. “I am a huge fan of Nick’s work. His compositions are rich and inventive, his camera movements immediate and graceful, and he tempers the elegance of his framing with handheld and aerial work which is exciting, he gets right into the action with the characters. Just look at the action sequences in Stick or Cobra; the aerial shots in Sharky’s Machine or The Right Stuff; or the lighting work on The Goonies and Staying Alive. City Heat is a masterclass in high-contrast chiaroscuro lighting, Nick really gives it that great old film noir feel. I also think some of his best work can be found in Burt Reynolds’ television series, B.L. Stryker. It’s so rare to see such a stylish cinematic aesthetic in television, especially television in 1990! Just thinking about the shots from these works makes this whole thing very exciting to be part of.


Wayne Byrne

McLean’s work spans several generations of film audiences, from his crucial camerawork in the 1970s’ New Hollywood movement right through to his cinematography in the blockbusters of the 1980s; and of course, who hasn’t seen Friends? Camerawork runs in the McLean clan, his stepfather and grandfather, Fred Jackman Jr. and Fred Jackman Sr., were pioneering Hollywood cinematographers respectively, going back to the days of silent cinema and up to the Golden Age of the 1940s and 1950s. McLean’s son, Nicolas S. McLean continues the tradition, shooting shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Glee, and Private Practice.

Charting Nick’s career with him right there with me for our book has been like my own personal tour of Hollywood of the last fifty years,” Byrne says, and I hope that is how it will feel for people coming to our events in March where Nick and I will be going through his career and looking at some amazing scenes and discussing his work with great directors, from his earliest work with Altman and Spielberg right up to Friends.

Byrne continues, “Nick’s career kicked off in earnest when he was Vilmos Zsigmond’s camera operator, they worked together on a lot of films and from there Nick really flourished. When you see our opening montage compiled of many films Nick worked on you will be blown away when you recognise the scenes he has shot. Nick really helped develop the visual style of the New Hollywood, which is for me one of the greatest eras of American cinema.

Nick playing Mouth’s dad in The Goonies

These events will have special meaning for Byrne, as he will get to celebrate the films that he grew up on.

I have been a big fan of Short Circuit, City Heat, Stick, Cobra, all these films Nick shot, since I was a kid. I rented these movies in the video shops of Naas back in the late-80s/early 90s. They are part of the reason that I love cinema. And of course I remember Nick from playing Mouth’s father in The Goonies. But more importantly, Nick has become a very dear friend of mine. We send each other movies and I always look forward to our discussions.

The first event to be announced is “An Evening with Nick McLean” which will take place in Naas Community Library in Naas, County Kildare on Friday March 15th at 7pm. McLean is particularly excited about his opportunity to visit Ireland.

I was fortunate to work with people like Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, John Schlesinger, Richard Donner, Paul Newman, Brian De Palma, Mel Brooks, Hal Ashby, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone…many amazing artists. So it will be exciting for me to screen and discuss scenes from these films with Wayne for the movie lovers of Ireland. I can’t wait to see Dublin and Kildare and many other places I’m hoping to visit while I’m there, I have wanted to come to Ireland for a long time.

The Naas event is free of charge though booking is essential. To reserve a seat, call Naas Library on 045 879111 or email them at naaslib@kildarecoco.ie  

For more information and updates on further Nick McLean events in March, check in with Wayne on Twitter @DiCilloBook

 

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