Áine Stapleton, director of ‘Horrible Creature’

'Horrible Creature', Aine Stapleton

Áine Stapleton introduces us to her film Horrible Creaturewhich screens on Wednesday, 8th January 2020  at 18.30 at the IFI as part of IFI & First Fortnight January 2020.

Horrible Creature is the second part of a proposed trilogy of films about Lucia Joyce. It examines her life between 1915 and 1950 and is filmed at locations where she spent time in Switzerland. The first film, Medicated Milk, was inspired by Lucia’s diaries which she wrote at a psychiatric hospital in Northampton, England, between the 1960s and 1980s. 

Whereas Medicated Milk offers a more disembodied and fluid exploration of Lucia’s memories and dreams, Horrible Creature brings the body to the forefront and follows a linear structure of events. It meets Lucia during her earlier formative years and examines her education, dissension between her parents, childhood friendships, romantic relationships, her professional dance training, and ill-treatment suffered whilst in psychiatric care. It also looks at how memories of traumatic experiences can become clouded, repressed, and stored away in the body, but ultimately these subconscious and unconscious energies find expression through our feelings, dreams, and actions.

I began working on Horrible Creature directly after finishing Medicated Milk in 2015. I moved to Zurich, Switzerland, for one year and researched part-time at the Zurich James Joyce Foundation, which is directed by the legendary Fritz Senn. The Joyce family moved from Italy to Zurich in 1915, to escape the turmoil of WW1. Lucia later trained as a professional dancer in France and performed throughout Europe. She returned to Switzerland for psychiatric treatment in the 1930s, most famously with Carl Jung.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many firsthand accounts by Lucia from this time period. I revised the letters and diaries that I had gathered for Medicated Milk and searched various archives for earlier writings and letters of communication by Lucia, her friends, family, and doctors. I edited these texts to create a film script and a choreographic score. A choreographic score is a detailed language score, that is interpreted by performers through movements and vocalisations. For example, this score was filmed in the church at the Madonna Del Sasso monastery in Locarno – ‘She goes to the garden where she remains inaccessible. The garden is rather sad, but there are some beautiful colours and stained glass inside. She sits in the green like flowers on a grave, and is in sympathy with the present. The light here is wonderful so she can sing at last, and her bird song is a little monotonous. Her song is a reminder of a lifeless place.’

Horrible Creature is a retelling of Lucia’s life through the art form which was her passion and explores the transformative nature of dance. I was grateful to work with a cast of three diverse and outstanding dance artists from different countries – Michelle Boulé (USA), Sarah Ryan (IRE), and Céline Larrére (FR). We began our process by rehearsing in-studio at Dance Ireland, Dublin, and Culture D’arbois, located in the Jura mountains close to Geneva. Over a number of weeks, the performers embodied and reinterpreted the details of the language score. The score was also layered with experimental movement practices, that aim to cultivate present moment awareness. A separate voiceover was performed beautifully by Dublin based actresses Aenne Barr and Rebecca Warner. 

I acted as producer and searched for locations in Switzerland where Lucia spent time. I was provided with some archival materials including Swiss German school books from Lucia’s school years, and an old treatment machine from her psychiatric hospital. The school books contained lesson plans about war and nature. I combined these texts with imagery of mountainous landscapes and the dancers’ bodies, to further reference the effects of violence and human destruction of the natural world.

Lucia’s own dancing was also inspired by nature. She created a stunning fish costume for a performance in Paris, as well as playing the role of a tropical vine in a ballet. I worked with a fantastic Dublin-based Italian designer Ivan Moreno Bonica, to redesign these original costumes and other clothing from Lucia’s early life. 

Director of Photography was Will Humphris from England. Will is an extremely experienced cinematographer and I was thrilled to have an opportunity to work with him – plus massive thanks to Zoe at My Management for her support. It was Will’s first time working with dancers, but he remained constantly alert to the changeability of their movements and fully embraced the style of the project. The nature of the choreographic practice meant that both the dancers’ movements and their use of space altered with each take, so the performers and Will had to be extremely creative in their collaborations during the filming process. 

All of the venues, such as hospitals and schools, are still functioning in their original forms. Due to privacy and access limitations, as well as budget constraints, we filmed with a small crew of myself as director, DOP, and the three dance artists, over a nine-day shoot. We began at Lucia’s psychiatric hospital near Geneva, then drove across to Simplon Pass, a mountainous area where the Joyce’s crossed from Italy to Switzerland, Ticino, and finally up to Zurich and the surrounding districts. We filmed in early February, so both travel and filming conditions were a bit extreme at times. The dancers were exposed to varying weather conditions and environments – as well as my driving skills!. They worked diligently to practice the language score whilst remaining present and open to the energetic textures and histories present at each location. 

It was never my intention to create a solely historical account of Lucia’s life, so I didn’t alter the design of the locations much at all. I wanted to allow for a sense of connection between then and now. The buildings are all really stunning in their present conditions, and at Lucia’s school, for example, there was a beautiful display of student’s artwork from modern-day combined with 100-year-old science posters from Lucia’s school years. 

In post-production, I decided to first structure the entire film as a purely visual piece. I wanted each element of the production to have its own creative space and rhythm, before layering everything at the final stages. For me, this way of working adds a layer of tension to the work, which helps to sustain my interest as a viewer. This was quite a slow working process, and I spent a lot of time picking apart the footage before post-production. I worked on the edit with a good friend and wonderful editor / filmmaker José Miguel Jiménez, who I had worked with previously on Medicated Milk. 

A very beautiful and haunting soundtrack was created by Ed Chivers and David Best, two members of the British band Fujiya and Miyagi. The duo worked from extracts of Lucia’s writings and gained further inspiration from songs that she would have sung or played on the piano. As a choreographer, I’m not particularly interested in dance following music or vice versa, so Ed and David didn’t watch any of the footage until the last stages of their creation process. 

Horrible Creature premiered at the IFI in June 2019, and I’m delighted to present it again as part of the First Fortnight Festival. I’ve had an exciting and ongoing relationship with the First Fortnight team since they presented Medicated Milk at the IFI in 2016. I’m also curating a series of dance and wellness workshops in partnership with First Fortnight, Dance Ireland, and Galway Dance Project for the festival in 2020.

Horrible Creature is kindly funded by The Arts Council of Ireland, The Embassy of Ireland in Switzerland, with additional support from Arts & Disability Ireland, Dance Ireland, The James Joyce Centre, The Ticino Film Commission, Zurich James Joyce Foundation, Tanzarchiv Zurich, and FringeLab. Thanks to everyone who offered advice and support during the making of the work. I’d also like to say a big thank you to Sunniva O’ Flynn and the IFI team for their ongoing support of my film work. 

 

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Áine Stapleton.

Book tickets here.

 

 

 

Interview: Áine Stapleton, director of ‘Medicated Milk’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rebecca Daly, Director/Co-writer of ‘Good Favour’

In Rebecca Daly’s Good Favour, a wounded teenage stranger who stumbles into an isolated village of devout Christians gradually reveals his motives. David Prendeville met Rebecca to discover more about the film.

 

Can we talk about the inspirations behind the film?

There were a couple of ways that we were inspired to make this film. I’m not sure which came first, but one was when Glenn (Montgomery, co-writer) found an article online about this young guy who walked out of the woods into Berlin. He claimed to have been in a car accident with his parents and said that he had no memory of anything before that. We followed the story online for about a year and it ends in a bit of of a banal way. But we liked the set up. The idea of somebody arriving somewhere and not having a memory of where they came from. We were interested in what the possibilities of that were, especially in terms of what they could mean to the people they encountered. There were lots of theories online about this guy – who was he? They didn’t release a photo until quite late as they weren’t sure that that he was over 17. There was a lot of speculation about who he was. We thought that was quite interesting. What can someone be if they say they don’t know who they are?

 

And the religious aspect?

That was the other inspiration. My grandmother had this really strong faith, despite the fact that she understood that there had been various abuses in the church. But still, her faith was so strong that she could hold and contain all of this and still endure and persevere with it. So, I was interested in that – how much can people take an preserve their way of life and maintain the belief systems that they hold really dear. That was an interesting thing for us to explore, this microcosm of an organised religion really.

 

This film calls to mind European art house. Is there anything in particular that influences you formally? Are there other filmmakers you keep in mind?

No, not really. I watch a lot of films and I love a lot of different filmmakers’ work. But I wouldn’t say I have any conscious sense of being influenced. Of course, there are filmmakers I admire, like Haneke. I would be a big fan of his work. And Lynne Ramsay, or Paolo Sorrentino – who is completely different. These are all kind of filmmakers whose work I love. But I wouldn’t say I was influenced. I’m always trying to find the part of the film itself. Also, looking at my other films, I think you can see that they’re made by the same person yet still they are not the same necessarily in terms of tone and form. I think the story, and what we’re trying to get across in terms of theme, really influence how the film is made, the form of the film, the tone of the film – and this film needed to be a mystery for the central story to work; for this central character to be quite mysterious and for there to be lots of possibilities about him. That is the nature of faith itself.

 

There is a mystery at the heart of all your work. How important is it for you as an artist to challenge the audience? Your films are demanding in a very positive way.

I feel that audiences don’t always want to have a passive relationship with what they’re watching. I think they get that a lot in cinema and it’s satisfying to a point. But that’s not what people always want. Sometimes people do want to be challenged and they do want to see that the filmmaker is thinking about the world we live in. Maybe they’re considering our place in it. I want to have a relationship with the audience which, in a way, invites them to be the last piece of the meaning of the film. Of course, the film is itself. It’s a piece of work. It’s finished – but they are the last piece. Until the audience is in front of it, the film doesn’t have the full meaning.

Also, audiences differ. People talk about films as being different from theatre – that they are fixed and they are unchanging. But I think, depending on the audience, they can change quite a lot. I’m interested in the audience being the last piece of the puzzle and part of that dialogue. I found traveling with this film really interesting. People have based a reading of what they think is happening in the film quite often on their own belief systems and their own ideas about faith.  

 

There are very strong performances in the film. Can you talk a little bit about the casting process for this film and also your approach to directing that cast.

Quite a lot of the key cast are Danish actors. We have one German actress and several Belgium actors. We had a casting director, Dan Hopper, based in London working across all of it. And then we had a casting director in Belgium. She actually ended up finding Vincent [Romeo] who plays Tom. It was extensive. A lot of self tapes were sent before I would get in a room with people.I had a particular idea in my head that I wanted to work with Danish actors. They have such a fantastic reputation.

With Tom, he’s so extraordinary looking. We’d seen lot of tapes with a lot of young guys the right age. But there’s just something about him that was so striking, even though he didn’t have a lot of experience. I just knew this has to work. I did work with him quite intensely in prep and we did a lot of casting sessions with him that were about getting him to the place where he was would be ready for the role. We organised the filming schedule so that the most difficult scenes for him were at the end of the shoot. He really grew as an actor through the shoot, because the filming process often will give actors who aren’t experienced a lot of confidence. That really happened for him, which was a really interesting thing to watch.

 

I know on this film you had to build the village – what was that experience like for you?

It was such a pleasure to build a set. I’ve never had a film that had a built set before, for something like that to come out of your imagination really faithfully. When you shoot on location, as I have with other films, you get everything as close as you can to what you can imagine. Some locations will be really suitable and some may be better than you’d imagined. Others will fall short and you make the best of what you’ve got. But this was amazing. I could sit with the designer and the cinematographer, who came on early, and we would plan together. We designed and built this village together. Not only in terms of the aesthetics of it, but also how it would work for shooting and moving walls and things like that. That was an incredible pleasure. Of course, it puts a lot of pressure on a film that’s on a small budget because it’s expensive to build things. But the innovation of the designer was phenomenal, which really helped.

 

Sound is very important in your films. It’s very evocative always and seems like it’s a very important aspect to your style.

I remember when I was studying film, I had a lecturer who said that sound is nearly more important than picture so that it feels right. If the picture is a bit rough but the sound is good, the audience can still feel immersed in the world. Whereas if the sound is really bad and the picture’s great, it’s really jarring. I think it’s because we read visuals in a more conscious way. Whereas sound affects us subliminally. That’s why I think it’s so important as it taps onto our subconscious, into our dreaming states and all these areas of the mind that we’re not conscious of. I’ve been really lucky to work with really strong sound designers. There’s been different ones on each of the there films, which is part of the co-production model, that they come from different countries. I’ve been really lucky that they’ve been really responsive to a very creative approach to the sound and also a detailed approach because I am really particular about it. Or if I feel like that there’s not enough nuance in a moment, I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who go back to those moments and get it right.

 

Good Favour is currently in cinemas.

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Film Review: Good Favour

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Treasa O’Brien, Writer/Director of ‘Town of Strangers’ 

Writer/Director Treasa O’Brien takes us behind the story of Town of Strangers, a film about a stranger who comes to make a film in the small town of Gort in the West of Ireland, and the people she meets when she holds auditions. Together, they go on a cinematic journey to explore their waking and dreaming lives. Featuring a cast of migrant workers, hippies, Travellers, blow-ins and newly arrived refugees, we are ushered into the private worlds of people living between two cultures, sharing their desires of longing and belonging.

 

When I started making Town of Strangers, the town of Gort boasted two remarkable statistics: it was the town with the most nationalities in Ireland, relative to its small population; and it was the town ‘worst hit by austerity’. I had been visiting Gort with the idea to make a film there when the Goethe Institute, after seeing my film Eat Your Children, commissioned me to make a short film based on the theme of home.  The project Europoly matched filmmakers around Europe, and that is how I got to work with Catalan DoP Gina Ferrer.  It was a kind of blind date – she came and worked with me for a week-long shoot that became the short film called The Blow-in.  I used a day of the shooting schedule and budget for that film to shoot auditions for Town of Strangers, a film script I was developing. I did not yet know what form that film would take, but I knew it would not be a ‘straight’ documentary nor a fiction.  I was searching for a cinematic language that would transcend the binary of documentary and fiction and find a way to express the lived experiences of people with hybrid cultural identities.  I wanted to incorporate stories from the town and potentially cast first-time actors as themselves.

The auditions, however, irrevocably changed the course of the film, due to the particularity of the encounters that occurred. I was astonished and honoured by the stories divulged to me.  People showed me their strengths and vulnerabilities in a way that moved me. The more I got to know the people from the auditions, the more I adapted and improvised the film.  I soon left the script far behind and together with some of the people I met, we went on a cinematic journey to explore their waking and dreaming lives.

I asked people in the auditions to tell me ‘a dream, a lie, a memory, a story or a piece of gossip”. The resulting scenes are not re-enactments, but rather performative enactments improvised together. By inviting the participants to enact their dreams or memories, I was documenting the process of this imagining, rather than trying to create a product based on the content of the story itself.  Sometimes it is the making-of the scenes that were more interesting than the scenes themselves and these form part of the film’s story.

I was doing a PhD in Film Practice at the same time, with Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Act of Killing, as my supervisor. Joshua has developed a way of working that has expanded the documentary genre that includes filming the process of making scenes with protagonists acting as themselves.  Joshua became my chief mentor and creative advisor on the process of making Town of Strangers over the three years of its making.  I made a first cut and a trailer with Julian Triandafyllou, a London filmmaker, mainly using the audition material and some extra material I had shot.  Martha O’Neill of Wildfire Films came on board as a co-producer based on that cut. We kept developing the film, even though we had no budget, and we invested our own funds and a lot of time.  Later, the Arts Council of Ireland came on board and supported the main production with a Project Award.  We also got some smaller funds from Clare County Council and Faroe Islands supported a sound designer to work on the post.  I worked on and off for over a year with editor Mirjam Strugalla, to build the narrative arc of the film, filming more material with people in between editing sessions.  Gina Ferrer came back for two more shoots and I shot a lot of the footage on my own, gaining confidence as a cinematographer as well as a director. The editing process was an intense collaboration as we tried out several different structures before we decided how the interlocking stories and characters could resonate and have the feeling of a developing narrative.

I constructed a character loosely based on myself, and performed by me, whom I call T, who appears alongside the other characters in the film. She is living in her van, and trying to find a place to live in the town.  She is seen in the van, parked up by a petrol station, sleeping, reading, making breakfast, doing yoga.  My own emplacement as director is semi-fictionalised within the film, inventing a poetic truth of my engagement with the people and place in the film, that is nevertheless based on my real lived experiences.

On another level, Town of Strangers is a human rights film about migration and identity in our times.  It is a cinematic and philosophical exploration of the lived experiences of ‘the other’, people who make their home in a small town in the west of Ireland, in the age of austerity politics, the refugee ‘crisis’, and the rise of nationalism and right-wing politics in Europe and the USA.  I spent time working in refugee camps in Greece while making this film, where I made several short films about the journeys people were making, working with them as co-makers. Town of Strangers explores the aftermath – the shifting sand between our shared human experiences of longing for home, and our search for belonging.

 

Town of Strangers screens at Cork Film Festival 2018 at 14:45 on Tuesday, 13th November 2018 at Triskel Arts Centre.

Tickets here

Town of Strangers premiered at Galway Film Fleadh in July 2018 and is nominated for Best Cinematic Documentary at Cork Film Festival. 

 

 

Town of Strangers – Official Website

Written and directed by Treasa O’Brien

Executive Producer: Joshua Oppenheimer

Producers: Martha O’Neill and Treasa O’Brien

Cinematography: Gina Ferrer & Treasa O’Brien

Editor: Mirjam Strugalla

 

Town of Strangers – Facebook Page

Director’s Website

 

 

http://filmireland.net/2018/10/18/irish-film-preview-2018-cork-film-festival/

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Watch Irish Short Film: Lee Cronin’s ‘Ghost Train’

 

Lee Cronin’s Ghost Train is now available to watch just in time to get you in the ghoulish mood. Written and directed by Cronin, the film tells the story of estranged brothers Michael and Peter. Once a year the brothers make a reluctant pilgrimage to the old fairground where their friend Sam went missing three decades ago. Things take a turn this year though as Michael has a secret to confess.

Ghost Train is a cleverly-crafted subtle chiller with a heart that has a team behind it – from the writing and  direction through to the visual construction , design and sound – that screams “feature”. The cast is made up of Owen McDonnell and Steve Wall as the two adult brothers who come together to deal with the trauma of their past youthful deeds, which are acted out in flashback by Sean Gormley, Matthew Dillon and Matthew Broe with strong natural performances.

 

 

Lee explains how the beginning of the project was “off the back of a really weird dream I had about my best mate when I was around 8 years old. We were wandering through an abandoned cottage and in one of the rooms there was a withered old woman on the wall, like those low quality effigies you would see inside Ghost Trains in the 1980s. She wasn’t so low quality when she suddenly came to life with a slow turn of her head and guttural cackle. She scared me awake and all I could think about was this childhood friend I hadn’t seen in so so long. I wondered how he was, what his life was like? Although the film we made is very different to this slice of REM, it holds onto some of those feelings and themes, so I guess that’s were it all began. I blame late night cheese and bad TV.

“Once I had a script, I was really lucky to get the opportunity to pitch the project to a bunch of European producers and funders at an event called Euro-Connection. The pitch went well and we ended up getting a Finnish producer and funding from the Finnish Film Foundation – It’s never that straight forward but that was the outcome! With this and the awesome support we were shown by The Irish Film Board from the very beginning it put us in a position to go out and make the film. We shot at Halloween in 2012 which somehow added to its atmosphere. From there it took about 7 months in post, there are quite a few VFX shots which were done in Finland, mainly over Skype, so the process was challenging but really rewarding in the end.”

 

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Alan Gilsenan, Writer / Director of ‘Unless’ & ‘The Meeting’

 

Stephen Porzio met up with filmmaker Alan Gilsenan to chat about his two films set for Irish cinemas this year.

Imagine being a director and getting trapped by snow at home, the day your new film will premiere. This happened to Irish filmmaker Alan Gilsenan, leading him to walk from the Wicklow Mountains all the way to Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema.

“I kind of enjoyed it. It was like a strange pilgrimage”, he remarks. His story reminds me of fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog, who famously walked from Munich to Paris to visit a dying friend. Gilsenan jokes: “Jesus, I’d say that’s where the likeness ends but if we could even approach old Herzog that’d be fine for me”.

Following last year’s acclaimed documentary Meetings with Ivor, Gilsenan is here at the Filmbase office to promote the first of two dramas he directed being released this year. Out on the 16th March is the Canadian-set Unless, starring Catherine Keener as an author whose daughter (Hannah Gross, Netflix’s Mindhunter) decides to drop out of college and live on the streets.

Attending the press screening of Unless was the first time I left my house after the Beast from the East. What am I presented with but a cold, drippy, snowy Ontario setting.

“I’d always pride myself as someone who doesn’t really feel the cold. But I was in Toronto and thought ‘this is just unbearable’ … I heard some of the sparks and the grips talking about how it was the coldest Winter in Toronto in 150 years the March we shot,” Gilsenan laughs.

Continuing he says: “I’d go into the catering truck just to be warm for five minutes. The other thing is I envisaged a Toronto covered in snow but when it gets to those temperatures, the snow doesn’t fall. It’s just ice. We were putting in fake snow even though it was -35 degrees.”

Adapted from a novel from Pulitzer Prize-Winner Carol Shields, writer-director Gilsenan translates the stream-of-consciousness prose of the source to the screen. While the book is about a mother’s reaction to her child wanting to live on the street, the film centres on the mystery of why the heroine’s daughter, Norah, acts in such a manner.

On adapting the novel, Gilsenan says: “[The film] is a meditation. The source was Carol Shields’ book … Sometimes I’d go back to [it] to check something and think ‘what was I thinking’. It’s the most unlikely film. The book is like Virginia Woolf. It all happens in her head.”

Many of Shields’ themes remain, the cynicism of the modern world and a desire to subvert common depictions of the ‘dysfunctional’ middle-class family. However, a key aspect of the book was excised in the transition to the big screen.

“I think partly the book is a reflection about being a woman in the world. I probably didn’t emphasise it quite as much. I’m also aware that with an extraordinary female cast and Emer Reynolds editing the film and Celiana Cárdenas as the DOP, I’m the only weak link.” He adds thoughtfully: “Probably should have been a woman who made it”.

Unless provides a realistic depiction of homelessness. I ask Gilsenan if the rise of people living on the streets in Ireland led him to choose the subject matter: “Maybe at some subliminal level … It did really bring home the reality of homelessness. The bitter cold … We were in Toronto when quite a few homeless people froze to death. We’ve started to see that in Dublin.”

I note that the scenes where Norah is living on the street felt authentic. “Some of the stuff we shot with Hannah on long lenses is on active streets. In the scene where the frat boys are hassling her – a young woman – it’s actually in the film – got very upset. That was real,” Gilsenan replies.

Gilsenan’s second film in 2018 The Meeting also feels eerily topical, focusing on the true story of a young rape victim confronting her attacker. Scheduled for a September release, the drama premiered at ADIFF last month. Before this interview, I couldn’t find who starred in the movie.

“Alva Griffith, the woman [it is based on] plays herself. It was a deliberate decision by ADIFF not to put the cast in. We felt the film will always be talked about in terms of Alva playing herself. We thought it would be nice to have a screening where that isn’t the issue.” He adds: “A lot people said to me after, ‘Who’s the actress. She’s great.’”

Clint Eastwood made a similar casting decision in his 2018 film The 15:17 to Paris. “Clint copies me in everything. I keep saying to him ‘Clint, stop’”, Gilsenan laughs.

Playing the assailant in The Meeting is Terry O’Neill, an actor who recently appeared in IFTA-winner Michael Inside. Between this and Hannah Gross recently working with David Fincher on Mindhunter, Gilsenan has a knack for discovering great talent. “Well you hope … I think Hannah’s wonderful and Terry is a real star.”

Next, Gilsenan plans a ‘strange experimental film inspired by Joyce’s Ulysses’. He is elusive when I ask if he will return to documentaries: “I quite like the documentary area, I like the drama. I like the more experimental stuff too.” A bit like Werner Herzog.

 

Unless is in Irish cinemas from 16th March 2018

The Meeting will open in Irish cinemas later this year

 

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Garret Walsh, Director of ‘The Observer Effect’

 

Short film The Observer Effect is a dark thriller with a twist about a man and a woman inextricably linked whose paths, when crossed, are destined to end in bloodshed.

Anthony Assad caught up with director Garret Walsh ahead of the film’s Dublin premiere at the Silk Road Film Festival. 

 

AA: First of all congratulations, the film appears to be doing very well, gaining traction across Ireland and further afield in festival circuits. How long was the production process in all? How does it feel to see it travel?

GW: Thanks very much. Well it’s been a long process! I kicked off pre-production in February 2015 and we ended up shooting it in two blocks: one in November 2015 and one in February 2017 and by the time we finished post in August it was two and a half years, all told. In reality, it only took so long because I funded this 100% myself so a lot of the time, pretty much all of 2016 in fact, was spent working elsewhere to build up the funds to do it.

It’s really incredible to see where the film’s gone since then. Our first film festival selection out of the gate was the LA Shorts film festival: Hollywood of all places. I actually flew over for that one – to be in Hollywood for the first time and have it be to screen your first film – well, I couldn’t pass up that chance.

And the reception it’s had everywhere has been just amazing – it’s fascinating and really gratifying to hear how people have reacted to it and hear what they’ve taken from the story and the performances – beyond what I ever thought they might sometimes. We actually have our Dublin premiere in a couple of weeks too – March the 9th at Trinity College as part of the Silk Road Film festival – I’m really interested to see what the reaction will be to its first showing back in what’s effectively its home town.

 

AA: I understand it’s your first film writing and directing. It’s a very ambitious piece, were you nervous about pulling it off? How long did it take to drum up interest and gather your crew?

GW: Oh, terrified – but in a good way. I’d actually been writing feature screenplays for about 20 years – doing like most writers do, I guess, which is start off writing rubbish and then hone and hone until you not only get better scripts but hopefully become a better writer in the process. When those scripts got some positive interest from a couple producers in the UK and US I decided I’d bite the bullet and make a short of my own, sort of a calling-card for them and – as no-one was going to fund me – give myself my own shot at directing.

I think it took about three months to gather most of the crew. If I remember right, after Kathy came aboard as producer the first key creative was Lilla Nurie, our production designer – and her work was the key to getting it moving. She’s unbelievably talented and I found she shared a really similar idea for the look and feel of the thing as I had. When she showed me her concepts for the main set in the film, to which the story builds and that plays such a part in the ending – almost like another character in fact – I felt we had something really special and I think that was something that drew people in initially, a strong story with that unique execution and world-building.

I think a big relief came when I found my actors though – that had been a huge worry up to that point.  As soon as I met Vanessa Emme for the lead I knew she’d be perfect for it and both she and Patrick O’Brien, who plays against her in the film, they both just own the screen whenever they’re in front of camera. It was a huge learning curve for me too – to see how just much an actor can bring to a character with their performance, conveyed with just the subtlest of emotions – something it’s so hard to imagine on the page. Whatever trappings you put around them on the screen, film is always about character and all of them, Brendan Sheehan too – really brought the whole thing to life.

Garret Walsh on set

AA: The production values are quite exceptional. I imagine you spent a lot of time conceiving the look and feel of the film. How closely did you work with your cinematographer and the set designers to realise it? Were any other films used as reference points?

GW: Lilla and I must have spent two or three months at least working on the main set design; looking at images of crypts, ossuaries and religious architecture from all across Europe and surreal artworks from artists like Zdzisław Beksiński and Hieronymus Bosch as inspiration for the look and feel of the thing, getting it just right for the part it has to play in the film. She and Aaron O’Sullivan, our set construction specialist, actually spent nearly eight weeks building it in the end – it was a huge undertaking, they worked miracles with it.

My director of photography, Philip Blake, and I, who has an incredible eye, did something similar too. We spent a long time comparing notes on films we both loved the look of and whose aesthetic could inform what we were imagining. The films of Ridley Scott – like the feel of Tyrell’s office and bedroom sets in Blade Runner – and David Fincher were big reference points. I think we looked the washed-out brown-yellow colour palettes and the textures of ‘The Game’ in our final scenes and it worked great for it.

Another thing whose importance I hadn’t fully appreciated until we made this but which had a huge effect was post-production – colour-grading and effects. We were really lucky that Chriona and Bernard at Element Post here in Dublin liked the project and agreed to work on it. Their colourist Leandro really understood what we were going for and did a beautiful job of grading the image and accentuating and refining it and the work the FX guys, Stephen and Diarmuid, did really brought it to life – it’s hard to exaggerate how much difference that makes.

 

AA: Thematically, you’re treading quite dark territory. Were you relieved once the final cut was in place, exorcised perhaps? Or do you feel at home with all things mysterious and macabre?

GW: It feels amazing when you finally finish a film, especially one that’s taken so long, so in one respect it was a relief to be done but it only takes a day or two before the withdrawal sets in and you wish you were back on set again, there’s just nothing like it – the crew were all incredible to work with and every single person just gave so much to getting this made, you wish you could work with them, like that, every day.

I guess I am drawn to mysterious and macabre stuff – but more so for how it can capture the imagination and draw an audience in. I think that’s what I love to experience in a film and to shoot too, be it a chiller, a western or a sci-fi, all of which I’ve written – it’s always to create an immersive world and characters for the audience to get drawn into, transport them completely.

 

AA: There’s a history and lore hinted at in the film. Have you thought of exploring it further, perhaps in a serialised format?

GW: Absolutely. I love films that both tell their story fully but also hint something larger, which is exactly what I was aiming for with this script to begin with. Although I hadn’t actually planned to take it any further when I started this I became fascinated by it as we explored who these characters are and the mystery that lies at the heart of it – where it all came from and where it could all go afterwards.

So yeah, as soon as I finished post-production I started developing it into a TV show and I now have a series bible/treatment written for a ten-episode first season run of The Observer Effect and the ending of it already has me excited to get started on Season 2 – I should probably just take a couple of days off or something or maybe write another feature but it’s perhaps a good sign that the possibilities of the story won’t let me go until I explore where it all goes next.

 

The Observer Effect will screen in the Silk Road Film Festival on Friday, March 9th at the Edmund Burke Theatre, TCD in a selection of Irish & international short films. Entrance is free.

 

 

 

Irish Short Film Review: The Observer Effect

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Sean Clancy. Writer / Director of ‘Locus of Control’

 

Locus of Control introduces us to Andrew Egan, who reluctantly accepts a teaching job to support his floundering, stand-up comedy career. As an increasingly anxious Andrew grows accustomed to the droll institution and its occupants he suspects that one of the students may be his downfall and that the previous teacher may not have left of his own accord. His life slowly unraveling, Andrew’s lessons fall on deaf ears and he soon becomes part of a larger cosmic joke. 

 

Ahead of its screening at Filmbase, Sean Clancy tells us about his dark comedy about decision and control.

 

 

For the last few years I’ve made all sorts of short films and sketches, all of which were experiments or challenges in some way. These pieces were as much about becoming familiar with the ins and outs of filmmaking as they were a reason to get people together and just have fun creating something. Locus of Control was born of the same attitude and feels like the culmination of all the various styles and ideas I’ve thrown around in the past.

The story centres on Andrew Egan, played by John Morton, a struggling stand-up comedian on the dole whose life becomes a slightly surreal descent after taking a job to help the unemployed re-enter the workforce. John described it as “The Shining on a Jobridge” which is a pretty accurate description. It’s got elements of a character with self-absorbed, creative frustrations in an ominous building and a world that gets more sinister as things progress. But the horror and the comedy elements of the film are inseparable, they both play off a sense of tension that run throughout. Peter McGann who plays Chris called it ‘Barton Fink on the dole’ so it’s a story that starts off more comedic and little by little becomes more like a psychological horror.

The idea for the film came when, a few years ago, I was on a course as part of social welfare and we were given a personality test called locus of control. Based on your answers, the test would tell you if you had an ‘internal locus’ or an ‘external locus’, basically whether you felt you had any power over your own life or if it was something that was all dictated by chance, luck and other outside forces. I had been working on an idea for a story about a comedian and when I started the script I introduced elements of a slightly absurd and frustrating bureaucracy but I was more interested in making a story about behaviour and how much control you really have over your life. Andrew’s teaching job is used as a starting point to explore the effects of anxiety, depression, decisions and choice. A kind of domino effect of helplessness and feeling worthless. The film is told from Andrew’s point of view so we see the world how he sees it, not necessarily how it is. As the story builds, the world becomes increasingly threatening and the reality of what’s actually happening becomes more and more questionable.

John Morton was the only person I wanted to play Andrew. We’ve worked together before so I knew what he could bring to a role like this and just as importantly, we get along. That goes a long way when you’re halfway through the shoot, sleep deprived, standing in a rainy car park at three in the morning and asking for another take. John is so well versed in writing and directing his own projects that I can’t imagine making the film without having his insight and experience.

Seamus O’Rourke plays John Lance D’Arcy, a long-standing teacher at Andrew’s new workplace who, like Andrew, is at odds with the world around him.  Before making Locus of Control a friend of mine asked me in passing if I’d seen any of Seamus’ videos online, I hadn’t but as soon as I did I was hooked. A collection of acutely observed monologues that are as sincere as they are funny. I got in touch with Seamus and crossed my fingers. After seeing him perform one of his own one-man plays live I was finding it hard to picture anyone else in the role. Luckily he said yes.

Everyone in the cast did a great job and I can’t thank them enough. We shot for fifteen days with a budget of about €800. People were so engaged and easy to work with that it made a schedule and budget like that much easier than it should be.

I knew the music was going to play a huge part in creating a certain kind of tension and mystery. I’ve been friends with Callum Condron since primary school and he’s an incredibly versatile musician. We hadn’t worked on anything quite like this before but Callum sent on a lot of different mixes as I was editing and he ended up making an album’s worth of brilliant music that fits the film perfectly. You can listen to some of the soundtrack here.

Looking back on the production, it seems like a bit of a blur but I enjoyed every minute of it. I’m incredibly grateful to all of the people who came together to get it made and now that it’s all over I can’t wait to do it again.

 

 

Locus of Control will screen in Filmbase, Dublin on March 7th at 8:15pm as part of the Silk Road International Film Festival 2018.

 

 

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/locusofcontrolfilm

 

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Aoife Nic Ardghail, Writer of ‘Casual’

 

Aoife Nic Ardghail gives us the insight into her film Casual and how a little poetry got it over the line.

Casual is my comment on modern dating and how those intimate but brief relationships can, when they end suddenly, leave at least one party feeling raw, powerless and unable to express themselves. This is all sown up in comedy though, because I wanted the film to be fun.

I wrote the script as far back as August 2014 when I was discovering my new love for screenwriting. I’d written a few stage pieces before, but Casual was among my first short film scripts and it was the one that other director and writer friends seemed to enjoy the most when I bounced it off them for feedback. It was also a film I felt I could make relatively easily, if I found someone with more directing experience who liked it enough to shoot for fun. I saw some of Kate Dolan’s IADT student films online and got in touch as I thought she would be a great fit as director.

Luckily for me, she clicked with the script and brought Philip Blake on board as DOP. We were
loosely going for a Broad City inspired vibe, with naturalistic improv dialogue elements like in the 2014 film Appropriate Behaviour. Between the three of us we sourced everyone, and almost everything, we needed to make the short – camera and sound assistants, actors and dancers. Locations and shoot dates, however, proved more difficult. I got Romano Morelli of Ristorante Romano to let us use his premises for a mention in the end credits, but my attempts at securing a convenience shop were unsuccessful. I had to rewrite a few scenes because of this and we captured the shop action we couldn’t write around by guerrilla shooting through a Spar window from across the road, while I went in in character and acted out the scene. But in the end we cut the shop and the rewritten stuff because there was enough in the scenes that had better production value.

I’m not sure if I can call the weather a glitch since the heavy, incessant rain the day of the park scenes may have been the very reason we didn’t get kicked out. There were no other members of the public around, apart from a man with sandwiches and a radio in one corner of the amphitheatre, so we didn’t encounter any patrolling rangers. Unfortunately, the dance choreography outside of our shelter didn’t make it into the final cut as there was no masking the fact everyone was being soaked.

I cast fellow Bow Street actors Fiona Lucia McGarry, Terry O’Neill and Mark Donaghy so I knew we’d have that end of the film on point. My friend Kate Finegan is a choreographer as well as actor and aerial hoopist and she sourced the wonderful dancers. Scheduling was another tricky one though. People were working around their professional gigs so that stretched the shoot out over several months.

From start to finish, it took about nine months to get everything in the can. Then it was another year before completion because I moved to Brighton for a time and it all stalled. But once I was Dublinbound again I decided I would get a crowd-funding campaign going to see the project through. I set the target at €2,000 for an editor, sound designer, composer and promotional material as neither me, Kate or Philip knew anyone who would come on board pro bono for post production. Both Kate and Phil by then were fully booked with their professional commitments. I wasn’t massively hopeful I’d raise the amount as Fundit is an all-or-nothing platform, and by the final week I was still way off my target. But after a little panic, I got a brainwave to record a short poem each day for the last seven days of the funding drive and get this on my Facebook page instead of the flatter written pleas I’d been previously posting. Casual has a poetry theme, so I thought this was fierce clever altogether. And amazingly, it worked.

With the magic funds I was able to get National Film and Television School past students Rob Szeliga and Filip Sijanic on board for sound design and music. They’d worked together while studying so that was a big plus. Then writer/director Daniel Butler agreed to edit, grade and do all of the technical business with DCPs and those final elements that I have little understanding of as first time producer and someone used to being in front of the camera.

It’s thanks to all the remarkably talented people who dedicated their time to this project that I now have a film. And of course I have to mention my friends, family and anonymous supporters who gave me a dig out through Fundit. I learned a whole rake and I’m looking forward to the next one.

 

 

Casual screens at IndieCork in Programme 2 of the Irish Shorts selection @ 4.30pm on Friday, 13th October 2017. 

IndieCork runs from 8 – 15 October 2017

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