Interview: Tony Donoghue – ‘Irish Folk Furniture’

 

 

Steven Galvin catches up with director Tony Donoghue, whose short film Irish Folk Furniture is currently screening at Sundance. Irish Folk Furniture uses stop-motion animation to breathe life into the disregarded pieces of furniture that frequently lie rotting in Irish barns and sheds, showing the process of renovating them and returning them to the homes they once inhabited. The short is directed by Tony Donoghue and produced by Cathal Black under the IFB ‘Frameworks’ animated short film scheme.

This interview appears in the current Winter 2012 issue of Film Ireland magazine, which is available now.

 

Tony, you’ve created a beautiful film that is quite unique – can you tell us about its genesis.

 

Elsie Hogan owned a beautiful pub in my home village of Ballinderry, Tipperary. It had been in the family for about 150 years and it was one of those pubs where you had to walk through the family kitchen to go to the bathroom. In that kitchen was a big old painted dresser so laden with Willow pattern dishes that it always looked like it would collapse under the weight at any moment. When Elsie retired and sold the pub, she brought all the elegant Victorian furniture with her to her new house – but not the dresser.

 

That fine old dresser after 150 years in that one spot was relegated to the shed by the new pub owners. I was horrified so I immediately started photographing and recording the stories of the people of my parish with their traditional folk furniture.

 

As someone who had lived away for 20 years and had seen so little traceable furniture in either the UK or the USA I could see it was really important to try and increase the appreciation of this much undervalued cultural legacy.

 

Irish Folk Furniture was pitched as a Frameworks project to explore the history and integrity of Irish rural furniture. Like all documentary work the real structure came out through the process of making it. It has ended up being a propaganda type film – an absolute unapologetic celebration of the beauty, integrity and downright excellent honesty of Irish hand-made furniture.

 

The film looks beautiful, and there’s a particular stunning shot of a dresser and chairs in a frosted outdoor environment – can you tell us a bit about the shoot and the equipment you were using?

 

We are permanently surrounded by things that in themselves are interesting but sometimes those same things have to be isolated out for us to see them properly. That’s what this film has tried to do. We have tried to separate out items of old Irish folk furniture so we can have a good look at them as individual items and then again look at them in a modern domestic context.

 

When screening a film about inanimate objects it’s very easy to lose an audience’s attention so we did put a lot of time into compositions and lighting that an audience might find interesting. We didn’t use any artificial lighting at all just the crazy lighting that this mad climate of ours throws at us. The down side of that was that it did mean sitting around for days on end waiting for that right moment.

 

The film was shot on an old Nikon D70 stills camera that cost just €150 on eBay.

This camera isn’t particularly good in low light but one of the great advantages of shooting single frame is that you can choose very long exposures. A long exposure can bring in a lot of soft richness and small detail that wouldn’t be there with fast shutter speeds.

 

This film, like your previous short, A Film from My Parish 6 Farms, was made in a green and environmentally-friendly way – obviously this is something that is important to you.

 

At film school and afterwards I was horrified by the ridiculous waste I saw on film shoots and especially on TV commercials. This included everything from exotic locations to excessive lighting and equipment. I decided it was important to try and make this film with as small a carbon footprint as possible. This is the second Frameworks film we have shot in one parish. The hope here is to encourage local filmmaking about local subjects and in a way that is also feasible for a community. In this instance we used the €150 second-hand stills camera I mentioned before, a Minidisc recorder, a bicycle and a basic tripod.

 

David Kitt did the music – how did he get involved?

 

David had seen the previous film and liked it. I had heard a lot of his music and loved it. I really wanted to use David’s dreamy voice in the film, but for the film to work we ended up using an instrumental piece.

 

The film recently garnered the Special Mention at Galway, has screened in LA and is about to screen at Cork. And A Film from My Parish 6 Farms went down very well on the festival circuit.

 

VIMEO and YouTube are great and instant ways of distributing visual content. However, their success must not be allowed to take from the absolutely crucial place film festivals play in the exploration and development of film language. Just as good curation is essential to a good museum fine art show, so too is good curation at the heart of every great film festival. Festivals bring intellectual analysis to the curation and cross-referencing of film and film genres.

 

Were it not for experienced curators and programmers, such as Mick Hannigan and Una Feely at the Corona Cork Film Festival, Dan Brawley at Cucalorus Film Festival in North Carolina and Annegret Richter at DOK Leipzig in Germany this film and many others like it would sit at the bottom of the box indefinitely.

 

Can you tell us a bit about using animation as documentary?

 

Animation as documentary is really opening up and cross-fertilising now. The animation scene in Ireland has grown largely out of the commercial sector. This means that for most people animation is seen as either light entertainment or children’s programming. Animation is one more form of communication that can be used in any number of contexts. All documentary filmmakers know they can influence their audiences with their choice of shot, of lighting, of edit, of music. Single-frame filmmaking is just another option within that available filmic catalogue. Since 1957 the German documentary film festival DOK Leipzig has been a major venue for the exploration of documentary film language. Leipzig has for 16 of those years (since 1996) been running annually an exploration of animated documentaries called Animadoc.

 

You say that in the course of making the film, 16 pieces of rural furniture were restored and returned back into daily use. So the film extends beyond its telling and back into the lives of the people involved.

 

It was very important to me that the filmmaking process didn’t just go in and take something from the community; I wanted to be sure that it gave something back. The original film commission was for the documentation of the restoration and return of two pieces of folk furniture. Those two pieces of 19th century furniture were viewed by locals as exceptional pieces of furniture, rather than the norm, and the local people just didn’t get the message that all their old folk furniture, given a bit of love and attention, still had a potential life back in the family home. That was why we ended up restoring and returning home 16 pieces of furniture in total. I hope now the message is clear that all old Irish folk furniture is indeed restorable and loveable.

 

It is also very important that Irish people realise that there are very few countries left in the world where the whole 100-year history of a piece of furniture is totally interwoven with and associated with only one family. Seldom will even the finest pieces of Victorian or Georgian furniture have the family-specific history that individual pieces of Irish hand-crafted furniture have.

 

Hopefully the long-term legacy of the film will be that people will see it and realise that their old dresser, flour bin or settle bed is a fine thing and worth repairing.

 

What were the locals’ responses to being asked about their furniture?

 

At first people were surprised to be asked about their Irish furniture. Patrick Cahalan, the third narrator in the film, is pretty much representative of what I encountered. Patrick was a farmer and a carpenter. Yet, when I asked to see his furniture he took me through his front door, turned right and into the parlour to see his mass-produced brown English furniture. I wanted to turn left into the kitchen and talk about his hand-made red dresser, matching red bread bin, matching red table and matching red cupboard and red mug rack. He just couldn’t see how furniture so simple and functional could be held in higher esteem than Victorian furniture with ostentatious decoration.

Steven Galvin

This interview appears in the current Winter 2012 issue of Film Ireland magazine, which is available now.

Irish Folk Furniture is available to view online for the duration of the Sundance Film Festival

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrfDAIqn6KE

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Sounding Off: ‘The New Wave, The Fís And The Rage’ Mark O’Connor Issue 142 Autumn 2012

‘The New Wave, The Fís And The Rage’

There is a new face in Irish cinema. The makeup is finally coming off.  The conventional and generic Irish films of the past are being replaced by what could be referred to as ‘The Irish New Wave’ or ‘Tonn Nua’. I believe that we are finally finding our voice.

 

The new wave has being rising for a few years now with pioneers like Ivan Kavanagh leading the way but not until recently has there been an emergence of a whole movement in Irish cinema. We have for too long focused on perfecting the script when in fact some of the finest work in this country, such as ‘Tin Can Man’ and ‘Pavee Lackeen’, came about through a uniquely personal way of working. These films show that the logic of film can work in a very different way than a rigidly plotted out story on paper.

 

This is not to dismiss the work of such early pioneers as Joe Comerford or Bob Quinn, or the two most respected film makers in this country, Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan who have shown how the traditional approach can lead to works of real genius.

 

However there is a new movement in Irish cinema emerging which has an emotional truth and it is more exciting than anything that came before. Simon Perry could be seen as the grandfather of this new wave because of the amount of kids he produced. He was the first to encourage personal film making by supporting first time writer-directors that he believed in. Now that the fruit of Perry’s tree is beginning to ripen we are seeing an emergence of a new kind of cinema, driven by what I like to refer to as ‘Fís’ (vision) men such as Brendan Muldowney, Ian Power, Ciaran Foy, Colin Downey, Lance Daly, Ken Wardrop and ‘Fís’ women like Carmel Winters and Juanita Wilson.

 

Unlike the ‘Auteur’ or ‘Shreiber’ theories favouring either the director or the writer as the true author of a film, the ‘Fís’ Theory holds that a true singular voice can only be attained when the director is also the writer. If the director does not write it then they must rewrite it and reinterpret it into their own vision.

 

Whether you loved it or hated it, it is clear that Terry McMahon’s ‘Charlie Casanova’ is an astonishingly powerful cinematic voice and yet it was rejected by the critics. It seems sadly familiar to the years leading up to the French New Wave and Alexandre Astruc’s 1948 essay ‘The birth of a new Avant Garde: La camera-Stylo’ how the critics have once again over looked ground breaking films like Charlie Casanova. Is the point of art not to disrupt familiarity? It is not a perfect film by any means but it didn’t need to be. Its very conception was avant-garde and it’s a testament to its power how it has divided audiences, receiving international festival selections and IFTA nominations on the one hand and verbal assaults and one star reviews on the other. It seems ‘Charlie’ was a tough pill to swallow for certain audiences used to sucking on Hollywood infant formula.

 

As a direct result of ‘Charlie’ a new form of Irish cinema has begun.

 

The ‘Protest Film’ genre of which ‘Charlie Casanova’ (#1) and now ‘Stalker (#2) belong to, are direct reactions to what has happened in this country. They reflect the changes in the Irish psyche and the socio-economic and moral conditions of our time. The protest film is not conceived for the market. They are emotionally reactive, born out of necessity and a political and social consciousness.

 

With the development of high quality formats and crowd funding opportunities now accessible to all of us the tools are finally in our hands to go out and make films like ‘Charlie’ and ‘Stalker’ without having to wait for permission. While the funding bodies have been massively supportive to many of us and will remain so in the future, I believe there is also ‘ROOM FOR THE REJECTS’, the films considered culturally shameful, the films that go to the core and do not fit in with the standard, the ‘scannáin bagairt’ that are refused a voice.

 

These films ‘RAGE AGAINST THE SILENCE’ by expressing the inner most feelings about the society we live in. Their stance which is outside the system enhances the pure vision which is not answerable to a committee of opinions or restricted by time and money.

 

There are new techniques at play in our new wave, such as how music is being used, over lapping in editing and bringing actors more into the creative process, a technique being utilized by the very positive new Actor’s Studio in ‘The Factory’. The language of cinema is evolving and audiences are now capable of cognitively solving the mysteries of crossing the ‘180° axis’ or ‘jump cutting’ which has removed all remaining limitations in film making.

 

This article is written with the intention of bringing recognition to the wave. We need to build our indigenous film industry by making it about ourselves instead of trying to replicate the foreign model. For this movement to reach its full potential we need to promote Irish cinema as an important part of our culture and bring this new wave more into the mindset of Irish audiences. We need better models for the distribution of Irish film and we need our television stations to show more support for the industry. We should not be looking to work within a hierarchy but in a collaborative environment.

 

I would like to issue a call to arms that if there are any up and coming ‘Fís’ men or women reading this then you don’t need to wait for permission anymore. As Terry McMahon believes ‘The art is in the completion, begin’. Pick up a camera, create your spiritual treasure and reveal your feelings in all their unique beauty and our new wave will turn into a cinematic revolution.

 

 

Mark O’Connor

 

If you would like to respond to this article or feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email steven@filmbase.ie

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Out Now: Film Ireland: The Autumn Issue 2012 – Issue 142

Issue 142

 

In the immortal words of Kool & the Gang: ‘Celebrate good times, come on.’

In this issue we celebrate this year’s Galway Film Fleadh with a host of features celebrating the many new Irish films that are set to screen at the Fleadh. We also celebrate the fact that Film Ireland has now been in print for 25 years! Yes, it’s our birthday. And we mark the occasion in this issue with a look back over 25 years of the magazine providing some fascinating snapshots of Irish film history.  

‘So bring your good times. And your laughter too’
and enjoy another mighty issue of Film Ireland. Available now just for you…

In this issue, we feature:

Good Vibes

Paul Webster talks to directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn about recreating the ’70s Belfast punk scene in their new film, Good Vibrations.

Song for Amy

Steven Galvin catches up with director Konrad Begg as he prepares for his new film’s premiere at this year’s Fleadh.

A Dangerous Documentary

Ross Whitaker talks to Paul Duane about his latest documentary Very Extremely Dangerous.

Pilgrim Hill

Niamh Creely talks to Gerard Barrett about his debut feature, which is set in his home county, Kerry, and due to screen at this year’s Fleadh.

All The Elements

Ross Whitaker talks with Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe of Element Pictures about their current success and their plans for the future

Yes we McCann

Gemma Creagh chats with Belfast actor Martin McCann about being Bono, his buddies and his role in James Marsh’s Shadow Dancer, which closes this year’s Fleadh.

FORD

Martin Cusack reports from Ireland’s first symposium on the legendary filmmaker John Ford.

Sundance London 2012

Emmet O’Brien reports from the inaugural Sundance London Film and Music Festival.

25 Years of Film Ireland

We celebrate our birthday by taking a look over the last 25 years

Sound of Silence
Niamh Creely talks to director Pat Collins about his film, Silence, which is screening at this year’s Fleadh.

Life through a Lens

Steven Galvin talks to Ciarán Tanham, president of the Irish  Society of Cinematographers (ISC), about his recent project, A Kiss for Jed.

The Write Stuff

Claire Dix has written and directed two award-winning short films. After recently winning the Zebbie for Best Short Film Script for her short film Downpour,  Steven Galvin caught up with her to find out about her approach to writing.

Sounding Off

Mark O’Connor lays out his vision for a new cinematic movement in Ireland.

 

And all our Regulars, including

Up Close – with John Ford, plus Ian Palmer on ‘My Inspiration’.

Your Updates – all the latest Irish film news.

On Set – a report from the set of Black Ice.

Spotlight – on Norah McGettigan’s Sanctuary.

ReviewsCharlie Casanova, Barbaric Genius, A Kiss for Jed, John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man.

Festivasl – all the latest festival reports & previews.

ShortSpace – the latest ShortSpace short film news, plus Neil O’Driscoll on ‘How I Short’.

Filmbase News – ll the latest from Filmbase.

MEDIA Desk – news & dates to keep in your MEDIA Diary.

 Equipment – we take a look at Final Cut X.

Get into Film! – Get into Film Ireland!

 

 

 

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Out Now: Film Ireland: The Summer Issue 2012 – Issue 141

Yes it’s raining; yes it’s freezing – but that won’t stop us celebrating the fact that this year’s Summer Issue of Film Ireland magazine is out now. As you can tell from the grooviest of covers, this issue is a scorcher. So wrap up warm, bring an umbrella and celebrate the start of an Irish summer with our latest filmtabulous issue.

In this issue:

Irish Animators for Annecy

Anna Rodgers assesses the Irish animation scene.

In the Bronx

Niall McKay meets director Macdara Vallely to talk about his new feature, Babygirl.

It’s in the Post

Paul Webster takes a look at the Irish post-production scene.

In the Limelight

Gordon Gaffney shines a light on the JDIFF Irish Talent Spotlight.

Dublin’s Fair City

Niamh Creely talks to Irish location manager Peter Conway about shooting in Dublin.

 Grand Masters

Paul Callanan at the 23rd Cork French Film Festival on guests  Pierre Étaix and Jean-Claude Carrière.

The Making of Moon

Shane Perez  reports on the fascinating Galway Film Centre masterclass on the making of Duncan Jones’ Moon.

Demanding Audiences

Niall Kitson checks out a new wave of online services that are putting pressure on distribution models

Moore Please

Film Ireland catches up with the Oscar®-nominated director of  The Secret of Kells, Tomm Moore.

Moving Pitchers

Niamh Creely sharpens her pencil for the UNTITLED Screenwriting Competition and Story Campus.

Distribution

Maeve Clancy explores the world of distribution in Film Ireland’s comic page.

Sounding Off

Nadine O’Regan investigates why Stella Days upset the residents of Borrisokane.

 

Plus all our regulars:

Up Close – with Anjelica Huston, plus Paul Rowley on ‘My Inspiration’.

Your Updates – all the latest Irish film news.

On Set – Rory Cashin on the set of Mark O’ Connor’s latest, King of the Travellers

Spotlight – Steven Galvin takes in the sounds of the Casbah with Safinez Bousbia, director of El Gusto.

ReviewsAlbert Nobbs, The Other Side of Sleep, The Pier, Stella Days, This Must Be the Place

Festivals – all the latest festival reports & previews

ShortSpace – the latest ShortSpace short film news, plus Mark Noonan on ‘How I Short’.

Filmbase News – all the latest from Filmbase

Equipment – we get our hands on the RED Scarlet camera.

MEDIA Desk – news & dates to keep in your MEDIA Diary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Winter Issue of Film Ireland is Out Next Week

 

The Winter Issue of Film Ireland will be with Filmbase members, subscribers and on the shelves of newsagents across the country next week.

Jamie Hannigan talks to Colm Meaney about his role in Parked, Anna Rodgers catches up with legendary documentary filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams), Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan TD outlines his plans for office to Niamh CreelyRoss Whitaker chats with Asif Kapadia about the making of Senna, and we preview the 2012 DCNYF Chinese Film Festival.

 

With the Corona Cork Film Festival taking place in November we feature Gerard Hurley’s The Pier, Ben River’s Slow Action and Steve Sanguedolce’s Blinding.

 

We are delighted to announce a new regular piece from a member of the Irish Society of Cinematographers plus we have all our regular news, On Set reports, reviews, directors and writers guild pages, equipment reviews and more.

 

To find out which retailers stock Film Ireland click here

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Out Now! Issue 138 – The Autumn Issue

Out Now! Issue 138 – The Autumn Issue

 

Emmet O’Brien talks to Brendan Gleeson and John Michael McDonagh about their surprising new film.

Niall McKay talks to the makers of a new documentary that follows Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová after their Oscar®win.

Ciarán Deeney shares some of the value of a masterclass with US Indie filmmakers Ted Hope and Christine Vachon.

Aoife Kelleher talks to the Oscar®-winning director James Marsh about his latest documentary feature Project Nim.

Ciara Peters talks to the new programmer of the Galway Film Fleadh, Gar O’Brien.

Jamie Hannigan talks to Alexandra McGuinness, the Irish writer/director, about her tragicomic debut feature, Lotus Eaters.

Steven Galvin soaks up the atmosphere at the recent Jim Sheridan retrospective at the IFI.

James Fair talks to Film Ireland about making films in 72 hours and the new Masters in Digital Feature Film Production he hopes to launch from Filmbase this year.

Ross Whitaker talks to Galway-based filmmaker Dieter Auner about his breathtakingly beautiful documentary Off the Beaten Track.

Steven Galvin talks to the people behind Young Irish Film Makers on its 20th birthday.

Maeve Clancy explores the role of the assistant director in Film Ireland’s comic page.

Gavin Burke bemoans our summer blockbusters’ lack of originality.

Plus all our usual Regulars

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Out Now! Issue 137 – The Summer Issue

Summer’s here and the time is right for reading Film Ireland in the streets. Our cover features Gabriel Byrne, who talks to us about his role as first Cultural Ambassador for Ireland. There’s a gallic flavour to this issue as Cannes is upon us once again. We have an exclusive interview with Agnès Varda, and Rebecca Daly talks about her debut feature, The Other Side of Sleep, which is screening as part of the Directors Fortnight at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. There’s also a survival guide to Cannes for those fortunate enough to be attending. We investigate the thriving co-production industry between Ireland & France. We also focus on Ireland in two special articles – featuring some of our emerging creative talent and a selection of the wonderful locations we have to offer film. Also in this issue we remember Michael Dwyer and Peter Lennon. And as Filmbase celebrates 25 years supporting Irish film, we take a look back over its history. Plus lots, lots more…

Get into Film – Get into Film Ireland

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Issue 136 – Film Ireland – The Spring Issue

Film Ireland Spring Issue 136

Get a spring in your step with the current Film Ireland Spring Issue out now. Enter the world of Hammer Horror with our exlusive interview with Aidan Gillen about his latest feature Wake Wood , the first Hammer horror film to be shot in Ireland. Say goodbye to the departing chief executive of the Irish Film Board Simon Perry in his revealing interview. Find out what our neighbours think of the Irish Film Industry. Learn what the web can do to help filmmakers. Get into the bowels of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival with this issue’s focus on Ireland’s biggest festival. This and so much more in a bulging issue of Film Ireland.

Contents

Hammer Time
Robert Simpson talks to Aidan Gillen about his latest feature Wake Wood.

Eurovision
Ross Whitaker talks to the departing chief executive of the Irish Film Board, Simon Perry.

What Do the Neighbours Think?
Gemma Creagh asks those in the know how Irish film is perceived abroad

What Can the Web Do for You?
Ross Whitaker on how to make the most from the web when it comes to funding your film.

Catching the Wave
David O Mahony explores the birth of the Romanian ‘New Wave’.

Sound and Vision
Felim Mac Dermott talks to director Pat Collins about his new documentary, Tim Robinson: Connemara.

Talking Documentary: Finance, Form and… the Future
Vanessa Gildea reports from the Talking Documentary seminar.

The Weather Station
Niamh Creely caught up with Johnny O’Reilly, the Irish director of the Russian thriller premiering at JDIFF .

Play As You Go
Classical pianist Elaine Brennan on the challenges of creating a film’s soundtrack whilst watching it for the first time – live, with an audience.

And The Winner Is…

Jamie Hannigan talks to Aine Moriarty, CEO and founder of the Irish Film & Television Academy.

Best of Both Worlds
Luke McManus talks to some Irish directors who are forging ahead with Irish-Scottish co-productions.

Continuity
Maeve Clancy explores the problems of continuity in Film Irelands comic page.

Sounding Off
Recognition rather than reward should be the mandate of award ceremonies, according to Steven Galvin.

Plus our usual regulars

Up Close
Your Updates
Directors Guild
Writers Guild
Spotlight
On Set
Reviews
Festivals
Filmbase News
ShortSpace
Equipment
MEDIA Diary

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The Pipe: Interview

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The Pipe

Aoife Kelleher talks to Risteard Ó Domhnaill, director of The Pipe, winner of Best Feature Documentary at this year’s Fleadh.

Completed in the year which has seen the largest marine oil spill in history, The Pipe, Risteard Ó Domhnaill’s brilliantly observed and provocative documentary, is a timely examination of the experiences of a small community as it comes up against the might of the petroleum industry. The film chronicles the struggles of the inhabitants of the maritime village of Rossport, Co. Mayo, as they seek to protect themselves and their livelihoods from the dangers posed by a proposed gas pipeline. In doing so, they find themselves pitted, not only against Shell, but also against the State, An Garda Síochána and, finally, against each other.

Filmed over three years, The Pipe follows the conflict as it moves from the fields and waters around Rossport, to the Department of the Marine & Natural Resources in Dublin and, ultimately, to the European Parliament. Keenly aware of how the protesters have been portrayed by the news media, Ó Domhnaill allows the stories of these farmers, teachers and fishermen to unfold without any recourse to onscreen narration. In the process, he grants the people of this abandoned and divided community the opportunity to articulate their own plight.

Screened at the Galway Film Fleadh, where it won the award for Best Feature Documentary, and, more recently, at the Toronto Film Festival, The Pipe has consistently won over audiences with its depiction of a modern-day David vs. Goliath.

Tell me a bit about your background and the background to the documentary.

I got into filmmaking by accident. I did Theoretical Physics at Trinity and then I did a degree in Irish and History in Galway. I worked as a substitute teacher for a year in Dublin – just as a stopgap – and did a night course in Film and Television in Griffith College. Towards the end of that, I got work experience in Loopline doing assistant editing and then got a job as a production assistant on a TG4 arts programme called Soiscéal Padraig. I worked there for a year before I got the opportunity to move back to Mayo. Mayo is my second home, really – my mother is from Mayo, my uncle lives there and I would have spent all my summers there as a child. We’d go to Mayo and spend the summer on my uncle’s farm, which is very close to the gas.

So I moved back to Mayo, lived with my uncle and worked with Gillian Marsh. That was in 2006, after the Rossport 5 were released from jail. Then, in May 2006, the State sent in about 200 guards to break a blockade by the local community of the Shell refinery at Ballinaboy. Out of pure curiosity, because it was only down the road, I started filming and, because the place was very isolated and it’s hard to get a news crew up there, I was able to send footage to TG4 and RTÉ News and get a fee for it. It was just a handy little earner – I wasn’t really trying to make a documentary about the gas. This went on for a few weeks and one thing that struck me was that these people weren’t lunatics, they were just normal people who wanted to protect their community and had genuine fears for their safety. I thought the media was turning their story from one of farmers and fishermen versus an oil company into a story of ideologically damaged people who had a problem with the State and just wanted a row. A lot of the stuff that was being reported was completely overhyped – there were stories of IRA involvement and of anarchists, and it was really set up as a story of extremists versus the guards. While this went on, the refinery was being built, so Shell and the government were quite happy with this distraction from the real issues, which were health, safety and the environment.

I kept filming and, about six months later, I had a massive amount of footage. I went to Alan Maher in the Film Board and he was interested in it. I also went to TG4 – I cut a little promo myself and they were taken with it, so I had the Film Board and TG4 on board. I got a producer and had him for two years. That didn’t work out and that’s when I got Rachel [Lysaght] on board.

Did you approach the film with a particular style in mind?

The style kind of evolved. I didn’t know how to shoot a documentary really and, at the start, I was filming it like news. Gradually, I started to film more with the characters and began to just stay with them. I was shooting on a Sony Z1 HDV camera, which is very inconspicuous, so the protestors, the guards and everybody else just ignored me. I had great access because there wasn’t that barrier that goes up when you have a big news camera and crew and I just kept filming out on the boats with the fishermen and in the fields with the farmers. I’d put a little radio mic on them and follow them around for a few hours and see what fell out the other end. The material that started coming out was really incredible and I thought: ‘OK, we’ll make a half-hour doc out of this, it’ll be great.’ But the story kept evolving and things kept moving on and, from 2006, it was another three years before I got to the end of the filming.

How did you craft a film from the material?

We went into the edit with Stephen O’Connell for two months in 2009 and we basically ran out of money. I then approached Riverside TV in Galway – I’d cut a doc with Nigel O’Regan and I found him really good – so he and I started editing in November 2009 and then on and off for about eight months. I came to Nigel with a three-hour timeline and we got it down to about 83 minutes. It was just a hatchet job really, for a lot of it. I had been trying to put two documentaries into one. There was the human interest story of the people on the ground that I’d been filming but I’d also been researching into the political and historic context of Corrib right back to the mid-seventies. Justin Keating – who was then the Labour Minister for Industry & Commerce – put in place Norwegian-style oil and gas terms where the State would get a 50% stake in any oil and gas that was discovered. Subsequently, in the late eighties and early nineties, Ray Burke and Bertie Ahern tore up his legislation and basically privatised Irish offshore and handed it over to the oil companies, with very little room for any regulation. So I did a lot of research into that: I interviewed Justin Keating before he died and I interviewed a lot of people who brought me through the story up until the gas was discovered in 1996 by Enterprise Oil, who were very close to Fianna Fáil. They were a donor to the party and they got some great drilling concessions and it was in one of those drilling concessions that they found Corrib.

It took a lot of time for me to let go of that context and make it a completely human story. Eventually, we started throwing out the expert interviews and voice-over and the more we took out, the more the human story came to the fore. Whenever we took something out, we always found something in the rushes – because we had 400 hours of material – to bridge that gap. The people could always tell their story so elegantly and effectively, much better than any voice-over or expert could. It was a hugely painful process and we spent a lot of time in the edit arguing the points and cutting away, letting go of all the traditional-style doc stuff to get to the real story.

Did you seek any cooperation or contribution from Shell?

I had a good relationship with Shell and I would have known their PR people through shooting for news. I sent them material and emails and tried to get them on board for an interview but they would never agree to an open interview – there was always a lot of preconditions and we couldn’t do that because you can’t allow one particular body’s PR department to control what does and doesn’t go into the film. Eventually we had to draw a line with Shell – we gave them a deadline and they didn’t come back to us in time, so we just put a text box up at the start of the film so people would know from the start that we don’t have a contribution from Shell.

Do you think that makes the documentary unbalanced?

You can’t say it’s a balanced documentary. I don’t know if there’s any such thing as balance. It’s the story of a community. What I tried to do was concentrate on the people in the path of the pipeline and try and tell that story honestly. It’s not a PR film for these people. You see them losing it at times: you see them cursing, you see their good side but you also see their weaknesses. It’s not balanced, but it is an honest portrayal of what happened there in the community.

You mentioned that, because it was just you and a small Z1 camera, you were almost like a piece of the furniture, but there’s a difference between shooting protests for news and filming in people’s homes and boats and actually taking on their stories in a more comprehensive way. How did you negotiate the process of gaining access?

I never set out to make a documentary; it evolved. I was shooting it as news but, since I would have spent all my summers up there as a child, people knew me, so I was never seen as an outside camera crew – it was just me with a small camera, filming stuff. If I called up to somebody with the camera in their home, they just got on with it. Also, when they had community meetings or when what was happening would have been sensitive to the community, I was able to be there and they wouldn’t really notice or change their behaviour. Whereas, if there had been a bigger crew and not just one person they would have been more reserved or wouldn’t have let me in in the first place.

Was there a moment, then, when the participants signed on to a feature documentary?

Not really. I filmed it before I got release forms from them. It was a surprise to them when they came to Galway and saw the film because I was there for so long that they’d given up on me actually doing anything big or special. I don’t know did they know what to expect.

You mentioned the screening at the Galway Film Fleadh, which was the premiere of the film and also the first screening for the community. What was the response from the community and also from the general audience at the screening?

Galway was the first screening, so I was apprehensive. You don’t know how people are going to react because you’re baring the soul of a community on a big screen and there are some very uncomfortable bits for them watch. But I was blown away by their reaction, both during the screening and at the end, when we got a standing ovation. People really appreciated it – even though a lot of it was tough to watch for some of them, they appreciated the fact that, for the first time, their story was portrayed as honestly as it could be.

Not everyone was happy with it. A lot of people were uncomfortable with the fact that I showed so much of the community meetings because people don’t like to see their dirty linen aired in public but all in all they were appreciative. They were really emotional after the screening – some people were in tears. To have everything brought back to them in the space of 83 minutes was like being hit by a steam train for some people – everything from the jailing of the Rossport 5 to the baton charge and the stress on the community all came back in one chunk. It was a lot for them to take in, but it was an incredible reaction, really good.

On top of that reaction from the community you also won the award for Best Feature Documentary.

Winning the Best Feature Doc – I won’t say it was an anti-climax but I was so burned out from the screening that I didn’t quite appreciate winning the award at the time. We started to appreciate it when we began to get calls from festivals and distributors. Even though Galway is a small festival, it’s really respected around the world. It’s got a great reputation and it does feature on the radar of people in the industry, so Galway really was the springboard for getting into Toronto.

Tell me about Toronto: how was the experience of attending the festival?

When we were selected for Toronto, I didn’t know what kind of a festival it was. The more we started finding out about it, the more we realised that it’s right up there with Cannes and Sundance. It’s also the place for a doc if you want to get distribution: it’s where the deals are done and it’s where all the distributors are. We went over to Toronto for a week and it was just a rollercoaster – the amount of media coverage we got was incredible. We had a publicist over there and we got seven minutes on CBC, on a prime-time news show. We also got a great review from Variety. The reaction from the audience in Toronto was incredible and we got a standing ovation the night we premiered. We had wondered whether the film would travel – the Canadians are a bit conservative compared to us, so would they get the humour, the emotion and the concepts? Would they actually understand what people are saying? When they seemed to get all that and really engage with the film emotionally, it was a huge relief.

Off the back of Toronto, then, we got great interest worldwide. We got accepted for London, the doc festival in Amsterdam – IDFA, Palm Springs and loads of other festivals. Also, in Toronto, we signed with our North American sales agent, Cinetic, and they’re a dream to work with.

Presumably the BP oil spill in the Gulf had also raised awareness around the issues you dealt with in The Pipe?

The timing was really fortuitous. There was a lot of delay in getting the film finished but it was worth it because just when we were finishing in the edit, the Gulf oil spill happened. Now, it was a real tragedy – there were ten people killed in it and a lot of pollution – but it brought the issues that were raised in The Pipe into the mainstream media and made them very topical. There were other problems at the time: the day before our premiere in Toronto, a gas pipe blew up in California and a whole neighbourhood was burnt to a crisp, so when they were watching the film, the people in Canada were very aware of the context, more so than they would have been a year ago. In the Q&A after the screening, those issues came into the questions and really informed the debate.

Would you consider making a follow-up?

I would. As I said, the political and historical context of how Corrib came about needs to be explored. It’s a reflection on how things were done during the Celtic Tiger era, when regulation was very lax, huge amounts of control and leeway were given to private companies to the detriment of the citizens of Ireland. The politicians didn’t show leadership, they didn’t have the backbone to stand up to private companies and say ‘We have to do things properly; we have to do things sustainably for the interests of the people of Ireland and in the interests of employment, safety and the environment, all rolled into one.’ Responsible, long-term thinking didn’t happen and it was the same in a lot of other areas in Ireland – in building, in the banks, you name it. So this is just another microcosm of the direction we took during the Celtic Tiger, which was to the short-term benefit of private companies and to the detriment of private citizens, whose rights and whose future were sacrificed.

How do you feel the documentary has impacted on the community in Rossport?

Because it hasn’t been shown widely, I don’t think that the documentary has had a huge impact on the community nor do I know that it will. People’s trust in the State and their relationships with others in their community have been so damaged that it will take a long time for things to heal. Even if this Corrib fiasco is resolved in some way and a solution is found, the scars will last for generations. The fact that there’s no real effort to find a solution isn’t helping. I don’t know what my documentary can do – it may even open the wounds a little more. Hopefully it will raise awareness in Ireland and abroad about how damaging something like this can be: when the politicians turn away and the media doesn’t step up to the plate. One thing that’s worth saying is that these people were never against the gas, they just wanted it done in a sustainable way, according to industry standards, which didn’t have to railroad their rights or their health and safety. They wanted the gas and the economic prosperity it would bring, but not at that price.

What’s next for the film?

We’re still in the middle of trying to get it distributed. We’re trying to get it into cinemas in Ireland, starting from the 3rd of December, so that’s what we’re aiming for at the moment: to get it out in Irish cinemas, then getting it out on TG4, our broadcaster. We also have a sales agent in Europe and North America and we’re hoping to hear back from them soon. We hope to get some sort of theatrical release in the US and Canada and then get it broadcast in Europe and around the world.

Rachel [Lysaght] has been fantastic in terms of publicity, in pushing us to make the film as good as it can be and in how she has dealt with broadcasters and funders. She has great people skills, which has been really important because it’s a difficult production – we’re trying to make the most out of limited resources, so you have to bring in any favours you can and try to cut down on costs and Rachel has been at the centre of that, driving us forward.

www.thepipethefilm.com

Film Ireland’s screening of ‘The Pipe’ and Q&A with the filmmakers at 6.15pm Monday 13th December (Q&A 7.45pm) has being postponed until 2011, for more details click here.

The Pipe reviewed here.

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Issue 135 – Film Ireland – The Winter Issue

Winter Issue

Film Ireland’s Winter Issue is out now and packed with essential reading beside the fire over these coming months. Brendan Gleeson and his sons Brian and Domhnall talk exclusively to Film Ireland magazine. This lively issue also spotlights Irish documentaries in the Corona Cork Film Festival 7–14 November including Sé Merry Doyle’s Dreaming the Quiet Man about the making of the John Ford classic, and Risteard Ó Domhnaill’s much talked about The Pipe.

One Hundred Mornings director, Conor Horgan, discusses his interesting route to becoming a feature’s director. Minister Mary Hanafin gives the low-down on budget cuts and the value of the arts.

The issue also includes a round up of 16 must-have gadgets and gizmos for Christmas – one of which we’re giving away to one lucky reader.

There’s also a look at some vintage cimena from the Irish Film Archive and the first appearance of Film Ireland’s new comic strip, which casts an eye over on-set life. All this and much more.

Christmas has come early this year…

CORRECTION:
In our “Dreaming the Quiet Man” article on page 14 we incorrectly quoted Sé Merry Doyle as saying ‘We just hung around and I met Nancy and Jack Murphy who own Cohan’s hardware store, which, in the film, was Cohan’s barber shop”. During shooting Cohan’s hardware store was used as Cohan’s Bar in the film and the hardware store was later converted into a bar.

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ISSUE 134 – FILM IRELAND – THE AUTUMN ISSUE

Issue 134

The ‘Savage’ Autumn issue of Film Ireland is out now

Served Cold
Savage director Brendan Muldowney revisits some of his key inspirations with JAMIE HANNIGAN.
Read more here

Big Drama Little Screen
AMANDA SPENCER talks to some directors and sees who’s taking sides in TV versus Film.
Read more here

The 7 Challenges Facing Independent Filmmakers
Raindance founder ELLIOT GROVE gives us the low-down on how to meet those challenges with winning strategies.
Read more here

Snapped
Martina Niland and Carmel Winters talk to NIAMH CREELY about their brilliant new feature Snap.
Read more here

The Best Medicine
SHANE KENNEDY reports from this year’s Give Me Direction comedy screenwriting conference.
Read more here

Master of Comedy
ROSS WHITAKER attends IFTA’s ‘In Conversation With…’ comedy writer extraordinaire Graham Linehan.
Read more here

The incredible Shrinking Critic
Joe Griffin ponders the future of film criticism and wonders if the role of the film critic has become redundant.
Read more here

Rewind
NIAMH CREELY talks to director PJ Dillon and producers Alex Jones and John Wallace about their new feature film Rewind.
Read more here

The Joy of Section 481
GORDON GAFFNEY misses his turn off the spaghetti junction of Section 481 whilst writing this explanatory article.
Read more here

You can buy Film Ireland magazine online or at any of these locations:
http://www.filmireland.net/about/

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Issue 134 – Rewind

rewind-image1

DOP-turned-director PJ Dillon and his producing team John Wallace and Alex Jones talk to Niamh Creely about their new feature and the scheme that funded it. Dillon’s debut feature is a dark revelation of the crime one woman has sought to forget – as much as Karen would like to erase her past, it has caught up with her in the menacing shape of Karl.

How did having a DOP’s visual sensibility affect your writing of the script?

PJ: Well, having shot a number of low-budget feature films, I would have had a fair idea of the pitfalls to avoid. There were certain rules that were laid down at the Catalyst Project: no special effects, no shooting at night, no X, no Y. But as I was sitting there I was thinking ‘that’s not really the case at all.’

John: Yes, we actually did everything we were told not to do. But we didn’t do it from a position of ignorance. We did it in the knowledge that what we were doing was achievable.

PJ: And when it came to the shoot, Ken Byrne was DOP, who I’ve worked with a lot over the years. We were both very conscious that we were a low-budget film shooting in winter and the look of the film was designed around that. I knew what our limitations would be and I knew what sort of opportunities that shooting in winter would present. Being a DOP, obviously you’re starting with an advantage there.

And would there be any particular scene in the film that you wrote with specific visuals in mind?

PJ: The burning caravan. But if that had been mooted at the Catalyst Project it would have been laughed out of the room.

Alex: People would have had seizures!

PJ: But we were lucky that we had the right production designer, Philip Murphy, who was very pragmatic. When we looked at it, it wasn’t going to cost us much.

PJ, you worked with Allen Leech before, on ‘Deep Breaths’. Both of the characters he plays have a similar menacing character…

PJ: [laughter] We really enjoyed working with Alan and when I was trying to think of an idea for the Catalyst Project that menacing character of his was in my mind. In fact, I pretty much wrote the first draft of the script with him in mind. We did some workshops with him after we were shortlisted and developed the character in that way.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.

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Issue 134 – Snapped

snap

Veteran producer Martina Niland and first-time feature director Carmel Winters’ new film Snap is a masterful work of concealment and revelation that demands total engagement from beginning to end. Words Niamh Creely.

A 15-year-old boy abducts a toddler and takes him to his grandfather’s home. The crime becomes public knowledge and the teenager’s mother is blamed by the media. This is the beginning of a steady revelation that is emotionally real and yet as engaging as any thriller. Making the film provided many challenges, not least directing a child less than 2 years old. I spoke to the creative team behind this stunning film.

‘Snap’ didn’t begin life as a screenplay. How did the story evolve?

Carmel: I developed Sandra and Stephen as characters in a dramatic scenario I presented to trainee psychiatrists. The interns were fascinated by the complex dynamics between mother and son. Some even cried as they unpicked what had made this mother and son so estranged and yet so bonded in ways that they couldn’t even themselves recognize. I invented lots of characters over the years in this way but Sandra and Stephen sunk deep hooks into my imagination. The character of Sandra, in particular. Her voice was constantly in my head, defending herself – and her son – to an imaginary audience. And yet there were so many holes and contradictions in her defence. I love characters that don’t unravel easily.

How did the scenario become the film?

Carmel: I was teaching Creative Writing (Drama) in the University of East Anglia and performed a one-woman show, A-Picking At A Bone at the theatre there. I played both characters – Sandra, and her teenage son Stephen.

At the same time, I was sifting through ideas for a screenplay that could thrive on, and not just survive, a low-budget production. I don’t always enjoy the low-budget ‘aesthetic’ that tends to emerge as a by-product of little money and time. Those films that roped me in as a viewer did so because of the strength of the characters and the storytelling.

When I’m writing a feature film script I feel like an architect. I’m working in three dimensions, moving space around. I’m always in a spatial point of view, looking from a particular place, creating dynamic tension from cuts between viewpoints and place. So when I began to think of ‘Sandra’ and ‘Stephen’ as characters in a film I started to look at them from different distances – from extreme close-up to extreme wide – and seeing if they revealed themselves differently. And when I did this the characters got extremely involved in this looking business – and started looking back. Sandra started courting the attention of a camera while Stephen seemed enormously invested in getting behind it.

So in the film itself there is an interrogation of what it means to be caught on camera, and with the camera… And this was not only why this play should become a film, it also gave me the opportunity to try a visual style that, while not being big-budget dependent, could be imaginative, original, compelling – and intrinsic to the story.

The film was shot on several different formats, some quite unconventional.

Carmel: Yes, in the script different technologies of looking – from CCTV, mobile phone, webcam, documentary cameras, mini DV, Cine 8 – became deeply significant to the characters and their story. The question was: do we shoot on these different formats or do we shoot on the best quality format available to us and downgrade after in post? And the second question was how do we differentiate ‘mediated’ reality, which is easy enough to signal, from supposedly ‘objective’ reality, which the film itself had made problematic? Kate McCullough, the DOP, was attached to the project very early on. I’d seen a strange, obscure short film she’d shot and I thought, ‘there’s a DOP who’s not seduced by mere glamour’. She and I share something of an aversion to ‘noisy’ post-production tools and techniques, especially when it comes to altering the structure of the image. While the audience mightn’t consciously register the fakery, I think it still makes itself felt.

For our ‘objective’ camera we used the RED. We could have used film except we didn’t want to be tied to a low shooting ratio when we were shooting the toddler and baby scenes. I found it funny how well some of the lower grade formats performed. The Sony EX1 used in the documentary scenes wasn’t a million miles off the RED, I whisper to say. So it was very much Kate’s manipulation of that tool that coaxed its nastier digital qualities and pulled it away from the RED. And the mobile phone we shot on held up so well that there was even talk of downgrading it in post. Which we didn’t do because, let’s face it, if you’ve committed to using different formats you’ve got to trust their intrinsic qualities and trust the audience with them. Basically, the same thing went for the formats as every other aspect of the film: let the audience sift through the subtleties and shades of the grey areas. There’s nothing black and white about life, and there’s nothing black and white about Snap – ok, except for a brief black and white sequence at the opening of the film!

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.

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Issue 134 – The Joy of Section 481

S481

We’d like to tell you in 10 easy steps how you can make a wise investment, support Ireland’s film industry and bring much needed revenue into the country. But Section 481, whilst clever and useful, is not terribly easy to explain. Gordon Gaffney and a lovely informative diagram by Niamh Creely do their best.

Section 481 (S481) is an incentive scheme designed to promote investment in film by allowing tax relief for the investor. Prior to researching this article my knowledge of the scheme was a little like Grandpa Simpson’s grasp of American history in that it felt like I had pieced it together mostly from sugar packets.

Some of the discoveries I made include:

•    S481 is used to raise only part of an overall budget and not 100% of funding.
•    It can be used for low-budget (less than €1m) productions. Brian Gormley, a solicitor with Philip Lee Solicitors, recently worked on a €260k budget project that raised finance through S481 (although the net benefit can be lower on a low-budget production). So it’s not just for big budget productions such as Camelot.
•    It’s not all multi-millionaire investors avoiding paying tax at 41% on huge cash sums. According to Claire Raftery of Bank of Ireland, 95% of investors actually borrow some or all of the sum they invest.
•    It’s a tax break that instead of directly leading to zombie hotels or zombie banks can instead create actual zombies.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.
For Section 481 extras, links and resources click here.

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Issue 134 – The 7 Challenges Facing Independent Filmmakers

Elliot Grove

‘Independent Cinema is dead!’ Raindance founder ELLIOT GROVE couldn’t disagree more.

Coming back from the Cannes Film Festival this spring I ran into two veteran British film producers who between them had produced nigh onto sixty features, been nominated for or won several Oscars® and who, by any standard, are considered to be highly successful. They both were very negative about the future of the film industry and the prospects of making films like they had been over the past thirty years. ‘Independent Cinema is dead,’ they argued.

I beg to differ.

No segment of the media industry has had as many changes since the Millennium as the film industry. Technology and film production has changed. Film distribution has changed. On top of that, rapid currency fluctuations have played havoc with film producer’s cash flow forecasts.

Here are the seven basic challenges facing filmmakers since the Millennium, and what I believe to be a successful strategic position to take for success.

1. The digital revolution has flooded the marketplace

Fact: Cheaper digital production methods have helped create more product than buyers.

Strategy: Make certain your movie is genre specific. Genre is the only way that a film buyer and the marketing manager of a distribution company can quickly visualise the movie poster, trailer and marketing campaign.

2. Online distribution is becoming commonplace

Fact: On Valentine’s Day 2005 the co-founders of Youtube.com registered the name at www.whois.com. Youtube revolutionised film distribution and has changed the way consumers watch movies and television. The impact of illegal online distribution has also had the same impact on movies as it has the music industry.

Strategy: Develop a hybrid distribution strategy that encompasses traditional cinema/DVD/television releases with online distribution.

3. Hollywood is bankrupt of ideas

Fact: The gaming industry has influenced storytelling techniques and filmmaking techniques. These new storytelling techniques dominate.

Strategy: Successful filmmakers are most likely artists who consider themselves visual storytellers using moving images to tell their stories. Incorporation of gaming techniques both in terms of storytelling and visualisation will make movies stronger.

4. Cinema distribution is still healthy but it is different somehow

Fact: Not only has image and sound capture been dramatised by advances in digital technology like DSLR [digital single-lens reflex], but cinema distribution has been affected too. Britain now has the world’s first fully digitised cinema chain – The Apollo chain. A digital screen does not need expensive 35mm film prints, films can be emailed to a cinema screen’s hard drive and films can be scheduled easily with a click of a mouse. Cinema exhibition has also benefitted from 3D technology. Like it or not, screens will be demanding 3D product. In America it is estimated that there will be an astonishing 25 million homes equipped with 3D TV screens by 2013.

Television networks are struggling to find enough HD content for their UD channels, let alone their new 3D channels, like Britain’s Sky 3D, launching 1st October.

Strategy: Successful filmmakers will learn how to communicate with television and cinema owners to deliver saleable content in the format that will deliver maximum revenue.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 134.

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Issue 134 – The Best Medicine

lenny-abrahamson-and-bobby-farrelly1

Everyone enjoys a good laugh. It’s one of life’s simplest pleasures, and yet complex and unique in its manifestation. Laughter is, unquestionably, good for the soul and, as the man once said, a cure for every sorrow. On a quest to enlighten the masses, the great and the good of comedy writing gathered for the second instalment of BSÉ/IFB’s Give Me Direction. Shane Kennedy reports from this year’s Give Me Direction comedy screenwriting conference.

Curated by Lenny Abrahamson (Adam & Paul, Garage), Sharon Horgan (Pulling, Angelo’s) and Pat McCabe (Breakfast on Pluto, The Butcher Boy), the convention attracted a stellar line up of comedy writers, featuring, amongst others, Bobby Farrelly (Dumb & Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) and Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (Peep Show, Four Lions). Little wonder, then, that hordes of comedy lovers and aspiring comedy scriptwriters descended on The Merrion and Cineworld for a two-day, comedy love-in.

Farrelly funny

So, let us get down to business. How does one write good comedy? First up was Bobby Farrelly. The Farrelly brothers’ success story has a distinctly American ring to it. With Dumb & Dumber, the brothers’ debut feature, the acquisition of the soon-to-be very, very hot property Jim Carrey proved to be pivotal in their success story. Dumb luck, indeed. When pressed on the brothers’ source of inspiration, observation and life experience are very much to the fore. ‘When my brother and I were growing up, we were always drawn to the unusual characters. We embraced those guys. We thought, “there is comedy here”. The black sheep is always funnier than one hundred white sheep.’

In terms of the comedy that Farrelly has produced, his writing partnership with Peter is very much key. Writing five pages every day, the brothers have a methodical approach to this part of the process. ‘Don’t force it’ is the message. Their writing process has a quirky idiosyncrasy – the brothers themselves do not know where the narrative is going. ‘We don’t know in advance what the story will be. It can’t be too linear, the audience can’t be able to second-guess what is going to happen.’ The ability to balance narrative against laughs is central to any comedy success, and the Farrellys have their own technique for cramming in mini laughing orgies without interrupting the flow of the storyline: the montage. ‘It allows us to take a break from the story. Take the audience on a little trip. It provides a release from the narrative, and the crowd go with it. It works,’ adds Farrelly.
A further tip in terms of technique is the element of surprise. Citing the introduction of the black father of Cameron Diaz’ WASP princess in There’s Something About Mary as an example, it underlines the fact that good comedy need not be complicated. Just find that funny bone and tickle it. Interestingly, Farrelly is the first to admit that the brothers’ gags can only go so far. Without an experienced and skilful crew, their vision won’t ever make it onto the big screen. ‘I mean, we’re not camera guys. We just make sure we can get the best DOP we can find.’ Even the best need help, it seems.

Fooling around

Next up is the Los Angeles-based Nicole Holofcener, best known for talky, urban comedies such as Walking and Talking and, screened during the convention, Please Give. Holofcener’s is a gentler and more nuanced comedy, something of a departure from the Farrellys’ slapstick romps. Her stories are very much character-based, with the narrative driving the comedy, never vice versa. ‘I try to derive comedy out of characters. Catherine Keener’s (the female lead in Please Give) character is comedic because she is a fool.’ Holofcener is not afraid to engage in a spot of navel-gazing in her quest for inspiration. ‘And I love writing fools – I am the first fool I am writing about. And if you can laugh at yourself, I think you should.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.

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Issue 134 – Master of Comedy

graham-linehan1

How does comedy writer extraordinaire Graham Linehan do it? An IFTA ‘In Conversation With…’ interview gave Ross Whitaker the low-down.

It’s probably fair to say that despite the mightiness of our craic and the seemingly bottomless pit of successful Irish comedians pulling faces on channels at home and abroad, we probably couldn’t really consider ourselves to be masters of television comedy.

This nagging feeling isn’t helped by the close proximity to us of a country that has produced some of the finest panel, sketch and situation comedy in the history of television. In recent times, what have we produced to rival the likes of Fawlty Towers, The Fast Show, Have I Got News For You, Only Fools and Horses or The Office? We haven’t even come close.

There have been good moments, no doubt. Back in the day, Don’t Feed the Gondolas had its moments and I, for one, was highly impressed by the recent RTÉ sketch show Your Bad Self and was sorry to hear that it won’t be returning. Still, the success stories have been few and far between.

Phenomenal

There’s one shining light, of course: a superb sit-com about priests, created by Irish writers and starring Irish actors that proved to be massively successful. Father Ted was no less than a phenomenon. And despite our poor TV comedy record, pretty much the only thing not Irish about Ted was that it was commissioned and broadcast by Channel 4.

By now, everyone in Ireland knows that the brilliant duo of Arthur Mathews and Graham Linehan somehow fused their substantial talents to create a work of true genius. Father Ted is up there with the best of them, a complete classic that will no doubt be repeated on the small screen time and time again for many years to come without ever getting tired.

Since then, Linehan has gone on to create the outstanding comedy series Black Books with Dylan Moran and, more recently, The IT Crowd. It would be fair to say, he’s cracked it, so it was with great interest that I attended the recent IFTA event, ‘In Conversation With…’ Graham Linehan.

Linehan was in Ireland for the making of a definitive Father Ted documentary to be directed by Adrian McCarthy of Wildfire Films, one he hopes will dispel a lot of myths that have grown up about Ted.

The biggest, he says, is that Father Ted was first offered to and refused by RTÉ. Linehan and Mathews had already been working in London and developing relationships with broadcasters for a while when they came up with the idea of Ted, so pitching it in the UK seemed like the sensible thing to do.

‘We didn’t do it with RTÉ because we were in England and we had a career there, so it would have been strange to go back to Ireland and start from the bottom in RTÉ, a company that never really made a successful studio sitcom. Because there was no infrastructure in Ireland for those kind of studio sitcoms, it would have been crazy to give it to them. RTÉ did many great things but studio sitcoms was not one of them.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.

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Issue 134 – BIG Drama little Screen

BDLS

These days, the small screen packs a mighty punch with critical and popular acclaim. AMANDA SPENCER talks to directors Dearbhla Walsh, Daniel O’Hara, Ciaran Donnelly, and Robert Quinn and sees who’s taking sides in TV versus film.

As incredible production values and explosive writing in TV drama continue to blow up the small screen, it’s easy to have a cinematic experience from the comfort of our couches. But for the directors who have experienced both the TV and film worlds and who bring them to us in their most perfect form, do they feel there’s a significant difference in making TV versus film and do they favour one over the other?

First up is Emmy Award-winning Dearbhla Walsh (Little Dorrit, The Tudors, Shameless), taking some well earned time off to look at new material. Then it’s Daniel O’Hara (The Clinic, Skins, George Gently), as he embarks on his next project, Being Human; Ciaran Donnelly (The Tudors, George Gently, Proof), as he gets stuck into a pilot episode of Camelot; and finally, Primeval’s Robert Quinn (Dead Bodies, The Clinic) talks about his experiences ahead of a feature planned for next year.

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Was your first directing experience in film or TV drama? Was it a premeditated decision or just what came up first?

DW: Revenge on RTÉ was the first authored drama I was involved in. To get into film directing involves a lot of sitting around talking about it because there’s so little actually made. I was clear that I wanted to direct, so if I wanted to learn the craft and to actually work, it became obvious that the only way was to seek opportunities and work my way up through directing quality TV drama.

You’ve had lots of different experiences within TV drama – directing all of The Silence, the first four of Little Dorrit, and soaps like Eastenders. How did the role of director differ within those? Which do you think closest to film?

DW: It’s so strange, the division of it is so odd because that’s not the mental or creative approach you take when you’re directing. I find that one of the problems is that people want to differentiate so dramatically between the two. I would say that I’ve made very specific choices that have displayed a broad range of tastes and a clear trajectory with quality writers. So as a pilot director or sole director on a TV project, I wouldn’t see major differences with film. You’re working on it to author the piece.

There’s a perception that the chief creative voice in film is the director, and in TV drama, it’s the writer who comes to prominence. Is that a fair perception?

DW: Irish and British TV drama are very producer-heavy, and very producer-driven because of the nature of getting something green-lit and getting the money. American TV drama is different in so far as the writer is king. I think film suffers in the same way as TV does in the sense that it needs to find an audience. I think often there’s a tradition, especially here, that it doesn’t particularly matter if films get an audience, which I think is an extraordinary indulgence. TV doesn’t have that arrogance. I think The Silence was a good example of that. In its writing and direction, it has its own clear voice. I do consider my role important and in my experience, which has been mostly in Britain, I find there is a deep respect and expectation for the director to bring something to it.

What is the future of drama? Big screen or small?

DW: I think a lot of American drama is proving something. Six Feet Under, Mad Men, The Sopranos; quality TV drama that attracts people from the film world. So, there isn’t the same snobbery about it there as here, particularly in Ireland, which is also why much of my career is in Britain. There is a set notion that there is a difference, that there must be a difference and why it’s important to keep the difference. From a director’s point of view, it’s about exercising ideas and storytelling. I suppose because there’s a higher turnover in television you get to hone those skills faster. Personally, I go through the exact same process on TV drama as I would with film. So, my interest in working in film would be to work on a broader canvas. I think the pain of the process can be similar in both, so it’s about how you hold onto your own through it all. I think the role of TV drama is massive in this country. There’s a need for it, and it has a responsibility to take chances. You have to take chances.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 134

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Issue 134 – The Incredible Shrinking Film Critic

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Over 60 film critics have been made redundant in America over the past 4 years. So what’s to blame? Is it the recession, the web, or are critics’ roles becoming redundant? Joe Griffin ponders the future of the film critic.

Like many trends, it began with a few relatively benign drops, before trickling into a stream and becoming a serious concern. It started as far back as 2006 with Kevin Thomas of the LA Times being bought out, but then they started falling like dominos. Even more established critics were shown the door, including Todd McCarthy who had been reviewing films for Variety for over three decades. Eventually, as listed recently by Sean P. Means in the Salt Lake Tribune, 65 critics had been let go (at time of going to press), leading to a lot of empty screening rooms and a lot of worried arts journalists.

Recent events have been less dramatic on this side of the pond, though freelance critics and journalists (including this writer) have seen the demise of some of their employers: In early 2009 alone, two high-profile cultural publications, The Event Guide (to which I contributed) and State ceased their print run. Irish critics are not quite shaking in their boots just yet but when they cast their eyes west they could perhaps be forgiven for worrying a little.

Critic-cull
Stateside, the response to the critic cull has been mixed. Many redundant journalists have taken to the web to bemoan their new status via blogs and opinion columns. This in turn has prompted angry ripostes from other critics, most notably from Salon.com’s Andrew O’Hehir to his fallen brethren: ‘Shut the fuck up and get back to work. If you’re worried that people don’t want to read your movie reviews, what in the name of Jesus Christ crucified makes you think they want to read your bitching and moaning?’
The most popular theory for the recent culling is that they are representative of the print industry, victims of the well-documented rise in web journalism and fall in print ad revenue. Tom Long, film critic with the Detroit News agrees: ‘Actually, it was a bit of both [internet and recession], as well as an age factor. Print journalism in the US went through massive buyouts and layoffs over the past five years. A lot of people who took the buyouts were older, higher-paid and close to retirement already. In many places you work your way up to the title film critic, so a lot of them tended to be senior staffers who fit the buyout profile.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.

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Issue 134 – Served Cold

Savage

As his debut feature Savage – an arresting, violent and vengeful slice of Dublin life – hits Irish cinema screens, director Brendan Muldowney revisits some of his key inspirations with Jamie Hannigan…

BRENDAN: It was 1980, so the start of these video-nasties. I don’t think The Exterminator was a video-nasty, but video-nasties were about.

JAMIE: You would have been what, nine, ten?

Uh, no… Hang on a second… Eleven, I was eleven, but by the time it got to video it was ’82. So I was twelve or thirteen. All I know is that everyone was talking about it in school… Typical kid shit, the most shocking things are what everyone’s talking about: ‘They put someone in a mincer!’ I was dying to see this thing because of this infamy. I can’t remember it exactly, but this guy’s friend is either crippled or beaten up or killed by these thugs, and if I watched it now, it would probably be cheap and shit, but my memory of it was kickass! It was Robert Ginty going around with a flamethrower, trying to find out where people are and when they don’t speak – or even when they do – they’re all trussed up on a chain, and he pushes the button and they go down into the meat mincer… And then they have the money shot of the minced meat coming out! (laughs) Anyway, as a kid, I thought this was pretty cool.

So this was your first exposure to the revenge movie?

The Exterminator was the first one I saw, so I was exposed to the lower end of these things, and, as a kid, your morals are more…

Simplistic?

Yeah, and you’re not trying to intellectualise it as much. And then Death Wish… The weird thing about Death Wish is that I saw them in the reverse order. I saw Death Wish 3 and then I saw Death Wish II and then I saw the first Death Wish! What I was thinking about the third one was, it was perfect for me when I was young, because it was a comedy, it was funny, there were old ladies getting involved, setting traps for the thugs…

Like Home Alone?

Yeah! It was an action movie and a bit of fun. I didn’t think of it further than that: Bad guys get done by normal people. That’s the key to it, it’s not the cops, it’s normal people. Then – let me see – I saw Death Wish II, which I found really disturbing, because there’s a horrible rape scene with Charles Bronson’s daughter, and to add insult to injury, she tries to escape and falls through a window and gets impaled on a fence… It’s just horrible. I think that was when I first started to question what was going on with these films. And Michael Winner is to thank for that… I felt like he was wallowing in the rape, that he was enjoying that as much as he was going to enjoy showing the revenge. It was more about spectacle and he wasn’t really getting under the skin of revenge and vigilantism and the normal, everyday person…

What was the first film you remember doing that?

Oh, Taxi Driver. But it’s not even necessarily a revenge film. A good friend of mine said to me: Travis Bickle is just this ticking bomb that’s presented to the audience with the fuse lit. There’s no sort of character arc… He was always crazy, and he just gets progressively worse until he explodes… And yet, because Robert De Niro is playing it so low-key, that stuff really had an impact for me, because it reminded me that the actor doesn’t have to be everywhere, ranting and exploding. We can tell that through the world around him, do you know what I mean? The way it focuses on small moments, the way he drops an Alka-Seltzer in a glass and it just zooms down into it and then into his eyes… What I really found impressive about Taxi Driver was the atmosphere of everything around Travis, so you could feel it being claustrophobic. And of course, in the latter half, where he starts looking in the mirror and starts tooling up with all sorts of weapons. When you imagine revenge films like Death Wish or The Exterminator, they’re very simplistic: there’s a bad guy who’s done something and they get the bad guy. In Taxi DriverEveryone’s a bad guy, so he has no focus, and yet, there’s more dread in Taxi Driver than in any of those other films.

I think I saw Taxi Driver at the perfect age to have such an impact on me. Maybe seventeen, eighteen. About ten years after it had been made. But I think it’s perfect for when you are trying to get your morals, you’re getting more complex in your thinking. It probably got me at a perfect time. Straw Dogs I would have seen next. It would have been banned for a long time, so it must have been a bootleg VHS or something… Another interesting one, because this was an ordinary man –

Much more so than Travis Bickle…

Oh yeah, this is like an intellectual… What I liked was the Dustin Hoffman character having to step up, and to become a violent man… There’s a big jump now, but the next one I do remember seeing was when I was in college, which was A Short Film About Killing. The story is as simple as a man commits a crime – the murder of the taxi driver at the start – and the state executes him. That’s it. But what Kieslowski does is that he shows both murders as being as brutal as each other. What I took from A Short Film About Killing was the fact that the murder itself – he’s strangling the guy from behind – takes so long to happen. And not only does it take so long to happen – as the guy is dying, he’s kicking out the front windscreen of the car. So it’s got these details. He made it very real. He cuts outside the car for a bit, I think. There’s another car that drives by in the distance, in a wide… I tried to get that into Savage. I wanted to have, for the fight at the end, a woman in a car, driving by, seeing a fight and just driving on. But the fight took up the whole day, so I couldn’t get it. It’s a pity. The camera was going to be inside the car, with someone listening to pop music, someone else’s life and day. Just a quick glance and seeing these guys fighting, and then… just doesn’t want to know, and drives on. But anyway, this messiness in the detail which started with Taxi Driver and I saw it again with this. I liked the morals of A Short Film About Killing. I would have been brought up on the side of The Punishment Fits The Crime, and I remember when I was in my first media course in communications, doing a documentary about Amnesty International and to suddenly think about the rights and wrongs of the death penalty. Going beyond whether innocent people can be killed, going beyond whether the punishment they’re using is inhumane, going beyond that: asking whether it hurts us as a society to kill in our name. There were complexities in everything. A Short Film About Killing perfectly followed on where I was at that stage.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 134

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