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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Review: A Ghost Story

DIR/WRI: David Lowery • PRO: Adam Donaghey, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston • DOP: Andrew Droz Palermo • ED: David Lowery • DES: Jade Healy, Tom Walker • MUS: Daniel Hart • CAST: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, McColm Cephas Jr.

 

This is not your typical ghost story. Only very briefly do things go bump in the night and the culprit is a prototypical white-sheeted figure but the story that embodies him is not campfire fodder meant to fuel cheap scares. Instead writer/director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) presents us with a filmic elegy all the more haunting, and beautiful, in its quaintness and restraint.

 

C (Casey Affleck), a struggling musician, and wife M (Rooney Mara) are preparing to move out of their rural homestead when tragedy strikes and C dies in a car crash. At the morgue, the coroner carefully pulls back a white linen sheet revealing his pale, bruised face and, after a tearful goodbye, M leaves. Only we are left to watch and wait, in the first of many long and lingering shots, as the motionless corpse, now alone, suddenly rises from the gurney cloaked in its death shroud. As it wanders invisible through the halls of the hospital a doorway of light appears, prompting an exit from the land of the living, only C is not yet ready to leave. He returns home and becomes rooted to the land, a spectral spectator of the world and the people in it moving on without him.

As we explore and contemplate C’s unfinished business, Lowery and co. impart themes of loss, loneliness and regret but the true beauty of the film lies in the simple act of observation. The most private of moments often play out uninhibited by cuts. In her grief, M gorges on pie to the point of getting sick, she can’t see her dead husband lurking in the same room or us for that matter in a darkened theatre. C, covered by cloth, can’t emote to the situation but we do it for him and his presence encourages us to communicate what he can’t. In this privileged (but ultimately powerless) position, walls are no longer a barrier and, long after they crumble and rise anew, much has changed but the cycle of life remains a constant. It’s a simple and yet wholly original concept that cleverly utilises a less-is-more approach to allow room for the weighty existential themes to resonate, chiefly humanity’s want and need to create a long lasting legacy.

Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo creates an enthralling visual framework in figure-hugging 4:3 to evoke a painterly quality, especially vivid during the near motionless moments. While potent in tone and atmosphere these long unbroken wordless sequences will test less patient souls. Fans of Malick will feel at home but to the uninitiated it might recall a thought-provoking art installation or an awkward mournful minute’s silence stretched to feature length, but the beguiling imagery is sure to enchant regardless.

In this life and afterlife affirming masterstroke, Lowery transcends what we’ve seen before easing us in with recognisable tropes only to strip back the bells, whistles and ouija boards to reveal an almost silent and yet deafening beating heart and soul beneath.

 

Anthony Assad

92 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

A Ghost Story is released 11th August 2017

A Ghost Story – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

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DIR: Werner Herzog • WRI: David Koepp • PRO: Werner Herzog, Rupert Maconick • DOP: Peter Zeitlinger • ED: Marco Capalbo • DES: Peter Wenham • CAST: Elon Musk, Lawrence Krauss, Lucianne Walkowicz

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary attempts to chart the rise of the almighty Internet and its impact upon the people and technologies dangling (often precariously) in its World Wide Web. While his past documentaries often thrived on eccentric characters and their outlandish pursuits, Lo and Behold shifts gear to focus upon an intangible phenomenon and inevitably, but forgivably, raises more questions than it can answer.

 

Herzog and co. present ten serialised chapters introducing a gamut of speakers ranging from internet scientists, robotic engineers, cosmologists, hackers and brain researchers all musing on the past, present and potential future of our connected world.  The tapestry of information weaved among them offers some absorbing insights, ideas and the odd moral quandary most notably in the development of autonomous or self-driving cars and the man-or-machine culpability concern in case of accidents. If it sounds like too much our all too familiar German accented auteur and narrator graciously acts guide, encouraging philosophical debate to ground the tech talk, but its another language altogether and struggles to coalesce from chapter to chapter.

 

Unfortunately, the most enduring ‘reveries’ are the shortest; those dealing with real people, the victims of the web.  A family in mourning harassed online, refugees of radiation living off the grid, and internet gaming addicts make for far more compelling subjects, perhaps deserving documentaries of their own but the lack of depth and their inclusion, often bookended by kooky sequences of robots playing football or ever so slowly twisting bottle caps off, feels like a disservice.

 

Most of the hallmarks are here, the compelling complex subject matter, the off-kilter commentary, the awkward but revealing interview silences but Herzog, an ardent and often domineering presence, seems to take a back seat in a self-driven vehicle of his own making. There’s a wealth of information to inspire further reading but the bite-sized chapters form a tenuous and sometimes trivial link, perhaps better suited if extended into a mini series format. It’s a mammoth undertaking, something Herzog is akin to, but his subject is a beast that can’t be tamed, leaving him awe-inspired but at a loss for words.

Anthony Assad

98 minutes

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Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Director Paul Heary and Producer Victor McGowan of ‘Neolithic Patchwork Quilt’

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Neolithic Patchwork Quilt introduces Herman, a husband and father of two who is coming to the end of chemotherapy. As a result of his illness, he undergoes an existential crisis. His wife, Felicia, endeavours to help him cope by practicing mindfulness. However, a tragedy involving his wife realigns Herman’s focus on what matters most.

Anthony Assad met up with writer/director Paul Heary and producer Victor McGowan ahead of the film’s screening at the Cannes Short Film Corner on 20th May.

 

Could you tell us a little about the thinking behind Neolithic Patchwork Quilt?

Paul: The patchwork quilt is meant to be a metaphor for comfort. The inspiration came from the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy world. There’s a comparison in the film between primitive life and modern life. We see a lot of comfort in the film – hospitals, cars… the comforts of civilisation. But on the other hand, we see disasters on the news;  we see a newsflash on Herman’s phone. So there’s a whole area of talk about how that can distort our view of the world, how it can cause more stress. That’s compared to a simpler primitive world, a world where we didn’t have much comfort, a world where we didn’t know what was happening outside of our own experience. We had much less stress – all we had to look after was our own environment.

There’s been some research that found that the stresses of modern life can build up the hormone cortisol in the brain which causes mental stress and anxiety and can impinge our ability to deal with situations. Mindfullness is a way of reducing cortisol levels.

 

The narrative deals with a lot of weighty themes for a short film…

Paul: Well, it went through a few drafts. During its development I was really inspired by Adaptation. With film, it’s a given that it’s a visual medium and it’s about minimal dialogue and isn’t introspective. When I saw Adaptation, it really inspired me to think outside those boundaries and go on a creative buzz. That and the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy are really the inspiration behind the film.

Victor: I got the script more or less at the final stage and that whole mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was something I was quite taken with when I read it. There’s line in the film where the therapist says to Herman no-one’s supposed to be worried about events that are happening thousands of miles away. That’s an interesting point.

 

When we’re introduced to Herman, the main character, he appears to be going through a crisis of body and mind provoked by a question mark over his health. 

Paul: His fear is natural in terms of his cancer – but again the mindfulness is meant to be cathartic for him and help him to stop worrying about things.

 

Is it safe to assume you advocate its practice?

Paul: It was the inspiration for the film – one of the scienctific theories behind it I liked was how it can physically change the brain, change the genes in your brain. .

Victor: I tried it. There’s an app called Headspace. The idea is that every day for 10 minutes you are meditating. You can have other options on the app – when you are walking you are being told how to focus on your surroundings. It’s something I’m very interested in.

 

 

 

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Interview: Jason Branagan, wri/dir of ‘Shoebox Memories’

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Written and directed by Jason Branagan, Shoebox Memories is an offbeat, musical, romcom. The indie feature tells the story of disillusioned musician and music teacher, Chris, who desperately wants to reconcile with his first love and long time girlfriend, Deb. Wallowing in self-pity after discovering she’s soon-to-be-married, his best friends, Mikey and Al, decide it’s time that Chris gets over her once and for all.

The film’s narrative is written around an album of music, which is also written by Jason, who spoke to Anthony Assad ahead of the film’s screening at the upcoming Dingle International Film Festival.
 

In terms of the film’s structure, it’s arranged episodically with chapter headings in the guise of mix-tape music tracks pre-recorded by the protagonist. What came first – the story or the songs?
 
Mainly the songs. There was an old song from way back when I wanted to be a singer/songwriter that was a dialogue between 2 people. I always wanted to use that idea to maybe write a musical or a stage play. When the idea for the film came around and we were looking at ideas for what we could shoot I had the idea of using a bunch of old songs and structuring a story around them. 6 of the songs were written long before the film and then there’s 3 of them that were written specifically for it. The reason the female lead is Emma Jane was because the song was called Emma Jane. The reason they’re broken up 3 years is because the song is called 3 years. It was an interesting way to approach trying to write a script because you have so much context and content in the songs that you are trying to work out how to fit them into a narrative.

 

It’s interesting – it’s almost like an adaptation of an album.

As it stands the film has a very linear narrative but initially in my head the idea was much more experimental. It was a film built around an album – which is still more or less what it is –  but we just found a way of making it very linear.

 

Did the actors have access to the songs in relation to each scene before shooting?

We spent longer recording the album than making the film. We recorded before we shot. Myself, Colm Gavin [who plays Chris] and a sound engineer friend of mine spent about 4 or 5 weeks in my living room recording the album. So Colm was well aware of all the music. Colm had never acted before. I wanted a musician in the role and I knew Colm through my brother who had gone to school with him. Having come from that musical background myself I felt that a singer/songwriter would hopefully be able to connect to the material and that would probably help them in scenes.

Outside of that, the rest of the actors experienced the music as we shot. Obviously, we would do multiple takes but some of the reaction in terms of when Colm plays was the first time they heard the songs. So there were very honest reactions in those moments.

 

You managed to deliver the film under a microbudget of €2,500. Some filmmakers would consider it a constraint and others believe it pushes them to succeed and think outside of the box. Where would you align yourself?

I believe that constraint leads to creativity. Of course, it’s not always the best – it can be nice to have money to fix problems. But I think it’s good to undertake something like this, even if you never do it again and you only work with bigger budgets. You’re forced to become adaptable and you have to deal with issues as they arise and to deal with them creatively because there isn’t money to throw at them. You’ve got to figure things out on the spot. I think as a director that is half your battle. Still though, I would like to do it with money!

Shoebox Memories screens on Friday 18th March as part of the Dingle International Film Festival (17 – 19 March 2016)

 

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Review: The Revenant

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DIR: Alejandro González Iñárritu • WRI: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu • PRO: Steve Golin, Alejandro González Iñárritu, David Kanter, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon, James W. Skotchdopole • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Jack Fisk • MUS: Carsten Nicolai, Ryuichi Sakamoto • CAST: Tom Hardy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Domhnall Gleeson

 

In 1823, at the edge of the new world, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) swears vengeance when one of the men of the hunting party he’d been tasked to protect abandons him alive but mortally wounded after surviving a brutal bear attack. If revenge is a dish best served cold, Alejandro G. Iñárritu offers one better, serving up a frost-ridden western that only copious amounts of blood and testosterone can cool in a riotous and riveting ode to survival.

In the uncharted wilderness of the Americas an expedition of fur traders and trappers is cut short when a tribe of Native Indians ambush their camp to plunder their precious pelts. A melee of arrows, tomahawks and bullets fly as a dizzying long take follows the carnage from foot and across horseback to capture every hack and slash in grisly detail. The up-close and personal approach of unbroken shots provides for a shell-shocking opener and a spectacular warning of the dread ahead.

The weary band of survivors escape across the water by boat but the hot-headed, half-scalped Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is fast to point a finger at Glass and son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) for failing to pre-empt the attack, sowing seeds of discord among the men. Glass remains focused and resolute, despite the doubt cast upon his abilities as a man and a father. It reveals his virtue as a character that will avoid a fight if and when he can with the gauntlet of punishment ahead laying credence to the theme that survival is a requisite of one’s strength of mind and spirit as much as body. Even when Glass is reduced to a bloody pulp after several rounds of merciless mauling by an angry mother bear, in another unrelenting long shot, his will to survive is his greatest weapon (with a little help from a well-aimed bullet and his trusty bowie knife). It betters the beast and even when left for dead drags him back to the land of the living like some vengeful ghost with unfinished business.

Henceforth, it’s a down and dirty ride fuelled by blood, sweat and tears both in front and behind the camera as Iñárritu and co. reportedly tackled harsh conditions across perilous locations, relying upon natural light alone to capture the myth and the mayhem. DiCaprio triumphs in an absorbing to-hell-and-back-again performance that may just snag that elusive Oscar. The supporting players rise to the challenge and excel in their own right, with Domhnall Glesson’s duty-bound Captain Henry and Will Poulter’s impressionable and conscience heavy Bridger adding leverage to the one-man show. The unscrupulous Fitzgerald is embodied by another wide-eyed and wild Hardy performance but the beast is cleverly kept at bay before the inevitable showdown.

At times, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography recalls the majestic vision of a Terrance Malick film (lessons learnt on The New World no doubt), such as in the slow track over a waterlogged forest as Glass and Hawk creep, rifles drawn, towards drinking elk. Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with in The Revenant, a character of its own that adds to the formidable level of realism, and the camera showcases its beauty and its brutality in equal measure. The whispery voice-over of Glass’s wife cheering him on in spirit owes again to the aforementioned oeuvre and excels in complementing Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto’s hauntingly alluring score.

Iñárritu’s Oscar follow-up is a punishing watch that pays off with captivating visuals of realistic action and adventure. The trek may tire some but fortune favours the bold after all.

 

Anthony Assad

16
156 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Revenant is released 15th January 2016

The Revenant – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Brooklyn

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DIR: John Crowley • WRI: Nick Hornby • PRO: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey • ED: Mick Mahon • DOP: Yves Bélanger • ED: Jake Roberts • MUS: Michael Brook • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Zegen

Home is where the heart is for Enniscorthy girl Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) but when she leaves Wexford to nurture a new life in New York her heart is split in two when a burgeoning romance and family ties clash in director John Crowley’s period drama Brooklyn, based on Colm Tóibin’s novel of the same name.

In 1950s Ireland, Ellis is sent across the big blue at the behest of her mother and older sister Rose to accept work proffered by family friend and Catholic priest Fr. Flood who also promises to set her up during her stay. Ellis is a mousy young woman who cuts a meagre figure on the Brooklyn bound ferry, a fish out of water floundering above and below deck with constant anxiety and seasickness. It’s not long before her travel savvy cabin mate takes pity and instructs her in everything from how to effectively negotiate shared toilet privileges on the boat to how she should present herself in the big city. When she applies lipstick to Ellis’s lithe lips we glimpse the woman she may well become after the life-changing year ahead of her.

On dry land Ellis practises, as advised, to think like an American, to walk with a purpose and to look like she knows where she’s going. Despite her obvious diffidence she pulls off the façade despite not knowing where she is going or what Brooklyn has in store for her.

Ronan inhabits the role of the naïve Ellis with aplomb and seemingly grows in stature as the narrative unfolds, like a flower opening towards the sun scene by scene. The New York of the 1950s is a little too polished in places but the detail certainly lends to the proceedings. What sticks out like a sore thumb, however, are the expressionistic flourishes that belie the understated style of the film’s source material. For example the moment Ellis crosses the threshold into the unknown is personified as a doorway awash with blinding white light that leads from the passport office to her new homestead, the entrance of which is accentuated in gratuitous slow motion. These moments, thankfully few and far between, are distracting and superfluous in an otherwise faultless set-up.

When she’s not struggling to make small talk with the fast-talking, fast-living Americans at her work in a high-end department store, Ellis passes her time slinking away from the meal time gossip fuelled by the boarding house matriarch Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters) and her yappy tenants. These comedic interludes are a welcome diversion from the main narrative seeking to highlight the sensibilities of the time with particular gusto from the players especially Cavan girl Dolores (Jenn Murray) whose skittish deer-in-the-headlights performance threatens to steal the show.

The show is a romantic one after all so before Ellis can buckle under the weight of her homesickness she meets the dark and daring Italian plumber Tony (Emory Cohen) on the lookout for Irish girls at the local ceili. The courtship that follows is suitably “aw” inducing and full of first-love festivity but once again the real delights are served around the dinner table when Ellis is introduced to Tony’s family only to be scrutinised by younger brother Frankie who’s intent upon saying the wrong thing with impeccable comic timing.

Just as everything appears to be going swimmingly (in a fetching green swimsuit no less) news from back home threatens to upset all hopes of a happy ever after. Ellis returns to Wexford the talk of the town all grown up and glamorous looking for an unfortunate visit but a new job prospect, familial duty and the advances of a convenient catch add up to what could become a permanent stay if her friends and family have their way. The tension of this quietly chaotic conundrum, were everyone seems to know Ellis’s next step before she does, elevates the conventional drama. She keeps Tony a secret and when local boy Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) enters the fray promising a comfortable life Ellis is forced to follow her heart to find her true home.

Brooklyn may capture the hearts and minds of its audience as its age-old story is lovingly crafted but its overt concern with glorifying the past in copious studio light and overwrought musical accompaniment downgrades the experience somewhat. Crowley guides us through the narrative with precision but it’s a performance-driven film and the ensemble cast, especially the chemistry between Ronan and Cohen, deserve any and all accolade.

Anthony Assad

12A

111 minutes

Brooklyn is released 6th November 2015

Brooklyn – Official Website

 

 

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Interview: Steve Gunn, director of ‘The Caller’

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Anthony Assad sat down with first-time director Steve Gunn to chat about his short film, The Caller, which screens at IndieCork. The Caller tells the story of what happens when an unemployed man receives a visit from the rent allowance inspector and things get a little too close for comfort.

 

The Caller is based on the play Fishes by David Fennelly, an actor contemporary of yours, who starred in the production as the hapless jobless Larry and reprises his role in the short adaptation. Can you tell us how you were exposed to the play and what led to your rendition of the material in The Caller?

I saw his play in Smock Alley as part of their Collaborations festival. It was a 20-minute version of what went on to be a longer play. I have always wanted to make a film; my main focus is acting but I’d always wanted to make movies. I thought I’d love to do something with the premise of Dave’s play. I loved the fact that there was 1 location with 2 characters. I approached him after the play and asked if there’s a chance he’d let me adapt it for a short film. I told him that I loved the premise – the rent inspector guy calling round to the gaff unannounced. I was on the dole years ago and I just thought that was brilliant. I’d love to take it and make a short film out of it. He was excited and thought it was a great idea. So I said I’d get a rough draft to him in 2 weeks. Three months later I woke up one day and realised it had been that long since I’d had the conversation with Dave. So I went over to the laptop and, for some reason, it all just came out. I needed to squeeze the play down into 8 minutes but I was able to kind of write it all in one go, which was great.

 

Was the screen version much different from the play?

It was different from the play, particularly the rent allowance inspector character. I knew I was going to have him call to the door, they were going to sit down, they were going to have a chat. But we go off in a different direction with his character – I wrote a monologue for him. I wasn’t really concerned where the play goes. I just needed to find a button to end it up on.

 

Was there any trepidation casting David again, considering his role in the stage production? How did he feel about someone else handling the reins and interpreting the material?

No there wasn’t. He had some screen credit under his belt. He was in Killing Bono and a few other things. I like the way he performed on stage. I like his style. I had no concerns at all really. As for me handling the reins of his personal project, when I wrote the 1st draft, which didn’t really change that much to what’s on screen, he read it and told me that he wasn’t sure about where I was going with it. And I said, ‘okay, let’s meet up and I’ll explain to you why I’m right’ [laughs]. So I met up with him and explained to him why I was right. Seriously though, the whole thing could have fallen apart at that stage. Dave could’ve dug his heels in and gone against the direction the film was going. But he is open-minded and was happy to run with it.

 

Alan Howley took on the role of the inspector, who was originally played on stage by John Doran. What happened there?

Originally, we were going to use both John and David. We were trying to nail down shooting dates. But John had a one-man show and was unavailable so I started looking to replace him with a different actor. Then it struck me that John was actually a bit young for the film version I was trying to create. I was thinking it might be more interesting with an older character there, someone who had been through his youth. Plus, I like that they’re both a certain age and are both messed-up people, which is hilarious. It worked out really well.

I’d worked with Alan on Fair City. That’s how I know him. I nearly strangled him once – he was a bit of a mouthy cab driver and I was this ex-army guy he was having a pop at; so I was able to grab him by the throat, which was fun to do! Yeh, we got on very well. He’s very practical, down-to-earth, although he’s done some crazy stuff in theatre, physical/dancing stuff . So he has a nice mix.

 

Which was perfect for this restrained official and then all hell breaks loose.

Yeh. Perfect. I was glad to get him.

 

There is a nice duality between both characters. You’re not gunning for one or the other.

Hopefully, you have sympathy for both. And that’s a credit to the actors, they flesh them out and make them human.

 

Both men are frustrated with their lives and the system that governs them.

When people are going about their business and their daily lives, a lot of the time you’ll meet their representative. There’s someone else in there that they’ll only show to their partner, family or their best friends. I think this film cuts through those layers fairly quickly. It’s kind of raw and it’s kind of primal. And that can be funny. It rips away all the conventions of how we’re supposed to behave. People like Larry David would be a big influence on me. I love that humour. What you are supposed to say and how you are supposed to act – and what happens if you don’t do that.

 

Did you find your experience as an actor afforded any advantages or insight when directing?

I’d like to think it did. I tried not to get in the way of their performances too much and, credit to the lads, they really put the work in. I tried not to over direct – but you would have to ask them if it was in any way pleasant to work with me. But I’d like to think that I try to be encouraging and supportive and not over directing.

 

Philip Graham, your director of photography, worked alongside you on The Mario Rosenstock Show. What attracted you to the idea of working with him again and for your directorial debut no less?

I’ve learnt lessons over the years being in short films and things like that. One of the most important lessons I learnt is having a really good DoP.  Sometimes you think I’m gonna save up and get a really good camera. Why not just ring up people out there who have already done that. Philip is a legend. When I worked with him before I loved the way he was lighting stuff. When I sent a message to see if he would be interested I didn’t think he would have time. But he did. I might have caught him at a good moment because he’s very busy, often back and forth between here and England where he does a lot of work. He does a lot of TV stuff but he is really into drama. So, when I met him he was excited about the idea. I wanted it to be shot really well and I wanted it to look like a movie. I knew he would be able to do that. He was great to work with.

 

You also had Tom Lane on board doing the music.

His work really lifts the film as well. I basically met him at a party. I knew he did what he did. I told him I’d just made this short film and asked could I send it to him and see if he wanted to put music to it. Thankfully, he said yes. I told him I was thinking cellos, like in Mike Leigh. When the film opens he’s walking down the street and you hear these cellos… it gives it a sort of seriousness… a bit of Mike Leighishness! But then he does this brilliant thing at the end, which is where he brings in other instruments around that cello melody. And there’s a sense of peace. It’s just a gorgeous piece of music.

 

The film went on to premiere at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh and was selected to screen in the Underground Cinema Film Festival with a nomination for best comedy. I’m sure you’re used to seeing yourself on screen but how does it feel seeing something you’ve directed doing the rounds?

It’s amazing and a little nerve-wracking and exciting. I can’t speak highly enough of the experience. It’s like when you’re on stage and it’s opening-night. There’s a moment when you can feel the audience lock into the story and that’s a great feeling, you know you’re onto something. I love the relationship between an audience and a play or a film. I’ve seen it twice now with an audience – in Galway and in Dun Laoghaire. What’s great about it is that there might be a bit of a titter and then a bit of a laugh. And then, on both occasions, there were some great big laughs and that’s amazing – to make people laugh – you feel both relieved and excited.

 

You founded your own production company, Barren Lands, to produce the film. Do you have anything else on your slate for next year perhaps? Are you planning on directing again?

I would like to direct again but I’ve nothing planned. I’m busy with the soap, which is good. I made this film with the hope that I might get a little bit of money to make the next one –  but I haven’t sat down and set things in motion yet. But that’s my plan.

 

The Caller screens on Friday, 9th October 2015 in Programme 3 of the Irish Shorts at IndieCork Festival (4 – 11 October 2015)

 

You can download the 2015 IndieCork festival programme here

 

 

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