With Sinister 2 directed by Ireland’s own Ciarán Foy out in cinemas now, as well as Irish horror The Hallow coming out in November, Deirdre Molumby talks to film editor Tony Kearns (Citadel, Let Us Prey, Charlie Casanova) about the horror genre, the Irish film industry, and what his work entails.
What do you think is the current state of Irish horror?
It is a growing sector of film production in Ireland thanks to people like John McDonnell and Brendan McCarthy of Fantastic Films [the co-producers of Let Us Prey] who specialize in the horror genre. It has also become less of a guilty pleasure among film makers, especially those who grew up enjoying the classic horror films of the ’80s and ’90s.
I have observed that the younger generation of directors and producers are very keen to make their own stabs – if you’ll forgive the pun – at the genre. Another factor is the store of ancient nature based myths ad superstitions in Irish culture that provide fertile material for horror stories such as Corin Hardy’s The Hallow which was completed recently.
One of the benefits of editing Citadel [dir: Ciarán Foy] and Let Us Prey [dir: Brian O’Malley] is that I have become aware of the huge global community of horror fans as seen in the multitude of websites and film festivals dedicated to the genre, and this has been feeding back into the film culture and community in Ireland. Seriously, you would not believe how many horror movie websites there are out there.
What do you personally like about the genre?
I love films with deeply unsettling atmospheres of dread and terror which play into and feed on the darkest parts of the viewer’s psyche that scares the bejesus out of you at judicious moments. An example would be John Carpenter’s The Thing. There is very little blood and guts in Citadel and the tension and horror is centred around the main character’s agoraphobia after a vicious attack on his wife. I’m not into gratuitous gore as such and I am turned off by torture porn. Yuk.
What makes a successful horror movie editor?
It’s the same for any genre or type of feature film really – the ability to craft a compelling film that tells the story well, that brings out the best performances from the actors and that reshapes the film if necessary to achieve a better outcome. Furthermore, a good editor has to be able to keep in mind the effect of the film on the general viewer who experiences it for the first time even though he or she will have become incredibly familiar with every frame by the time they’re finished the edit. You have to create something that engages the audience and keeps them there, regardless of what type of film it is. If you’re editing a horror film, it helps not to be squeamish; you need an iron stomach and a sense of humour.
When you start editing, do you stick to the script and storyboard or is there much room for interpretation?
I work off the rushes, initially editing scene by scene after reading the script to check I’m not missing a line here or there. I never work from storyboards because I’m looking at the shots on the screen; generally I’m never given them anyway. There’s always room for interpretation, for example, you could have a number of angled shots for a scene but you could end up using only one in the final edit. Scenes are frequently dropped or put in a different part of the story than in the script. Once it has been filmed with flesh and blood actors the film gains a new and vibrant life which gives me a wealth of options to explore.
What have been some of the greater challenges in your line of work?
Getting Martin Scorsese to return my calls. Otherwise, working under tight budgets and tight schedules. We’re all miracle workers here.
Whether it provoked screaming or nail-biting suspense, is there a scene you worked on that are particularly proud of and how did you cut it?
There is an interrogation scene in Let Us Prey between Liam Cunningham’s character and the police sergeant played by Douglas Russell that I feel very satisfied with as it is the first real inkling of the dread to come. Big, unforgiving close ups and terrific performances create a wonderful, tense atmosphere. As for how I cut it? You want my secrets as well?
Your most recent work was in Let Us Prey – what was your experience of that production?
It was a great experience to work with Brian O’Malley as he is a good friend and we have worked on many commercials and two short films, Screwback and Crossing Salween, over the past fourteen years or so. We have a great intuitive understanding of each other so it made the editing process an enjoyable one. I also loved sourcing and mixing the temp music and sound FX which gave the composer Steve Lynch and the sound mixer Richie Naughten a base from which to do their own marvellous work. It was also a great pleasure to look at the luscious work by the DOP Piers McGrail.
What is next in the pipeline for you?
I’m currently editing a coming of age comedy set in Scotland called Moondogs, which is directed by Philip John (Downton Abbey, Outlander). At the time of this interview, I’m in Glasgow assembling scenes during the shoot and will continue editing in Egg in Dublin once the filming has been wrapped. That’ll keep me off the streets for a while at least.