Interview: Macdara Kelleher, producer of ‘Life’s a Breeze’

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Life’s a Breeze is a feel-good “recession comedy” about a family struggling to stay afloat and stay together through hard times in Ireland. Directed by Lance Daly, the film stars Pat Shortt as unemployed slacker Colm, Fionnula Flanagan as his aging mother Nan, and Kelly Thornton as his niece Emma, who must overcome their many differences to lead their family in a race against time to find a lost fortune.

The film is an Irish-Swedish coproduction between Fastnet Films and Anagram Produktions. Macdara Kelleher is one of the co-founders of the Dublin-based production company Fastnet Films with Morgan Bushe and director Lance Daly. Film Ireland caught up with Macdara to find out about how Life’s a Breeze came together.

 

How did the idea originally come about?

It was inspired by a newspaper clipping about a woman who threw out her own life savings by mistake. We thought it was a nice starting point for a movie and it went from there. We took that element and developed it into the idea of what would happen if it became a national story with the whole country out looking for this lost fortune. The story follows a struggling family and, considering everything that has happened with the bank bailout and the current recession we are experiencing, it felt like it could be something quite timely. But we didn’t want to make something too depressing, as there’s a lot of doom and gloom in the papers on pretty much a daily basis. So we decided to make a comedy but its very honest and has a real heart to it, so it I think it ends up staying with you a lot longer than you would expect.

You’ve worked with Lance Daly on almost all his films. How has that relationship developed over the years?

We are basically Statler and Waldorf from the Muppet Show or Walter Matthau and George Burns in The Sunshine Boys. In short, it’s a perfect match.

It’s an ensemble comedy with a great cast – but Kelly Thornton, who won the New Talent Award in Galway, really stands out as a talent to watch. How was the process of casting her? As a new actor how did she fit in on a film set with so many established actors?

Kelly is an incredible young actress. She got on so well with the other actors right from the beginning because they all recognised her talent and responded to that. Also Lance has a amazing ability with young actors to illicit almost impossibly brilliant performances from them, making them seem somehow wise beyond their years and their performances feel completely real in every frame. The casting process, when you are casting kids who have usually not acted before, is a lengthy one – you want to leave no stone unturned. And to go into the detail of it here would take a long time, but essentially it’s the same process we used for Kisses. In this case however, all the schools were closed for summer so we sent an incredible woman (Hilary McCarthy) out onto the streets of Dublin, to summer schools, drama groups and so on, with a mission to find someone with that certain spark that makes a great actor. And she did.

Pat Shortt and Fionnula Flanagan are both great actors in very different ways, but they are always busy. What do you think attracted them to this project?

It always starts with a good script which they were both drawn to and the chance to work with Lance, knowing the kind of performances he gets from his cast.

Then in Pat’s case, I think that he is a really great actor. And he’s been in a lot of movies. But before Garage he wasn’t really thought of as a serious actor – more a great comic one. So he surprised a lot of people. His character Colm in Life’s a Breeze, combines his brilliant comic timing with his ability to play it serious and that’s what the role required. Also his character is a bit of a rascal at the best of times and he tends to put himself first, so you really need an actor that people warm. The worse he is, the more you’re rooting for him – and that’s Pat – people really love him.

In the case of Fionnula, in truth, it’s not very often that a really great part comes along for an older actress where they are front and centre, as opposed to supporting cast and I think she jumped at the chance to play this part. The film was a real opportunity for her to play a character that drives the story, along with Pat and Kelly’s characters and something different to what she’s played in the past. It’s a complex part and that really shows in her brilliant performance. Also it afforded her the opportunity to play someone who is still quite a bit older than she is in real life and this represented an interesting challenge (2hrs of ageing make up everyday…). As a portrayal of someone in their eighties it’s very interesting and at times heartbreaking; because here is a character who still has fire in her belly and a sparkle in her eye, but it’s very easy for people to dismiss the older generation and the film, in its quieter moments, is a touching reflection on this.

It’s important to get the dynamic right on such a large ensemble comedy. How did you work on that for this film?

We agonised long and hard over this and tried to really cast a family that you would believe could be related in real life and I think we achieved this. Nick McGinley, our casting director, played a key role in this. Ultimately if you cast the right actors for the right part, people will believe it – like The Commitments or The Snapper – you just never question it. But also it comes down to the writing and Lance really understands how to write a believable family dynamic.

How long was the project in development, and what were the major changes to the film over that period?

It was probably a year and a half in development from when Lance first gave me the script to when we started shooting. Not much changed – the script, when he first gave it to me, was quite fully formed – maybe we added a few more laughs here and there – I probably pushed for a laugh at the end – Lance probably wanted to send people out at the end thinking about something deeper. Any other changes that came were in the edit, where we brought the rest of the family into the story more, because that’s really where it’s heart was at – its about family and how you should always stick together through good times and bad.

You’ve recently set up a distribution company, Wildcard Distribution, who are handling the release of the film with over 40 prints. That’s a very big release for Ireland and the first big release for Wildcard. Can you outline your plans for the release and for getting the audience to go see it?

We’ve used all the traditional methods for the publicity campaign, which includes advertising methods like television and radio, making the cast from the film available for interviews in national and regional media. Patrick O’ Neill, who runs Wildcard Distribution, came up with some great ideas in addition to this, working with a number of promotional partners in the run-up to the release that were involved in the film, such as Greenstar Recycling, and Four Star Pizza – both of which organised competitions that involved direct marketing and mixed this with online and social media advertising and other tie-ins.

We focused on regional audiences just as much as in the major cities based on Pat Shortt’s nationwide appeal and also the fact that film deals with subjects that are in the national interest. The film is meant for a wide audience that also doesn’t alienate an older audience the way a lot of mainstream Hollywood movies might, hence the 40 print release. We partnered with iRadio which are based out of Athlone, and a lot of the first run cinemas for the film are outside of Dublin. We will also be working with Access Cinema and the Cinemobile later in the release to bring the film to audiences without access to a local cinema.

So the only thing that could stop us is a heatwave, but what are the odds of that…

What are the plans for international release?

We will premiere at an international festival – though I can’t say where just yet. And the international release we develop out of that.

What are your personal favourite scenes from the film?

There are two moments I think.There are are lot of laughs in the film, but the scene just after the family have played a huge practical joke on Pat Shortt and are all laughing at him standing there, topless, covered in shaving foam. He gives this little heartbreaking speech about not wanting to be a total loser living with his mother all his life. The other is this incredible scene we shot on the top of Bolands Mills, this crumbling old building on the canal basin, a memory of a bygone era, now owed by NAMA for all it’s worth – which is not much – a reminder of all that folly. With the Aviva stadium in the background a further reminder of the boom times. Kelly’s character goes out onto the roof at dusk and you see a 360° view of Dublin, in all it’s dirty old town glory, and you can forget for a second that the country is banjaxed – it’s a little bit of magic.

What were the most challenging parts of the film to complete?

Well we filmed on some pretty glamorous locations which included dumps and landfills on the outskirts of Dublin in the depths of winter, which definitely provided some unique challenges.

Fastnet has a great track record now in working across a very diverse range of films. Do you have a personal preference for the types of films Fastnet should be making? Any favourites from the back catalogue, and why?

As filmmakers we are really focused on working with talent – be that writers, directors, cast  – and that drives our decisions. Outside of our own films, if I was to make a wishlist of the type of films we’d like to make I’d be listing films like Let The Right One In, Gomorrah, A Prophet, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hunt. All of which are great films that are director-driven. They happen to have a genre element to them but that is almost secondary to the fact that they are just great films with a unique voice. That is what interests us. In terms of our own films, there are many films that I am really proud of, but I think Kisses probably stands out for me as the one that has a special place in my heart. Its ability to move people is the reason I started making films. I’ve seen the film maybe fifty times and travelled all over the world with it. But every time I’ve watched it with an audience I’ve gotten a different perspective on it. Probably my favourite screening was at a cinema in Les Arcs for about five hundred French kids aged between 10-14. It was a really incredible experience to see these kids watch the film and understand it and love it. The energy in the theatre was just remarkable and it has stayed with me to this day.

Yourself, Morgan Bushe and Conor Barry, who all produce through Fastnet, have all been nominated as Ireland’s Producers on the Move at Cannes. How does that help you in developing your careers as a producer?

It’s just a really good network, bringing together young European producers. I think we’ve all gotten something useful from it. From my own perspective it helped finance a number of our films, like The Runway and The Other Side of Sleep, and I’ve continued to work with producers whom I established a relationship with there.

Life’s a Breeze opens in cinemas Friday, 19th July 2013

Click here for an interview with Kelly Thornton, star of Life’s a Breeze

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Fastnet Films’ Morgan Bushe Selected among Producers on the Move

 

Morgan Bushe of Fastnet Films has been selected by the Irish Film Board to take part in European Film Promotion’s (EFP) Cannes-based programme Producers on the Move – a group of 25 dynamic and handpicked producers from across Europe who will take part in EFP’s networking platform between 19 – 22 May during the Cannes International Film Festival (16 – 27May) – some with films in the festival’s sections. For the first time, EFP will be welcoming a producer from Georgia, its youngest member country. In its 13th year, Producers on the Move is again financially backed by the MEDIA Programme of the European Union and the participating EFP member organisations.

Bushe is currently in post-production on Andrew Gallimore’s Gentleman Prizefighter and Brendan Muldowney’s Love Eternal.

Click here for the full list of producers.

 

 

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Film Ireland 137 Summer 2011: Interview with Rebecca Daly

With The Other Side of Sleep going on release from March 15th, Film Ireland’s Amanda Spencer caught up with director Rebecca Daly before her debut feature screened at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2011.  This interview originally appeared in Film Ireland 137 Summer 2011.

 

 

Sensitively directed and stunningly photographed, The Other Side of Sleep is on its way to Cannes. The film, which is Daly’s feature directorial debut, follows the success of her short films, Joyriders and Hum and is produced by Morgan Bushe and Macdara Kelleher of Fastnet Films.

 

Co-written with Daly’s writing partner Glenn Montgomery, the film follows Arlene, a young woman who struggles to decipher between the real and the imagined after a local murder stirs up old grief. Her sense of reality is challenged as sleep deprivation and raw emotion compete and draw her into further disarray. In the telling of a big story, Daly hasn’t forgotten small touches. It’s this light hand that makes The Other Side of Sleep a really superb debut feature and as the film wings its way to Cannes, I caught up with Rebecca.

 

What inspired the story for The Other Side of Sleep?

 

It started with a newspaper article about a young woman whose body was discovered wrapped in a duvet in a shopping centre car park in Northern Ireland. What struck me about the article was the way in which the journalist had accumulated lots of different anecdotes about the dead woman from various sources – and how these stories contradicted each other, making it impossible to establish the truth about this girl’s life.

 

In the earliest treatments the film’s protagonist was the dead girl but as it evolved we became interested in exploring the situation through a person unconnected to the victim. Arlene became our focus and we were looking at the various experiences of shock and grief within the story through her very particular viewpoint. I can’t remember when the sleepwalking element entered the story but this really fascinated us: that a person could be active or acted upon but not conscious – throwing up complications of responsibility – and have no memory of what happened once awake again.

 

Where did you meet Glenn, your writing partner? Had you written a feature together before? If not, was it a very different process?

 

We met studying Drama in Trinity years ago. We wrote my first short Joyriders together and had developed another very low-budget feature idea but ultimately both of us felt stronger about The Other Side of Sleep. Glenn and I have different strengths as writers, which seems to work well. Also, we have a bit of a laugh together, which can be really helpful in an intensive writing process, I think.

As the project was selected for the Cannes Résidence du Festival programme, I got to do a chunk of the writing there and then we would get together talk about structure etc., and redraft. It wasn’t often that the two of us would sit in front of the computer and try and write together, we would rather discuss and then I’d do a draft or he would – or sometimes we’d take sections. The script went through many drafts. It was a constant filtration process as we had so many ideas that we wanted to explore in the beginning that we kept having to select from or cut down – this continued to be the process through the making of the film; keeping a handle on the themes and ideas and deciding what was essential and trying to make sure I kept the audience focused on what was important.

 

 

Why was the Midlands chosen to locate the story?

 

My family is from the Midlands so it’s a region I am really familiar with. It has a particular atmosphere that I thought would work for the film – visually also I wanted a pretty worn look and so it was great to be able to shoot it in a region that hadn’t been too affected by the Celtic Tiger.

 

 

Thinking back, how did you view the opportunity to direct your first feature – all guns blazing or were you a little apprehensive? Did the Cannes residence programme better equip you, do you think?

 

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to make this film. Of course making a feature is a pretty big leap in terms of the demands it puts on the director. It can be daunting at times, but it’s such a great opportunity. Mainly, I was really excited to be able to do it. The Résidence was a brilliant space to write the film in – really this is the main purpose of it. And I was living with five other directors, some of whom had already made their first feature, so this was inspiring in itself.

 

Shooting your first feature, did you feel your role as director was better supported, coming from shorts where often there isn’t as strict a division of labour?

 

I think that, like in shorts, in low-budget feature filmmaking the division of labour still isn’t that strict. Maybe it’s the job of the director to delineate this at times when it’s not clear. Honestly, for me one of the most difficult aspects was establishing these lines, for myself as much as anyone else – I learned a lot from this experience.

 

Had you worked with the key crew before?

 

No, actually. When I met potential crew obviously I wanted to see how they ‘got’ the script – especially how they responded to and picked up on the detail within it – as that for me is a very important aspect in the maintaining the style and also building the narrative of the film, from small textural details. I had worked with my editor, Halina Daugird, on my last short so this gave us a great shorthand when it came to the edit.

 

The casting for the film is really perfect. Did you get to spend ample time with the actors before shooting?

 

For me the actors are my key focus in making the film. The casting was pretty complicated in that the cast is a combination of five professional actors with the rest being non-professionals that we found through open castings in the area. It was important to find the right balance with them; that the acting level and pitch of the non-professional and professional actors would fit. I wanted to create a tone, a kind of naturalism and to keep in mind that in the course of the film some of the key characters are in shock. I wanted to capture that sense of helplessness, paralysis and desperation, a kind of unbearable powerlessness in their means of expression.

I made sure to have as much time with them as possible in advance of the shoot where we explored the key characters as real people with history and context and tried to find ways, particularly for the non-professional actors, to access and identify with the experience of the characters. We looked at the details of specific moments in their pasts as I thought if they could have a vivid picture of certain incidents – it could build up a kind of imagined memory for the character that they could tap in to. Antonia came down to the Midlands two weeks before the shoot – we decided that it was important for her to immerse herself in the world, so she effectively lived as Arlene for the two weeks prior to the shoot. With Arlene it was important to find her way of expressing herself as a product of her past and her lack of understanding of it.

 

The film is funded from a few different sources, which is increasingly common. What was your experience of that?

 

I’m not sure how it would be possible to fund this budget level without the mechanism of co-production. It seems to work really well. Also, it meant we worked with some key personnel from the co-production countries which I think was a great experience for everyone.

 

Is there a scene that is particularly special for you? Why?

 

My favourite scenes are towards the end of the film – so I probably shouldn’t spoil them… One that stands out for me is the scene in which Arlene works late in the factory and she is disturbed by Bill. I really like what her laughter does here in terms of contrast within her character and also what it does to the tension of the film. People watching the film usually laugh at this point, which is kind of strange in the context of the whole film. I like that.

 

Are you working on other scripts? What’s next for you?

 

I’m researching a couple of books that I am interested in adapting for the screen plus Glenn and I have a few ideas that we are discussing. I really want to find something that hooks me like The Other Side of Sleep did – it takes so long to make a film that the challenge is to still be interested in it by the end of the process.

Amanda Spencer

This interview originally appeared in Film Ireland 137 Summer 2011.

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Rebecca Daly’s ‘The Other Side of Sleep’ goes on cinema release

 

The Other Side of Sleep, the directorial debut by Irish filmmaker Rebecca Daly is released in selected cinemas nationwide 16th March  with previews in the IFI Dublin on 15th March .

The Other Side of Sleep is an acclaimed debut feature by Irish filmmaker Rebecca Daly that features a powerful and compelling performance from Antonia Campbell-Hughes, one of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival’s Shooting Stars award recipients.

This hotly-anticipated suspense drama made history at its World Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 as it was the first film directed by an Irish woman to be selected for inclusion in the Festival. The film, produced by Fastnet Films, also screened in competition at the Toronto International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Director, Best Actress and Best Cinematography at the Irish Film and Television Awards.

A sleepwalker since childhood, Arlene works in the local factory of the small Irish rural town she grew up in. When a young woman is found dead in the woods, echoes of the past inexorably draw Arlene towards the tragedy. She becomes close to the victim’s grieving sister (Vicky Joyce) and family while at the same time finding herself entangled with the woman’s teenage lover (newcomer Sam Keeley) also the main suspect in the murder.   Barricading herself in at night, afraid to sleep, Arlene’s sleeping and waking realities soon blur, as the community searches for someone to blame..

Film Ireland’s Amanda Spencer talks to director Rebecca Daly in Film Ireland 137 Summer 2011.

Follow The Other Side of Sleep on Facebook.

On Twitter  @SideOfSleep

 

Dublin: The Irish Film Institute 15th – 29th March
  Cineworld 16th – 22nd March
     
Cork Triskel Cinema 18th – 22nd March
     
Galway Eye Cinema 16th – 22nd March
     
Letterkenny Century Cinema 16th – 22nd March
     
Offaly Birr Theatre 16th & 17th March @ 20:00pm
 
Belfast Queens Film Theatre 13th – 16th April
 
Leitrim Carrick Cinemplex 20th – 26th April
 

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Fastnet Films at the IFI

A season of Fastnet Films at the IFI with special guests including Jim Sheridan, Lance Daly, Rebecca Daly and Stephen Rea. Dublin-based Fastnet Films, consisting of producers Macdara Kelleher and Morgan Bushe, plus director Lance Daly, are at the forefront of an exciting new wave of Irish cinema; overseeing noteworthy features, television programmes and shorts at a dizzying rate.

In the process, Fastnet Films are nurturing a stable of remarkable home-grown talent, like filmmakers Rebecca Daly, Andrew Legge, Ross McDonnell and Lance Daly himself, while also participating in many European co-productions. In a few short years they’ve enjoyed both critical and box-office success, been feted at Toronto, Tribeca and Cannes, and bagged numerous international awards.

The IFI are marking the 16th March release of Fastnet Films’ The Other Side of Sleep by Rebecca Daly, a hit at Cannes in 2011, with a season from Fastnet’s already formidable body of work. Fastnet Film’s rise to prominence was confirmed in 2008 with the arrival of Lance Daly’s Kisses. This small, perfectly formed story of two misbegotten suburban teens, Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (Kelly O’Neill) and their Dublin misadventures is infused with magic realism and much charm.

Leading Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan will interview director Lance Daly in a post-screening Q&A. Fastnet’s Circus Fantasticus is a surreal, dialogue-free, Irish Slovenian co-production by Janez Burger and an ode to the transcendence of entertainment. Set in an unnamed desolate Balkan war zone, a family struggles to survive after the murder of their civilian mother. Then one night they’re paid a visit by a mysterious travelling circus troupe and suddenly it’s magic time!

The Fastnet Films season also includes the first Irish-Hungarian co-production, The Investigator, a droll, clever neo-noir in which an amateur detective investigates a murder he himself committed. Stephen Rea offers one of his finest screen performances in Polish filmmaker Urszula Antoniak’s meditative two-hander Nothing Personal, set amid the wilds of Connemara. A solitary widower (Rea) offers a safe haven to a grieving Dutchwoman (Lotte Verbeek) on the understanding that any meaningful relationship is off-limits. Stephen Rea will introduce the screening.

Along with dramatic successes, Fastnet Films has also been part of the resurgence of Irish documentary making that has taken place over the past few years. Ross McDonnell’s Colony investigates the mysterious collapse of bee colonies that is taking place across the Western World, and highlights the crucial and increasingly industrialised role of bees in producing our food.

Andrew Gallimore’s Babyface Goes to Hollywood follows forgotten Irish boxing legend Jimmy McLarnin, aka ‘The Babyfaced Assassin’, who battled his way to fortune (and a heap of controversy) from his humble beginnings in County Down in the 1940s.

With each feature length screening there is an accompanying short film from Fastnet Film’s impressive catalogue.

Tickets will be available from the 27th February from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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Irish co-production Silent Sonata gets Oscar® nod

Silent Sonata

Co-producedby Fastnet Films Silent Sonata has been submitted as Slovenia’s 2012 Foreign Language Oscar® submission.

The film, directed by Janez Burger, was partially filmed in Co Mayo, and include Conor Barry,Morgan Bushe and Macdara Kelleher among its producers. Staragara are the Slovenian producers.

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‘Colony’ exclusively released at IFI

New Irish documentary, Colony, will be exclusively released at the IFI from July 23rd with co-director Ross McDonnell present to take part in a Q&A after the opening night screening.

Highlighting the collapse of global honeybee populations due to the little-understood Colony Collapse Disorder; Colony is Dubliner Ross McDonnell and Brooklyn-based Carter Gunn’s debut documentary, for Fastnet Films.

Tickets are available from the IFI Box Office in person, telephone 01 679 3477, or online at www.ifi.ie

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