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 co–production 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