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 is a tremendously entertaining portrayal of a man who refused to let 1970s Belfast be defined solely by violence. Terri Hooley was the godfather of the Belfast punk scene and the film illustrates brilliantly the huge contribution of Northern Irish bands to punk music of the ’70s and ‘80s. The film oozes authenticity, from the superb acting, right down to the wallpaper in Terri’s record shop. The filmmakers have captured the spirit of the ‘Alternative Ulster’ that Terri and his punk cohorts dreamed of. I caught up with directors Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa to discuss how they achieved this.
How did the project come about?
Glen:The project has been talked about for a long time, the writers, Glenn Patterson and Colin Carberry, had started writing it around ten years ago. At that time we all knew each other, but Lisa and I hadn’t directed yet. We didn’t really hear much more about it for a few years. Then, around the time we had finished our first feature, Cherrybomb , Colin brought a treatment to Lisa. It just clicked with us and we thought it would be a great script to have as our next project. We knew the legend of Terri from living in Belfast for so long, he’s very well known in the city and there are so many great ‘Terri stories’.
What interested you about the story?
Lisa:One of the things that drew us to the film was the fact that it was a story set during the Troubles, but it wasn’t about the Troubles, the violence was more of a backdrop. All the movies we’d seen about this time were about the sectarian division, but of course there were so many other stories happening during this period that hadn’t been put onscreen. There have been lots of great films about the Troubles, but that wasn’t what we wanted to do. From the very beginning this seemed like an alternative story of those times, it’s about people trying to live in a different way. There were lots of people like Terri who loved Belfast, but didn’t want to accept the version of the city that the Troubles offered. The film is a kind of celebration of that spirit. Also the script was brilliantly written, the dark, surreal comedy and tone was there from the beginning. Terri is a great storyteller and he was this kind of colourful, explosive force in the middle of these grey, violent streets. For that reason, it always felt like it needed a telling that was a bit larger than life.
Glen:Yeah, we always believed that it had to be done in a kind of vivid and vibrant sort of way. So much of this film was about seeing things differently, as we joked on set, like seeing the world through Terri’s glass eye.
You did an amazing job of recreating the 70s, how did you approach this?
Glen: It was a huge challenge, especially for the amount of money we had, it was a big job for all the departments. Derek Wallace,the designer, and all the people involved did a really great job, they really worked miracles for such little money.
Lisa:We wanted it to feel real, not the sort of cartoon seventies that has been done before. The detail that they came up with was incredible. You could really see this with the recreation of the Good Vibrations record shop. When Terri and his family visited the set, they all said it really felt like the original shop. That was great for us, to be able to work in that space and know that it felt like the real thing.
Glen:Another thing that was to our advantage was that the period of the story was so well documented. There were probably more cameras pointed at Belfast than anywhere else in the world at the time. So there was a huge amount of photography and archive footage that we were constantly trying to feed back into the film. We worked a lot with those reference points.
You also used archive footage very cleverly. How did you find working with this medium?
Glen:From the early stages we knew we wanted to use archive, it was a case of widening the world and showing Belfast as it was. In the edit we kind of thought of the film as a sort of punk fanzine; if you needed something you would just cut it out and stick it in. It was that kind of cut and paste feel. Another important issue, was trying to establish Terri’s vision, so that it didn’t feel tagged on – it was part of how Terri saw his world.
Lisa: Truth be told, we didn’t know how we were going to use the archive before the edit. We always felt we wanted to make the film in a sort of punk spirit, and this allowed us to be a bit more free with how we laid out the narrative. We had a lot of help from the BBC and we spent about four solid days looking through their archive footage. Then we spent a lot of time working very organically fitting the clips in with the rest of film.
I know you probably get asked this all the time, but how does your dynamic work as a team of two directors?
Glen: Yeah we do get asked that a lot, but it’s alright, don’t worry [laughs]. The thing about it is, we both do everything. The key, as with any direction, is preparation. In prep, we work in tandem. When it comes to being on set, we’re very aware that people want one voice, especially actors. So Lisa would work more closely with the actors and I would work mostly with the camera and art departments. If anyone visited us on set, it would probably look like our jobs are quite separate, but actually they’re not.
Lisa: Because we’ve worked together for so long, we trust each other to make decisions that will be in keeping with the overall vision of the film.
Glen:Yeah, some people might think that it would slow things down a lot because we’d be endlessly discussing things, but in fact I think it really speeds up the process.
There’s a scene in which a crowd pack out the Ulster Hall for a Good Vibrations fundraiser? How did you achieve this on such a small budget?
Lisa: In the script they talk about having two thousand people at the gig. We never thought in a million years we’d get that amount of people. We actually talked long and hard about using CGI and crowd replication for that scene. Then we talked to the guys from Snow Patrol who know Terri and were great supporters of the film. They offered to come and play a little acoustic gig for us and asked their fans to come and be extras for us. Within hours we were just overrun with people dressed in punk and seventies ‘70s gear wanting to be in the film.
Glen: We were very lucky that the crowd reactions are so authentic because it was a real, excited crowd. And it was very emotional, shooting in the place where the real concert took place thirty years before.
Good Vibrations is in cinemas now