Interview: Irish Women in Film Series: Rita-Marie Lawlor

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Continuing the series Irish Women in Film, Caroline Farrell interviews Rita-Marie Lawlor.

Rita-Marie Lawlor is an independent filmmaker from Dublin. She set up her independent film company RML Films in 2005 and made several TV pilots, short films and features, including A Scare, Less Ordinary and Remember Me? Rita-Marie’s documentary, Gloves and Glory, is currently in production, and focuses on female boxing in Ireland. She is also prepping a new feature script while getting ready to take on a Masters Degree in screenwriting at IADT in Dun Laoghaire this coming October.

First question, Rita-Marie, how and why did you get started in the business? 

I wanted to be involved with film since childhood. I began writing at 11 years old in 1989 and by the time I was a teenager I was sending my works off to production companies. It was later in life (24) when I went to film school for two years and it was a great move. I learned a lot more on how to format scripts and break them down for directing scenes and how to work with actors too. Pretty much for most of my life it has been my desire, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

Which film school did you attend? 

I studied full-time in Colaiste Dhulaigh and graduated with a B TEC HND in film production. I was awarded a distinction in directing and producing along with a Best Film Award.

Seminal influences?

I’m a big fan of Shane Meadows, Martin Scorsese and Jim Sheridan. I love the way Mike Leigh develops his ideas with the actors. In TV writing it would be Jimmy McGovern, Kay Mellor, John Sullivan and Amy Jenkins.

If you were to imagine a fantasy dinner party,  name six people, living or dead, that you would love to have around your dinner table.

Jimi Hendrix for the guitar, Janis Joplin for the singing – followed by a chat over a whiskey. Martin Scorsese, Samuel Beckett, Emma Restall Orr and Daniel Day-Lewis. A diverse bunch with lots of stories – would definitely be an inspiration for a great film script!

What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?

I am happy to see that there are lots of independent filmmakers in Ireland who are out there making films regardless if they are getting proper funding or not. Years ago it was more difficult, filmmakers really needed a lot of money, but now you can hire great equipment or invest in it and make films. I would like to see more Irish drama though, a lot of films lately are a bit the same to be honest. Lots of zombie films, gangster/action films and others in that genre – not that there is anything wrong with making those type of films but personally I love a great story with lots of reversals and clever writing with brilliant actors. There’s nothing like watching a good old-fashioned quality drama unfold, something that you’d still be talking about months after you’ve seen it and to be inspired by it. I think Charlie Casanova is the only Irish film within the last few years that has had an impact, nothing like it was ever made before – certainly not in Ireland anyway. I think filmmakers need to tap into this style of filmmaking more, be daring but be clever about it too.  I think certain Irish film festivals should be more supportive of the unfunded films, some of them seem to only screen films that are Film Board/Filmbase funded which doesn’t seem fair. I know of a few really great films that didn’t get into the Galway Fleadh this year, which is a shame.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?  

Having the privilege of working with great actors. Having my films screened at festivals is always a highlight for me and having them screened on TV too.  I’ve had one of my films screened on English, Australian and New Zealand TV channels, so I’m hoping the same will happen for my other ones.

And your ultimate goal?

To keep making films and to make my singular voice heard rather than doing it for the money. Plain and simple really, just to be successful in what I do and for people to like what I write and what I create. I wouldn’t mind a cinema release for one of my films in the future – now that would be pretty nice!

What advice would you offer to Newbies?

To remember why you wanted to be a filmmaker in the first place. Be original and be inspired – but don’t copy.  Make your own creative voice heard, regardless of what everyone else thinks. Stick to your own ideas and write what you know, embrace good actors when directing and watch what unfolds – it will be more rewarding than a big cheque.  Watch over rushes as soon as you can get them, rather than waiting until the film’s wrapped – learn to spot disasters before they happen and don’t leave everything to be fixed in the edit – fix it on set and have a good AD!  Treat the cast and crew with respect, especially if there is no money involved.  Make sure there’s plenty of food and taxi/train fare, and treat them well.  You have to remember that they are working long hard hours and giving up their time for YOUR film – so always remember that, and of course give them a copy of the finished piece.

Thanks, Rita-Marie! Any final comments you would like to add?

It’s tough going, long days and long nights. But you have to enjoy it and when you see your idea going from talking about it – to script – to shooting – to editing – and then to a cinema screen – nothing can explain how special and rewarding that feels.

You can check out Rita-Marie’s Facebook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RML-Films/147668425244609

Caroline Farrell is an author and screenwriter:
 
Check Caroline’s Time Standing Still, her collection of short stories at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/46613
Follow Caroline on twitter https://twitter.com/CarolineAuthor
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Interview: Irish Women in Film Series – Eilis Mernagh

 

In the start of a new series Caroline Farrell interviews a selection of Irish Women in Film, beginning with Eilis Mernagh.

The first lady to be featured in this series is prolific screenwriter and producer, Eilis Mernagh. Eilis is the writer and co-producer of Tiger [2012], a short thriller directed by Cathal Nally.  She also produced the short film, Prodigal Son [2010], written and directed by Colin Scuffins. Her short film, Regards to the Chef [2009], directed by Kian and Ewen Pettit, was featured in the Darklight feature production, Hotel Darklight. All I Want for Christmas, a feature script, has been optioned to a TV Production Company in the U.S, and Eilis was also an Altantis Award recipient at the Moondance Film Festival, 2011.

So Eilis, how and why did you get started in the business? 

I’ve always written stuff but for some reason never screenplays. Then I did this two-day course with Laurence Henson at the IFI (Irish Film Institute) back in 2007 and got completely hooked. It’s been a happy obsession/major hobby-turned new career ever since.

Did you have any formal instruction (film school, etc.) or are you self-taught?

Self-taught – I read other screenplays, go to seminars and talks and try and write as much as possible.

What have been your seminal influences?

Loads of things – I grew up spending a lot of time with my mom’s parents and my granddad was obsessed with Westerns and old gangster movies, so I must have seen hundreds of them. His favourite comedian was Bob Hope and my script The Heartstoppers was really a modern-day, (less racist!) version of Hope’s comedy The Ghostbreakers. Then my aunt who used to have to babysit me would take a load of kids to Eighties films like E.T., The Goonies, Short Circuit, etc. etc. I’ve probably watched two films a week since I was a kid. I’m a film whore – I find I learn as much from watching bad movies as I do from the good ones. I like a good story, well told, with great characters in most genres but I prefer comedies, adventure films and thrillers.

Who are your current favourites / influences?

I like the fact that female comedy is really getting somewhere – finally. I hope we look back on Bridesmaids and see it as the start of a new wave of comedy rather than the high point of a phase. Joss Whedon is a genius – would give my right arm to work with him – as is J.J. Abrams. After seeing Winter’s Bone, I’d love to work with Debra Granik.

Okay, so you’re having a fantasy dinner party!  Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around that fantasy dinner table?

Jack Lemmon (to see if he was as awesome in person), Kathryn Bigelow (another lady I’d love to write a script for), Joe Ezsterhas (for the crazy), Maureen O’Hara (for the Hollywood stories ), Garson Kanin (even more Hollywood gossip) and Ian Fleming (for the spy stories).

What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?

I think it’s unfortunate that there is no money. Not that there ever has been any, but I think what’s badly needed are some real huckster producers, people who can raise money somehow, by whatever means, so we can make some bloody films. I’m thinking of someone like Lloyd Kaufman or Roger Corman, real characters who make things happen. The producers we have tend to be nice, well-meaning middle-class people who have two ways of raising money: the Film Board and European co-productions. What about thinking a bit more creatively on this? Once the money’s there, we need to ask ourselves the question: what do people want to watch? Not ‘how am I going to show the depths of despair of the Irish psyche’, but what do people want to see on Saturday night at the cinema? And once we’ve all been honest about this (let’s face it, the answer is, they want entertaining films that have great stories and compelling characters), we need to write those scripts. If it’s a question of budget limitations, look at Attack the Block. Great film, great characters, very little money spent.

Highlight of your career so far?

Winning a screenplay award at the 2011 Moondance Film Award.

What would be your ultimate career goal?

Winning an Oscar® – I want one of those little gold men for the mantelpiece.

Thanks Eilis… any final comment you would like to add?

Yes – there’s loads of talent out there, everyone just needs to believe in themselves, ignore the staggering amount of negativity, and keep truckin’…

 

You can check in with Eilis through her blog: http://dublintohollywood.com/

Caroline Farrell is an author and screenwriter:
 
Check Caroline’s Time Standing Still, her collection of short stories at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/46613
Follow Caroline on twitter https://twitter.com/CarolineAuthor

 

 

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Interview: Jean-Claude Carrière on his collaboration with Louis Buñuel on ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’

With the 40th Anniversary release of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie on DVD & Blu-ray Steven Galvin chats to the film’s writer Jean-Claude Carrière.

The newly restored film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) is released on DVD and Blu-ray this week to mark 40 years since its first release. Louis Buñuel’s surreal satire follows the doomed attempts of a bourgeois couple to host a dinner party. It is his most successful film and won an Oscar® for best foreign film. The film is one of many classics on which Buñuel collaborated wth the prolific and legendary writer Jean-Claude Carrière, others included Belle de Jour (1967),  The Phantom of Liberty (1974), and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977). Carrière himself is credited as writer on over 130 scripts, including The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Tin Drum, Birth and recently was script editor for Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon.

Carrière was in Ireland recently for the 23rd Cork French Film Festival (4–11 March) and has fond memories of the country, in particular he recalled enjoying his time at the Listowel Writers’ Week Festival, describing it as ‘very impressive’.

40 years looking back at The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Carrière describes his initial feeling as happiness that the film is ‘still there and still alive’. ‘When you write a film you hope for some success for a few months or a year. But 40 years after? That’s something extraordinary.’ And what would Buñuel himself think were he alive today? ‘Maybe he would be the first to be surprised,’ Carrière responds with a smile.

Carrière recalls how The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie was a difficult film to write. ‘It took us 2 years to write. We wrote 5 different versions of the film before we found the right balance between reality and unreality. We didn’t want to fall into the ordinary on the one side but also not on the fantasy, on the extraordinary.’

The film is marked by its lack of distinction between what is real and what is not. ‘Buñuel was also looking for a very, very narrow path in between different dangers.’

The film uses dreams within dreams and often breaks the fourth wall in an effective way to unsettle any conscious narrative, but surprisingly enough ‘the dreams came only on the 3rd version that we wrote and they gave another dimension to the film.’

Carrière remembers that ‘when the film was released it was extraordinary to see the reaction of the people. They were accepting the film. After working in solitude for months and months together and then you realize that thousands of people agree and share with you what you have offered to them, that is a fantastic pleasure.’ It must have been a particular pleasure considering the nature of the film and its unconventional form and content. ‘Yes, completely. It is totally unusual – even at the time it was. I don’t even know if today it would be possible to produce and make such a film. Maybe cinema was more daring at the time, bolder than today.’

But even then in more daring times, it was still a surprise for Carrière. ‘It was a huge surprise – and also the fact that it went all over the world and it won the Academy Award® – that was really something totally unexpected. When we were working on it we thought we were writing and working on a “small film” – for a small audience. But instead millions of people saw the film.’

Wondering what he could attribute this too, Carrière says that the film’s success could probably be ‘because the lightness of the film is hiding something much deeper – all the faults and all the crimes and murders.’ The film constantly alludes to this through the many interruptions of the meal with the secrets that hide under the surface of a damaged bourgeoisie – a bourgeoisie, according to Carrière, that is ‘light, quiet, silent, elegant, loving good drinks and good food; but underneath there is an abyss. Maybe that’s what made the success of the film.’

When I ask him about the title of the film, Carrière tells me that when he was writing the film with Buñuel ‘we never thought about bourgeoisie. The title came at the very end when we had finished the script. The title gives a certain angle to watch the film. Like in the surrealist paintings – apparently paintings with no meaning no sense, no direction; but the title gives you a way to look at the painting. And I think it’s the same for the title of this film.’

So the process of writing was very much a work-in-progress and evolved over the course of its development. ‘Absolutely. When a producer tells me that he needs a certain script for a certain time, I say “No. The script will be over when it’s over”; when it’s ready. That’s why it was always a privilege to work with Buñuel and his producer – they understood that we needed time to get used to our story.’

Often taking breaks from each other during the writing, Carrière refers to the importance of the unconscious and allowing it to play its role in the creative process. ‘Even when we took breaks from each other during writing the film there was an inside worker working night and day And we realized this, so that when we met again things that we had previously liked we didn’t like anymore and got rid of immediately and some solutions that we had been looking for vainly, all of a sudden were clear. And that was the work of the invisible worker.

‘This worker is very convenient because he’s never on strike; he works night and day; you don’t have to feed him; he works for free. But we must know that – our mind has some secret recesses that we need to preserve and protect and that we must not always work consciously.

‘We all have it but if we are too rational and logical we prevent the invisible worker from doing his work.’ It would seem Jean-Claude Carrière’s worker is doing a mighty job.

Steven Galvin

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is in cinemas now, and on DVD/Blu-ray on 16th July.

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Sé Merry Doyle, director of John Ford: Dreaming The Quiet Man

The documentary, which enjoyed its premiere in the Irish Film
Institute during the recent John Ford Symposium, take a detailed look
into the making of the 1952 classic The Quiet Man, regarded as one of
filmmaker John Ford’s most personal projects.

Daire Walsh caught up with director Sé Merry Doyle to talk about the film.

When did you first start to develop John Ford: Dreaming
The Quiet Man?

I started approximately seven years ago. It took a
while. Pretty much all the stuff (in the film) you would have seen of
Nancy in Cong, and stuff like that, people who were connected with The
Quiet Man, was filmed first for a lot of reasons. One that I thought
some of them wouldn’t be around much longer. That became the basic
material for a pilot, which also included initially Jim Sheridan.
Basically, I hawked that around to try and get a documentary written,
but really nobody was interested in it. Then on a chance encounter,
Alan Maher came into the Loopline offices many years later to talk
about another project, and I don’t why but I said ‘Hey, would you look
at this pilot before you leave’, and he immediately was struck. He got
what nobody else was getting, and then the film went into full
production.

Have you always been a big admirer of The Quiet Man?

I’ve certainly always been an admirer of John Ford. I’ve grown up
watching his movies with my parents. The Quiet Man, I suppose for all
of us here, is a ‘love it or hate it’ sort of film. Way back, the
documentary was originally called ‘The Quiet Man: A Milestone Or A
Millstone?’. That idea would be a noose around our necks. I’ve always
been an admirer of John Ford, and the whole idea for the film started
when I was talking to somebody else, a colleague, who rubbished The
Quiet Man, and countered by saying ‘How could that be if it was made
by John Ford?’. I wanted to get to the bottom of what Ford was up to.

Was it difficult to secure the participation of any of the
interviewees we see in the documentary?

Maureen (O’Hara) was very difficult. She has never really spoken
at length about The Quiet Man. She had a feeling that people were
going to exploit the film. She didn’t want to, but I happened to meet
her nephew, Charles Fitzsimons, in Los Angeles, and we got on very
well and he put in the good word for me. After two years of trying to
get her, I finally secured an interview in 2010. That was difficult,
but it was also a wonderful interview, I had great fun with her.
Martin Scorsese really came about because years ago he came here to
give a talk, and also his editor Thelma Schoonmaker came. Because I
was an editor at the time, I kept a correspondence, and she led me to
Scorsese. Scorsese loves The Quiet Man, and loves Ford, so that kind
of worked well. Peter Bogdanovich, we just met him in LA, and he was
wonderful. But a lot of these people I think really wanted to
contribute to the documentary, it wasn’t too difficult with them.

What kind of an impact do you think The Quiet Man has had on Irish film?

Well I think it has been enormous. I think in all fairness, the
film was extremely popular. We all know that some did, and still do,
put it down as a stereotype. You know, John Ford created a stereotype
for America. I think all the early maverick Irish filmmakers,
especially say Joe Comerford, they were  creating the new realism
cinema against The Quiet Man. Now those filmmakers have since gone on
to not be petrified and respect The Quiet Man. But back then  Ireland
was trying to re-invent itself.

The film seems to give as good an insight into Ford himself as
does The Quiet Man. Was that your intention from the outset?

Absolutely. His 20 year quest to make the film, how it changed
from being a gung-ho IRA film to something totally different, that
became the tracking of the film. For instance, He was a Democrat, so I
think he was making a film about a lot of things we’re going through
in Ireland now. Will Danaher is a banker if you like in modern day
terms. Sean Thornton is someone who wanted to chill the land and lead
a decent life. He has created a world in Inis Free that is of
Shakespearean proportions. I think he knew his film would be more
understood with time. As he said, you couldn’t go around Hollywood
saying you were making an intellectual film. They’d kill you. As you
can see from the film, he’s a very complexed, difficult character, but
at the same time his troupe of actors, Wayne, O’Hara, McLaglen, were
very loyal to him and called him ‘Pappy’.

You had the film’s premiere last weekend. How did you find that?

It was fantastic, it really was. We had the original world
premiere in Cork, where we had 1,000 people in the Opera House with
Maureen O’Hara. That was a night to remember, and it broke box office
records for a documentary showing in Cork. What was special about the
other night was to have Dan Ford, John Ford’s grandson, in the
audience. Redmond Morris, who produced the film, and particularly
Peter Bogdanovich, who was a great friend and biographer of Ford, gave
the film the thumbs up. That was one of the best accolades I’ve had so
far for the film.

How important has the Symposium been for the film’s profile, and
also giving Ford the recognition he deserves in his ancestral home?

I think it’s amazing. I just think John Ford is an Irish icon. He
has peopled all his films as Westerns with Irish and lots of other
migrants to America. He was a good man, a great filmmaker. I think
they couldn’t have chosen anybody better to finally honour on a yearly
basis. He’s a real icon for emerging filmmakers, and when you see
people like Scorsese paying homage to him, and Steven Spielberg and
all the rest, it is a great platform for Irish film I think.

Do you have any other projects on the horizon at the moment?

I made a film that came out in the year 2000, that had a little
bit of that very first film I made in 1982, which is called Looking
On, which was documenting the inner city parts of Dublin. I returned
to that in 1996, and four years later it came out with a film called
Alive Alive-O: A Requiem For Dublin. It still has a strong presence,
it gets shown occasionally at the Archives, but the last time it was
shown everybody said you have to do a final chapter. The film ended
just as the Financial Services Centre was rising. Ireland was going
through a huge economic boom, so I’m trying to go back to the Irish
Film Board and do an epilogue or a full stop to that show. It just
seemed to chart a whole period of Dublin. That’s the next project if I
can get it made.

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Interview: Rick Crawford, cowriter and star of ‘No Saints for Sinners’

Rick Crawford  moved to Los Angeles in 2005 and started on the big screen with independent films. His first leading role in a named movie is a feature length thriller entitled Rage. His latest film, No Saints for Sinners, is set for a DVD release.

Carmen Bryce chats to the Northern Irish actor who both co-wrote the story No Saints for Sinners and stars as Mickey O’Hara, a committed IRA member whose days of freedom fighting are long gone, leaving him peddling drugs and disenchanted with ‘the cause.’

Rick, you co-wrote the script for No Saints for Sinners. How much of it is drawn from real-life experiences growing up in Belfast during the ’70/80s or even more recently as an adult?

I was a child in the ’70s and ’80s, but the ’90s were a fun time. There was definitely a few lines taken from those days. Growing up around Belfast was fun. It was off the rails and that’s the type of fun it was. Too much fun at times. We have to grow up sooner than later.

How much involvement did you have with the script? Were you on hand to help with the accuracy of the dialogue or did you have a bigger part in plot development?

I came up with the original story and it went to Chris Benzoni for a first revision, then Nathan Frankowski our director had his take, 20 or 30 revisions later, we had our film, all along revising the lines between us.

Is this a writing debut for you?

Indeed yes, I never had any desire to write but since this, I’ve written two of my own screenplays with Irish themes, which I’ve been told by significant US producers have promising potential in production value. Kind of surprised me to be honest. Raising the cash now is key, which isn’t easy but isn’t impossible.

Did you find it easier to bring a character to life when you helped create him in the first place?

I created Mickey from a character sheet I like to use but yes I threw in plenty of his lines that I knew would suit him.

The film looks at the gritty reality of life in the IRA. Being from Belfast, did you feel responsible for relaying this accurately to an American audience?

Without any affiliation or anything even close, I did meet a few here and there. You can’t stereotype such people. They’re human beings first. Being close to Belfast though, that’s always a big help.

In the Name of the Father, The Devil’s Own, Hunger, Fifty Dead Men Walking, Shadow Dancer… the list goes on. Do you think Americans are obsessed with Northern Ireland’s violent past or in some ways still, its murky present?

A wee bit maybe. The US audience go more for our history than our violence. Sometimes it’s hard to do one without the other.

The film is fairly violent. Is the message that violence is destructive, whether it be delivered by the IRA or LA drug lords? Or is it simply that violence sells as much as sex in the movie world these days?

We just wanted to be realistic. Nathan, Paul, Scott, Chris and I had detailed discussions on this before principle, during principle and even in post. The movie was toned considerably in violence. The nature of the storyline was difficult to tell with authenticity without giving a measure of violence. And yes Chris the cowriter for draft one insisted, like sex scenes, violence sells if done within context. We didn’t have a sex scene in the final cut. In various revisions we did but the final word of course was always director’s
choice.

What is the main message you want your audience to take away from the film?

Running from consequences leads to consequences. Simple story.

Mickey gives Jason Bourne a run for his money in parts of the film. Did you have any training for this or did it come naturally?

You’re very kind. We had a stunt man coordinate the fight scenes with us before we shot them. Although when Marty showed up, we made the scenes a bit closer to home.

Mickey is a conflicted character, essentially a thug with a big heart who wants to escape his violence existence that is still very much embedded in him. Was this contradiction difficult to portray?

I set out of make Mickey a real lad. Fears, worries, anxieties. A real human, not bullet proof. Wanted people to feel him. Being true to that and being true to the script was key.

Jim Sturgess, who played an IRA member in Fifty Dead Men Walking, said his experience with genuine IRA members as research for the part was also conflicted. They were decent family men who were also violent murderers. Was it your wish to convey this very conflict in Mickey?

To play Mickey without the humanity would have been an insult to the audience. Soldiers, police, politics are all human first. I saw Mickey as a broken soldier with his conflicts in his own conscience. His violence was always provoked, that’s no justification for it but Nathan and I discussed this during the revisions. We kept the story away from senseless violent acts. That was Marty’s job with Mercer, which he did so well.

We can count the number of Irish actors in Hollywood on one hand (Fassbender being one of the most relevant at the moment). How ruthless is the industry for an Irish actor living in LA?

I watched Fassbender in Hunger around the summer of 2009, I said he’s going to the top and I wasn’t wrong. Like anything else, you get out what you put in but unlike most jobs it’s not always a fair industry. Some of the greatest actors I’ve met are working a 60-hour week for buttons. I was reluctant to move to LA at first but glad I did. I’ve a better life here than I would have back home. I miss my family but visit twice a year or I’d get home sick. Living here is better for me personally for various reasons. It might not suit everyone but suits me grand. I moved here as an electrical engineer and that was a headache I’ll not quickly forget. Working as a full-time actor is a luxury that comes and goes. Starting a production company out here was a good move. I’ve been working hard on that, especially these past few months.

Getting two features in production is now my primary focus. The last couple of years have been dedicated to developing some ideas to script, now it’s time to develop script to dollar. We have been speaking with various investors, both US and UK, it’s a process, not easy but not impossible.

Do you think the Irish film industry is struggling to survive?

I was home last year, writing. I got a role or two while I was there, one being a film for TG4. I was honored to play in a stage production of The Crucible to open the new Lyric Theatre in Belfast. For each project I saw the same actors fighting over the same roles. Game of Thrones is a project I’d love to work on next season, but with so many actors out of work it’s a casting director’s nightmare.

Do Irish actors have to move to the States to stand a fighting chance in the industry?

Not necessarily, Marty Maguire lives back in Belfast now and works as a full-time actor. That wasn’t his story while he lived in LA for 20 odd years. It depends much on the individual.

What NI/Irish actors are you inspired by?

Marty Maguire is an actor that inspires me, working with him directly was a treat. I’ve been a fan since I saw him in an LA production of A Night in November. Liam Neeson and Marty Maguire are both actors I admire tremendously. Of course Liam Neeson has transcended any average standard of success, I’ve never ceased to be inspired by any role or any film he takes, since he showed up in Dirty Harry in the late ’80s. The lads in the south haven’t done too bad for themselves either! Farrell, Fassbender, Cillian Murphy, Gabriel Byrne, Brendan Gleeson and his two boys. I’d love to get a chance to work in Brendan Gleeson’s adaptation of At-Swim-Two-Birds. It looks like a great flick, and I first heard about it in San Diego, from a distant cousin of  Teri Hayden, Brendan’s agent, that was a strange coincidence as I knew the cousin a while before I learned that.

What actor/director made you want to become an actor in the first place?

Impossible to pin point. As an avid film viewer since no age. Star Wars, Superman, Jaws, every movie the video shop could rent. Watching films with my father were the memories that started it.

What is the most essential quality an actor must have to survive?

Humility.

Your roles in Rage, Hollow and No Saints for Sinners are fairly dark and violent. Do you feel most comfortable in this role?

Not necessarily. That’s three films that possibly I brought a darker quality to – which I did enjoy but I couldn’t say I’d enjoy playing a challenged car mechanic any less. My coach says I’ve got romantic comedy down. So I wrote a romantic comedy, and currently raising money for it.

From where do you draw such raw emotions?

A misspent youth; it was worth it.

No Saints for Sinners is released on DVD on 28th May courtesy of Trinity Filmed Entertainment.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xECb8YYPdo

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Interview: Whit Stillman

 

 

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh met with Whit Stillman during the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival to discuss his new film Damsels in Distress. One of the leading voices of independent cinema in the nineties, this is his first film in over twelve years since his successful trilogy Metropolitan (1990) Barcelona (1994) and Last Days of Disco (1998). Damsels in Distress follows a trio of girls in a university who attempt to civilise the DU frat boys and uplift the depressed student body with musical numbers.

In your previous films, Metropolitan, Barcelona and Last Days of Disco, the characters are all recent graduates, or students away from college. What led you to focus the story within the university this time in Damsels in Distress?

There had been a story about these girls who did this where I went to university. In my day it was very grand, very depressing and grungy. I went back a couple of years later and everyone was telling me about this exciting group of girls who wore strong perfume and dressed up and had all these parties and just changed everything, and everyone was delighted with these girls and how fun it was. I thought that was just a wonderful thing. I noticed over the subsequent years that they established institutions that continued. There actually was a DU fraternity at Harvard and my father had been in it. The members of the DU disgraced themselves somehow and the graduate members decided to close the fraternity and they merged it with my fraternity and we rented the house to a girls group that formed themselves called the B…and it’s very much as if Violet Wister and her friends had started a sorority of some kind and it’s lovely and charming what they’ve done with it…to create feminine space in the university.

Comparisons have been made with films such as Clueless and Mean Girls, but on watching it the characters do not fit into this stereotype, how do you feel about this comparison?

I think this association with Mean Girls and Clueless is unhelpful to the film and I think the better association is Rushmore, really it’s a kind of female Rushmore where that had the Jason Schwartzman character who is sort of the organising visionary. The thing is he looks nerdy so you accept him as this interesting nerd while Violet looks fantastic but she really is Jason Schwartzman.

It’s been harmful as far as reception goes in some quarters because people just assume that it really is going to go one way and then it doesn’t go that way and I think it irritates them too much for the first hour of the film so even though later they might see what’s happening and go along with it, they’ve been irritated for an hour. In the trailer, we put in more information than we normally would to show that actually Violet is the person with the predicament and Lily isn’t so great. What everyone thinks is the outsider and the identification character is actually the nemesis character.

It’s not just that there are formulas and the industry uses formulas but it’s amazing to me the way that those are strongly embraced by the audience. People will very angrily criticise you for not adhering to the formula as if you’ve made a mistake, as if it’s not intentional, you’ve just made an error in not having an outsider character people can identify with.

I find it interesting that each film is about a mini-society – the characters have to operate within a group. What interests you about this dynamic? Why focus on a group, as opposed to a couple or individual who would be at the centre of the story in other films?

I suppose it’s an attempt to create something that was too scarce in the real world. I remember coming out of university and us reading things like War and Peace and there seemed to be a cohesive Russian society in that period and that our society had been totally deracinated and atomised and what we needed was more of a social texture and fabric and that we could sort of fantasise about these in film stories and maybe life would create that. I mean since then I’ve become much more optimistic, that there is a social texture and it’s not as bleak as I thought it was then. I think at twenty-one, you can see the world in very bleak terms. I see the films as kind of utopian. When my daughters were in school they were being given dystopian books, one dystopian book after another. Why can’t we have more utopian books? [laughs] So these are utopian movies, they’re not meant to reflect reality particularly. They’re trying to show small, unlikely utopias that could exist. Sometimes when I see people who are conforming absolutely to the dictates of today it makes me so sad that shouldn’t there be other people proposing a different alternative and there’s just so much basification of youth culture that’s really not very good or interesting, no diversification and uplift.

Your films at times seem like satire, but then there is such empathy for the characters that it seems as though it’s not.

It’s not. I don’t like satire. The first distributor I worked with was involved in Metropolitan,and at that time all these movies were being promoted as black comedies, and I think I told him if something is a black comedy I hate it and he said I think you should call your film a white comedy because it’s the reverse of a black comedy.

There’s a great emphasis on dialogue in your films, could you talk about your approach to screenwriting?

I’ve been dealing lately with good things that come out of failure. I’ve had a period of production, of failure, of not being able to set a film up for twelve years, and in the writing of the script it comes also from a background of failure too. I got the idea of doing things for film and TV, I didn’t have a film snob orientation then, I acquired one [laughs] because I didn’t feel like I had the concentration, or the stamina, or the will power to write long form fiction. I was publishing short stories that had some success, some people liked them, Tom Wolfe the writer liked my stories, but they were much too complicated. I was always creating a narrative structure to introduce a first person narrator who was not me. This wouldn’t work in long form.

I wanted to make a film, I wanted to do the storytelling and all that, but I had no confidence in my ability to write a script. I had all kinds of gimmicks. I used to get this friend I had known for years to sit with me while I wrote it so that I wouldn’t be alone and that lasted about forty minutes [laughs] but then I got into it and I found that these absurd character voices came up and started saying things and there was this material and observations. It was kind of electrifying, finally it all was working and I found that this was ideal for me because in the short stories I was trying to write it always had to be a first person voice and [in film] every dialogue part is first person voice. It’s all first person. Another thing is, it’s all going to be played by actors so it’s not me, it’s this character; I can say whatever I want because I don’t have to take responsibility for it. And then, there’s the dialectic, you want to say truthful things in the film and if you make one statement with one character and you realise that’s not true, you can say something else. So that’s where you get a lot of the dialogue. It’s thesis, antithesis and that goes on and so it’s this exciting thing of aspects of material.

I remember I was in Spain during the summer and trying to write one of the scripts and (I think I was trying to write the Barcelona script) and I was just coming back from swimming and this incredible piece of material fell, this really funny thing and so often I would be knocking my head against the wall trying to get stuff going and then I’d be either shaving or walking down the stairs from the Barcelona apartment and the script material would come. Yes you do have to work on it and write it but the really great stuff seems to come out of nowhere. When Anthony Minghella was talking about screenwriting, he said something that I found very interesting. He said it’s as if someone occasionally opens a drawer and there are a lot of things in the drawer and you can take one thing out but then it closes immediately. So, it’s very exciting when you get a piece of material that works and in comedy often if it works well once, it will work even better three times. So for instance in Barcelona, you have this idea about shaving and then I had another idea about shaving and a third idea about shaving and then it ends up being part of the character dynamic, to define the characters and their relationships with one another.

I think maybe the reason I had this period of no films is because I got so involved in writing and the writing was going really well that I completely flubbed the producer function. I was not trying hard to get the films made, I was just worrying about the scripts. The fortunate thing now is that I have a trunk of pretty workable scripts that I can go back to. The writing thing is a big challenge and it’s very, very painful when you’re starting out. You have the general idea but not the specifics and it’s agony because you write terrible, terrible stuff until you actually get on the beam and then you have to stand on the beam and I find that I drink too much coffee and get excited and I cannot write for more than two or three hours at a time because at the end of two or three hours I’m writing all kinds of stuff, it’s just drivel and it’s very hard to cut out the drivel and you get ideas for a story that aren’t very good and to remove it is painful.

How do you direct the actors with so much dialogue for them to work with?

It’s hugely in casting. It’s a very good phase in the process. It’s also very frightening because you might not find the right actor to play the part and in this film it seemed like we were not going to have the right guys to play the romantic leads. We spent a lot of our time finding the right people for Charlie and Xavier. In fact, Xavier was not Xavier, Xavier was Tom but the only actor I found that I liked had a heavy French accent so I changed the name to Xavier and changed some of the dialogue for him.

 Chris Eigeman played a main role in each of your previous films so you obviously enjoyed working with him, why was that?

There’s a scene in Metropolitan where the Nick character played by Chris teaches the red haired character about what clothes he should wear, where he should go to get this outfit. They do it in the corridor. We did a lot of work in that scene. There were a lot of acting/directing discussions there. I have not directed him since, he’s really the same character in the other films, and that was one of the last directing conversations we had and that was terrific. So I really hope I can use him in a piece that can be multi-generational and I hope that’ll work out.

Greta Gerwig had previously starred in Greenberg, and is involved in filmmaking herself, how did you find working with her in the role of Violet?

It’s a very difficult part, and I would say that she found her part on set as we were shooting it. We did a lot of work. She’s very creative, very imaginative but we didn’t quite know what the tone was going to be for that character so there was a lot of variation in her scenes particularly towards the beginning of the shoot and she’s very good at giving different versions. Then the editing room is interesting just to get it together from earlier in the shoot where she was bracketing how Violet should be, how silly, how mannered. I think she found just the right spot to be in but it happened when we were shooting. Normally I like to have everything decided before we get there.

The style of Damsels in Distress is much more surreal than the other films, how important is the style to you?

Style is probably everything. People think that what they are seeing is just a talkfest, it’s all dialogue. I think the four films all chose not to show a lot of things, not to do things in a certain way so style is mostly omission. I really care about framing and the look of each, it really makes me upset when we have things that are ugly in the film. We really want everything to be done a certain way, and it pains me when things are mediocre looking and to do a film in this very fast, rough and ready way we still had the aesthetic imperative and so there’s a bit of a clash there. I worked with the same cinematographer on the first three films and a different fellow on this one. He’s very efficient. It’s a very important relationship between the director and cinematographer.

Of course it’s important as film is also a visual medium.

I don’t think it’s a visual medium. I think that’s a fallacy of cinema. I don’t think the aspect of sound should be slighted. I think that people make a terrible mistake in the visual fallacy of cinema because so much is communicated by the whole texture of sound, not just the words but words are really important. There’s also this deprecating attitude towards dialogue. Really through dialogue you have a chance to get into people’s souls and get their personality. I think people also forget how important titles were [in silent films.]

You have said that your favourite film is the musical The Gay Divorcee. You can certainly see the influence of musicals in your films. In Last Days of Disco for example, the closing scene features passengers on the underground dancing and singing to Love Train by the O’Jays. Again, Damsels in Distress ends with a musical number.

There’s a critic talking about the great George Stevens and the film Damsel in Distress from 1937, and he’s so wrong. The Mark Sandrich’s Fred Astaire films are infinitely better. George Stevens and everyone knew that it was not a good film. There’s a wonderful sequence though that we use in the film, the song ‘Things are Looking Up’, the Gershwin number which was one of the greatest sequences and a great anti-depression antidote but that’s the only beautiful sequence but the rest is just hosh bosh. I feel the starting point of the film takes off from that scene in The Last Days of Disco.

Would you ever consider making a full musical?

I would really like to, I’ve tried to with a couple of things but they haven’t gotten off the ground. It was very helpful the way we were shooting was so by the seat of our pants. A wonderful choreographer came aboard, Justin Churney, and had done no film work. He had a terrific spirit and the fall back position we had was that this is a college production.  There’s some beautiful shots at the end when they break into song for that number but there are slight flaws that I can see but I can justify that well it’s just their college musical so it should be ‘hey we’re putting on a show.’

What are your other influences?

I just adore the cinema of the golden age of Hollywood from 1933-1941, I just adore them. I just wrote about the Shop around the Corner for The Times which I love. In more recent times I was inspired by the production savvy and wit of Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee’s first films, the way they are able to put those together. Then there’s the Scottish director Bill Forsyth, there’s the Irish film Eat the Peach I really liked. I worked with two Madrid directors on their films, it was my first job in the film business, Fernando Colomo and Fernando Treuba and they made these little comedies set in Madrid. There’s one called Opera Prima by Treuba and it’s very much a model for what I’ve tried to do.

When you first started making films your contemporaries were Todd Haynes and Quentin Tarantino, what was that time like for you?

It’s interesting about Todd Haynes because Metropolitan was made from within the Todd Haynes world. Todd hadn’t made a feature yet but they (Todd Haynes and Christine Vachon) had this short film company called Apparatus and the editor that worked on our film was recommended to us by them, Christopher Tellefson. Tellefson was key in Metropolitan.

Tarrantino came up afterwards. It was a little bit disconcerting trying to get your career going and getting your films noticed and suddenly this guy comes along out of the blue and just took all the attention. We were shown at the same Cannes Film Festival as Pulp Fiction. His film was in competition and our film had not been selected. We had a pretty successful screening [of Barcelona] at the Olympia Cinema in the market but he definitely stole the limelight. I remember when it was chosen as the opening film for the Cork Film Festival and the director talked the whole time about how sad he was that he hadn’t been able to get Pulp Fiction for the opening of the festival [laughs].

 

Soracha Pelan Ó Treasaigh

Damsels in Distress is released on Friday. April 27th 2012.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGWRPwjGf5E

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Interview: Juanita Wilson

How did you learn to write screenplays?

I didn’t have any formal training as such but Screen Training Ireland ran some really good training courses and workshops, and they were absolutely fantastic. I learnt a lot from that but it was very daunting too. That was when I was writing the feature, but in terms of The DoorThe Door kind of wrote itself based on the testimony.

How did the testimony help you?

It’s a very short testimony, a few pages, and once I worked out a structure for it, starting at the end then revealing what happens, it came together as a series of vignettes or memories. It’s as if the man, Nikolai, is trying to recollect what happened to him and make sense of it. They’re like separate moments that he’s just remembered, key moments of what happened.

Instinctively, I guessed that a lot of the drama should happen offscreen, for example, the scene with the doctor where he’s obviously going to tell them that their daughter is very sick, it seemed better that he didn’t say anything. I learnt through trying to write that scene that really you can say everything you need if you just set the circumstances up right and then let the audience join the dots. I was lucky with the actors because their faces said so much, more than any words could. This project was quite unique in terms of how it came together.

You had a background in producing, what made you want to write and direct a short?

I actually started off in fine art, in sculpture, and I’ve always been interested in the idea behind something and in communicating that idea. I was always interested in the creative end of things and I’ve always written bits and pieces, scraps of things. When it came to film, myself and James Flynn, my partner, set up a company to make films but we weren’t really concerned whether we were producers or what. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a producer; I just started off that way. It was a fascinating way to learn about the industry because you see every aspect of filmmaking. It was a very valuable experience. I was honoured to produce H3 and Inside I’m Dancing but, as a producer, I found that it was hard to get the creative fulfilment I wanted so I just felt it was time to try and do it myself and be more involved.

Had you any other short-film ideas that you were considering before The Door?

Yes, I’d written something very different which was fictional but I’d been reading short stories all the time, looking for something, always trying to work out what would be a good one to do. It was only when I found The Door that I really felt, okay, this deserves to be made. It was strong enough for me to ask other people to be involved. I felt the subject was important and that gave me great strength. It brought the right team behind me.

The Door

How did you find Voices from Chernobyl?

I was reading the Guardian book reviews and it was reviewing the book. There was one little excerpt about Nikolai stealing the door and driving it on the back of his motorbike through the forest at night, and, as an image, I thought, ‘Wow! That’s amazing and it’s a true story.’ I thought it was very Gogolesque, so I immediately rang them up and ordered the book. As I read it, I just thought, ‘Wow!’ We bought the rights to that story. It just stayed in my mind and once that happens it just takes on a life of its own.

Had you any problem getting the rights?

No, Svetlana [Alexeivich] had the rights to the book but we haven’t been able to get hold of Nikolai. We tried in both Kiev and Belarus but he seems to have just disappeared. I really hope some day we’ll find him.

How did you go about adapting it?

The main thing was the structure because if you reveal what it’s all about at the beginning then it loses its point, so the idea was to keep the reveal until the end. I love the idea of playing with the audience a little bit, you know, set it up so that they don’t know whether this person is a burglar, insane or what, then let them see just enough to wonder what’s going on. They have to work it out, then they realise, oh, something terrible happened to this man. It makes it a much more active experience for the audience. I think in a way that’s what gives it emotion; it comes at you sideways. A lot of people say to me, ‘I didn’t realise it was about Chernobyl until the end.’ I think that’s great because at the end of the day it’s really about loss.

Was that the theme? Loss?

Yes, and also about reclaiming human dignity, which is all you can do when you’ve lost everything else. I think the idea of a ritual is reclaiming something so that, even if you lose the most precious thing in life, you determine the manner in which it will be dealt with, and, for Nikolai, that was within his own family tradition with the door. It gave him a sense of peace that he’d buried his daughter in the manner that was correct for him.

How did you come up with what I call the ‘running man’ opening?

That came about when we saw Pripyat in the snow on the Internet. We knew we just had to go there. We waited about six months to get permission then went to have a look and it’s just the way the city is, it speaks so much, long streets, big buildings, the dereliction, the Ferris wheel and abandoned fairground, the child and lost childhood, everything about that was perfect. We walked and walked around the city and very quickly said we’ll use this shot, this angle, whatever. You see man being a victim of his environment, this huge structure and this little man lost within it looking for somewhere. The idea just works. We were lucky to go to Pripyat; without that we would’ve had to use the apartment. It wouldn’t have had the same impact.

How many drafts did it take?

Really only one or two, with some tweaks; nothing changed significantly. In the last version I added in the evacuation scene or made it a little bit bigger. We did get feedback from an editor friend of ours, and a couple of other people, but it just felt right. With your first project, I guess it’s important to follow what feels right to you emotionally and visually.

Did your experience as a producer help you when you were writing?

One thing, when you see a script being shot and then see what gets edited and what gets used, it helps you understand what’s not needed. I think if you get to the point where you can see in advance – I won’t need this, I won’t need that – then that’s when you really understand the craft.

One of the things that struck me about The Door and As If I Am Not There is how you have a knack of being able to say so much using just images and pictures with absolutely minimal dialogue. In The Door, for example, there are only 25 lines of dialogue in some 17 minutes of film. The main character, Nikolai, barely says 100 words yet it’s so powerful, the emotions it conveys.

Yes, I think both subjects are quite strong and sad, people in desperate situations, so you probably don’t need to talk your way through them in that sense. It’d be different if they were sitting in a café or something. I do think we rely way too much on exposition and it makes you very impatient, you know, when someone tells you something, then shows you, it gets very annoying. Exposition is to be avoided wherever possible. Assume the audience will know and work out what they need to work out because, by and large, they can.

I think it’s always interesting as an exercise to take out the dialogue in your scenes, just take it all out then see what bits you really need. If you’ve written all the reactions and thought processes well, then you’ll find you probably don’t need half the dialogue. You’ll find the story will tell itself. Just put back in the bits you really do still need. Dialogue takes much longer to hear than you ever think. When you write it you think it’s okay but if you’re actually waiting with a camera for someone to speak you find yourself asking, do I really need so many words. It’s important to learn economy of words.

Had you any other titles in mind other than The Door?

Probably, but I just liked The Door because it’s so symbolic and strong and it doesn’t give away anything emotionally or story wise. It’s a bit deadpan but it just seemed to the point. It’s about the door but obviously, at the end, it’s not.

Were there any unforeseen difficulties or anything that with hindsight you’d like to have added in or changed?

No, I don’t think so. Sometimes I wonder should I have done this or that, but it’s in terms of staging, camera movement and that kind of thing, not in terms of the beats of the story. You could fiddle away forever but then you wonder would you change the emotional dynamic if you did this or that.

Because it’s a deeply personal true story were you ever tempted to fictionalise it to make it easier to shoot somewhere else?

No, not really, not with this one, but I could understand that you might need to in some situations, especially with some victim stories where people are still struggling emotionally to come to terms with things. You might need to dramatise it to make things more active.

How did you deal with the ethics of telling such an emotionally challenging true story, respecting what people went through?

It’s a great honour to be entrusted with that kind of material and a great responsibility as well. You’re kind of blessed and cursed if you have good source material because you really want to deliver something that is of the same standard and impact as the book, but you also have to think long and hard. Are you doing justice to this person? Are you portraying them correctly, their situation and reactions?

I love the idea that I’m like a torch shining a light on something I believe is important and, through illuminating it, other people can see it and make up their own minds. You’re part of a process that starts with the real person and then, through someone like Svetlana or Slavenka – author of As If I Am Not There – they manage to bring it all together, and then I do my little thing and an audience can see it.

It’s nice to be a part of a process of communication like that but it is something you really wrestle with. You have the pressures of dramatic storytelling and you have to respect your audience as well. You can’t just document the truth; you also have to present something that works in the format you’re choosing to tell the story in. It’s something you grapple with all the time.

As If I Am Not There

The usual rule of thumb is a page a minute but you managed to make a 17-minute film from a five-page script. That’s quite unusual.

I know, the producers were a bit worried. I think it’s the fact that one line can suggest so much. When we went there, the land and the people were so visually and emotionally beautiful, and with all they’ve been through, there’s something very poetic, very romantic and very tragic about it.

Did you always want to direct or was there a point when you said, you know, I’d prefer to let some else do this?

I guess it always feels like the safer option to hand it over to somebody else, but, at the same time, I just felt so personally involved with it and my whole motivation was to make something myself. The hard thing is you’re actually trying to convince people that you’re going to do something that you don’t know you can do yourself, and that is terrifying. You’ve nothing to fall back on but it’s a great adventure. When I found the team that I was lucky enough to find a lot of those doubts were dispelled and their belief, skills and experience carried me through.

What advice would you give to any writer who’s thinking of directing?

First of all to make absolutely sure that they really, really love their material and that they know it really well, so that any actor, any member of the creative team, can ask them any question and they can answer and give a reason why this happens or that happens. It’s your only job. Everything else someone will help you with, but if you don’t know your material you’re not in a position to try and direct it. It’s your responsibility.

The other thing, I think it’s critical to get the right team, to get people who see the project the way you do, that you complement one another and have the right approach, because if there’s a mismatch it’ll make it difficult for everybody and the work will suffer. Find likeminded people who you trust and who boost each other’s confidence.

What about a director who’s thinking of writing his own material?

If you’re strong visually or story wise then it should be reflected in the script but I think it’s really important to learn as much as you can. Get advice, training, help, whatever, even read Syd Field. It was the first thing I did years ago and while it’s very formulaic in some ways, it has the basis of everything in it. It’s good to learn as much as you can, you can reject or turn it on its head later but it’s important to learn a bit about it first.

For me, in terms of scripts, structure is the most important thing; it’s the backbone of everything. I think if you get the structure right you can forgive having too much dialogue, too little dialogue, too much whatever, but if the structure’s all over the place, no matter how great the scenes or dialogue, if the pace is all over the place and there’s no clarity, the audience will get impatient. I would say to anybody who’s writing, structure is the thing.

How do you look for ideas? What attracts you to certain things?

I trawl really widely. I spend a lot of time in bookshops – I guess that’s one of my primary sources – or scouring the papers for interesting ideas or stories. I suppose what I’m always looking for is a kind of human dilemma, you know where you would say, what would I do in that situation, or imagine if you were here and all this happened, how would I survive, what would I do? Something that has an emotional impact for me, something I connect to. Does this feel real? Is it something I can relate to? Is it strong enough?

Have you ever written anything in another format?

I wrote a novella, for my own amusement, and also some short stories. Short story is an amazing format. I love it. I think it requires rigour and craft to be able to write something like that and not overwrite it. Short films are exactly the same but I think a short film should work more like a poem, present an idea and leave you thinking about it. I think a really powerful short film should provoke thought rather than just tell you a story so that when you leave the cinema you have questions in your head. If you can do that you’ve done your job well.

With the Oscar® nomination, Variety in Hollywood naming you one of its ten directors to watch in 2011 and the impact of your first feature, As If I Am Not There, what are your plans for the future?

It’s really heartening to get that recognition but, at the end of the day, you’re only really ever as good as your next script. If they – people in LA – like your script they’ll talk to you, if they don’t they won’t. But it’s always helpful to get the recognition. At the moment I’m adapting a book by an American author, Daniel Woodrell, called The Ones You Do. It’s deliberately completely different from what I’ve done before. I’ve also just bought the rights to four short stories by a young Peruvian writer, set in Lima, about people struggling on a day-to-day basis with quite big decisions. My plan is to weave them together somehow but I don’t know if it’ll work yet.

Patrick Nash

This is an edited version of an exclusive interview with Juanita Wilson from, Short Films: Writing the Screenplay by Patrick Nash, published by Creative Essentials, price £14.99

Short Films cover

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Interview: writer/director Gerard Hurley, the creator, and lead, of the bittersweet new drama ‘The Pier’

The-Pier

Shane Kennedy talks to writer/director Gerard Hurley, the creator, and lead, of this bittersweet new drama.

The relationship between Ireland and the United States is often romanticised. From the hands that built America to the serial loss of some of our finest talent, it is a bittersweet story. In The Pier, writer/director Gerard Hurley plays an ex-pat returning from the States, seeking reconciliation with his ailing father against the stark beauty of West Cork, the land he was forced to leave in search of a better life.

The film reflects aspects of Hurley’s own life, his departure from Ireland taking him first to Switzerland, then northern Italy, where he worked with horses, before emigrating to the States. He spent time in Oklahoma, New York, Connecticut, LA and New Orleans while in the US. It was in the early ‘90s that Hurley began working on film sets, turning his hand to every job he could, as well as completing an internship at Warner Bros subsidiary New Line Cinema.

While Hurley might be new to Irish audiences, he has actually been writing screenplays for about 20 years, and it was the frustration of seeing his work overlooked that pushed him to go it alone with both The Pier and his 2008 debut, The Pride. ‘I’ve written a bunch of [screenplays]. Four of them were optioned and nothing came of them so I started making my own. I got sick of writing things for nothing and on spec. I was like, “I’ve just gotta go and do this myself.”’

Hurley wrote, directed and produced The Pier, as well as playing the lead, although he insists that the film is not autobiographical. ‘I think it’s very important to separate the two. In terms of The Pier, it’s a commentary on the world that I come from. I had to emigrate because I couldn’t get any work here when I was younger. It touches on a lot of different subjects but never dissects my own personal life.’

The story of a returning emigrant seeking to make peace with his sick father might sound straightforward but, like in any relationship, there is more going on in The Pier than first meets the eye. ‘There are certain things I find personally tragic and one of them is the idea that a person can live their life and not expose to themselves and to others who they are and what they are about. A lot of people spend their lives hiding their emotional truth from themselves and the world, both artistically and in their personal lives. I wanted to expose that, when people aren’t honest with themselves.’

The setting of West Cork provides a stunning location for many of the film’s scenes and Hurley sought to use the backdrop to further inform his story. ‘I did want to create a sense of isolation and the landscape does feature in the film. We are all products of our landscape. It sculpts who we are as people. There is a lot of creating the isolation using the landscape and using the characters. It’s very conscious.’

‘I used the landscape in different ways. The son is always shot against the water and the father is always shot against the land. But the father is shot against the water after he confronts Jack on the pier. Some people are into really sexy camera angles, whereas I like to work with the environment a lot.’

‘I never intended to make a high-art movie. I just wanted to make a very honest story that spoke to people like me. From an artistic point of view, I have the capability to go off in all different directions and styles. Stylistically, this film is very different from The Pride. Thematically and story-wise, it’s the same, but the way it’s executed is very different. In this case I wasn’t trying to make an arthouse movie.’

The Pier got a standing ovation at the Galway Film Festival and Hurley was amazed at the number of people that came up to him in tears afterwards. ‘One note I get consistently back on my work is that it is very, very organic. I have various techniques that I have when I work with actors. I love working with actors. It’s awesome. I really respect them for what they do. It’s an amazing practice. There are actors out there who just really go out on a Iimb with their performances and I have so much respect for them.’

One actor in The Pier that will be familiar to audiences is female lead Lili Taylor. Best known for her turn in Mystic Pizza, Taylor has a lengthy CV that includes Born on the Fourth of July, Prêt-à-Porter and High Fidelty. Hurley’s years on the periphery of the film industry have served him well in casting the film. ‘We have been friends for a long, long time and because I lived in New York and LA, I have a lot of friends who are actors. When I wrote this, I thought about her in the role and when I asked her she was down for doing it.’

Although Hurley has set up a production company in West Cork, he is keen to maintain a presence stateside. ‘I moved back with the intention of developing more projects here, but I go back to America fairly often and keep up my contacts.’

The mammoth task of writing, directing, producing and leading in both of his films to date has provided Hurley with exposure to all aspects of the filmmaking process. However, it is the acting side that appeals least to him. ‘I’m interested in all of it although I don’t think I could direct someone else’s screenplay. I’m an open book. I’m probably least interested in the acting, although if a role came along that I was really interested in, I would do it. I just love film, I love making movies. I’m a very co-operative person and I co-operate well with myself. I never wanted to act but I got frustrated with all the rejections. I’d write a screenplay, it would get passed around then nothing would happen.’

‘When I wrote The Pride, I had another actor in mind but he got nervous because I hadn’t directed a movie before. So I thought, “I know exactly what I want, so just do it.” When I started doing it, it brought me to a real place, emotionally, and I just found it amazing.’

Shane Kennedy

www.thepierfilm.com

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland – The Winter Issue 2011 – Issue 139

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Interview: Limerick’s New Digital Cinema and Media Training Hub

For the last two years there has been rumours floating around the independent film community in Limerick that we were going our own Filmbase or Filmcentre. No one seemed to know when or where it would happen or who was going to run it. So you can imagine when I heard that it was to be run by the City of Limerick VEC I decided to find out the details. So I got an interview with the two main players in the project Dave Burns and Paul Patton (Head of the City of Limerick VEC).

Interview with Professor Dave Burns, former member of the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems in the University of Limerick and one of the main collaborators on this project with City of Limerick VEC. He has been actively campaigning for a digital cinema for Limerick since 2008.

How did you become involved in this project?

Basically, I was angry one night at the Belltable (Arts Centre’s film club) where there was a programme of shorts going on. It was delayed for an hour and I ended up watching the football. When I came back and it was cold and smelly. I wondered why am I sitting here and I walked out. I said to Declan McLoughlin, who was on the door ‘this isn’t good enough’. He said write to them. At the same time I began to realise that the money being put into Limerick for Cultural Cinema was just not going to happen. This was four years ago. So I started researching what had happened, why it happened, why there was no cinema here? It was just at the time when digital projection was coming in and I went and looked at a little cinema in Kent, first called the Kino. It was a ninety-one seated place. I asked myself, why can’t we have that here for example? What had killed the old one screen cinemas was lugging around the rolls of film, staffing and it became expensive to run. So, I said to myself is a small cinema now viable. So round about August I went to talk to the City Manager about it. He was very negative towards me and I realise now why. It’s because he gets nuts coming into see him every week. Since we got serious about it he’s been very supportive. I then took the idea to the University to try and get them to convert a lecture theatre into a cinema, so the lecture theatre would now become very high spec. This would have become much more suitable for conferences, etc. The plan was to offer to rent it as a cinema at night and at the weekends. That progressed quite far. Our original estimate was about €300,000 to do the conversion. It turned out to be just over €400,000. They couldn’t make a decision on it. Eventually they pulled the plug at the €400,000. I couldn’t believe it! It was all about getting paid back for the money given. I was offering to pay rental of €24,000 or something for it. This would take 15 years to pay it back. The asset to the campus and to the local community would have been huge. Just at the time that had collapsed, Paul Patton got the new post of the acting-CEO of the Limerick City VEC. He was going through old correspondence and found an email from a guy from the university about the Royal Cinema (Upper Cecil Street, Limerick. It is an iconic old cinema once called The Limerick Anthenaeum Hall (c. 1856). It was where famous Limerick actor Richard Harris used to sneak in and watch films, as a child. It has been an institute of Arts education, lecture theatre, meeting place for sports clubs, musical theatre and a cinema). So Paul contacted this guy. I also met the same guy on the same day. Joachim talked to me and we were talking about a place in the city centre for the cinema. So I went into see Paul and we’ve been working on it for now for two years.

What will be the aim of the project? What are you hoping to achieve?
There are two main aims. One we want to emulate the Galway Film Centre. I think they are a wonderful example of how a small organisation running on a very tight budget can generate so much interest and commitment and development. Two, we also want to run a successful cinema. It will show mainstream films as well as foreign films as well as art-house films, local films and films that are made locally. It has to be a success as a cinema, as we will to use the profits from that to run a film centre along the lines of the Galway Film Centre.

So will this project be an extension of the VEC with VEC staff and run by the media department of the Limerick College of Further Education? Or will it be like the Galway Film Centre where, even though, they are attached to the college they are an independent entity with course facilitators from the film industry?

The latter is the way I would see it myself. The way Paul (CEO of the Limerick City VEC) and I have formulated it between ourselves, in a very informal way, is that we’ll set up a company to run the cafe, the cinema and the training. The VEC, which is always short of let’s say classrooms, will actually rent rooms from this company. We’ll probably, though I’m not sure at this stage, hope to pay a rent to the VEC for the whole facility. This will hopefully be an independent entity which will regenerate the money back into the community and filmmaking projects.

We hope to rent out filmmaking equipment as well and provide a forum for people to show their work, give lectures and so on.

This is something that is very much lacking in Limerick at the moment. Up until now people have to go to Galway or Cork to get equipment and it can seriously cut into a film shoot, not including the cost. So what stage is the project at now?

The architects have been appointed and have come up with preliminary sketches. They have talked to the city planners. The planners have agreed that it is okay to raise the roof so we will get four screens in. Two by 150, one by 70 and another one called a studio space. That one probably won’t have full-blown digital projection it might just have blue-ray and fold away seating. This can be moved back for rehearsal, dance practice, lecture or whatever space. In fact bands could practice there. The digital lounge will be on the ground floor and a cafe. This floor will also have a kitchen, a bar, the box office and a confectionary stand all coming in the entrance way. People can also get meals on the first floor. There will be steps or a lift up to there. This will be where the entrances to the cinemas will be. There will be quiet space on the third floor for people to have work space, to have meetings and surf the net. There will also be office space up there. We are expecting Fresh Film Festival to perhaps take an office up there. We are in talks with them about it. They are very impressive people.

So what is the timetable now?
We have enough money to do stage one with the architects which will almost bring us to the submission for the planning permission. Then, basically we need another €100,000 to proceed to the next step. There is no sign, as yet, of that anywhere. Up to now we have had three tranches of funding and they have all turned up exactly when we’ve needed them. So we could be lucky but as yet I don’t know where we will find this €100,000.

Dave then  introduced me to Paul Patton CEO of Limerick City VEC, Dave’s partner in this enterprise.

Paul: Limerick City VEC’s main function is education and we would envision that this kind of place would encourage, primary school children, secondary school kids, school-leavers et cetera, to gain skills that might open up new opportunities in a different industry. It would give them the basic skills they need. We know this industry has been identified recently in a government report as an industry with growth potential. In Limerick we need to be looking at this kind of thing. We need to emulate counties like Dublin and Galway with their great film festivals.

Dave: What we want to bring to schools is not just education in filmmaking but education in film. Kind of like what they do in the IFI. With a lecture after the kids have seen the film and information packs.

Paul: We hope that it would complement the regeneration of the city centre. The city has been crying out for an injection of investment. There used to be a number of cinemas in the city centre but now there is none, so I strongly believe that this project would be one of the catalysts for regeneration of the city centre. The location, the Royal Cinema, has a long and distinguished history as a centre for arts within the city. The only thing holding this project up is funding. Two feasibility studies (one local and one done by a company in the UK) have shown that it is a runner. This is viewed as a regeneration project. There is also potential for expansion as there is an unoccupied building at the other side of the VEC building which is sandwiched in the middle. It is a former social welfare office. This project is to be a hub for Media Arts in the city.

We have the backing of the Department that covers Arts now, as we have spoken to Minister Jim Deegan and his officials. They are very much aware of the project. The only problem for them is that the Arts budget has been very much reduced. They already have projects that are in the pipeline that need to be covered. They have however funded fifty percent of the feasibility study and they wouldn’t do that if they didn’t see this as a viable project! Limerick City council fully support it but can’t financially. We will have to wait and see where the next funding will come from.

This project holds exciting prospects for the future of film in the Mid-West. Hopefully the people with money will see that too. Watch this space.

Eleanor McSherry

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Interview: Frank Berry, whose documentary ‘Ballymun Lullaby’ opens in selected cinemas on Friday.

Ballymun Lullaby Ron Cooney

Ron Cooney in Ballymun Lullaby

Ballymun Lullaby is an inspirational account of how music teacher, Ron Cooney, brought children from Ballymun together to collaborate on a children’s music education programme.

Music teacher Ron Cooney has been working in the Republic of Ireland’s only high-rise housing estate for fifteen years. During this time he has seen the area undergo a dramatic transformation, including the demolition of six of its seven tower blocks. The young people of Ballymun have had an extraordinary experience, and Ron sets out to produce a collection of music that gives voice to their story. Working with composer Daragh O’Toole, Ron’s ambition is to create a ‘world class’ collection of music for his talented students to play and write lyrics for.

This music challenges the negative views many still hold of the area – views that have the potential to hold his students back, and undermine the aims of the Ballymun Music Programme. The music that is produced attracts the attention of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and is soon recorded by them in a unique collaboration with the students.

A dynamic funny and driven man, despite his own health problems, what Ron and his students have achieved is simply amazing. Ballymun Lullaby is a story that needs to be heard.

www.ballymunlullabythefilm.com

Steven Galvin caught up with Frank Berry, the man behind the inspirational documentary…

How did the film come about?

I have been involved in making community videos for many years. It’s great work, very purposeful and enjoyable. In 2003 I made a community video for the Ballymun music programme and that’s when I first met Ron Cooney. Over the next few years we stayed in contact, and occasionally my cameraman Kevin Duffy and I would go out and cover events for them. In February 2009 I got a call to go out to Ballymun to film an important occasion for Ron and the music programme. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Mary McAleese were in town launching a brand new music room built for Ron as part of the regeneration of Ballymun. The degree of success of this particular community initiative really blew me away and I got the idea to make the film at that point.

Can you tell us a bit about funding?

We had no funding for the production of the film! It was a labor of love for us all. I don’t think I could make a film with no money again, but for this film is was very exciting to see how much we could achieve. When we did approach the Irish Film Board they were very encouraging and practically helpful during the editing. They awarded us €60,000 to finish the film. And have since awarded us Direct Distribution funding for the cinema release.

The documentary is as much about music and what it can do as it is about community…

Ron’s primary aim is to engage young people in the area. He doesn’t necessarily expect them all to turn into great musicians. For him it’s about engaging them in something positive – that buzz of playing in a band or singing in a choir. He said to me once ‘if they can do this they may not pursue music but they may consider what else they can do.’ That’s when I understood the real impact of what he is doing.

Northside Pic

There’s a great sense of humour that comes across in the film…

Yes, a lot of humour comes from Ron who is just great to be around, and the students themselves are very funny. It’s beautiful to watch Ron teaching them, and to observe the way they react to him. I think those are the most touching moments in the film.

It must have been great to be at the screening of the film in Ballymun.

Yes, we screened the film in Ballymun a couple of weeks ago in the Axis theatre. We invited everyone involved in the film and their families and it was a night I’ll never forget. The film will never have a more important screening than that one!

Is there a great buzz on the festival circuit where the film has been going down so well?

There seems to be a lot of buzz, it’s been great. The film premiered at the Dublin International Film Festival this year, and then went on to screen in Galway and Cork. It was invited to New York’s primary documentary festival DOC NYC in November, which was our international festival premiere.

Winning the 2011 Directors Finders Series recently must have been a tremendous experience.

That was amazing news. I think for this story to travel to Los Angeles and be screened at the Directors Guild of America Theatre really says something about the universality and the power of the themes in the film. I’m very grateful to the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland and the Directors Guild of America, as the award has given the film a huge boost both internationally and at home. And personally I find it very encouraging!

And now for a cinema release in Dublin from 16th December …

Yes it’s starting on the 16th in the Irish Film Institute and Cineworld on Parnell Street. The Ballymun Choir will be singing Christmas carols on the Friday and the Sunday in the Irish Film Institute, so that should be special.

What’s next?

I’m researching another feature project involving young people’s mental health. Another story that needs to be heard!

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Interview: Tommy Tiernan

TT.

Tommy Tiernan’s new DVD, Crooked Man premiered at this year’s Cork Film Festival. Emmet O’Brien was there to meet the storyteller.

Having Crooked Man screened in the Cork Film Festival is a very prestigious honour, did you have any trepidation launching the show in that environment?

I was surprised we were there (laughs) but it worked as an experience for the audience. It’s amazing that a movie about one man talking for 75 minutes could hold attention like that. I was worried the crowd might be put off by the singularity of it, or the fact that there was already an audience laughing on screen. But it really worked and afterwards I was just glad it went that way.

You see I’m a huge movie fan so it’s interesting to me what the possibilities of stand-up on film could be. I’ve often thought if you took the ideas from a stand up show and tried to represent them visually, what would you end up with? If you could take a line from the show such as ‘Ireland should exist as a giant question mark on the edge of Europe that nobody can understand’. How could you convey that cinematically? I’ve seen films that are visual records of the world and they can go from seeing children in India scrambling around for food to a donkey slowly walking up a hill. Now while they may be beautifully shot, they had sad music to score the scenes of the poor and I didn’t enjoy that. You can’t make those sorts of assumptions.

You think the visuals should speak for themselves and allow the viewer to bring their own interpretation to it?

Exactly. I saw the Bob Quinn film Budawanny (1987) and I loved it. I’m a big fan of his. It was a revelation and when he was introducing the film he said that storytelling hadn’t improved since the advent of sound. Techniques had but the actual act of telling a story hasn’t been bettered since the ’20s. Michael Moore was the same, he’s a polemic and I often wonder is there a link between his point of view and how he conveys it and if you set that against stand-up could you go beyond the idea of simple storytelling and make it into something more visual?

Stand-up is such an aural technique. Monty Python is what I think of when I consider verbal humour being married to striking and distinctive visual style.



Well The Meaning of Life is brilliant. The Life of Brian is more of a story, it’s a ridiculous one but it has a structure to it. But Meaning… would be more what I’m talking about. I watch a lot of slow-burning art house, Eastern European films where the image is paramount. I have a great love of the power of that.



Is that where the bookend scenes for Crooked Man come from?

Well in the DVD I mention the idea of shape-shifting, the folklore idea that Irish people used to be able to turn into rabbits and other creatures and at the end of the show I do this thing where I mime playing a fiddle, an invisible fiddle in the dark. It’s to a wonderful piece of music played by Kevin Burke. But I come back on stage then wearing a rabbit mask and just look at the audience and it really was a nice theatrical flourish to the whole thing but we wanted to know how to make that work cinematically. The piece at the beginning, which shows a wood, sets the tone and looks so beautiful and still. It’s reminiscent of something out of a Tarkovsky film. I’m delighted with it.

The mantra of your show reminds me of the Talking Heads album title Stop Making Sense where you seem to be celebrating a sense of absurdism in what are quite heavy and serious times. Are people still taking everything that bit too seriously?

I don’t think when we meet each other and have conversations we’re taking it too seriously. In normal everyday life our instinct is to laugh. The media, however, is loving the drama and using every opportunity to remind us of how dire the situation is to sell more newspapers or whatever. But if anyone chats with anyone else no matter how serious it gets, we want a laugh at the end, that’s our inclination. Prime Time doesn’t have the courage to end with a joke every week (laughs).
We find great relief in laughter and we have a great capacity for it.

What was the response to the show at the time and why did you pick Cork as the place to film in?

That club, the City Limits, is one of the best of the smaller rooms around. We considered other places, like the 100 Club in London but that had just shut down, but I think the room in Cork has a real great atmosphere to it.

When we did the show in Vicar Street last Christmas the response was phenomenal, very strong. It was great being able to look the recession in the eye and refuse to be beaten down by it in a way everyone felt they could draw strength from. That was thrilling.

In stand-up all you can do is say what you’re thinking at the time and naturally it’s heightened and it can be a bit of a pose but because of the nature of the thing, it still has authenticity to it. I don’t have a message or anything. You just tell your stories and everyone in there experiences them. In fact the storyteller is experiencing the narrative as well and at the end you might disagree with it but it’s all instincts. I have those more than I have a message. I’m not wise enough to impart knowledge. I’m certainly not throwing stars into the sky people should navigate by (laughs).

So you sometimes fundamentally disagree with things you’ve said?


Oh God, yes. I’ve come off stage so many times and thought ‘Em…No’, but then that’s what gives the performance its life. I’m trying to entertain a room full of people and there’s a pressure to keep all that going. But yes I frequently question things I’ve said and challenge my own ideas. When I’m out there I believe whatever it is I’m saying at that moment but that’s when you’re in the middle of a very heightened situation. There’s no such thing as eternal certainty.

Do you see yourself and your craft developing since you’ve started? Do you approach the process of being a comedian any differently now?



Just trying to keep people interested and you can only do that if you yourself are still engaged. My next run of shows are an enquiry into folktales and we’ll see where that leads. The thing to remember, however, is that a stand-up audience are ruthless and they don’t allow self-indulgence. They get bored quickly so I have to keep it fresh and exciting. That’s what I love about stand-up, it can’t get too precious or pretentious and if it does it’s only for a moment cause an audience may tolerate something once, but they won’t for a second time. It’s a living thing, every show is different and you have to adapt. I don’t think Crooked Man is a shocking show compared to say Bovinity, but it’s a complicated balancing act doing comedy. You have to reassure an audience but also elude them.


Have you ever considered moving more seriously into acting?



Stand-up is where it is for me and I’d love to make those movies of my act and let them stand and speak for themselves across the world like in a hotel in Toronto or somewhere. But I don’t have any interest in making something with a long narrative or anything. I’m quite particular about film and what I like. I try to live by the idea though that if you are doing something different and new it has to be adventure, not just for you but for everyone. It has to be inclusive.

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Interview: Aidan Gillen on his role as Aidan in Jamie Thraves’ ‘Treacle Jr.’

Aidan Gillen as Aidan in 'Treacle Jr.'

Steven Galvin chats to Aidan Gillen about his role as Aidan in Jamie Thraves’ ‘Treacle Jr.’, currently playing in Irish cinemas.

A middle-aged man, Tom, walks out one day on his wife and baby boy and his seemingly happy life with no explanation. He opts to live on the streets of London. Alone in a park at night he is set upon by a gang of violent thugs, in his bid to escape he accidentally runs into a tree. In A&E Tom meets an extremely happy, fast-talking individual, Aidan, the complete opposite of Tom. Too polite, or too weak to ask him to leave him alone Tom tries to get away from him but to no avail, Aidan sticks to Tom like glue. Tom reluctantly becomes involved in Aidan’s life and he quickly realizes that this child like man clearly has his own problems, except Aidan can’t see them, his shiny optimism blinds him at every turn, even from his ‘girlfriend’ the dangerous and volatile Linda.

How did you prepare for a role that, let’s say, is not the most conventional?

The script was put together by Jamie following a series of workshops with Tom (Fisher, who plays Tom) and Rian (Steele, who plays Linda) and a couple of others involved along the way. He had an idea that he wanted to make a film about somebody who was really optimistic… irrepressibly optimistic. And have that person put together with someone who is the opposite.

A lot of things happened on the way. At one point we were working on a completely different story with a set of completely different characters. It was quite open. Basically the theme was there and that was it.

I had an idea to base my character on someone I know – and it is based on him. I think often when actors are asked to invent a character they are often – not always – based on people they know or a composite of people that they know. In this case I did base it on someone I know because they perfectly fit the bill.

When you say the story was open and that it found itself – is that how Jamie works? I know you two have worked together before?

It is kind of the way he works. I worked with him in 2000 on a film called The Low Down and it was a similar process although by the time I came to it, he’d already been through the workshops stage. I was there at the script stage. What we filmed was pretty much what was there on the script although there were some scenes improvised here and there. When people saw The Low Down a lot of them thought it was all improvised – that’s the feeling that it has. People have said the same about this film. Some of it is but it’s mostly all scripted – maybe 10% improvised.

The openness of what we do is probably a trademark of Jamie’s but once he has the idea that between yourselves you’ve come up with he’ll take it and solidify it. It is a collaborative process up to a point but it’s mostly him.

There’s an interesting dynamic between the two lead characters – a meeting of opposites.

There is that theme of someone who has it all and doesn’t seem to want it and someone who doesn’t have a lot but is happy with that. Essentially the thing is about people looking out for each other. Jamie is quite a humane filmmaker. He’ll always look for the good in people, the humour in painful situations.

 

Tom (left) & Aidan (right)

 

There’s very much a sense of place to the film…

The film was filmed around Camberwell and Walworth Road in South East London – they’re quite neglected places that were pretty much to the forefront of the areas that were being torn up in London a couple of weeks ago. But they are loving portraits of those areas.

Jamie seems to be using these areas in almost a ‘guerilla’ way, which gives it a particular energy.

There wasn’t any money for paying for anywhere – location wise. We didn’t do anything that we didn’t have permission for though. I think the council in the area we shot was quite helpful and gave us permits and stuff. As far as getting to film in shops and cafés and stuff we’d just go in and ask. But stuff was done on the fly. Across the board it was favours, filming in friends’ places. No messing about. The whole thing was shot pretty fast – three and a half weeks.

You mentioned earlier about basing your character on someone you know? I suppose not so much in England, but in Ireland many people will know of that person – Aidan Walshe…

I don’t know of anyone in England who’d know Aidan Walshe. We’re certainly not using it as a kind of selling point but still acknowledge that that is where that character comes from. You know, it’s not his story – but it’s his characteristics. It’s totally Aidan Walshe – and that’s quite obvious. Jamie was also aware of Aidan and was inspired by his way of dealing with the world. I’m not sure if he’s mentioned in the credits for the film. It’s more as an inspirational figure that Jamie wants to give him credit. But it’s not his story. His story would make a very good film. Like Andy Kaufmann in Man on the Moon and Larry Flynt – all these people are quite different, but it’s how they deal with life. Aidan’s had quite an interesting struggle in his life and has triumphed and I find that interesting and heroic. But we’re not saying this is the the Aidan Walshe  story because it’s not – but I’d be up for doing the Aidan Walshe story if anyone wants to it…

There’s the weird side to all this as well as people who know it’s based on Aidan Walshe may think that everything we say is supposed to relate to Aidan Walshe’s life… and it doesn’t. I did bring Aidan into it. I’ve known him for a long time, since I was 10 and I did put him wide to it. And I’m glad we did it. He’s our hero. We really wanted to get it across that this guy is really up against some shit and by dealing with it in the way he deals with it he comes out the winner, the clever one, the unsullied one if you like. He helps this guy Tom; he’s what brings him back to life.

… They both help each other.

But essentially it is Tom’s story. Aidan is kind of a ‘show-off’ role. But it is all about Tom. He’s the straight man if you like. I found his story quite moving. People respond to Tom’s plight – leaving home, tearing up his credit cards, wandering around a park at night. People are terrified for him – that he is at the end of his life. Then his life takes another turn when these ‘wild cards’ enter his life.

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Interview: Gerard Lough – The boogeyman’s gonna get ya…

THE BOOGEYMAN - confession scene

Short film director Gerard Lough is making quite a name for himself these days in horror circles. The Boogeyman, his adaptation of the Stephen King story, has been well received on the festival circuit and continues to garner praise. Film Ireland caught up with Gerard to discuss The Boogeyman and the man behind it.

Can you tell us how The Boogeyman came about?

Like a lot of up-and-coming film directors, being given the reins to a feature film was still something out of my reach. So the next option is do another short film. But I soon realized that this time it needed a commercial edge. Short films are shown on TV once every blue moon and cinema screenings are now a rarity so your film needs something different that’s going to make it stand out from what your contemporaries are doing, let alone stand a chance on the international film festival circuit. I didn’t know any famous actors or trendy bands, but I did remember a documentary I saw about The Shawshank Redemption which mentioned that’s its director, Frank Darabont, had previously made a short film also based on a Stephen King story (1983’s The Woman In The Room). So I quickly deducted that having a film based on a short story by an astoundingly famous author can’t hurt. That said, when I read The Boogeyman (taken from King’s short story anthology Night Shift) I fell in love with it, put the marketing strategy to one side and just became hell bent on bringing it to the screen in a vivid and exciting way.

How did you fund it?

I would like to be able to tell you that it was achieved by donating my body to scientific research but the truth is it came from shooting a couple of weddings and scrimping. So I guess the moral of the story is don’t knock Wedding videos. The money can be used to fund your more artistic efforts and besides you’re still telling a story by way of 150 different camera set-ups which have to be decided upon within seconds, which might explain why none of my films have ever gone behind schedule. My deal with King stipulates that the film cannot be commercially exploited therefore that rules out asking a third party to put in as they will never see a return on their investment. Other organizations associated with the Arts turned us down flat as they saw the project as… too commercial. Catch 22. So myself and my producer had to go it alone.

It’s doing really well on the festival circuit – tell us a bit about its success and screenings to date.

Well to say it had a lot of press would be an understatement. One of my fondest memories was hearing that Ryan Tubridy praised the film on his Radio show after reading an article about it in the Irish Times (cheers, Ryan!). And you can’t help go all silly the first time you see an article about it a well-known film magazine such as SFX.

It’s also fair to say that the reviews have been terrific. The general consensus is that we took the source material seriously, strong performance from lead actor Simon Fogarty, great visuals and as well as being genuinely creepy, it has things to say.

Most importantly of all it has had a strong reaction from audiences at festival screenings. Each time I got the sense that after the film’s opening scene (a painfully difficult reverse zoom that makes my head hurt thinking about even now) that they were expecting a by the numbers gore fest but were now watching something very different than what they expected. And it was fun hearing their theories afterwards about what they think is the true meaning of the film’s rather ambiguous twist ending.

 

Have you been good?

 

How did you originally get into filmmaking?

In retrospect I was lucky enough to do a two-year Diploma course that was much more practical than theory based. It was there I learned to operate a camera, edit, direct, organize, etc. So very early on I learned to be both hands on and self-sufficient. When I was doing an internship at a very good advertising agency in America, I used my spare time and newfound resources to good use and directed my first music video (‘Rachel Hates The Sun’). After that I was up and running.

What’s next for you?

I’d like to do one last short film. Blade Runner is my favorite movie so the project I’m preparing right now is a mix of film noir and science fiction. Besides it’s not like Ireland has produced many Cyberpunk / Neo Noir films, right? I have also just finished a feature-length script version of a short film I made in 2008 called Deviant, which was about serial prowler whose days are numbered. And finally, to bring things full circle back to The Boogeyman, I hope to have my first short story published in the autumn. If none of these projects get off the ground… then I’ll reconsider donating my body for scientific research.

Steven Galvin

The Boogeyman will be shown at the Underground Cinema Film Festival in Dun Laoghaire on 9th September.


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Interview with ‘Perrier’s Bounty’ writer Mark O’Rowe

Perrier's Bounty

With the release of Perrier’s Bounty on DVD,  Steven Galvin talks to Mark O’Rowe, the film’s writer, about the genesis of the script, the characters he created, his career to date and his plans for the future.

Mark O’Rowe began his writing in theatre, picking up a number of prizes for his successful play Howie the Rookie in 1999, which first set out his grungy world populated by low-life ‘crims’, foul-mouthed losers and head-the-balls.

 

After that, he came to prominence in Irish cinema circles by penning the well received Intermission, which won him the IFTA Award for Best Screenplay in 2003.

Since then O’Rowe has written Perrier’s Bounty, which, as he explains below, was ‘shelved’ for a few years, and also adapted Jonathan Trigell’s critically acclaimed novel Boy A in 2007.

Film Ireland caught up with him to learn a little bit about the man behind the screenplays.

Could you tell us about the genesis of Perrier’s Bounty, where the screenplay emerged from, how long it took you to put together…

It’s a good few years old now. I wrote it after Intermission. It was an original project. I wrote it for Parallel Films – the people who produced Intermission. So off I went and did the first draft. And then, they were finding it difficult to get it financed and it went on the shelf for a couple of years. So then it was brought off the shelf and was shown around to a few people and it got a lot of interest. And so everything went fairly smooth from there and it came back to me so I could do a couple more drafts. So I suppose it was a five-to-six-year process with five of those years being on the shelf! Well, when I say ‘on the shelf’, I mean from my point of view; obviously there were people involved (Parallel Films) behind the scenes working to get it made. But for me, I didn’t go near it for a time.

 

And do you think those five years would’ve had an effect on the final product… I mean, would it’ve been a different thing had you finished it first time off?

No. It’s pretty much what it was. It’s the same story that was always there. Obviously you’re improving it, rewriting it and stuff. But more or less it’s the same story.

As always with these things, people are going to categorise it. But you’ve got a lot of genres going on in this film– obviously you’ve got your gangster stuff; there’s a road movie in there; there’s a bit of western; and there’s also a rom-com element – all interwoven. Is that something you consciously set out to do?

No…well the main thing I wanted was to do something genre-based, definitely. A movie that had people shooting guns at each other! That was probably as close as it got. As soon as I started writing it, I knew it was going to be funny – a gangster-caper type. Now everything you’ve listed there is correct, but I think they all fall under the main umbrella of gangster comedy. And I wanted to do something set within a specific timeframe… set over 36 hours – a guy trying to beat the clock type of story, with three very clear acts: one which would be night 1; the second would be the following day; and the third that would be the following night; something that was very strictly structured. And then everything came from that. You set it up as a simple familiar story: a guy owes money to a gangster; he has a certain amount of time to pay; and you wind it up throwing in a few other characters and situations and see how it plays out. Well, that sounds easy. It’s not! But that’s kind of the idea.

And was it something you wanted to do because you have a love of that type of film, something you grew up watching, or just something you wanted to tackle?

I don’t know… it becomes what it becomes. I had written Intermission and that was a sprawling, multi-character, multi-story thing, so I wanted to do something that required the discipline of the three-act structure, something that I knew would end up with a big set piece, something that would have the shoot-out, with chases, the love interest; all that kind of stuff. But to flip it on its head, whenever I could… or sort of indulge my own voice within that framework. In terms of stuff that I grew up watching – the same stuff everyone of my generation grew up with – the Scorsese stuff. So I suppose when I was teenager I got off on all that Scorsese stuff and those guys, if you want to make that connection. But the one thing I find quite weary is the Guy Ritchie thing, y’know that if you have a guy with a gun and humour – you’re very much bracketed into that. But I think this film is very much its own beast, even though it would have antecedents in that and Tarantino before that. It’s about doing my own thing.

When you talk about the characters, and obviously there’s a varied lot in the film; the two that stood out for me were the two ‘street philosophers’, – Michael’s father played by Jim Broadbent and Perrier himself played by Brendan Gleeson. Some of the best dialogue the film you’ve put into their mouths. Tell us about these two eccentrics you’ve created.

Well here’s how it happened… I suppose as I developed the script, Michael, the Cillian Murphy character, became the straight man to all these comedians. So in a way, from my point of view, Cillain had the most difficult performance. He’s the one who’s on the verge of losing his mind, but he’s the one we have to identify with. He’s the one who has to keep the film grounded while everyone around him has fun playing half-crazed lunatics. So you’ve got Jodie being suicidal and desperate to get back with this guy, you’ve got Jim thinking he’s going to die the next time he sleeps and Brendan being… here’s the thing though – they’re not really ‘philosophers’: Jim just believes he’s going to die. Simple as that. Any monologues he gets are stories, the knowledge that he has that which other people don’t, which is that he has met the Grim Reaper. And the thing about Brendan is that he’s convinced that he’s a very modern, liberal kind of guy, who is accepting of his men… of everything. Yet he protests slightly too much about being ‘hep to all that shit’, as he puts it. With him, it’s pretty much about this psychopath with very little or little or no empathy trying to come across as quite sensitive and sympathetic to his men and ideas of liberality. But the fact is he’s just a psychopath.

It’s clear from your writing that your characters are very much defined by their dialogue; is that something you bring from your theatre background or is it something that you engage with in your writing?

Yes. It started off from my writing for theatre. In theatre, you often start with someone just talking. It starts with words. Not words to describe an action but words that come out as dialogue from a character’s mouth. That character would say something and you get a clue to who they are, and the next step might be in the plot. So Perrier’s Bounty literally started off with Michael waking up to these two guys saying, ‘you have four hours to get this money to Perrier’. And then it’s a case of ‘so where will we go next’? I keep it going with dialogue. I think the fact that you take that route hopefully means that you get a lot of good supporting characters because they have to make their impact in the couple of minutes they’re on screen. Then you can leave them behind; bring them back or maybe not. But they have to stamp themselves in some way. And for me that’s through dialogue. It’s more than just writing Goon 1 and Goon 2.

You’re giving them existence outside of one particular scene…

Absolutely. And this makes it more interesting because these characters have a life of their own. It gives you a lot of freedom to come up with original takes on what’s happening, because you’re kind of making it up as you go along and you don’t know everything that’s going to happen – but of course in the long term you know where it’s all going to end.

This is your third screenplay on top of your theatre output. Perhaps you could talk about your evolution as a writer.

Well I did my Leaving Cert and that was as far and my education went. I had a few different jobs. I loved movies and literature but I was never going to get a job writing. My big love was film, but there was no way then in the ’80s in Tallaght… even if you could write a script, who would you give it to? Whereas I started to think that if I could write a play, at worst I could put it on myself… in a shed in front of people I knew! It seemed more ‘doable’. So that’s how I started writing. It seemed easier to get something out there. And that led to my career as a playwright. I remember the first time I really felt I could do something was when someone gave me a book of David Mamet plays and reading Sexual Perversion in Chicago. I read the dialogue and was amazed by it – it was just two people talking. So I started to imitate him and to get into the rhythms of that kind of speech, with people overlapping and interrupting and the poetic quality of it. Even though it was very scathing, realistic dialogue – that gave me the encouragement to write and I started to write scenes around dialogue. Earlier you asked about dialogue it my work – and there it is propelling my career! I suppose I learnt that I had to tell a story as well, try to plot something, which you kind of have to do!

And so what about the future. What are you working on at the moment? Any future screenplays coming up?

I’m working on a play at the moment. But I have a new screenplay – an adaptation of a book called Broken by Daniel Clay. I finished that quite recently and BBC films are going to be doing that next year 2011. Even though it’s not my own work, like with Boy A, you end up getting just as involved.

Finally then Mark, when you speak of your own work – how involved, if at all, were you in the production of your screenplay Perrier’s Bounty. Did you work at all with Ian Fitzgibbon (director) or is it a case of ‘my work here is done’?

You’ve got to hand it over y’know. They shot a lot of it in London and a lot of it here. I have a job. I wouldn’t be paid to be hanging around the set. Of course I was out at the set a couple of times and as any writer will tell you: it’s incredibly boring! You arrive at 10.30 thinking this is going to be the most exciting day of my life, and by lunchtime you’re trying to find someone to give you a lift home! I had a bit of involvement in the editing room at the end to give my opinion on various things – some of which they took; some of which they didn’t. But I was very happy with the job Ian did and very happy with the cast. I think it’s a good job. The photography is good, the editing, the pace, and the tone in general. Yeah, I think it all came out well.

Grand. Well Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk to me and congratulations on Perrier’s Bounty. All the best for the future.

Cheers. Thanks.

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