Issue 134 – Snapped

snap

Veteran producer Martina Niland and first-time feature director Carmel Winters’ new film Snap is a masterful work of concealment and revelation that demands total engagement from beginning to end. Words Niamh Creely.

A 15-year-old boy abducts a toddler and takes him to his grandfather’s home. The crime becomes public knowledge and the teenager’s mother is blamed by the media. This is the beginning of a steady revelation that is emotionally real and yet as engaging as any thriller. Making the film provided many challenges, not least directing a child less than 2 years old. I spoke to the creative team behind this stunning film.

‘Snap’ didn’t begin life as a screenplay. How did the story evolve?

Carmel: I developed Sandra and Stephen as characters in a dramatic scenario I presented to trainee psychiatrists. The interns were fascinated by the complex dynamics between mother and son. Some even cried as they unpicked what had made this mother and son so estranged and yet so bonded in ways that they couldn’t even themselves recognize. I invented lots of characters over the years in this way but Sandra and Stephen sunk deep hooks into my imagination. The character of Sandra, in particular. Her voice was constantly in my head, defending herself – and her son – to an imaginary audience. And yet there were so many holes and contradictions in her defence. I love characters that don’t unravel easily.

How did the scenario become the film?

Carmel: I was teaching Creative Writing (Drama) in the University of East Anglia and performed a one-woman show, A-Picking At A Bone at the theatre there. I played both characters – Sandra, and her teenage son Stephen.

At the same time, I was sifting through ideas for a screenplay that could thrive on, and not just survive, a low-budget production. I don’t always enjoy the low-budget ‘aesthetic’ that tends to emerge as a by-product of little money and time. Those films that roped me in as a viewer did so because of the strength of the characters and the storytelling.

When I’m writing a feature film script I feel like an architect. I’m working in three dimensions, moving space around. I’m always in a spatial point of view, looking from a particular place, creating dynamic tension from cuts between viewpoints and place. So when I began to think of ‘Sandra’ and ‘Stephen’ as characters in a film I started to look at them from different distances – from extreme close-up to extreme wide – and seeing if they revealed themselves differently. And when I did this the characters got extremely involved in this looking business – and started looking back. Sandra started courting the attention of a camera while Stephen seemed enormously invested in getting behind it.

So in the film itself there is an interrogation of what it means to be caught on camera, and with the camera… And this was not only why this play should become a film, it also gave me the opportunity to try a visual style that, while not being big-budget dependent, could be imaginative, original, compelling – and intrinsic to the story.

The film was shot on several different formats, some quite unconventional.

Carmel: Yes, in the script different technologies of looking – from CCTV, mobile phone, webcam, documentary cameras, mini DV, Cine 8 – became deeply significant to the characters and their story. The question was: do we shoot on these different formats or do we shoot on the best quality format available to us and downgrade after in post? And the second question was how do we differentiate ‘mediated’ reality, which is easy enough to signal, from supposedly ‘objective’ reality, which the film itself had made problematic? Kate McCullough, the DOP, was attached to the project very early on. I’d seen a strange, obscure short film she’d shot and I thought, ‘there’s a DOP who’s not seduced by mere glamour’. She and I share something of an aversion to ‘noisy’ post-production tools and techniques, especially when it comes to altering the structure of the image. While the audience mightn’t consciously register the fakery, I think it still makes itself felt.

For our ‘objective’ camera we used the RED. We could have used film except we didn’t want to be tied to a low shooting ratio when we were shooting the toddler and baby scenes. I found it funny how well some of the lower grade formats performed. The Sony EX1 used in the documentary scenes wasn’t a million miles off the RED, I whisper to say. So it was very much Kate’s manipulation of that tool that coaxed its nastier digital qualities and pulled it away from the RED. And the mobile phone we shot on held up so well that there was even talk of downgrading it in post. Which we didn’t do because, let’s face it, if you’ve committed to using different formats you’ve got to trust their intrinsic qualities and trust the audience with them. Basically, the same thing went for the formats as every other aspect of the film: let the audience sift through the subtleties and shades of the grey areas. There’s nothing black and white about life, and there’s nothing black and white about Snap – ok, except for a brief black and white sequence at the opening of the film!

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.

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Irish producer chosen for ‘Producers Lab Toronto’

Irish producer Martina Niland from Samson Films Ltd. & Accomplice TV has been chosen for the ‘Producers Lab Toronto’. This new initiative aims to encourage the exchange of creative energy, experience and talents and promotes the co-production of international film projects, by bringing together 12 European and 12 Canadian producers.

Created by European Film Promotion in collaboration with the Ontario Media Development Corporation and the Toronto International Film Festival, the programme will be launched this year between 10–12 September, during the Festival.

Regarded as the key gateway to the North American market, TIFF has always been important for European films.

Congratulations to Martina, our guest editor for the Spring issue in 2008, from all of us here in Film Ireland!

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ISSUE 133 – The Producers

The Runway

Everyone knows how essential a good producer is – but what do they actually do? Film Ireland got producer VANESSA GILDEA on the case.

Most times when you tell someone that you’re a producer, the first thing they ask is ‘What exactly does a producer do?’. The reason the question is so often asked and why the answer is so complex is that producing can encompass so many facets of the filmmaking process – it’s almost impossible to define succinctly. But we decided to give it a go anyway and talked to four established Irish producers working across a variety of genres: Macdara Kelleher, Martina Niland, Cathal Gaffney and John Murray.

Macdara Kelleher is managing director of Fastnet Films. He produced the award-winning feature film Kisses (an Irish/Danish/Swedish co-production) and was also selected as Ireland’s Producer on the Move for Cannes in 2008.

Martina Niland is a producer with Samson Films and among her many credits are the multi award-winning feature Pavee Lackeen and the Oscar®-winning film Once. She has also worked on Carmel Winters’ new feature Snap.

Cathal Gaffney established Brown Bag Films with Darragh O’Connell and currently executive produces. Brown Bag has been twice nominated for an Oscar® for the short films Give Up Yer Aul Sins and Granny O’Grimm and they also make several international animation series.

John Murray is managing director of Crossing the Line Films and has produced and directed over 100 documentaries. He has a passion for adventure, exploration and travel docs and recently produced The Yellow Bittern, the Liam Clancy documentary.

How would you define what a producer is and does?
MACDARA KELLEHER: Start with an easy question why don’t ya? It’s almost impossible to answer that, there’s so many different types of producer out there. Sometimes you originate the idea or come up with the initial concept or sometimes a writer/director comes with an idea and it’s your job to realise that. In one way you could say that the producer is the person who brings the project to life. Some days you’re a lawyer or an accountant and some days you’re creative, it’s hard to define…

What training or experience really helped you become a producer?
MK: I started working on films when I was about 18. I think just being around films and filmmaking gave me a good understanding of how it works. If you’re shooting a film in the North Pole, and you haven’t done it before, no amount of training or experience is going to prepare you for that. Every time you do a co-production with a new country it’s a whole new set of rules. It’s kind of like a game of chess, you’re always developing new strategies.

What’s the most unusual way you’ve ever funded a film?
MK: I funded one with credit cards, I wouldn’t recommend it. Sometimes you might come across a private investor who happens to be a philanthropist but it doesn’t happen very often. Also, taking private money for features and promising to give it back can be a dangerous process. In America they’re quite canny about funding, largely because outside of tax credits they have no public film funding like in Europe.

Do you find raising finance the hardest part of producing?
MK: It depends. If you have a director that people know or you have a great cast attached then it might not be so hard. If you’re working with a first-time director it can be difficult, but in that case you have to set the budget to an achievable level. Budget levels are coming down across the board and that’s proving difficult.

What has been your proudest achievement as a producer?
MK: To be still at it, I think. I’ve been doing it for ten years now. I’m still at it and I’ve kept a company going. The film that I’m most proud of having made would definitely be Kisses.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 133.

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Issue 121 – Film Ireland – Mar/Apr 2008 – Guest edited by Martina Niland

Film Ireland Issue 121Irish cinema relationship with Hollywood • Interview with Tony Safford • Lost in Translation: the doubled-edged sword of Hiberno-English • The Irish film industry: roundtable with John Carney, David Collins, Martina Niland, Mark O’Halloran and Kirsten Sheridan • Irish cinema’s evolution of the genre film • Eugene O’Brien remembers the Westerns • How the economics has shaped the perception of national and international cinema • Interview with Simon Perry, CEO of the BSÉ/IFB, as the Board reaches its 15th year • An Irish director working in Hollywood: Kirsten Sheridan

Film Reviews: In Bruges • Books: Film, Media and Popular Culture in Ireland by Martin McLoone

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