IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: David Prendeville & Brian Quinn, co-directors of ‘Monged’

Monged-Chosen

Film Ireland spoke to 2 of the 3 co-directors of Monged ahead of the film’s screening at the IFI as part of its monthly showcase for new Irish film. No drugs were taken in the making of this article.

Based on the award-winning play by Gary Duggan, Monged takes place over one drug-fuelled weekend in Dublin and stars Graham Earley, John Connors and Rex Ryan as three mismatched friends. .

Monged was directed by Rory Mullen, David Prendeville and Brian Quinn, and made as part of the Masters in Digital Feature Film Production at Filmbase, which places an emphasis on practical filmmaking to prepare students for a future in film production.

“The course really showed that making a film is entirely doable,” explains Brian. “You get thrown right in the deep end straight away. Our team was responsible for all aspects of the production. Prior to the shoot, we did classes in everything: script writing, pre-production, casting, camera, marketing, funding, music, etc. Then suddenly the powers that be pluck you from the cosy confines of the class room, hurling your feverish limbs into the real world where you have to put what you learned to use. I found the most important thing I learned was how to work with the people around you. Through initial practical class exercises you discover early on who you can trust. Trust is the key component to a healthy relationship and in turn opens up avenues of communication, which, for a director, is everything.”

As one of three directors, Brian animates how they approached the script. “Bash! Mash! Mush! as we squashed our brains together, producing a single cohesive pink wad. Instantly, we tried to intellectually devour the script, harvesting what lay beneath the surface. One of the first things we did as a team was that we wrote down 3 key phrases or words on post-it notes, sticking them in our office wall for all to see. ‘Trapped’, ‘coming of age, ‘duality’ became our story’s spine which would permeate though every directorial decision that was made. This helped to quash out any arbitrary choices so that decisions were solely motivated by story. I find when you make yourself rules or put yourself in a box you become more creative in your approach. Limitation is inspiration. With regard to dividing the script, we thought it best to split scenes among ourselves to direct, thankfully it was an equal spread and straight away we began to prep on our individual scenes.”

In addition to the three lead actors, the film boasts an impressive support cast that includes Aoibhin Garrihy, Clare Dunne, Joe Rooney, Alicia Ayres, Geraldine MacAlinden, Neill Fleming, Gerry Wade, Sharon Skerritt, Shane Robinson and Kyle Hixon. Working with such a cast was something David tells me was one of the highlights of his experience. “We were really fortunate to have such a talented group of actors. The three leads were all phenomenal to work with. They brought a lot of new ideas to the table, that weren’t in the script, and their eagerness to improvise and to create really brought a terrific energy to the film. This really is a film that would live and die by the performances and it was brilliant working with these guys. They are outstanding actors and also their openness, their quick-thinking on set and their creativity made them a pleasure to direct. And it wasn’t just with the leads we were fortunate, all the supporting players did great work on the film and were terrific to work with as well.”

The film is based on the play of the same name by Gary Duggan (RTÉ’s Amber), with a screenplay penned by Barry Dignam. David says, “I don’t think either myself, Brian or Rory were familiar with the play before filming and I think we kind of felt it may be healthier to separate the two mediums and focus on the script we were presented with and let that evolve rather than going back to the play as a point of reference.”

Talking about particular influences the directors brought to bear on the film, David says,we talked a lot about other ‘drugs’ film, such as Trainspotting. The Wolf of Wall Street was a big influence in terms of its gleeful debauchery. We talked also a lot about Boogie Nights in the sense that you go on a journey along with a character into an exciting new world. Also the film has a strong ‘buddy’ element to it and for that we took films such as Withnail and I as a big inspiration.”

Looking back over the whole experience Brian reflects that “the most important thing for a director is preparation, for me it provides personal confidence, ensuring I don’t run around on set like a headless chicken. Though, and here’s the slight contradiction, I find the ability to adapt is on par with prep’s importance. You really have to be prepared to relinquish some of that preparation up to the impromptu mischief of the day of shooting, salvaging the surprises that intensive preparation sometimes sedates.

“When you’re hidden behind closed doors, composing shot-lists, etching ‘n’ sketching storyboards, there’s no way of illustrating reality’s input. I found it hard at times being flexible with my preparation, so it took a while for me to open up my brain’s aperture, letting in the possibilities that may peek.”

 

Monged screens on Sunday, 18th October 2015 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The cast and crew will attend the screening.

Tickets for Monged are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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Filmbase Students Win 2014 Green Film Making Competition for European Students

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The Masters Students of Filmbase were awarded first prize at the 2014 Green Film Making Competition for European Students for their films Poison Pen and The Light of Day. The decision was announced at The Netherlands Film Festival‘s masterclass ‘Green Filmmaking: The Future of Producing’

The Green Film Making Competition is an initiative that challenges filmmakers to rethink their production processes and encourages young filmmakers across Europe to produce their films as sustainably as possible, while coming up with new and innovative sustainable solutions for on-set: lighting, art departments, transportation, energy consumption, craft services, and overall production process.

John Gormley, Poison Pen’s Green Production Manager, outlined the students’ green filmmaking processes explaining how they “embraced the concept of green filmmaking, and that meant looking at all aspects of filmmaking. From costumes, which were in most cases, all recycled,  we looked at the energy provider, and we tried to use green electricity as much as possible. The scripts, which in fact were provided on iPads, we tried to avoid paper , we recycled as much as we could on set, and that was successful for the most part. We also had green transport, we had electric cars provided. Every aspect of this film we looked at, and in that way, we reduced our carbon footprint [ …] Overall the experience of green filmmaking has been very positive […] we learned some very valuable lessons, we got great assistance from some of the state agencies, and I think on the basis of what we learnt, there’s a great future for green filmmaking here in Ireland.”

Below is a short video showing the efforts of the MSc Digital Feature Film Production course at Filmbase to engage in Green Filmmaking practices while producing their feature films The Light of Day and Poison Pen, 2014.

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: Lorna Fitzsimons, co-director of ‘Poison Pen’

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The comedy feature Poison Pen, the first screenplay from international best seller Eoin Colfer, will screen this Sunday at the IFI as part of its monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The film co-stars Lochlann O Mearáin as a washed-up author, who is coerced into writing for a gossip magazine, alongside Aoibhinn McGinnity as his new boss. Set in London but shot almost entirely in Dublin, Poison Pen is a smart and discerning romantic comedy about the nature of celebrity and integrity.

Poison Pen was directed by Lorna Fitzsimons, Jennifer Shortall and Steven Benedict, and made as part of the Masters in Digital Feature Film Production at Filmbase, which places an emphasis on practical filmmaking to prepare students for a future in film production.

“Anyone who’s made one can tell you what it’s like to make a feature film, but you only really learn when you do it yourself,” explains Lorna Fitzsimons, one of the co-directors and students on the course. “We did classes in everything: script writing, pre-production, casting, camera, sound recording, marketing, funding, etc. Directors, producers, writers, a really impressive list of industry experts came to see us, which was great preparation.”

As one of three directors, Lorna explains how they divided up Eoin Colfer’s script and how artistic continuity was retained. “Essentially we divided the script by locations or ‘worlds’. Steven (Benedict) took the old world, mainly based around Molloy’s apartment and his daughter Sally, I took his new world, mainly based around the magazine offices and London, and Jenny (Shortall) took the Celebrity world which, as you can imagine, was based in hotels, clubs and glamorous places.

“This division worked well, people act differently in different company and places. For example, Molloy is used to his writer’s block while he is at home, it’s comfortable, he owns it. When he gets to the Poison Pen offices, it’s different, he’s different. The influence of a different director is easily worked out this way. We spoke so much about character and story and motivation in preproduction that I don’t think anything was left to chance.”

In addition to the two lead actors, the film boasts an impressive support cast that includes Paul Ronan, Mary Murray, Susan Loughnane, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Aaron Heffernan and Lauryn Canny. Lorna discusses how they acquired the acting talent. “Our producers, Áine Coady and Sharon Cronin, did an amazing job of negotiating with agents and getting people in the room with us. Sometimes we did readings, sometimes we didn’t. I think that the guidance we got from Filmbase on casting was one of the best things about the course. There are no hard-and-fast rules, you have to meet actors and look for the characters; some people surprised us when we looked at the tapes and that was a learning curve, it’s all on the tape, not necessarily in the room.

“Having actors with experience on set is really important but there is such a fine balance, they need to want to be there and be challenged too.”

With over 30 locations and an extremely tight shooting schedule, managing time while getting good performances in the can was another balancing act. The film premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in July which, with principal photography starting in April, gave the filmmakers a tight deadline to aim for.

“Getting to the finish was a challenge. All the little niggly bits that can take months, but because we had this deadline we had to get them done. This is where many people new to filmmaking get lost I think, in the soup that is completing the film”.

Lorna also puts an emphasis on preparation. “Directing on set was the highlight for me. It’s difficult to get practice doing that, so I tried to appreciate every moment. Preparation is necessary and really stands to you. I like being on set with my homework done, observing what it is everyone is doing, answering their questions and giving the actor the right words just when they are needed.”

After the rush to get the film finished for its premiere down in Galway, Lorna is looking forward to its screening at the IFI this weekend. “I feel like we were all a little shell shocked standing on the stage at the Fleadh. It’s been 6 weeks now, so this time I’m looking forward to watching the film with friends and family, seeing how they react.”

Poison Pen screens on Sunday, 31st August 2014 at 18.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The cast and crew will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for Poison Pen are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

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Interview: David Olof Svedberg – Director of the short film ‘Death Can Wait’

Dave Duffy as Death

Dave Duffy as Death

Steven Galvin caught up with David Olof Svedberg – Director of the short film Death Can Wait – a black comedy in which a frustrated office worker journeys through the afterlife with Death himself to learn a valuable lesson about patience and humility.

Your short film, Death Can Wait is a product of the DBS BA(Hons)in Film Studies. Can you talk us through the process of making the film...

I started the script as part of a scriptwriting class with Claire Dix at Dublin Business School. Which is pretty much the best place you can develop a script as you’ve got someone who’s sole purpose for twelve weeks is to give you constructive criticism with no bias. The story was mostly inspired by old Twilight Zone episodes.

Clockwork Films provided us with equipment and editing facilities. My producer Richard Bolger contacted many production companies across Ireland but eventually we just decided to self-fund. Dave Duffy was my first choice for Death. I’ve known him for years and he’s always been this larger than life rockstar character in real life. I’d see him on TV and movies and he’d be playing an ordinary guy, so I really wanted to show the world this weirder side of him. Johnny Williamson as Cliff has that unique combination necessary to play an endearing jerk.

Johnny Williamson as Cliff

Johnny Williamson as Cliff

The hardest part of the whole process was everything to do with our elevator scene. Writing it was difficult but finding an elevator was even harder. Most elevators have a giant mirror built in to avoid that sense of claustrophobia, which makes it impossible to hide the camera crew. The one we did find was so small that we ran into all sorts of problems. We could only fit three people inside, two actors and a camera operator. I had to direct it blind. Then to top it all, we nearly tore our equipment in half when someone called the elevator upstairs by accident.

What are the benefits of this type of course?

There is a tendency to slag off film courses at undergraduate level in Ireland. This is a mistake. Of course you can learn a lot outside formal education and training but a university film department is one place where you’ll be put in a room with a group of people who are just as enthusiastic about filmmaking as you for three or four years. They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and that’s what makes DBS so special. I had Claire Dix, an IFTA-nominated writer/director teaching me how to write scripts and other lecturers like Kenny Leigh and Matthew Nolan gave me endless hours of help and support. One of our lecturers Conor Murphy even drove out to City West at 7am to act in the film, and later set us up with a venue for our Cast&Crew screening at Filmbase. You just don’t get that kind of help anywhere else. DBS also has a lot of ties with the Masters in Digital Feature Film Production at Filmbase, which I hope to join next September. It’s one of the best film courses available in this country and is the ideal platform for me to begin working in feature film production.

What are your plans for the film?

Richard Bolger (the producer) is working hard to get the film a significant festival run across Europe this summer and we’re also in talks with Swedish television to broadcast the film later this year.

What were the most important things you learned throughout the process?

Treat your people well. People sometimes think that film and TV directors are hyper-aggressive caricatures and that this is somehow an acceptable way to behave. It’s not. Try that in the real world and you’re just going to alienate people fast. When you’ve no money to pay your crew or actors, being nice isn’t just part of returning the favour, if you treat people with respect they’ll enjoy working with you. Richard put half our budget into catering which I didn’t consider important until I saw what a great atmosphere it created on set when good quality food arrived and everyone knew they were being valued.

Another important thing I learned is never be afraid to ask for anything from anyone. Richard spent months looking for an elevator to film in because I was too polite to ask Dave Duffy to get us access to RTÉ because he had already given us so much by agreeing to play the role. When we finally ran out of options I had to ask Dave for help. He sorted it out within 5 minutes.

 

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