A Second Look at ‘Patrick’s Day’

Moe Dunford and Catherine Walker.jpg

Writer and filmmaker Caroline Farrell praises Terry McMahon’s authentic exploration of schizophrenia and a strong female character in his film Patrick’s Day.

Working on projects and supportive measures around mental health, I occasionally hear people remark that they have been put off from watching films that deal with mental health matters. The most common reasons being that a lot of the better known titles have historically dealt with topics on the spectrum through harrowing, disturbing or cartoonish, comedic demonization – and dismal endings. Having done some research on films of this nature, I unfortunately concur. However, what is also true is that through a new wave of novels, adaptations and thoughtful filmmaking, all helping to remove the stigmas of ignorance that have plagued us for so long, the tide is changing rapidly, and blessed be!

The experience of escapism and anonymity is generally all that I need from a film. To become just as invisible as the guy or gal next to me amongst a collective audience, to empathize and to walk in the shoes of the characters looming large on the big screen. When a film resonates on a lesser-explored level, magic happens. Something new is absorbed, a nugget of knowledge that enriches the soul.

Patrick’s Day ticks all of the above boxes.

It is essentially, a riveting examination of a relationship between a mother and her son. A son, coping with a mental illness, who is loving, trusting, vulnerable, and craving the intimacy he so rightly deserves. And a mother who is lonely, obsessive, riddled with fear, and is therefore, possessive and controlling of her boy to the point of destructive behaviour. On a superficial level, I could perceive her to be the one whose mental health is compromised. Chipping away the layers of this character however, reveals so much more. In experiencing the ultimate, emotive act that confirms to her son that he is a man, for his mother, the realisation of this fact forces her to face a truth she is not ready to accept; that her dependant son has changed forever, and is moving away from the highly claustrophobic and defensive world she has created for him. For both of them.

Some people, but by no means all, will no doubt find the film tough to watch. Affirmed with elegant articulation by retired professor of psychiatry, Ivor Browne, the film most definitely hits a nerve through its authentic exploration of schizophrenia and one young man’s particular journey of treatment, and mistreatment, through the character of Patrick, played with breath-taking realism and incredible range by Moe Dunford.

And aside from the crisis and turmoil of the theme and of the relational aspect between mother and son, there is also that ‘thing’ in this film. That ‘thing’ that gets bandied about so much these days, but is rarely taken seriously by the largely male fraternity of filmmakers. There is a ‘strong female character’ in Patrick’s Day, and in the truest sense of what that description actually means;  a lone parent, a warrior mother, human, fallible, and as fucked-up as they come, she is portrayed with a subtle complexity through a stunning performance from Kerry Fox that makes her real and damaged and ultimately, hopeful.

Congratulations to Terry McMahon, and to the actors, cast, crew and producers of Patrick’s Day on contributing to the placing of Irish cinema in the real world of real people, and with intelligent, empathic storytelling.

 

Patrick’s Day is in cinemas now.

Read an interview with Terry McMahon here

Caroline Farrell blogs here… on writing and film… and on a few of her favourite things.

 

Share

Patrick’s Day

000874ae-630

DIR/ WRI: Terry McMahon • PRO: Tim Palmer • DOP: Michael Lavelle • ED: Emer Reynolds • MUS: Ray Harman • DES: Emma Lowney • CAST: Kerry Fox, Moe Dunford, Philip Jackson

Patrick’s Day, writer/director Terry McMahon’s follow up to his debut feature Charlie Casanova, opens up with a title card giving a dictionary definition of “mental illness”. Immediately we get an understanding that what McMahon is aiming to do in this film is to address mental illness head on or at the very least create a portrayal of a person going through this condition that is grounded in some sense of reality. Given the various different portrayals of mental illness throughout the history of cinema, ranging from being depicted as manic and unyielding murderers or as a type of idiot savant whose main function is to allow the other “normal” characters to gain a sense of perspective on their own lives, the approach that the film takes on its subject and its characters makes for a much more challenging film.

The film centres around Patrick (Moe Dunford), a diagnosed schizophrenic who lives in a care home. He is allowed to leave the facility to attend the St. Patrick’s Day festival with his mother Maura (Kerry Fox). After becoming separated, Patrick waits for his mother at the hotel they are staying in, where he happens to meet Karen (Catherine Walker) and, after a few drinks in the bar, they end up staying the night together in her room and Patrick begins to fall in love with her.

It has to be said that the film struggles in its opening act. There are times here where the dialogue, in particular the scene of Patrick and Karen’s first meeting outside the hotel, comes across a bit too stagey and self aware for its own good. Another issue at this point of the film is the character of the Garda detective that Maura talks to when she is worried about her son being missing.. While the character comes into its own as the film progresses, when he is first introduced it feels as if he has wandered in from another film, especially in his scenes with Maura in the Garda station which completely feels at odds with the tone the film has established.

As the story progresses and once McMahon begins to focus on the relationship between Patrick and his mother, in particular the idea of what Maura would do to protect her son even as it crosses way beyond the point where she is causing more harm than good,  the film start to find its own voice. Worried about her son, and perhaps motivated by her own sense of loneliness and desperation, Maura convinces Karen to break any further contact with Patrick and soon makes attempts to eradicate Patrick’s memory of Karen from his mind.

The themes that McMahon wishes to explore, the idea of what love is whether it be a physical or mental relationship or from a parental sense, are brought out to the fore during these scenes. The main plot at this stage, attempting to force a man with mental illness to believe that the woman he loves is a delusion, raises questions about the nature of love in itself, whether it is something that exists in the mind or something that goes further than that? Meanwhile the role of Maura subverts the idea of paternal nurture and the thinking behind the belief of “mother knows best”. The key to her character is that we have no doubt that she believes what she is doing to her son is what’s best for him, even as she begins to take more extreme methods.

It is here where the performances of Dunford and Fox really stand out. Dunford is quite impressive in a role that could easily have descended into caricature, instead he adds more layers to Patrick, showing us that behind his friendly, almost childlike appearance, there is an unpredictable side to him that constantly keeps the viewer on the edge. Meanwhile, Kerry Fox is superb, allowing us to understand her behaviour and at times empathise with Maura even as the actions that she takes are completely unsympathetic.

While it takes its time to find its focus, Patrick’s Day is ultimately a fascinating portrayal, and subversion, of love, relationships and parental bonds. And, after the negative reception that greeted Charlie Casanova, it certainly is welcoming to see signs of growth in McMahon’s filmmaking skills and it certainly makes it interesting to see what he comes up with next.

Patrick Townsend

15A (See IFCO for details)
102minutes
Patrick’s Day
is released 6th February 2015

Patrick’s Day  – Official Website

Share

Interview: Terry McMahon, wri/dir ‘Patrick’s Day’

256298400_6402
Patrick’s Day is the story of a young man with mental health issues who becomes intimate with a suicidal flight attendant. When his obsessive mother finds out she enlists a dysfunctional cop to separate them.

Patrick Townsend sat down with Terry McMahon to talk about his second feature and his desire to capture lightning in a bottle.

Can you tell us about the starting point of the movie.

I wanted to make a film about a schizophrenic. The reason being is that schizophrenia, the reductionist sense of the diagnosis, is about the inability to differentiate between illusion and reality, and I wanted to find a way of thematically exploring that in a dramatic construct. I love characters who have difficulty defining the difference between illusion and reality.

You start off the film with the title stating what the definition of mental illness is [“any of various disorders in which a person’s thoughts, emotions, or behaviour are so abnormal as to cause suffering to himself, herself, or other people”]. Was there a particular reason for this?

That’s the Collins English Dictionary definition of mental illness. But the exact same definition could be applied to love. The consequence of your actions and the inability to differentiate between illusion and reality is one of the driving forces of love. So I think it states the theme unintentionally, which is its literal manifestation and then its romantic manifestation.

The film subverts the idea of parental love, with the character played by Kerry Fox. Was that kind of relationship another area you wanted to explore?

I love characters who have the courage to pursue what they think is right, despite the fact that the consequences can be profound. So in the negative and the positive I think it’s a great thing that we respond to the aspiration of a character. And all the characters in the film with no exceptions have an aspiration towards something that might be minute to us but profound to them. Or it might be profound to us but only seems like minute to them. So a mother who’s trying to protect her son, who believes that her love will justify all kinds of aberrations, is in itself the kind of mental illness we’re exploring. And I love the idea of having a character who thinks that, despite all consequences, they must do what they believe is right. On a political level, as a political metaphor, we have a government doing that at the moment, who justify to themselves completely aberrant behavior trying to qualify it as being beneficial to the people when in actuality they’re doing untold damage. So it works as a political metaphor and a human story.

I’m interested in the reception that the film has got from people who suffer from these kinds of mental illnesses. Have people from that community embraced the film?

Well, it’s funny. Before we made it I made sure the script was as freely available as possible to anybody who wanted to read it. We did a lot of research and I spoke to many different groups and many different individuals on both sides of the diagnostic fence. And schizophrenia is such a controversial subject anyway; it’s such an emotive, extreme response. So I met with people who claimed that the film was not representative of their lives and met others who claimed that the film was like their life recorded and summed up. We wanted to make sure we did not cause any unintentional offense to anybody but at the same time we wanted to remain true to an authentic world. What subsequently happened was that I received a staggering amount of letters and emails from people who’ve been so profoundly moved by it and feel empowered by it within the reductionist realm of their diagnosis that it’s actually humbling, really humbling.

Plus we have people like Prof Ivor Browne, one of the great mavericks in Europe, stand not just shoulder to shoulder with the film but actually make these extraordinary declarations about how authentic it is in the realm of his 45 years of experience. We have the amazing Dr Garrett O’Connor from the John Hopkins Institute, former head of the Betty Ford Clinic, making these extraordinary public statements about the film. So it’s working in a way that has even transcended our aspirations.

Can we talk about Moe Dunford. I understand that you had to fight to get him into this role.

Moe is a one-of-a generation talent to be honest with you. But nobody knows that yet. So there are people who understandably and justifiably were saying “we have a couple of well-known named actors who want to play this role, why are you going with an unknown?” I believed that Moe had the capacity to go to a place that no one else could really go to. So in order to justify casting him, I brought him home after the casting. There was a football match on that night and there were a couple of my mates coming around to have a beer. We got Moe drunk and brought him into the sitting room. My daughter had this beautiful dog, a border/collie mix, and the dog jumped all over him and licked his face and gave him such love and he was telling the dog how much he loved her and all that, and I was filming it. I uploaded it to youtube, sent it to the financiers and they cast him that night and were profoundly happy with him in the end.

That’s been pretty much justified… he won the Shooting Star in Berlin.

Yes and he’s won awards in America and he’s been embraced in America. It’s incredible. Heavyweight agents, heavyweight casting directors, heavyweight everyone suddenly want to be a part of him. It worked out for everyone in the end. It’s just one of those things – to take a risk on an unknown entity is a difficult thing. If it doesn’t pay off, you’re in trouble. If it does pay off, everybody’s thrilled.

You need to take that risk though…

Most of the times we don’t though. We just replicate what we feel already works. That’s one of the reasons why repetition becomes tiresome for an audience.

Looking to the future, I understand you have one or two projects down the line.

There’s a hard-core prison drama called Dancehall Bitch and it’s about what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they’re men. It’s dark and aggressive and potentially, I think, a very visceral film, but it’s a genre film, a prison genre film. And I’m excited about the idea of working with Emmet Scanlon again, Moe Dunford again, Catherine Walker again, Michael Lavelle again, the cinematographer, Emer Reynolds again as editor, a small core group of remarkable people who I think could capture something remarkable.

Talking about taking risks, is it important for you in your career to challenge yourself with each film and to create something different?

I don’t really have a career and I don’t really see the world in terms of a career because I’m piss-ass broke, so I don’t know what a career is. But I do know that there are some people who would feel that the next step should be towards some sort of commercial venture, but I don’t know what that means. I just want to be on set with a small core group of people trying to capture lightning in a bottle, whether people like it or not. Something like Charlie Casanova creates such extreme reactions in the negative; something like Patrick’s Day creates such extreme reactions in the positive, but you can’t control either of those things. All you can do is hope that on the day in front of the lens of the camera you capture lightning in a bottle.

Patrick’s Day is in cinemas from 6th February 2015

 

 

Share

‘Patrick’s Day’ Wins at Woodstock

000874ae-630

Terry McMahon’s latest film Patrick’s Day picked up three awards at the Woodstock Film Festival in the US. The film was awarded the Maverick Award for Best Feature Narrative.

Michael Lavelle took the Haskell Wexler Award for Best Cinematography and the James Lyons Award for Best Editing of a Feature Narrative  went to Emer Reynolds.

Patrick’s Day stars Kerry Fox, Moe Dunford, Catherine Walker and Philip Jackson.

Patrick’s Day will be released in Irish cinemas in early 2015 and will have a gala screening at the Cork Film Festival next month.

Share

‘Patrick’s Day’ Wins in US

patricks_day-f

Terry McMahon’s  Patrick’s Day has won two jury awards at the Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival in Michigan.

Terry McMahon took the award for Best Screenplay while Moe Dunford won Best Actor.

The powerful tale of a young man with mental health issues who falls for a suicidal flight attendant Patrick’s Day had its world premiere at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in Austin Texas in March of this year.  The film has also screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Shanghai Film Festival, and went on to win ‘Best Irish Feature Film’ at The 26th Galway Film Fleadh on 13th July.

You can read a review of the film here

Share

‘Patrick’s Day’ Screens at Woodstock

 Patricks-Day1

Terry McMahon’s critically acclaimed film Patrick’s Day has been selected  for competition at the Woodstock Film Festival, which runs from October 15th – October 19th in Woodstock New York.

 

Written and directed by Terry McMahon, this powerful story of a young man with mental health issues who falls for a suicidal flight attendant Patrick’s Day won the Audience Award for ‘Best Film’ at The 26th Galway Film Fleadh and also just been awarded the Director’s Guild of America 2014 ‘Finders Series’ Award, which is awarded to only one film each year.

 

 

 

 

 

Share

‘Patrick’s Day’ Wins Screen Directors Guild ‘Finders Series’ Award

 Patricks-Day1

 

Terry McMahon’s critically acclaimed film, Patrick’s Day has won the coveted Screen Directors Guild ‘Finders Series’ Award.  The award – presented to only one Irish film a year – will see the Director’s Guild of America host a screening of Patrick’s Day for an audience of industry insiders at the legendary Directors’ Guild of America (DGA) Theatre on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles on October 10th.

Writer / Director McMahon and producer Tim Palmer will fly out to the event and engage in a week of meetings with Hollywood heavyweights to secure distribution for Patrick’s Day and plan future projects.

The powerful tale of a young man with mental health issues who falls for a suicidal flight attendant Patrick’s Day had its world premiere at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival in Austin Texas in March of this year.  The film has also screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and Shanghai Film Festival, and went on to win ‘Best Irish Feature Film’ at The 26th Galway Film Fleadh on 13th July.

Following the announcement, writer and director Terry McMahon commented, “The Screen Directors Guild ‘Finders Series’ Award is one of the best filmmaker prizes in the world and the fact that someone like me can win something like this means there is hope for any writer stuck on their first draft. The idea that the Directors Guild of America is hosting a screening of Patrick’s Day at the DGA Theatre on Sunset Boulevard means there is hope for any director wondering what the hell to do with their unfinished movie. And the notion that one film can still have the power to alter reality means there is hope for all us outsiders.”

Rachel Lysaght, co-producer, noted the commitment of the director and the filmmaking team, saying “We are deeply honoured and so proud that Patrick’s Day has won the Screen Directors Guild Finders Series Award.  Never has it been more pertinent to address the vital importance of caring for our mental health.  The aim for this film has always been more than cinema – we want to encourage a wider discussion on mental health and how we care for those who have been labeled with a ‘disorder’ – and it is a testament to our amazing cast and crew that the film’s success has been recognised through this wonderful award.  We cannot wait to bring the film to a wider audience.”

Patrick’s Day is an Ignition Film Productions production with Underground Films and Forefront Features in association with Bord Scannán na hÉireann / The Irish Film Board and RTÉ.

Share

Patricks Day’s – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

patricks_day1-476x253

 

 
Conor Fleming checks out Terry McMahon’s Patrick’s Day, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

‘When I first saw Terry McMahon’s first film, Charlie Casanova, I hated it’, claimed festival programmer Gareth O’Brien as he introduced Terry’s latest film, Patrick’s Day, to the audience in the sold out Galway theatre. ‘But then I watched it a few more times and it had something that kept drawing me back to it’, he continued before going on to describe the polarising reception Terry’s debut feature has had, with mention that his latest film Patrick’s Day, is just as challenging and polarizing as you would expect.

 

Patrick’s Day is a powerful drama that focuses on title character Patrick (Moe Dunford), a young man suffering with mental health issues and the offbeat relationship that develops between him and suicidal air hostess Karen (Catherine Walker). A relationship that is threatened by the ever growing presence of Patrick’s obsessive mother Maura (Kerry Fox) who seeks to separate them with a misguided and almost ignorance attitude into how to handle her son’s illness.

 

It is a film whose powerful and engaging themes are in danger of being eclipsed by the performances of the main cast; with Kerry Fox and rising star Moe Dunford in particular giving exceptional performances. Moe, when asked about what research he had done for the film, replied, “none”, as he has lived with familiar member’s with mental illness. This was not just any role for him, but one he lived, a fact that shines through brightly in its unflinching accuracy and impactful delivery.
A drama of this nature can often time feel a little too overwhelming, which again runs the problem of driving away some potential suitors who would otherwise thoroughly enjoy the film. Thankfully this was something it seems Terry was aware of as the main cast is rounded out with Phillip Jackson playing police officer and aspiring comedian John Freeman, whose witty humour and flat-falling dad jokes gives the script some lift in area’s much needed.

 

McMahon’s writing skill is apparent from the get go, and whose style of direction seems to blend perfectly with the expert work of cinematographer Michael Lavelle. Shot in a simplistic yet incredibly technical manner, it is the perfect display of technique meeting storytelling resulting in a staggeringly beautiful film. Particular mention must go to a sequence in the third act, one which is truly horrific but incredibly powerful, and one which solidifies the message of the film; with memories of a similar sequence from Requiem for a Dream – it is truly one that must be seen to be believed.

 
The difference between Patrick’s Day and McMahon’s previous work is that Patrick’s Day is immediately identifiable as a stand-out film on first viewing; one that has an impact and message that will only grow stronger with time. By his own admission, director Terry McMahon set out to make a difficult film. Not a film to please a majority film audience but one to do its subject matter justice, and to prove there is an audience for challenging, emotional films. Given the care this movie treated its often mishandled subject matter, Patrick’s Day’s is an incredible display of the impact a movie can truly have if you let it.

 

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

Share

InConversation with Terry McMahon

TERRY-MCMAHON-IFA-PHOTO

 

This episode of InConversation features writer/director Terry McMahon, who made his feature debut with the hugely controversial Charlie Casanova. Winner of ‘Best First Feature’ at The Galway Film Fleadh, nominated for four Irish Film and Television Awards, and picked up for distribution by Studio Canal, Charlie Casanova broke the mould for Irish independent film.

McMahon followed that up with Patrick’s Day, which had its world premiere at SXSW and his next feature, the scabrously black romantic comedy, Oliver Twisted is currently in development with The Irish Film Board and producer Tim Palmer.

Awarded Best Director at Melbourne Underground Film Festival and winner of the RKO Pictures Hartley-Merrill International Screenwriting Award in Cannes, the Tiernan MacBride Screenwriting Award and nominated for The Irish Screenwriters and Playwrights Guild Award, McMahon has also lectured on screenwriting and acting in Trinity College Dublin, IADT, UCD, The John Huston Film School and The Casa del Cinema in Rome.

InConversation is an ongoing series of  personal interviews with people working across the many aspects of the Irish filmmaking industry.

Follow InConversation on twitter @InConversation1 & like on Facebook

Subscribe to Film Ireland RSS feed

Share

Patrick’s Day: Preview of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

Patricks-Day

The 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014)

Patrick’s Day

Sat 12th July

Town Hall Theatre

18.00

The first film from Terry McMahon, Charlie Casanova, earned him an IFTA nomination as well as a bathtub load of controversy after it screened at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2011. The director will now return to the Galway Film Fleadh with his new film, Patrick’s Day, which tells the story of a twenty-six-year-old virgin schizophrenic whose life changes when he falls in love.

Speaking about the Galway Film Fleadh, Terry McMahon told Film Ireland, “Gar O’Brien and Miriam Allen had the courage to select Charlie Casanova before anybody had seen it. Despite the insanity of the later attacks on the film, we received a standing ovation at The Fleadh and the Best First Feature Award. Our second film Patrick’s Day is very different in content yet equally provocative in ambition so to be selected again by Gar and Miriam at this year’s Fleadh – particularly among such heavyweights – makes it a terrifying yet exciting sort of homecoming.

The schizophrenic Patrick (Moe Dunford) is warm, open and, thanks to the protective nature of his mother (Kerry Fox), no threat to himself or anyone else. But when he falls for Karen (Catherine Walker), a suicidal flight attendant, his mother enlists the help of a dysfunctional detective called Freeman (Philip Jackson) to help her tear the two apart. Patrick’s Day is a provocative and intimate look at love and mental illness.

Tickets are available to book from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 569777, or at www.tht.ie.

Terry McMahon, Moe Dunford and more will attend the screening.

Director: Terry McMahon

Cast: Moe Dunford, Kerry Fox, Philip Jackson, Catherine Walker

Script: Terry McMahon

Producer: Tim Palmer

Co-Producer: Rachel Lysaght

Share

Issue 132 Spring 2010 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Terry McMahon

 

Over the coming weeks Film Ireland will publish online the entire back catalogue of articles written by members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild that have appeared in Film Ireland magazine.  These popular articles give an insight into the creative process used by each writer.  Terry McMahon, writer/director of the recent cinema release Charlie Casanova, wrote the first piece in Film Ireland 132 Spring 2010 which was published on April 1st 2010.

 

Two Actors, a Camera and a Taboo

 

With over a hundred Fair City episodes under his belt and several screenwriting awards, Terry McMahon talks about every writer’s Holy Grail: completion.

 

I got a second tattoo recently. The first one I got a few years back in a tattoo parlour sandwiched between a Chinese takeaway and a strip club on Hollywood and Vine when Daryl Hannah flew me out to Los Angeles, first class no less, to write a script for her. Living in a council flat on Dorset Street with my missus and young kid, and, having just written my first screenplay, I was naïve enough to think the world would give a damn. It didn’t. But Daryl did, and for a long time I kept the stub of that advance cheque; her name on it and the three most exciting words I’d ever read: twenty-five thousand dollars.

 

Writing originals, along with more screenplay commissions, I was also paid to portray absurdly unconvincing stereotypes as an actor. Things were dandy. I was working on scripts with the cream of a generation, Damien O’Donnell, Paddy Breathnach and Richie Smyth; hell, I’d even been feted in Cannes and Hollywood where they gave me screenwriting awards. My screenplays were going to be made into movies. No doubt about it. Fast forward to more commissions, a couple more kids, a home owned by the banks instead of the council, a hundred plus episodes of Fair City, and thirty pounds of spare tyre stomach hanging above an increasingly flaccid fallacy. Every script turned from green-lit certainty to amber-dark shit. Not one movie made. Not even a short. Not even an opening title sequence.

 

Frustrated

 

So I did what any frustrated hack would do. I got words tattooed onto my arm: ‘The Art is in the Completion. Begin.’ It was 3 am, near Christmas, and, to distract me from my need to scratch the ink burn on my arm, I pondered why I had become immersed in the soul-raping loneliness of writing? It wasn’t cash. It wasn’t fame. It wasn’t sex. (Whoever boasted, ‘I fucked a really hot writer last night?’) And then I remembered what I’d loved in the first place: the simple compulsion of two actors, a camera and a taboo. I emailed in my unknown-to-me-at-the-time final episode of Fair City, then typed a message into that bizarre funky funhouse Facebook:

 

Intend shooting no-budget Charlie Casanova, a provocatively dark satire, in the first couple of weeks of January. Need cast, equipment, locations, and a lot of balls. Any takers? Script at www.terrymcmahon.org. This is sincere so bullshitters fuck off in advance. Thank you.’

 

Lies

 

The standard lies are learned early in life: the cheque is in the mail; I won’t cum inside you; I won’t mess with your script. Sure as night follows day, writers get fucked. Standard contracts are written in ink but writers’ contracts are negotiated in Vaseline, and, when you pull your underwear back up, you discover everybody and everything, including the used lubricant, has secured more rights than you, and probably a co-credit too. Not that I’m complaining. Writing has been damn good to me. I consider it a humbling privilege to make a living from it. And there are occasions when collaborating with remarkable people whose sole intention is to elevate your words from script to screen is sublime. However, when the author’s contribution is valued at the standard 2.5% of the entire budget, it remains clear, in this gorgeous love affair, who is the pimp and who is the whore. I had no equipment, no cast, no crew, no budget, but I had a script, and a taboo. It took eleven seconds for someone to respond. Within twenty-four hours, a hundred and sixty more responses. A mass blind date was set, and, with me as writer and director, against the oddest of odds, the first day of principle photography was set for four weeks away.

 

Weirdo

 

Now we’re about to edit our strange little movie, and, like the weirdo you try to avoid but end up getting drunk with, it has character, balls, and is unlike anything you’ve known before. Does that mean it’s good? Who the hell knows? You’ll decide that for yourself. What I do know is this jaded tattooed hack-whore took that cobwebbed script out of a drawer and is now somehow editing a movie. The only gig in town, Fair City, is no more, and the bank manager wants to know how in hell I’m going to honour my debts and I want to know how in hell I’m going to feed my kids, but I don’t despair. From equipment to locations, everything was donated; everybody worked for nothing and the ensemble cast, led by Emmett Scanlan and Leigh Arnold, were courageous beyond measure. The crew were mostly in their early twenties; diligent, passionate, fearless, and an honour to work with. If these kids are Ireland’s future, then, despite the incompetence and corruption, our future is bright.

www.terrymcmahon.org

www.script.ie

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Spring 2010 issue 132, published 1st April 2010.

Share

Interview: Terry McMahon and Emmett Scanlan on Irish film ‘Charlie Casanova’, released in cinemas this week

With Charlie Casanova being released in cinemas this Friday, David Neary caught up with the film’s writer and director, Terry McMahon, and actor Emmett Scanlan to find out more about the ruling class sociopath who uses a deck of playing cards to determine his fate.

How long was this a script before you managed to go DIY on it?

McMahon: I had an idea for a character that I saw more and more prevalent in Irish society and when the Film Board set up the Catalyst project, which was a great idea and produced some marvelous films, I wanted to write a punk film, which was abrasive and ugly and rage-fuelled that took standard structure and form and turned it into something even more extreme than expected. I was working with a director and a producer and it wasn’t working out, so I pulled the plug on it and went away and worked on it myself. I think that was four years ago.

Charlie is, as you say, a rage-fuelled character and it is an angry film. How much of this anger is your anger.

McMahon: It starts with shame – shame that I’m a such a eunuch in a whorehouse when it comes to the political process and when it comes to my children’s future and watching that future being flushed down the toilet by a tiny group of controlling class freaks. So Charlie’s rage is born out of self-interest and self-loathing and you see that manifested in the language of deceit and actions of deceit. He was supposed to be grotesque when I wrote him. I didn’t know he was going to become a dark prophecy as now that mentality has become government policy. And you watch how they treat the working class – how they are all disenfranchised. So Charlie’s rage is born out of self-interest and my exploration of Charlie and reason for creating Charlie is born out of shame.

The only time Charlie is sincere is when he’s being cowardly. Every other time he’s being fake – fake emotions, fake dialogue, fake engagement. He’s a bad actor… And it takes an extraordinary actor to play that. He’s a liar, a liar who’s so obviously one-dimensional, yet none of us call him on it. And you see with our political leaders it’s the exact same principals applying and none of us call them on it.

Emmet, how much of that anger Terry talks about is channeled in your performance?

Scanlan: It’s a lot different for me. Terry’s a lot more poetic and it’s a lot deeper for him. I understand what it represents and how it provokes people and what makes it so controversial and I’m really proud to be part of something like that. But as for channeling any anger in the movie, it’s just me playing Charlie Casanova. You can’t come at it from that point of view. I can only come at it from understanding… and acceptance.

What stage did you join the production?

Scanlan: Well I know Terry for many years. He had written a script called Dancehall Bitch, which was the best script I’d ever read – it’s absolute genius. And I wanted to be part of it. A mutual friend of ours, a theatre director, wanted to put it on. No one else would go near it. No one had the balls to take it on. It frightened a lot of people. We basically took the screenplay and turned it into a stageplay and performed it. The first time Terry arrived was the first time I met him and we gave each other a great big hug and thus spawned a great fortuitous, debaucherous, productive relationship and friendship. Then he said he was doing Charlie Casanova. I’d just come back from LA after doing a show over there for about a year and a half and told him I wanted to be involved at any level because I knew his writing was so great. So he cast me in a small part and then I stood in for the character Charlie Casanova for the screen test in the auditions and Terry told me that he realized that I was probably going to be Charlie Casanova and that he was probably going to regret it for the rest of his life. And I arrogantly and naively said ‘I’m all over that shit’, but little did I know the beast I was going to be sleeping with. And I immediately immersed myself into the role and started playing the Charlie Casanova game with the deck of cards two weeks before shooting. I went around the streets of Dublin and started playing the game – and it took me to some dark, seedy areas in my mind and pushed me to limits I didn’t even know I had. And Charlie was born in my fingers and he’s still there today. And I’ve a great love and affection for it and for working with this man Terry here.

Obviously people will have seen you before in Hollyoaks but this is a hugely different beast.

Scanlan: My character in Hollyoaks  pushes limits and I give Terry and Charlie massive credit for allowing me to do that. Prior to playing Charlie, there was an arrogance and a naivety that I had about acting and I realized that I was totally unequipped for it even though there was nothing I would have rather done with my life. It taught me a lot about acting. And I took that into Hollyoaks and I made this new character, Brendan Brady, quite dark – the difference is he has more of a moral compass than Charlie, who’s way more dangerous but far more cowardly – it’s a different breed of animal. It’s a massive satisfaction doing a movie. It’s 11 days – you have a beginning, middle and end. Whereas in soap it evolves day by day with storylines changing. But I’ve been so fortuitous since January 2010 doing Charlie Casanova and then Brendan Brady in Hollyoaks in May.

The film is mostly set at night…

McMahon: Yeh. We had expositional shots but when I was editing it I thought, when you’re in a nightmare you’re not aware of the world you’re in. I knew Charlie Casanova was going to be divisive and that some people would hate it – but I didn’t realize the extremities of response on both sides was going to be so profound. But I knew that I wanted to create a nightmarish world where you were constantly unaware of where you were – every time you thought you knew where you were you would suddenly be subverted. So we cut any of the expositional shots out, including much of the daytime shots because you want to be forced into the mind of the character – but I didn’t want to create empathy with the character or tag him with him with a series of prerequisite humanities that allow us to distance ourselves from him by pretending we’re not him. It’s a big gamble – for some people it hasn’t paid off at all; for other people who become incredibly passionate advocates of it, it makes perfect sense.

As you say the audience response has been dramatically divided. What’s your reaction to the reaction?

McMahon: It was always intended to be divisive film. Now I’m not pretending that doesn’t affect us when we see audiences spitting bile but what is equally compelling to me is that the people who are incredibly passionate advocates of the film adore it for the exact same reasons that people despise it. All we were trying to do with Charlie Casanova was make a divisive, provocative, visceral film. To some we’ve succeeded; to others we’ve failed. But I think… I hope… that in the long term it’ll be viewed with the objectivity of its time and place and context, with the realisation that at least someone in this country was trying to make a film that wasn’t committee driven, consensus driven and was about the time we live in.

Share

Call For: Cast and Crew for new Terry McMahon written Short Film

Illustration: Adeline Pericart
Writer: Terry Mc Mahon
Director: Jeff Doyle
Producer: Rita Marie Lawlor
Shoot dates: TBC
Unfortunately the production is unpaid.
Interested in people who are looking to donate equipment, experience and time to this project. The film will be sent to film festivals inside and outside Ireland.
Casting for a variety of roles – please read the script on www.terrymcmahon.org to see if you think you are suitable for any of the roles.
Talent is in the shorts/miscellany section on the website
Those interested should email jdoyleactor@gmail.com  for more details.
Share

Review and Photos from 2nd Underground Cinema Film Festival

 (The UCFF Award)

Highlights of the second Underground Cinema Film Festival which took place in five venues in the seaside town of Dun Laoghaire on the 9th-11th September included an introduction to his film, In The Name Of The Father, by Oscar nominated director Jim Sheridan; Q and A’s with Booker prize winning author Roddy Doyle, award winning filmmakers Terry McMahon, Ivan Kavanagh, Conor Horgan and actor Emmett Scanlan.

(Alan Sherlock and Denise Pattison)

70 shorts and 15 features were screened over three days. Over 200 people participated in a range of free workshops and the inaugural award for Outstanding Contribution to Film, TV and Theatre was presented to Peggy Lally in memory of one of Ireland’s favourite actors, Mick Lally.

(Dave Byrne and Mick Daniels)

 Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from this year’s festival: “A sense of community and family” and “…so enamoured by the exquisite hospitality… ( guests)… stayed longer than they intended…” are some of the quotes from festival attendees.

(Dave Byrne and Paul Bolger)

We are proud to announce our recent partnership with ECU The European Independent Film Festival. The future looks bright for UCFF as we begin the first of our monthly screenings in the lead up to next year’s festival. We are now accepting submissions. Please contact info@underground-cinema.com for further information.

Denise Pattison

All Photos by Kevin Griffin

(Dave Byrne and Una Kavanagh)

(Johnny Elliot and Dave Byrne)

(Terry McMahon and Dave Byrne)

Share

Q&A on 'CHARLIE CASANOVA'

emmett_scanlan_in_charlie_casanova

27 Q&A on Charlie Casanova with Terry McMahon

Describe your movie in a sentence.

A ruling class sociopath kills a working class girl in a hit-and-run and uses a deck of playing cards to determine his fate.

Could you give me a little look into your background.

From a small town in Ireland and estranged from my family for some time, as a teenager, for about a year, I lived alone in a series of abandoned buildings. I had been young enough for words like ‘fear’ and ‘loneliness’ to be little more than abstractions, but, now, usually around four a.m. their meaning started to become less abstract. To drown out the tricks the night played I’d tune into the late night music of a small battery operated radio. That’s where I first heard the Andante from Mozart’s Concerto No.21. The transformative high of art hit and I was an instant addict. Fitting all I owned into a bag, I hitched a lift to the city and, too young to get welfare, I got a job working in a fish and chip takeaway, which was enough to pay the deposit on a single-room lodging. The hours were long and the pay was crap but those late night engagements with nocturnal creatures of Dublin gave a darker, more compelling drive to the four a.m. fears and I knew I was drawn to those outsider stories. Buying a hand-held tape recorder, I began secretly taping the conversations of a group of hobos I ended up hanging with. Not having completed secondary school, leaving three years before completion, I carried the chip on the shoulder that comes with an incomplete education and kept this new desire to write a secret but it was with these people that the hack seeds of aspiration were sown. Dangerous and sometimes mad, they were also occasionally noble beyond measure, incredibly protective of me, and, beyond their broken souls and bodies, they had more humanity than the dismissive multitudes could imagine. They’re all dead now but the shadow of their dark, comically twisted danger and insatiable drive to get to the extreme humanity of every endeavor would permeate throughout all my future writing.

No longer selling fish and chips and old enough to get welfare at eighteen, I signed on the dole the very day of my eighteenth birthday and spiraled fast down into a world of isolation rediscovering the loneliness that hangs around like cancer and the people who are so afraid of contagion they unconsciously smell it off you. I used to walk around Saint Stephens’s Green Park in Dublin from early in the morning, making sure never to sit down in case anyone spotted my shame at having nowhere to go. I’d collect butts of cigarettes at Connolly Train Station because people tended to light up for a final quick drag of a smoke before stamping on the butt and catching their train. Watching lovers embrace their hello or plant their farewell kisses I’d roll my own cigarettes from the collected butts and smoke away an empty stomach. Because they had heat and you could walk around for some time with apparent purpose without attracting the security guard, music stores and bookstores became cathedrals of sanctuary and the books originally picked up to evade the knowing eye of staff who were beginning to recognize the freeloader in me soon became more than mere evasions. On welfare day I’d buy food, deluding myself into believing there was enough until the next week then decide which cut-price books I could buy. Books were drugs, I was hooked and life became half fiction. I remember reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and relating so profoundly to Raskolnikov I feared I might murder my landlady. Thankfully that feeling went away but the loneliness didn’t. I remember trying to engage the woman who worked in the welfare office in polite conversation and, when she gave no response, realizing I literally hadn’t spoken to another person since her the previous week. I saw an advertisement for Dublin Youth Theatre, a free group of young actors and directors who met weekly. Barely capable of coherent speech, I feared I would vanish into nothingness if I didn’t somehow reach out to something, so I turned up for the audition; and, after standing in line, wailing in my head ‘you can’t walk away,’ my turn came and, as I stumbled into that room, it may have been only two in the afternoon, but that old four a.m. fear ripped through me like an old lover who you know you shouldn’t see yet can’t help being excited by.

Sitting in a coffee shop afterwards, trembling with adrenaline, one of the others who had auditioned invited himself to join me and, as I blanched with social inadequacies, he effortlessly strut his stuff, with me in awe of him. He told me about a full-time course he had just started which was free if you were on welfare and suggested I should get a couple of monologues together and see if I could get a late application. He knocked back his coffee, told me what a pleasure it was meeting me and left me with the bill. I don’t think I said more than a single sentence the entire time but he was so shit cool I didn’t care. Next day I went to the head of the course and, after the audition, he offered me a place, to begin the following afternoon. I didn’t sleep that night, picked up my welfare that next morning, and turned up at the school to be told the other students were at lunch in the local bar and I should join them. Paralyzed by shyness, I loitered outside the bar for ten minutes. Head down, I went to the end of the bar, ordered two drinks, and discreetly listened in on the confident conversations of my fellow students. I downed both drinks and bolted out of the bar. They were experts on every facet of acting, throwing about phrases on Stanislavsky and Chekov like inaccessible confetti. The full sum of my knowledge on acting was the certainty that Montgomery Clift and Lee Marvin pissed all over cinemas vacuous slew of new pretty boys but Chekov? And who the hell was Stanislavsky? It took me two weeks to learn how to make just pronouncing his name sound casual. I was in over my head and loving the drowning. Movies now joined books as co-addictions and, with the local video rental store doing a five-film deal, that same relentless junkie chasing every impossible high now gorged on everything cinematic. Guilty as charged then, worse than ever now, and long may it continue.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question ‘When I grow up I want to be a …’ Finish this sentence, please!

My only thought was, when I grow up I want to be anywhere other than here.

Charlie… is your first major writing/directing project (at least according to IMDB), what was your background in the film industry prior to this?

Having acted in and written, conveyer-belt style, for dodgy soap opera, along with occasional acting forays in hugely enjoyable to work on but equally dodgy Roger Corman movies, daily life was supplemented by commissioned screenplays that got green lit then never got made. One too many of those and, with no money, I had to find a way make my own movie.

What were your primary inspirations for this story?

Two similar incidents happened in Dublin around the same time that provoked my own evaluation of the class system in Ireland. There was a gang attack outside a nightclub in Dublin where a kid, Brian Murphy, got killed. When we hear of phrases like ‘gang attack’ in Ireland we equate it with bad haircuts, tracksuits and working class accents. Brian Murphy was beaten to death by four educated Blackrock (the elite college in Ireland) students whose fathers were connected. The standard laws that apply to the aforementioned working class were suddenly open to obscene manipulation and Brian Murphy’s death became a footnote in the lives of his protected killers. The second attack was on Grafton Street. A rural Librarian was beaten into a coma by two middle-class tennis players whose position in society and father’s wallets bought them out of a conviction. Always fascinated by what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they are men and the obscene machinations of many of those in power these two events were the seeds of the idea to create a dangerously pathetic modern Walter Mitty whose deluded deal with fate makes him a sociopathic God.

As a film school graduate, what I most gained from the whole experience were the relationships I formed…but you seem to have gracefully bypassed that ordeal. Is Charlie… the great experiment gone right for social networking in lieu of film school?

What a beautiful euphemism, ‘gracefully bypassed that ordeal.’ Charlie Casanova could not have been made without Facebook, it’s as simple as that. Yeah, I knew some people in limited ways in the Irish film business but it felt wrong to try to solicit from either them or others that I didn’t know so Facebook allowed me to put it out there and let people decide whether or not to contact me rather than the other way around. I knew Ireland effectively shut down after Christmas so there was only a window of two weeks to get things rolling. I knew there would be the odd wack job, which there was, (occasionally the nut job ratio was a little too high for comfort) but I also hoped the lack of precedent for this kind of balls-out endeavour combined with the seriousness of the script might provoke some interest in the more serious minded out there. Relatively new to Facebook I didn’t know if it even had the power to be harnessed in this way. (I never deleted any of the status posts relating to Charlie Casanova on my Facebook page so if you go through it – the page is open – you can detail the entire history from inception to completion.) I was very nervous posting the status on Facebook and rightly feared I had made a public fool of myself but what I didn’t reckon with was the level of generosity from some very experienced people who were willing to offer their talents and time for gratis. That stunned me. Still does.

For those who don’t know the whole story, could you summarize how you recruited your primary cast and crew?

Frustrated by three green-lit projects collapsing during finance stage, I had the words, ‘The Art is in the Completion. Begin.’ tattooed onto my body then typed into my Facebook status: Intend shooting no-budget feature, Charlie Casanova a provocatively dark satire, in the first couple of weeks of January. Need cast, equipment, locations, and a lot of balls. Any takers? Script at terrymcmahon.org. This is sincere so bullshitters fuck off in advance. Thank you.
I hesitated, stared at the screen, pressed send, and had no idea what was going to happen next. No idea if such a naive endeavor so full of ambition, full of impossibility, or full of shit was doomed to still birth failure before it began. I had seen people make ten-minute short films that cost a hundred grand and here was I blindly believing a bunch of strangers solicited on a social network site could make a feature film for free. Would people, with full justification, snigger at another muppet wanting to make another pointless movie? Another egoist wannabe with no idea of the reality of what it takes? Would they think this, and would they be right? It took less than a minute for someone to respond. Within twenty-four hours a hundred and thirty people made contact. Camera department, designers, production managers, assistant directors, continuity people, gaffers, actors… I got back to everyone insisting they had to read the script before going any further so they’d know what they were getting into. The script was a bit of a bastard you see, and, as we all know, bastards aren’t welcome in the land of legitimacy; but they read it and they ‘got it’ and, with the first day of principle photography only three weeks away, with this renegade crew of strangers and actors, lead by me as writer and director, a mass blind date was set, and Charlie Casanova was dragged kicking-and-screaming to life.

So within twenty-four hours of posting on Facebook you had more than your entire above-the-line and below-the-line crew eager to help you in realizing this film? What do you attribute to such an overwhelming response? (Hint: don’t be modest.)

Luck and timing played a huge part in it. Apparently, in times of war, many people loose their inhibitions to such a degree they are suddenly willing to do things they would normally consider inappropriate. And I’m not referring to the extremity of killing for country or anything like that, I’m talking about so-called ordinary people doing remarkable things to and with each other, from acts of hitherto inconceivable sexual passion to acts of astonishing selfless courage. At the time, Ireland was under siege. To a degree it still is. Obscene corruption and incompetence from those in power left the once proud nation going though such profoundly ugly changes that I think I may have accidentally tapped into that siege mentality. I hoped that, if timed properly – the first two weeks in January, when Ireland effectively shuts down after Christmas – there might just be enough people to step up but what I hadn’t figured on was a frustrated and talented youth and the articulate invention of experienced counter-culturalists. Of course there were multiple problems along the way but, when all the deadbeats revealed their ineptitude or the deadweights were cut free, it was tapping into the fury and focus of those two groups that made everything possible – the ambitious youth and the experienced counter-culturalists – and it’s to those two magnificently radical groups a small film like Charlie Casanova owes its twisted existence and a small country like Ireland may owe its future to.

After securing your cast and crew, what were your biggest obstacles in making Charlie… ?

Two empty pockets.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

The script for Charlie Casanova was unlike anything people had encountered in Ireland before so it was treated with initial suspicion then casual rejection. There was the patronizing possibility of it being engaged with by the national broadcaster if I acquiesced to substantial rewrites but I knew there was something important in there as it was and, though I was broke, I remained adamant that the script shouldn’t be emasculated by the limitations of conventional tautology. Even at that early stage Charlie Casanova was dividing audiences, with some astute and trusted readers rubbishing it and other equally astute and trusted readers passionately championing it. I had written many scripts in the past that divided readers but Charlie Casanova seemed to be evoking an unprecedented level of extremity either for or against and I knew that was precisely what it should be doing. It had to be subversive and provocative, yes, but it also had to be much more and I needed the reader to bring that final ten percent to it, which they did, with gloriously extreme responses. However, I also knew it was never going to be made within any conventional framework, and more and more I felt the only person who was going to drag it off the page onto the screen was the author, which is why I got the tattoo and uploaded the Facebook status. Filming was difficult, of course, and postproduction was its own exquisite madness, but once we kicked in there was nothing going to stop us.

What camera did you decide to use to shoot your film and why? Also, could you speak a little bit on the process of selecting your DOP [Eoin Macken] and to what informed that choice?

Eoin Macken, a twenty-six year old model-actor-filmmaker, contacted me as a result of the Facebook status. An old acting student of mine, Pauline Brennan from a community group called Bradog, had very kindly donated the use of two Sony X1 cameras for the eleven days of the shoot and I needed somebody who knew how to operate one of those cameras, so when Eoin verified he could, the decision was made; it was a simple as that. I knew the look I wanted and the colour palates but I also knew I would shoot with whatever became available so there was no room for aesthetic maneuver. Because everything was going to be determined by what was available at source – hence the name Source Productions – I had to trust that somehow whatever was available would make sense. We met to discuss the look of the film poor Eoin left confounded because I explained to him there was no budget for lights and everything would be shot using source lighting. I could never understand why filmmakers, when using video would try to imitate film. My feeling was the limitations of video could become its strength if utilized properly. As the first day of principal photography drew closer, Eoin secured a magnificent deal on lights and called me to tell me he could get a few thousand euros worth for only seven hundred quid. It was such a proactive thing for him to have done and I really appreciated it but as I explained to him that the issue wasn’t just money it was also aesthetic, the poor man rightly thought I was an imbecile and it was simply not possible to shoot a film they way I was describing. At this stage, so many experts had told me what was impossible I winced then explained to Eoin that if I was only one percent uncertain at the end of the first day of principle photography I would immediately get him the cash and he could have the lights the next day. Eoin, being a gentleman, agreed to this and we ended the conversation with him still thinking I was a fool and me thinking, shit, I need at least one or two lights, just in case. So I went to a cut-price hardware store and bought two simple brown lamps for five euro each. If you look closely at the film you will see them appearing everywhere, and they became our only other source of lighting, because, after we shot all the restaurant scenes on day one – twenty-three pages worth of material – and reviewed the dailies, our cinematographer looked at me and quietly frowned as he said, ‘I don’t know how or why, but somehow it worked.’ Cocky with youth and good looks, there were a few times when he couldn’t make it or had to leave early and I had to operate myself, but Eoin also had precocious substance to him, and when he stepped up, he made magic.

How involved were you in the editing of Charlie… , and how much do you believe that the post-production shaped the film into what its final product?

Tony Kearns, our editor, had cut some landmark music videos but had never edited a feature, which kind of suited me because I knew I wanted to try things in the edit that a more experienced feature editor might have talked me out of from day one, but, because he was a relative novice and a gentleman, Tony didn’t flex his editor muscles to talk me out of the things I wanted to try. The script was already a semi-fractured narrative and, with the free flowing orchestrated single takes I had chosen to shoot during production, I wanted to now use the cut to get back to the original intention of the script and put the audience inside Charlie Barnum’s head. I knew they’d be reluctant because inside Charlie Barnum’s cranium is a cesspool of cowardice and prejudice, but I hoped that if we could somehow squeeze the viewer in there, and keep them in there, they might actually take some time to have a look around the inside of Charlie’s hellish head. I tried explaining that to Tony the editor and the poor man understandably hung his head. And who can blame him? We spent weeks holed up in his edit suite getting to know the film and each other and at the end of it we were two broken men with a fractured narrative film that somehow made sense. Then I spoke with Nikki Moss, the sound designer, and I used equally abstract terms about pushing the natural ambience combined with sucking the sound out of the room and expected him to look at me in incomprehension but when I finished by asking him how far we can push sound design using natural sounds he grinned that shy Nikki Moss grin and softly intoned ‘These go to eleven.’ The incredible Eimear Jenkinson was working in Windmill Lane postproduction house at the time, as was Brian O’Malley and Richie Smyth, two great directors and two great friends of mine, at the same time as Nikki Moss and, between the four of them, they got Windmill lane management and staff interested in the film. And how they stepped up. With astonishing generosity and sustained belief they supported Charlie Casanova beyond measure. And now, between Tony Kearn’s cut, Nikki Moss’s sound design, Marc Ivan O’Gorman’s superb soundtrack, then Matt Branton’s grading, Charlie was fully formed. Then when SXSW kicked in the deliverables were a huge issue the staggering commitment and generosity of Richie Smyth through Windmill Lane dragged it up the mountain. They brought it to life and it would remain a bunch of long takes on hard drives if it wasn’t for them.

Each of the female characters in this film appears to fulfill a certain role–I won’t say ‘stereotype’ because they are too three dimensional to be confined in that manner, but could you elaborate a bit on what informed the constructs of these women and why they were assigned to their specific male counterparts?

Charlie is one of those pseudo-intellectual alpha-male imbeciles who regard women as ‘full of half-truths and complete fallacies.’ When I watched these kind of men in action I marveled at how the women, strained smiles stretched over their sunken faces, not only indulged these men but came back for more. Then I talked to them in private and they slowly revealed their characters and there seemed to be three categories: The kind of women who tolerate this sustained level of piggery seemed to be are either deluded by deliberate blindness, anesthetized by religious conservatism, or ones who revel in their own kind of alpha-female and those are the three wives in Charlie Casanova. Ulgy pretty and pretty ugly I feel for these women because they could and should be so much more yet remain instrumental in their own suppression. I love writing powerhouse roles for women as you’ll see in my screenplay ‘Simple Simon’ but it would have been untrue to the world of the characters to write powerful female roles for Charlie Casanova.

How did you schedule the film to be shot? Was it sequential, or was the shooting order determined by other factors? If it was not chronological, how do you think that affected your actors’ processes – especially that of Emmett J. Scanlan [Charlie]?

I had read somewhere that the best way to secure the swift respect of the crew is to select a simple shot, get it in the can with minimum fuss and move on. In and out. This guy knows what he’s doing. We’re behind him. A contented crew and an efficient director. It’s excellent advice. I recommend it. And if I weren’t such a fool I might have heeded it. Not that I didn’t consider it. I did. But a couple of days before we were due to shoot, the hernia inducing fear bringing with it its own insomnia, I was late night watching, probably for the tenth time, the documentary on the Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire When We Were Kings; Norman Mailer’s excitement at his recollection of the underdog Ali beginning the fight with a leading overhand right. We started the fight to make the film as outsiders on every level but here I was subscribing to conventional thought on how to approach the first day and I realized whatever limited chance we had of succeeding by beginning brave we didn’t have a shot in hell if we restricted ourselves to a conventional approach. We had to be brave. Balls out brave. I contacted the cast and first AD, and, as news spread we were going to shoot twenty-three pages of script on day one, the crew instantly respected the crazy courage of their director. Did they fuck. Separately they may be of varying talents and intellects but the collective mind of a crew is a brilliant bullshit detector and they accurately asserted that not only was their director a madman, he was worse, he was an imbecile. That first day, standing with a young crew, these beautiful people, most of whom I had met for the first time that day, and a cast courageous beyond measure, most of whom were now shitting themselves because they had spent a couple of days rehearsing with me and were in a state of shock at the physical and linguistic gymnastics they were going to have to achieve in uninterrupted takes; all of them wondering if this freak show writer-director was going to drag everyone down the toilet with him. They weren’t alone. I was wondering the same thing. We shot the film in eleven days. Pickups or re-shoots were never going to be an option because the equipment, which had been donated, was due back at midnight on that eleventh day. Our final scene was shot on a dark and dangerous roof top in sub zero temperatures, the equipment was returned, we all went to a nightclub, where cast and crew made close by near impossible endeavor, raised a glass or twenty to a film in the can. It was done. Somehow. I went to a secluded corner of the nightclub with my mate, Johnny Elliott, who plays Jimmy in the film, paused a moment, gently smiled, and violently puked up my innards. It was done and I was done. And I did what any director worth his salt would have done in those circumstances. I collapsed.

Next day, my three kids, who had forgotten what their daddy looked like, wondered who the stranger was in their home, and their mother wondered why in hell she hadn’t hooked up with somebody else. I looked at all of them, honest to God love in my heart, and lied that I had gotten it out of my system and now we could go back to our reality. I would get back to our real life and my real job – writing completely non-real fictions for bad television soap opera – and I would under no circumstances make the same mistakes all those other foolish directors had made by obsessing about the edit, and the sound design and the credits and all those other things that people with no grounding in reality like to distract themselves with. I would be the embodiment of restraint. And it worked for a time. The next day, as I sat at the breakfast table listening to my loving family, it was at least twenty minutes before I felt the pull of Charlie Casanova in the pit of my stomach. The day after that it was twelve minutes. The third day it wasn’t even a matter of minutes because it had seeped its way into my sleep and was determined to firmly plant its spoilt corpulent ass there until it had successfully solicited my undivided attention. I had become slave to this moving image mistress and had yet to learn that film is not just the most jealous of mistresses it’s a skanky succubus conjuring painful obsession even as it ridicules your inability to bring it to climax.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

Obviously Robert Rodriguez remains the benchmark maverick in terms of having the balls to make a movie for next to nothing then progressing on to a remarkable career. Throw the amazing cinema of John Cassavetes into the mix and what Paul Haggis achieved with Crash and you got the triumvirate inspiration for Charlie Casanova. The great directors are just as obvious, from the work of Scorsese and DeNiro on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull on back to Ingmar Bergman, Sidney Lumet, Elia Kazan, Louis Malle, John Huston and Frank Capra; and, of the current pool, Spike Lee and PT Anderson remain for me the most exciting filmmakers of their respective generations, both of them somehow having the ability to make the most complex themes incredibly compelling. As for actors, I know they’re not exactly firefighters or soldiers putting their lives on the line, but on a different level I find actors to be the most fearless people I have encountered. I know we have this notion of spoilt brat nonsense but I have found there exists in actors an astonishing bravery. Who knows if we have a soul or not but, whatever that raw tender thing is that hides within us, talented actors somehow take it out so that the rest of us might be transformed by it. Documentary filmmaking is a magnificent art form but, as a random example of how fiction and the actor’s alchemy can transcend the limitations of ‘reality’, I defy anybody to watch Monty Clift’s ten-minute performance in Judgement at Nuremburg and not feel a sudden and profound insight into the horror of sterilization. There are so many we could be here all day but a few other random examples would be Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons, Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter, Al Pacino in Scarecrow, Giovanni Ribisi in Heaven, John Turturro in The Big Lebowski, Maggie Smyth in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Daniel Day Lewis in In The Name of the Father, Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, Denzel Washington in Training Day, Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way – the list is endless.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

At the risk of sounding naïve, I just want to be involved in great cinema. If that takes the form of multi-million dollar films or no-budget films, if that comes in the form of NC17 films or kids films, I really don’t care, just as long as it is provocative, visceral and hopefully unforgettable cinema.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?

I’m probably going to come off as some beauty pageant nonce but I worked with the mentally handicapped years ago and it was the only other job I’ve done that came anywhere close to the transformative power of filmmaking.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

It’s imperative. When something is without precedent like Charlie Casanova people are often understandably wary of it but when someone like Janet Pierson at SXSW puts her reputation on the line for an unknown film the critical/media response kicks into gear in a way it never would have if Janet hadn’t stepped up. Sometimes we need to be given permission to see things differently and critical celebration and media examination of that celebration facilitates bravery in an otherwise reticent audience.

There are many significant themes standing out in Charlie… : regrets, personal responsibility, absolute freedom, morality, culpability and of course–the predestination of the working and of the middle class–what do you believe to be the primary theme of the film, and why did you choose to create a story based upon said theme?

I don’t know why but I have always been fascinated by what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they are men, and the world of one dimensional black and white compels me far less than that grey area deluded playground between illusion and reality. On the surface Charlie Casanova examines the darkness that hides in emasculated class separation but the deeper issues of self-loathing, the hypocrisy of personal and social justice and the casual hatreds that manifest in domestic relationships are thematically just as important. Each one informs the other. The most common description from people who have seen it is always the same: American Psycho meets A Clockwork Orange and I understand why it evokes that comparison in people but I’d also throw into the mix that Charlie Casanova is a very modern and very twisted Walter Mitty meets Billy Liar.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

When I was eighteen or nineteen there was an old run down cinema on Abbey Street in Dublin, I think it was called The Curzon. This was during the recession in the eighties and they couldn’t compete against the bigger cinemas so they charged a small fee to see repeat double bills of films whose shelf-life had long passed. You got a large container of popcorn on entry and smoking wasn’t illegal in cinemas at the time so I often spent the last of my cash on a ticket and a pack of cigarettes. Arriving early in the day and leaving late at night, sustained only by cigarettes, popcorn and an addiction to cinema, that cinema was my church. The clientele were mostly lonely people too scared to face the outside world but every so often a horny couple would slip in and all the lonely ones would pretend we weren’t discretely watching the exhibition. Years later I was in a similarly squalid cinema on the corner of Hollywood and Vine and the ghosts of that old cinema in Dublin were everywhere. If I could go back in time I would love to screen Charlie Casanova to my eighteen-year old self in that broke down but beautiful place.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

I’m attracted to the noisy manipulations of huge movies as much as anybody but sometimes the only way we can hear the real human truths is in the smaller whispers.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie (if at your own screening or another movie you attend)?

Why would I say or do anything? What right do I have? I believe that people, during a movie, should have the right to speak as loudly as they want or text their entire damned autobiography if they feel like it; in precisely the same way as I should have the right to take a baseball bat to their jabbering jowls and tip-tapping Philistine fingers.

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

From my limited experience filmmaking is an addictive poison that does almost as much damage as it does good. Akin to chemotherapy, when it works, despite all the pain, it elevates life, but when it doesn’t, you wonder what the hell was all that for? There is madness in it. It becomes its own very real and very dangerous obsession, dangerous in the sense that the truth of reality becomes less important than capturing the generated truths of your own fictions, and, as you struggle to capture the created life in front of the camera, your own life becomes the distracted dream. Filmmaking is a sickness that takes over you, destroys all elements of character and ego, and renders you its humbled servant. What’s not to love?

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

You think you need someone to give you permission to make your film? You think you need rubber stamped approval from anybody? You think you need screenwriting classes or acting classes or directing classes? All you need is two actors, a camera and a taboo. Fight for your truth. But fight harder to make that truth compelling to an audience. Pose a life question that’s important to you, a question you yearn to have answered or at least substantially explored. Ask it clearly and boldly but find the silences for the audience to bring their own answers because they are smarter than you. Get ready to be emotionally, psychologically and physically consumed for at least the next two years of your life. There’s nothing wrong with light-hearted films or entertainment, most people rightly adore them, but, if you’re going to get to make one film in your entire life, at least be brave with it. Make a film you can watch in fifty years time with your grown-up grandkids that you can still stand by as a testament to your generation and a legacy for theirs. Finally, ask yourself is this going to be worth living and dying by, because, if it’s not, do something else. It’s too fucking hard.

What are your future projects?

The hardcore prison story The Dancehall Bitch is the one I have been obsessed with making, however the time wasn’t right, until now. The dark tale of Issac Greenblatt, a naïve academic who goes to jail intent on studying man but, when those prison doors slide shut, his cell mates are more interested in teaching him about the nature of woman. Powerful and provocative it has the kind of complex roles that actors rarely get to explore anymore and I know it would be an iconic, unforgettable film. I have several other original screenplays that I also want to make so there is plenty of choice. At this stage, all I really want to do is make provocative and powerful cinema, in whatever form that takes.

Finally, what is your favorite film and why?

If I were forced to choose one desert island movie it would have to be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It just slays me on every level. I’ve watched it multiple times on DVD and recently got the chance to see it projected from an original print and it’s probably the most perfect synthesis of all the elements I have seen. A brave, humane, anarchic testament to the power of cinema, we should all genuflect in front of this enduring masterpiece.


Share