Cinema Review: My Brothers

DIR: Paul Fraser • WRI: Will Collins • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DOP: P.J. Dillon • ED: Emer Reynolds • DES: Mark Geraghty • CAST: Timmy Creed, Paul Courtney, Kate Ashfield, Sarah Greene

My Brothers is the directorial debut feature of established screenwriter Paul Fraser, best known for his collaborations with Shane Meadows. Set in Cork around Halloween 1987, the film focuses on Noel (Timothy Creed), a seventeen year-old whose father (Don Wycherley) is dying from a disease that has left him bedbound and confused. Alongside domestic concerns, Noel has school and a part time delivery job with a bakery to worry about, and he’s becoming increasingly unsatisfied with his lot in life. One day, he borrows his father’s beloved Casio watch, which is soon destroyed in an unfortunate incident involving the school bully and a hurley. Desperate, Noel decides to embark on an epic but secretive trip to Ballybunion (where the watch was initially won in a seaside crane game) in a ‘borrowed’ bread truck to replace his father’s prized possession. Necessity dictates that he brings his two younger brothers Paudie (Paul Courtney) and Scwally (T.J. Griffin) along for the ride, and that inevitably brings complications…

Comparisons are unavoidable: although scripted by first-time writer Will Collins, My Brothers shares many similarities with the filmography of Fraser’s better-known collaborator. A modern period setting. The naturalistic, unpretentious delivery. Social realist leanings and a deep affection for working class families. Youngsters dealing with situations well outside their maturity range. While much of this hits the mark, My Brothers lacks the unique perspective that has allowed the best of Meadows’ films to stand out from the crowd.

The road trip movie at My Brothers’ core is mildly diverting, but rarely feels vital or particularly original. The interactions between the three brothers are handled with care and affection, but they’re neither funny nor dramatic enough to truly leap off the screen. The performances are good – Courtney particularly achieves a lot with a role that could easily have drifted towards stereotyping – but the characters feel somewhat underwritten. Noel particularly comes across as inconsistently realised (although one could argue that’s appropriate for a directionless seventeen year-old), while some of the minor characters are massively underused over the very lean running time. The plot itself is contrived, with few of the complications experienced by the siblings proving particularly surprising or insightful. The road trip structure has regularly been the foundation for great cinema, yet My Brothers struggles to match the humour or pathos of the best the ‘genre’ has to offer.

There are things to like, though. P.J. Dillon – the current star of Irish cinematography – does a great job with sometimes aesthetically limited locations, especially during a very impressive sequence involving sparklers. There’s a very, shall we say, ‘memorable’ performance from Charlie Casanova director Terry McMahon, whose brief appearance provides a genuine sense of threat and darkness. While there are few surprises in the delivery, the final act provides some satisfying character moments and catharsis.

My Brothers isn’t a bad film, but there’s a lack of ambition and character that undermines its moderate successes. Even the 1987 setting suffers through a series of careless anachronisms – it’s unreasonable to expect perfect period detail in a film of this low budget, but obvious cameo appearances from modern Tayto and contemporary arcade games are distracting. My Brothers is accessible and mostly harmless, that’s for sure, and could very well resonate with a wider audience. Indeed, Fraser’s modest ambitions and simple, unshowy delivery may be seen as positives by many viewers. But this one struggles to recommend it as anything other than merely decent.

Stephen McNeice

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
87 mins
My Brothers is released on 17th August 2012

 

My Brothers director Paul Fraser talks to Amanda Spencer

Issue 133 Summer 2010 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Will Collins on My Brothers

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Issue 133 Summer 2010 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Will Collins on My Brothers

 

Will Collins, writer of My Brothers, the directorial debut of well-known screenwriter Paul Fraser(A Room for Romeo Brass, Once Upon a Time in the Midland’s), wrote the second piece of our regular Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild article in Film Ireland Summer 2010 issue 133, published 2nd July 2010.

My Brothers is released in cinemas on Friday, 17th August 2012.

Will Collins on using his own family as the material for his debut feature.

 

My Brothers was the first spec script I wrote, but I had written another for my Master’s thesis in Screenwriting at the Huston Film School in NUI Galway. It was a plot monster, filled with cartoonish characters and multiple subplots with satirical aspirations, so I soon grew tired of the juggling act. I wanted to write something simple, with personal truth.

I have two older brothers. We’re opposite in almost every way – so different that you would think we were adopted if it wasn’t for the fact that we look so alike. Like any siblings, we were always hopping off one another for some inane reason – no wonder that the dynamic that we had together became embedded in my head. Looking back now, we really were character gold dust.

 

Subconscious

 

It’s incredible how the human brain can brush the hard times into the subconscious. From the age of about eleven until my mid-teens my father was in and out of hospital (he’s fine now thankfully). I simply had not thought about it in years. That is, until he had to return for several more operations in recent years. A flood of emotions and moments came tumbling back, which I had to deal with.

 

I tend to address all my problems through writing and was compelled to write about that period. I knew I was going to write something about three young brothers – but that was the easy part. I pretty much spent a year mulling over the idea. In that time I figured that they were going to go on a road trip in a bread van to get a watch for their Dad who was dying. Most importantly, I knew the central theme. Having a parent who has been ill for a long period, we build an emotional wall protecting ourselves from the pain of the loss that will happen. It’s a wall that has to come down sooner or later – the later it is, the more damaging it is for the individual.

 

I had done various drafts of a treatment and had taken them into the Galway Writer’s Group I was attending. There, it would be constructively ripped to pieces. Gathering what was left of my pride, I would start from scratch again and again. All in all, counting all the different drafts, those kids went on dozens of different journeys.

 

The pitch

 

Then, harassed by friends, I entered the pitching competition in the Galway Film Fleadh in 2007. I was shortlisted and won, which still ranks as one of the single most terrifying experiences of my life. Although it was worth every bead of sweat and twisted intestine.

 

Then I submitted the treatment to the Irish Film Board for development money and thankfully they decided to fund the writing of the script. Without question this project would have gone nowhere if it were not for the encouragement and support of Andrew Meehan (Development Exec., BSÉ/IFB) who also put me in contact with Paul Fraser.

 

As part of my agreement with BSÉ/IFB, I was encouraged to get notes from an advisor. Andrew mentioned to me that my writing had reminded him of Paul’s (A Room for Romeo BrassHeartlands). My first meeting with Paul didn’t materialize until I had a proper first draft done. I was incredibly nervous; a real writer, someone whose films I had watched and loved was going to read my script. I figured he would politely dismiss it and send me on my way. He didn’t.

 

Paring it down

 

From that point on, it really was a process of paring it back, making the 126-page draft an 80-page draft. Not an easy task. When faced with the challenge of simplifying, it really exposes the elements of the story that are incidental and frivolous. It’s an important skill to work on as a screenwriter.

 

On my second meeting with Paul, he declared his interest in directing the film. I was blessed to work with Paul in more ways than one. He understood the writing process better than anybody and always respected my voice as the writer, making suggestions but allowing me the space to interpret his ideas into the world of my script. More importantly, Paul kept me included right through the filmmaking process, from casting to shooting to the edit.

 

We were lucky enough to have two great producers who went all out to get the film made – Rebecca O’Flanagan and Rob Walpole. Their passion and enthusiasm was evident from the moment they read the script.

 

It’s strange watching the finished film on the big screen – those are my brothers up there, after all. It’s the simple sincere tale I set out to tell. I see reflections and impressions of my life and family that make me squirm, laugh and cry. It’s wonderful.

 

www.script.ie

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Summer 2010 issue 133, published 2nd July 2010.

 

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Issue 133 – Get into film

Get into Film

So you’ve decided your future lies in film. But where to begin? Film Ireland’s Charlene Lydon talks to some up-and-coming Irish talent about where they went to college and what they learned there…

There are many schools of thought on the pros and cons of studying film. Some of the greatest filmmakers of our time, such as David Fincher, Peter Jackson and Steven Soderbergh never went to film school. Many are of the opinion that you can’t teach art – you either have it or you don’t. Modern technology has become so compact and so cheap that the ‘learn by doing’ philosophy is more feasible than ever before. Anybody can pick up a camera and shoot some footage, anyone can use a simple editing programme on their laptop and anybody can upload a video to YouTube.

In the past, many people went to film school simply because there was no other way to access equipment. With that no longer being the case, what are the benefits of going to film school? If nothing else, an education in film will help you decide where your strengths lie. Without actually trying it, it can be hard to know if you’re actually suited to directing. Or what about producing? Or screenwriting? You get to try out a variety of roles, gaining insight into how a crew fits together, the importance of each crew member’s role and, most importantly, the job that best suits your skills.

And apart from finding out which way you incline, if you’re interested in certain filmmaking skills like editing or cinematography you can absolutely reap benefits from formal training. You might be full of interesting ideas but without the knowledge of your tools, there are no guarantees you’ll ever reach your full potential. Training in a college gives you the chance to get familiar with the industry’s rapidly changing technologies.

And now, the other benefit of studying film in a structured way. One of the secrets to succeeding in film is getting to know people. Word of mouth is an essential part of getting jobs in film and building a reputation is hugely important. Film courses are a great place to meet the future filmmakers of Ireland and start a New Wave together. Students often find themselves forming production companies together after college or working on each other’s films. It’s always good to have a pool of talented, dependable crewmembers for future projects and college is a very, very handy way to do this.

So read on to hear what successful Irish filmmakers have to say about the place they learned their trade and, you never know, you might learn a thing or two…

How to Choose the Right Course for You

There is a vast array of courses on offer in Ireland, both technical and academic. Technical courses are best suited to those interested in working as crew or in directing their own films. The focus is on practical work and while there will usually be some written work, a large part of your mark will be for project work. The academic study of film will suit you if you’re interested in becoming a film lecturer, a cinema programmer or a film critic. These courses focus on the history and theory of cinema. If you enjoy watching and discussing films, but are not so keen on making them, then this is the direction you should take.

Some courses contain elements of both technical and academic studies. These combination courses are quite broad and will allow you find the areas that suit you. If you know you love film but you’re not sure what you want to focus on then this is the option for you.

Filmbase is one place to find this kind of film training. The film and video training courses are for new and emerging filmmakers as well as practising film professionals. Course lengths vary from one-day to five-day, weekend courses and evening courses ranging from 6 to 10 weeks. This means they’re open to those in full-time work who want to explore a particular area or to film professionals who want to update their qualifications without having to take too much time off. It’s also an opportunity to find out where your strengths lie before you commit to a degree or a diploma or before embarking on a career in filmmaking. Filmbase is an Apple Authorized Training Centre, and all tutors who teach Filmbase courses are film professionals themselves, which brings an authenticity and practicality to the courses. For a full list of the training available at Filmbase, visit www.filmbase.ie/training.

If you want to try film but are afraid of taking the plunge with college fees, why not check with your local vec. They offer a range of lower cost certificate and diploma courses around the country that can lead to further education and will, at the very least, provide you with a substantial portfolio of work.

So, whether you on the post-Leaving Cert precipice, you feel like a career change, or you just fancy a new hobby, there is something there for you.

Ballyfermot College Of Further Education
Nicky Phelan – director, Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty (short animation, 2008).

What was the most important thing you learned during your time studying film?
I studied animation in Ballyfermot, where we did a lot of life-drawing and sketching out on location. It taught me the importance of observation – seeing what gives an expression or gesture its meaning, what elements of someone’s physicality tell you about their personality in terms of movement and presentation. All the details that go into making a set feel real and relevant to the world you are trying to create – observation and attention to detail, I suppose, two important lessons.

What was your first project and how did it go?
The first film as such I made in college was a group project, made on paper with pastel illustrations. We were happy with how it turned out, but I haven’t seen it in a long time!

What have you learned that college couldn’t teach you?
Lots of things. Experience is the best place to learn. I think something that comes with time is realising that to make something feel really emotional, it helps to bring your own personal experience to it. It’s sort of intuitive anyway, but it is an important question to ask yourself in terms of relating to your characters and world. You have to look at your story, characters and the world you are creating, and bring your own memories or experiences to them in some way. It all translates to an audience. I also did an amazing course through Screen Training Ireland with Bruce Block on visual storytelling, which was incredibly helpful and is something that I still refer to.

If you could tell students one thing, what would it be?
That while it’s a tough industry to get into, if it’s what you want to do, keep at it. Make films on your computer at home, do whatever, and keep at it. The more you put into the work, the more you’ll get out of it. If it starts to feel too much like hard work, you should probably do something else.

What would you change about film education in Ireland?
It might have changed by now, but in Ballyfermot I think we could have benefitted from a mentoring system – some way in which those working in the industry mentor students. I think having access to people with the technical know-how and experience would help the students improve production values and increase their chances of reaching wider audiences.

Do you think academic film study can inform technical ability?
Yes, to a certain degree, but there’s nothing like experience to inform technical ability.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 133

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