john butler dga

Lorna Buttimer caught up with John Butler, co-writer and director of the Irish comedy The Stag, to discuss the making of his first feature.

John Butler has got a bone to pick. ‘There is this cliché out there that producers are uncreative, it’s wrong, totally wrong.  Producers are inherently creative. When the budget is low a producer has to be totally creative towards it and the film’. Butler recalls during the production of his new, and first feature, The Stag, moments where his producers had to step in and help make creative decisions caused by budget restrictions. These instances have clearly fostered the belief and experience in Butler that producers are indeed creative; creative with money.

Butler’s belief probably also comes from his close and successful relationship with long-time producers Robert Walpole and Rebecca O’Flanagan. Both have worked with Butler since his early days of TV, shorts and documentaries. When he, and co-writer of The Stag, Peter McDonald decided to write the comedy both producers jumped on board. With their help, Butler was able to approach the Irish Film Board for production financing; as quickly as that they were in production by November of the same year. From the outside looking in, that is one smooth operation and surely the sign of a good director-producer relationship.

However, even with financial backing and great producers, Butler recalls that the production was still tight, ‘It was all meticulously planned. We had no extra budget so we had to plan everything’.  But as a result ‘we didn’t have any major problems going from script to screen’.

Still, even with careful and considerate planning, the director says the budget brought difficulties of another kind; production time was short. ‘The whole shoot was only twenty days [as a result]…the hardest bit to film…was a fireplace scene that happens in the middle of the movie. We had ten pages of dialogue and one night to get it covered.’ Throw in six or seven characters with eye-lines to track, lighting for firelight, sound and a two-camera set up and you’re in for one long night. Successfully managing that feat alone gives the director credit in my book.

The director does mention one factor that he considers significant in helping with the tight turnaround; actors. For him they were ‘Brilliant… very smart… very prepared. They arrived on pitch for the characters…and nailed it’. Arriving so prepared was essential for the film. The director recalls that the actors didn’t have time to prepare on set, and they had to jump straight into character as soon as they arrived.

The Stag is, of course, Butler’s first feature-length film, which he directed and co-wrote, and he’s got some advice for any aspiring filmmakers hoping to do the same.  Don’t… ‘wait necessarily for development funding, it might come, just write…and if the script works, if the story works, if the beats make sense – then that will carry you through’.

The Stag  is released on 7th March 2014