Kevin de la Isla O’Neill tells us about the seed that became the Acorn.
What can you tell us about the film?
It’s a sweet and fun story about a mum who gets called into the Principal’s office at her son Gregg’s school during nativity play rehearsals. She assumes it’s because he’s in trouble again and is ready to defend his actions, however the principal has something rather different to tell her about Gregg which leaves her completely gobsmacked.
How did you become involved in the project?
I entered the Filmbase Short-Shots scheme as a director back in Feb 2016. It’s where directors, writers and producers come together to create one of 4 films offered by RTÉ/Filmbase.
As a director in the scheme, I had to first find a script I liked through various methods. Among them, a Facebook group where people send and request scripts and also a few speed-dating events for writers and directors. So after an extensive selection process I came across Jonathan’s [Hughes] script and I found his sense of humour to be very in tune with my own. I contacted him and we got on great, so pitching the idea came naturally. After that, we had to find a producer that would serve the project best. So we approached Sharon Cronin [producer] with our ideas on the project and she happily came on board to make the perfect team complete.
Can you tell us a little about putting the cast together?
Casting Gregg was the most important at the beginning and we saw some boys who had a lot to offer. But we all thought Luke [Kerins] brought that something extra, a kind of ’knowing’ look in his eye. He was also a bit older than what we were looking for but looked young enough for the part, which I think worked in his favour as he did a fantastic job! For Barbara we always had Norma Sheahan in mind, and when approached, she happily came on board.
We went through many ideas for the mother and principal and we all had suggestions that would make the characters very different, but in the end we decided on Aideen Wylde and Aidan O’Hare, who were both comfortable with comedy and they worked incredibly well together, and really made the characters their own; a very unique take on the roles that we were thrilled with.
How involved was Jonathan in the filming process?
Jonathan was very involved from the beginning and whenever we had questions about the script or characters he was always on hand to help or advise, and to make changes where we needed to if things weren’t working. He travelled over from London where he was residing at the time and was on set for the filming days, so I think it was all really exciting to see his script come to life. It also helped when we needed to rejig things very quickly on set, to get his opinion on how the changes might make the characters react, etc.
Any particular challenges you faced on this production?
There were various types of challenges as there are with any production, whether it’s a short or a feature, working with a big crew or small, and then working with children and animals, etc. So sometimes it comes down to trying to get the most out of the budget and dealing with time restrictions or location limitations, etc. scheduling picks-ups with actors and crew.
Sharon is an extremely competent producer and organized everything with acute efficiency, which meant we had a more than capable team throughout production, so challenges were quickly addressed when faced with them.
Working with Director of Photography Richard Donnelly was also a great asset, as I had worked with him once before and we seem to speak a common language, so when faced with any challenges we would quickly find a creative solution to the problem at hand.
No matter the budget or scale of production, you always wish you had more time and budget. In this case we were fortunate to have Natasha Waugh as our 1stAD, so thanks to her shoot management we were able to get the most off our time on location.Some locations kept changing and, as the story takes place on a school, we had to wait for a holiday break from the school to be used in order to shoot there, as weekends would be too restrictive. Also due to location access, some scenes were cut and replaced by others.
As the film takes place during nativity play rehearsals, the costume and production design are hugely important as the costumes are very specific, specially for the children, but Ciara Coleman-Geany did a fantastic job creating these and then the set design was very prop heavy, but Jill Beecher, our set designer, looked after that extremely well too, from finding bits and pieces everywhere, to creating a very Christmassy look, to even building a full stage for the nativity play rehearsals, as there was none at the location.
At some stage we had a very visual scene in a swimming pool, but that proved too burdensome due to the time allowed at the location and the amount of time we had for the shoot as a whole.
There were a lot of VFX required, which were done in After Effects, that you probably wouldn’t even notice (and shouldn’t), which is a great thing if it doesn’t stand out of course. But it takes an incredible amount of time and patience to do those types of things especially when working to a deadline on a small budget, etc. But it’s all part of the process and we want to make sure that the best possible version of this film is the one you see on screen at the end of the day. So all the challenges make it worth it.
You must be excited about Galway…
I am very excited about Galway as I feel we have a lovely little film with a lot of heart. I’m really looking forward to seeing the film on the big screen and hearing its 5.1 mix, which was done and designed by Mutiny post, ans the score, composed by Sarah Lynch, was performed by the RTE concert orchestra, thanks to the IMRO | RTÉ Scoring for Film Program, so it should be an amazing experience to see and to listen to.
It also has been a while since I’ve been in Galway as part of a film project in the programme, instead of in the market pitching, etc. So I’m really looking forward to getting to showcase our film, network and talk about the next projects in order to develop further and enjoy all that the Fleadh has to offer.
The 29th Galway Film Fleadh runs 11 – 16 July 2017.