Robert Arkins as Matt
Matt, an aging ’90s rock star, is given a second shot at fame. A visit from his estranged daughter coincides with a video of a major recording studio meltdown going viral. Matt has to decide what’s more important – fame or family?
Ahead of its screening at the Galway Film Fleadh, Shane Conaty, one of the directors of The Comeback (alongside Elaine Gallagher and James O’Connor), speaks to Film Ireland about the film, which began its life as part of the Filmbase Masters Course. When Filmbase went into voluntary liquidation earlier this year, the students stood firm and went on to shoot the film they had been gearing up for since October 2017.
Shane recalls his time on the Masters course. “The course was great, was being the operative word though. We got classes in the basics, but lots of practical work and the lecturers were amazing, a great resource. The closure was, of course, a huge blow. What was an uphill struggle, a feature in 4 odd months, from script to screen, became a near impossibility. But the staff were amazing: Alan and all the lecturers. Having another base, Dublin Business School, was key in saving the production. They all helped. All the students felt very strongly that we wanted to make the film; the script was good [written by Eamonn Norris and Fred O’Connor] and the cast we had been looking at were amazing, so we pushed on. Tough, but, show me a shoot that isn’t. One thing is for sure though, Filmbase will be missed, there’s nothing like it around now and that’s a pity.”
As with previous Filmbase Masters films, there were 3 directors working together behind the camera. Not surprisingly, this was a new experience for Shane. “I’ve directed lots of shorts, corporate stuff, music videos and a feature, and never with a co-director, never mind a group of 3. However, we were all on the same page, or more importantly, we all got onto the same page by the time casting came around. The important thing, I think, is that we listened. Sounds trite, I know, but that was the key. We just wanted to make the best film we could, everything else is in service to that. There’s nothing more important than the project. What was great too, though, was that we all had strengths in areas others were weaker in. I wouldn’t be the best with comic timing and the others helped to steer me on that, which was great.”
In The Comeback, Robert Arkins, best-known for his role as Jimmy Rabbitte in the 1991 film The Commitments, plays a musician, Matt, who had a hit in the ’90s and has been coasting since then. Clodagh Mooney Duggan plays his daughter, Megan, who lived her life in America but has come back to Ireland to scatter the ashes of her mum in Glendalough. She hopes to rekindle a relationship with her father. Michael David McKernan plays Kev, a young singer songwriter in Matt’s band, who strikes up a relationship with Megan. An impressive supporting cast features Tara Flynn, Morgan C. Jones, Karen Kelly, Robert Harrington, Alan Rogers and Cathy Orr.
Assembling the cast was a particular challenge for the team. Filmbase was closing as they were auditioning, so there was a lot of pressure. “We got most of the cast, bar Meg early,” Shane recalls. “Alan [Fitzpatrick, Filmbase MD] was pushing us to keep auditioning to get the right person, and, to be honest, it was the right call. Robert Arkins came on board early, and he was perfect for Matt. We auditioned for Kev and Barbara [a personal trainer-cum-spiritual healer] and were thrilled to cast Michael David and Tara. They both blew us all away in the auditions and were instant choices. As for the rest, we have all worked with them before, and were only too delighted to get them in to help out. For me, it was Robert Harrington, Alan Rogers and Cathy Orr, just great actors who were a pleasure to work with. On another note, the Felonies, the band who came onboard, were just amazing, lots of energy, professionalism and just fun to have around.”
After coming out the other side with a feature made, Shane reflects on lessons learned. “The whole Filmbase thing was… well, it was challenging, and it made a tough battle harder. But luckily it also brought us together, which helped a whole bunch. The lesson I learned was to trust those around you. Again, sounds trite, but it’s much harder to do than you may think. I trusted Elaine and James – the other directors, Orla Maher, [Art Director] who was amazing, Tracy Martin and the other producers – David O’Neill, Paddy Scahill and John Gleeson, the ADs and my DoP Megan Hales, who was just a rock and has such a great eye.”
After an eventful year, Shane and everyone involved in The Comeback certainly deserve their premiere at this year’s Galway Film Festival. “Galway is a huge festival and it’s great to be involved in it. And what’s better than watching a film you were a part of with a group of mates, then heading to the pub for two… or seven.”
If you’re in Galway and bump into them, buy them a pint – they’ve earned it!
The Comeback screens on Sunday, 15th July at the Pálás Screen 1 @ 20:30 as part of the 2018 Galway Film Festival (10 – 15 July)