Three questions to… Vincent Gallagher, director of Second to None

Second to None - Vincent Gallagher - Irish Film Festa

A dark comedy about the world’s second oldest man: Second to None is a funny and highly original animated short film in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome). We spoke to the director Vincent Gallagher, who was in competition also last year with Love is a Sting. . . .

Three questions to… Toto Ellis, director of Two Angry Men

Interview with Toto Ellis - Two Angry Men - Irish Film Festa

 
The battle of James Ellis (played by Michael Shea) and Sam Thompson (Adrian Dunbar) to stage the play Over the Bridge in face of censorship in 1950s Belfast: Two Angry Men is one of the short films in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the director Toto Ellis, James’ son. . . .

Three questions to… Jack O’Shea, director of A Coat Made Dark

Interview with Jack O'Shea - A Coat Made Dark

 
A man follows the orders of a dog to wear a mysterious coat with impossible pockets: it’s the mysterious plot of A Coat Made Dark, one of the animated short films in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the young director Jack O’Shea, whose works have appeared at film festivals worldwide, including the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.

 

What kind of drawing and animation techniques were used for the film?

The film was animated digitally, using a hand-drawn frame by frame technique. I previously explored a similar painterly/inky aesthetic using a traditional approach with organic materials. However I found I could more closely capture the desired aesthetic using a digital process.

 

How did you set the strong and minimal colour palette?

The story relies a lot on what isn’t said directly, or is kept from the audience. To capture this idea visually, it was important to hide much that appears on screen in vast black spaces. The details that are left become more striking, and imply at what might be disguised in darkness.

 

What about the voices of your characters – Hugh O’Connor, Declan Conlon and Antonia Campbell Hughes?

The characters in the film are afraid to give anything away, speaking only as a last resort. Each of these voice performances captured this idea, and explored other ways to emphasise this underlying tension, given the dialogue was so limited. It was the subtle details they offered to the performances that served to capture this idea most effectively.

 

Three questions to… Paddy Cahill, director of Seán Hillen Merging Views

Interview with Paddy Cahill - Sean Hillen, Merging Views - Irish Film Festa

 
A film portrait that observes Irish artist Séan Hillen as he creates a beautiful new photomontage and shares thoughts about his work and recent personal discovery: Seán Hillen, Merging Views is a short documentary film which will screen in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the director Paddy Cahill.

 

Why did you choose to make a film about Seán Hillen?

I’ve been a long time admirer of Seán Hillen’s work but it was last year, as I visited him at his home to buy one of his prints as a present, that I knew I wanted to make the film. I wrote to Seán right after asking if I could make a short documentary about him and his work. Seán has an amazing backstory, which should be told in another documentary, but I was really fascinated by his home/studio where he creates his amazing work.

 

The film is set in a small room: how did you work in terms of frame composition and editing?

When we filmed it was just myself and Basil Al Rawi, our director of photography, in the house with Seán. It was very important to me that we would be a tiny crew, although not much more would have fit in the room anyway! One rule I tried to keep was that Seán would only talk or answer questions while he was making work. That way it would be less like a traditional documentary interview. I thought that watching Seán work while he spoke would be more interesting to the viewer. This also gave Basil the freedom to get right up to Seán’s shoulder and compose some really beautiful cinematography.

 

And how long did the shooting take?

Along with producer Tal Green we were planning the filming for quite a while but the actual filming was over the course of one night only. I wanted the audience to have the same feeling we had when we filmed as if they just dropped in one night, to this unusual house on a normal looking terrace street in Dublin and got to watch Seán create one of his works.

 

Three questions to… Graham Cantwell, director of Lily

Interview with Graham Cantwell - Lily - Irish Film Festa

 
On the cusp of becoming a young woman, Lily navigates the treacherous waters of school life with her best friend, the fiercely loyal and flamboyant Simon. When a misunderstanding with the beautiful and popular Violet leads to a vicious attack, Lily is faced with a great challenge.

Lily is an LGBT themed short film which will screen in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the director Graham Cantwell, who was our guest in 2014, when he conducted a great acting masterclass and also attended the screening of his feature film The Callback Queen. Its lead actress, Amy-Joyce Hastings, plays a small but important role in Lily.

 

How did you cast and work with the young actors?

We sent out a casting call for the young actors to all the agents and young actors’ groups in Dublin, and had an amazing response. We saw some of the best young actors in the country for the roles of Lily, Simon, Violet and Emer.

When Clara Harte came in to audition we knew immediately we had found our Lily. She had such a wonderful combination of intelligence and vulnerability. Leah McNamara, I knew I wanted for the role of Violet when I saw her headshot: she had the perfect look for the character. I just hoped she would be good enough in the room, and thankfully she and Clara were fantastic together in the auditions.

For Emer, the bully character in the film, Hallie Ridgeway showed up and nailed it from take one. Simon was far more difficult to cast. We looked at dozens of very talented young actors, but none of them quite had the quality I was looking for in Simon. Then Dean Quinn showed up at the last minute and saved the day. He captured everything we needed for Simon: his heart, his sass, his protective nature.

Once we had assembled the actors we rehearsed quite a bit, particularly the choreography of the fight scene. Clara and Dean got very close very quickly, and their bond formed the core of the film. I had some very experienced actors like Amy-Joyce Hastings and Paul Ronan come in to work with the younger cast and that helped them to raise their game.

 

Since the story has a lot of references to school life and teen habits, were the actors also involved in the writing process?

The script was written long before we had any of the younger actors involved, but we did workshop the dialogue in the rehearsal process, and as they began to naturalise the text and own their characters their dialogue shifted and became more akin to their own voices.

We spoke to youth groups and sent the script to people involved in the LGBT community in Ireland for feedback, and had younger people read it for authenticity. During the filming process we also adapted the script as one would always do to incorporate the actors’ feedback and instincts.

 

Music is very present in Lily, mostly during the emotional moments: how did you work with the composer Joseph Conlan?

Joe and I have worked together on a number of projects since our first collaboration on my feature film The Callback Queen and we have developed an understanding and a working process that serves the films we work on together very well.

He is based in LA, so we work remotely, on Skype and in emails. It’s very difficult to articulate what you are looking for from a piece of music, I always think of the Elvis Costello quote that “talking about music is like dancing about architecture”. So we discuss moods and emotions, the responses that I’d like the audience to have at particular moments, and Joe suggests instruments that we may use. Joe then composes something for each cue and we lay it against picture and discuss adjustments. He has an incredible ear and an understanding of narrative that is quite rare, his first drafts are always very close to what we end up with, so our discussions are rarely technical, and quite often have more to do with intangible things like feelings and mood. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with Joe on so many projects and hope to do so long into the future.

 

Three questions to… Tristan Heanue, director of Today

Interview with Tristan Heanue - Today - Irish Film Festa

 
A man wakes up one morning in his car, disorientated, with no recollection of how he ended up parked in the middle of nowhere: Today is one of the short films in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome), starring John Connors and Lalor Roddy.

We spoke to the director Tristan Heanue, who also took part as an actor in two other selected short films, Gridlock and Blight.

 

John Connors and Lalor Roddy give powerful performances: how did you work with them on these tough roles? And, since you’re an actor too, why did you choose not to appear in the film?

I had chatted with John Connors at length about the character as he was on board from before there was even a script: I pitched him the opening scene and he loved it, and when I told him I was going to direct and not act, he said he’d love to play the role. So he knew exactly what was required by the time we got to set.

With Lalor Roddy I didn’t have much time, as we only met for the first time the night before the shoot, but I knew what a wonderful actor he was so I trusted that he would bring the character to life as it was meant to be. We did no rehearsals as I wanted them to be unfamiliar with each other, and for there to be a spontaneity and freshness within the scene which I sometimes think you can squeeze out of it by running it too much beforehand. They had a huge mutual respect for each other, so they really listened and connected in the scenes. It sometimes felt like I was cheating because I had to give them so little direction, but that’s what you get with great actors: you can just create an environment for them and let them act.

I just never saw myself in the role, from the moment I worked on the opening scene I saw John in it. We had worked together on a short film earlier that year and we had chatted at length about mental health and our own experiences, and he was just in my head. I had been wanting to make the move to directing and I just wanted to concentrate 100% on that this time round.

 

Where was the film shot?

It was shot in Derryinver, which is beside Letterfrack in Connemara, Co. Galway. The farm belongs to my father and the road is just down from my house so we hadn’t far to travel to our locations.

 

What about the contribution of cinematographer Eimear Ennis Graham?

Eimear was hugely important to this project, from the moment I decided to direct it I wanted her on board. We are friends and I always admired her work so having her on board was great. She helped me so much as I was new to directing and needed someone who I wasn’t afraid to ask questions if I was unsure about a shot or anything else.

Paddy Slattery, our producer, also deserves a special mention. He drove the whole project forward from the first moment he read the script and got some amazing people on board. I was blessed to have him behind the project and his support made it feel possible when sometimes I was really doubting everything, as you do in this game!

 

Three questions to… Sinéad O’Loughlin, director of Homecoming

Interview with Sinéad O’Loughlin - Homecoming - Irish Film Festa

 
A young man struggles to find his place in life after returning to Ireland. A familiar face makes him wonder if things are about to change: Homecoming is one of the short films in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the director Sinéad O’Loughlin.

 

Homecoming was shot in Wicklow: did the landscape and environment influence your directing choices?

In my mind the story was always in Wicklow when I was writing as it’s where I am from, it’s what I know. Homecoming is my first film, my background is theatre and I write short stories. So honestly I think it’s very funny that I ended up writing a film that took place entirely outside!

I was very fortunate to receive funding from Wicklow County Arts Office to make the film and it allowed me to work with Daniel Keane (director of photography and editor), and I knew Dan got the film from the way he talked about it.

We very much wanted to show how a rural setting can obviously be so beautiful and dramatic looking, but then there’s a stark contrast in the harsh reality of actually working that land and the sometime mundane ritual of maintaining it on a daily basis.

We knew straight away that we were going to film in Wicklow because it was based there but also because I knew we could use my father’s farm as one of the locations! The scenary in Wicklow is stunning and we were fortunate with the weather and with our timing. The first day, there happened to be this incredible mist everywhere when we arrived and Dan took full advantage of it and started filming as soon as possible, and it ended up being the opening shot.

 

Dialogue plays a big part in the film: what about your writing process?

I love the way Irish people talk to each other, our turn of phrase and our delivery and timing. I usually start with dialogue even if I am writing a short story.

Homecoming started as a one act play called Wake that I wrote in college in 2009. It was essentially a conversation between Mick and Aoife in the aftermath of a death. As they talk we find out that Aoife is about to go off to college and Mick is considering going to Australia.

I also love adaptation so when the opportunity came up to make the film I thought why not take the same two characters, eight years later and see what’s happened? Time has passed, their lives have gone separate ways but when they meet they are still very rooted to each other by place and past. I knew I wanted it to be all about the dialogue between them so I thought about the conversation for a very long time. So much so that when I eventually sat down to write it I was able to do a full draft in one go, something I’ve never done before.

After that it was all about paring it down further. Scriptwriting for short film is such a great discipline for that, Dan was fairly strict about how long he thought the film should be and I’m glad of that because it forced me to work around it. You also have to leave that room for the visual elements and the performances so you can’t be too precious about your writing.

The final thing is that while you write dialogue a certain way and you direct dialogue a certain way, the actors come in and bring a whole new element to it, and it’s brilliant. Myself and the actors very much decided on lines on set, if something didn’t feel natural to them we rephrased it slightly. It was all about being as natural as possible with the pace and the delivery. And the actors were great. Some of my favourite lines from the film now are ones I hadn’t even thought that much about because of what David Greene or Johanna O’Brien brought to it.

 

And what about the emigration theme, which seems to be still a big issue for Irish people?

Yes, definitely and it’s strange because it’s more fluid than it use to be, people come back and go again, we also feel a stronger connection to those who have left than people did in the past because of the Internet but they’re still gone and there’s that absence. And its impact on small towns around Ireland is palpable. I myself have two siblings who are abroad; my brother is based in Australia, my sister is in the UK. My brother actually went to Australia and then came back for a year and left again a couple of weeks before we filmed Homecoming. I definitely borrowed from talking to him about the experiences of his age group; he’s six years younger than me, which is a different experience again. I also borrowed a lot of his clothes for David!

I myself emigrated to Canada but I wasn’t very good at it! I went in 2007 and came back in 2008 when things were starting to turn bad in Ireland. I was coming back when everyone was starting to leave! It’s frustrating too that you sometimes feel a pressure to leave and you hear the stories of how well everyone is doing, how much better the quality of life is. So I wanted to explore that. With Aoife, she has left to make her own life, to escape grief but she has the burden of worrying about her mother; with Mick, I wanted to explore his frustration because he’s been left behind and he knows it.

Three questions to… Niamh Heery, director of Pause

Interview with Niam Heery - Pause - Irish Film Festa

 
A woman arrives on an island in an altered state to confront her past. As she listens to old family tape recordings her surroundings begin to take on new life: Pause is one of the short films in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa (March 30th – April 2nd, Rome).

We spoke to the director Niamh Heery.

 

Sound has a great importance in Pause: how did you work on that?

As Eva arrives on the island we can tell that she has come to somewhere from her past, so I wanted to play around with the narrative structure of the film without resorting to flashbacks. Another consideration when writing Pause was the (pretty non-existent) budget. Logistically I couldn’t have a cast of children and a dad staying on the island for the whole shoot. So it forced me to become creative in how the story played out and that’s when the idea of using old cassette tape recordings came into it.

I think nostalgia can be a very powerful thing when used in an even-handed way in film. Sound triggers memories in a very sensory way. A lot of us remember making little radio shows as kids or tape recording stuff, so I thought it would fit nicely and create that past, that time difference I needed. We recorded the audio tracks with two brilliant kids who are cousins, Aobha Curran and Cian Lynch, and I knew Alan Howley who plays the father from a previous project. He’s a father himself and was great in creating a fatherly rapport with them, which was really important to have as a juxtaposition to the tonal change in the recordings later on in the film.

 

Where was the film shot?

It was shot on Inishbiggle Island, in Mayo on the West coast of Ireland. I have wanted to make a film on it since the first time I visited. My parents bought the little house years ago and at the time there were 27 people living on Inishbiggle, but as an elderly population that has dwindled to under 20 inhabitants now. It is a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area and still has that untouched, raw feel to it. The locals were very accommodating to the crew and Mícheál, the actual island ferryman, was a great sport in agreeing to be a part of the film himself. Keeping it real or what!

 

How did you cast Janine Hardy as Eva?

I’ve worked with Janine three times now. She first auditioned for me for a very sensitive domestic abuse organisation’s video I was filming and I since cast her in my first RTÉ short Our Unfenced Country.

As an actor she likes to work through and discuss the role a lot and vary her approach as needed, which I find great as it often makes me see points where the script can be improved upon before we shoot. I like to work with the same actors again if I can and if they’re good. When filming it is often hard to find time to rehearse and build up the trust needed between actor and director, especially when filming difficult material. So I knew Janine was going to play Eva from the very beginning and we had our previous experience together to fall back on when making Pause which really helped.