Three questions to… Helen Flanagan, director of The Debt

The Debt - Interview with Helen Flanagan - Irish Film Festa

When lovestruck ten year old Daithi falls for his classmate Jessica, he turns to his best friend Penny to help win her heart: The Debt is one of the short films in competition at the 10th Irish Film Festa.

We spoke to the director Helen Flanagan.


How did you come up with the idea for this story about love and friendship between little kids?

The script evolved naturally out of a very basic idea I had about a kid running a tooth fairy scam for cash. As the characters developed, the story took shape around them, and thematically the script became about learning the value of friendship as a child. A lot of the story elements came from my own experience as someone who was not the most socially mobile kid on the playground, so putting a plutonic friendship at the heart of the story was really important.


How did you choose and work with the young actors? Especially referring to Susie Power, whose Penny proves to be a very strong, non-conformist character.

We spent a really long time casting and we were so lucky to get to work with Lee O’Donoghue and Susie Power. They are such fantastic young actors, and both of them were so smart and intuitive about the characters. Both Daithi and Penny are non-conformist characters, but Penny was really personally important for me. I wanted to make sure she was more than just a supporting character, and that she was a real person with a real background and feelings rather than the usual stereotypical “tomboy” character trope. Susie is so smart, she really understood how to get across the subtext in such a naturalistic way. Lee was also so great, he brought so much of his personality to the character.


Where was the film shot?

We shot the film in a small country town called Birr, in Co. Offaly. The film was funded through Film Offaly’s film bursary award. I had been in Birr a few years before and I thought it would be a really great location for the story, so I submitted the script to them for consideration. Birr was a really gorgeous location, the kind of place you could imagine two kids running around and getting into lots of trouble.