Three questions to… Ian Lawton, director of Coma

Do we live to work or work to live? Coma is one of the short film selected for the 8th edition of Irish Film Festa and it was shot by director Ian Lawton using an iPhone 4s.

The main character, played by Chris Aylmer, is stuck in a job that leaves him no time for proper living and being happy with his family. What will he choose to do?

Ian Lawton explains how he came up with the idea for the script and what does it mean to make a 4-minute short film with just a smartphone.


The short shows the effects work can have on people’s lives: why did you choose this theme?

It was based upon my own personal experience. I was commuting to a job that was a great distance from my home. I would have to leave early while my family was still asleep and despite my best efforts would not make it home in time to see my kid before bedtime. One evening I observed, upon returning home to a sleeping child yet again, that it was like he was in a coma, as I only saw him while he was sleeping.

This sewed the seed of inspiration for the film. It’s full of metaphor, repetition, life going down the drain, etc. Do we live to work or work to live?
The response from people has been very emotional. Occasionally tears. A lot of people relate to the story, but it is of course open to individual interpretation.

Ultimately, it’s a love letter to my son.


Has filming the short on an iPhone affected your choices as a director, in terms of frame composition and cinematography?

It was very freeing, actually. I could come up with shots that I could never achieve with a larger conventional camera. Since the phone was so lightweight I could mount it practically anywhere, using very little equipment. I shot this film by myself with no crew and this allowed me to move very quickly and make decisions on the fly without having to consult anybody. It was just myself and actor Chris Aylmer for the most part on set. Working with an iPhone has its limitations, but as long as you embrace them, be aware of what you can and cannot achieve beforehand, then simply use that to your advantage and make it part of the style of the film.


What about the music by Nils Frahm?

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Nils is a neo-classical composer from Germany and For is an improvisational piece he composed on the Juno keyboard. I knew music would dominate the soundtrack of the film so I had to be very careful with my choice. Initially, I thought the film would have an original score, but as soon as I heard that piece by Nils, I knew instantly it was right for the film. In fact, I sought permission to use the music long before I even began production on the film.


Three questions to… Denis Fitzpatrick and Ken Williams, directors of The Break

The Break-interview
Denis Fitzpatrick and Ken Williams are the directors of The Break, one of the short films selected for the Irish Film Festa 2015 competition.

Tim (Ronan Leahy) lives in a tent on the beach with his two young sons (Barry Keoghan and Jacob Lea), as a consequence of the economic crash: they really love each other but everyday life is not easy.

The Break is the fourth short film by Denis Fitzpatrick and Ken Williams, after Car Film with Jack Reynor, The Daisy Chain with Fiona Shaw as the Narrator (which was in competition at Irish Film Festa in 2014) and The Last Dart with Fionn Walton.

Denis and Ken spoke to us about the story of The Break and its amazing group of actors.


How and when did you get the idea to tell this story?

K. Williams: Denis and I both liked the idea of doing something with a tent and the script grew from there, really. We did worry we were just doing another ‘recession’ piece but we felt it was an interesting take on it.

D. Fitzpatrick: Ken wrote a really powerful script. A father at the end of his tether, who deals with the economic collapse in his own simple way – that’s actually not so simple. It’s also about outsiders and how they’re treated.


Where was the short film shot?

K. Williams: The short was shot over four days, Friday to Monday last April in Wicklow, which proved to be perfect for what we needed as we were able to find all our locations within a few miles of each other. We used Brittas Bay in Wicklow for our beach scenes. The beach has proved to be a popular location in recent years, and has featured in films such as What Richard Did and the Penny Dreadful tv series. We also used a small shop and a pub in nearby Redcross.

D. Fitzpatrick: The location was very important and we couldn’t have asked for better. We were haunted with the weather too!


What about the casting?

D. Fitzpatrick: Ronan Leahy was always our first choice to play Tim. I had seen him on the stage in Drum Belly at the Abbey Theatre, so he’d been on my radar for a while, and when myself and Ken went to see him in The Colleen Bawn, we knew that we had our man.

We cast Barry Keoghan on the advice of Maureen Hughes, who is one of the biggest casting directors in the Country. His star has been rising over the past two years, and we were delighted to get him on board while he was still available!

Jacob Lea is another one for the future, and has already amassed a good number of credits for such a young age.

Emmet Kirwan starred in a previous short film that I’d directed, so I was delighted to get him for this one. His two man play Dublin Oldschool was one of the highlights of last year’s Dublin Fringe Festival.

Ken has worked on a number of projects with Aoibhéann McCann and she was very involved in all in the pre-production too.

I had only previously seen Jon Kenny in his various comedy guises. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with him on his scene with Ronan, and to watch the drama unfold.

K. Williams: I’m delighted with the cast and crew we worked with. Ronan was a total pro and gives a terrific performance, and I’m expecting big things from Barry, he’s a proper actor. Russell, our DOP, and his team really made the film look beautiful. We’ve been very lucky. That’s the best thing about making films – the amazing people you get to work with.


Three questions to… Damien O’Connor, director of Anya

Anya is one of the five animated short films selected for the Irish Film Festa 2015 competition: it is directed by Damien O’Connor and produced by Brown Bag Films, the two Oscar nominated studio founded in 1994 by Cathal Gaffney and Darragh O’Connell. Damien has already taken part in our festival last year, with his short After You.

Anya tells the story of a little Russian orphan and was commissioned by Irish charity To Russia With Love: founded by Debbie Deegan in 1998, this charity provides programmes of care to abandoned and orphaned Russian children.

We spoke to Damien O’Connor who gave us an interesting insight into the development of this special project.


Why did you at Brown Bag Films decide to produce a short to support To Russia With Love?

Debbie Deegan, who runs To Russia With Love, phoned me in work one day out of the blue to ask if I would like to make them a 30 second advert. I didn’t know Debbie or her charity so I explained that it would just be too much work and politely declined.

However, Debbie never takes no for an answer so I ended up being 45 minutes in the phone explaining every reason why I couldn’t do it. I again told her no, hung up and returned to my desk. There was an email waiting for me from Debbie Deegan: she wanted to know when we would start.

I was amused enough to look up the To Russia With Love website, once I read about the kids in her care, I knew I had to help. I phoned her back and told I would help, but only if we could make a short film as it would get more exposure than an advert. She happily agreed so we pitched it to the studio looking for volunteers. Fortunately loads of people wanted to help out, so that’s how it all began.


How did you choose this particular story to tell?

I originally wrote it as a ‘once upon a time’ bedtime story, the twist being that the woman telling the story is the orphan we have just seen growing up in the orphanage.

I then travelled to the Hortolova orphanage in Bryansk, Russia, and met the children. I heard about their stories and quickly learnt they all had something the story was missing – hope. This was also the trip where I filmed the kids running about acting out the film, Sascha (the blond girl on the credits) became our Anya.

The line ‘Dream Big Little One’ was a line that an Irish volunteer used to whisper to the children. So I rewrote the story to make it more optimistic and designed the character around Sascha.

Then we kept working on the animatic trying to get the story to come together, the final shot with the train in the background was the last piece of the puzzle, once I put that in I was happy I had a story that worked, but also a story that would let the kids know there is always hope for their futures.


Despite its tough theme, the short conveys a light atmosphere: how did you work on the colour scheme? And what about the soundtrack?

I was the art director on the film so I knew we had to go from cold blues to warm gold and red so we planned that very early on. I was also very lucky to have three great lighters working on the film – they really worked hard to give it a rich look and they were all also very keen to have the details be 100% accurate, so they worked on the lace curtains, the peeling paint and the overall textures to make sure it all work. They did an amazing job.

The soundtrack is by Darren Hendley, who I have worked with before. I used a temp track to time the animatic, originally it was all sad cellos and violins, but it was not working, so I swapped it for a more upbeat tempo. Darren then came up with the idea of the music ‘catching’ – it is almost like the score tries to play three times, failing the first two times until Anya gets up from bed and goes exploring.

Part of the temp music I had used early on was the Gravity soundtrack which features the amazing Lisa Hannigan. I got in touch to ask is she could record vocals, she was very responsive and agreeable and it is her singing on the Anya story. We kept tweaking the edit and the music throughout production until it all gelled and I am delighted with the results: everyone loves the music!


Short films selection 2015

Fifteen short films have been selected for the 2015 Irish Film Festa competition.

This year we received about one hundred submissions and we would like to thank all the Irish filmmakers for their participation.

Ten shorts will compete in the live action category and five shorts will compete in the animation one. Our 2015 competition is organized in collaboration with Irish Design 2015.

Here’s the list of the selected short films:

The Break Ken Williams, Denis Fitzpatrick
Coma Ian Lawton
Ghost Train Lee Cronin
The Good Word Stuart Graham
I’ve Been a Sweeper Ciarán Dooley
Keeping Time Steve Woods
The Measure of a Man Ruth Meehan
Novena Anna Rodgers
Rúbaí Louise Ní Fhiannachta
The Weather Report Paul Murphy

Anya Damien O’Connor
Deadly Aidan McAteer
The Duel Alex Sherwood, Ben Harper, Sean Mullen
The Ledge End of Phil Paul Ó Muiris
Somewhere Down The Line Julien Regnard

The 8th edition of Irish Film Festa will take place from March 26th to 29th at the Casa del Cinema in Rome.

Follow us also on twitter @IrishFilmFesta and on our facebook page: you’ll find daily news about Irish cinema as well as all the updates about the festival.

Ciarán McMenamin all'Irish Film Festa 2014
Ciarán McMenamin at Irish Film Festa 2014