FAKE SHEMP: You've never been on a film-set until you started North Circular Road. Tell us about your film making journey so far.
DONAL: North Circular Road was my first step into film making and where better to begin than right in the deep end! I work as a writer primarily and a few years back I recall interviewing a very successful businessman who said something that really struck a chord with me – never be afraid to surround yourself with smart people. That was the philosophy I took with making the film and I think it worked. I was surrounded by talented people who knew what they were doing and with their support directing fell into the realm of the possible. My goal throughout was to tell the story of the script and to bring out the best in the actors – so I was able to concentrate on that. There’s a huge amount you learn as you progress of course but, if you don’t get to apply it on the current project, you store it up for the next film. In some ways, I think that’s the motivation to go forward.
What was the 'ah-ha' moment that lead you to film-making?
Lots of people are drawn to film making and for various reasons. For me, it was very much the feeling that there was a particular kind of story I wanted to tell and a way I wanted to approach things. When I saw that the technology made that possible, and I had found people I could work with to bring the vision to life, I knew it was time to get moving.
What can you tell us about your film and the overall production?
It was an extremely tight schedule for a feature film – about 18 days over all, so it’s a credit to the production team and the actors that we achieved so much in that time. We filmed most of it with a Canon 5D – a fact which impresses people who admire the rich quality of the film. We had, first and foremost, a talented cinematographer in Stephen C Walsh – and it was his first feature film. We also had a great cast who really brought a great deal of nuance and sophistication to their roles – for some it was their first time making a film too. Everyone gave 150% and there was a real sense of collaboration as we moved forward– so I was very lucky. There were a few bumps in the road, as happens in any film but our producers – Kathy Horgan and Michael Parle – dealt with those very well. In every case, something good came out of the problem.
What was your greatest blunder on set and what invaluable lesson did you take away from it?
I suppose if there’s any problem with coming on set as a novice, it’s that your focus is going to be more limited than someone with more experience. Looking back on the film-making process, I feel I focused on the right things – the actors and building the dynamic of the story. If I was doing it again, I might have experimented more with the actual filming process. Having said that, time was incredibly tight so my instincts were probably right. I’m a great fan of Michael Haneke’s film Amour and I would like to think the cinematography style of North Circular Road has something of that contemplative, gently persistent pace of film making as the story builds.
What was your greatest triumph on set?
There are a few scenes I’m particularly proud of – the night sequence towards the end where Janice and Matthew argue before confronting the man Janice has been looking for – it’s just got a great balance of comedy and pathos. There’s a wonderful scene where the ‘ghosts’, Peter and Eileen argue as she is trying to get away from him, and you get a sense of the hold he has over all.
There’s also one very simple scene that I really love, where Janice sees Peter in the hallway just after she says goodbye to a friend. She follows him up the stairs with a mixture of curiosity and dread. There’s something wonderfully balanced and poetic in how they move and relate to each other, and the atmosphere that the film exudes at that point. I’d love to take credit for it but, of course, I have to hand most of it to the cast and crew!
Is this your first time at MUFF and what does the festival mean to you?
It is my first time and I’m really proud to follow in the footsteps of some great Irish directors including Terry McMahon and Ivan Kavanagh, who have been warmly supported by MUFF in recent years. It’s a superb festival and a great showcase for innovation and the new talent emerging around the globe.
I’ve always admired the spirit of Australian film making – there’s a willingness to take chances and experiment alongside a commitment to tell stories that have real authenticity.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline? Can you tell us a little about them?
I think it’s quite important to experiment in your film making and do things that surprise people. I’m currently working on a sports documentary that will throw some fresh light on what might appear a familiar topic to many. Believe me when I say I’m the least likely person ever to make a documentary about sport, so it’s fun to do something that challenges you.
A brief synopsis of North Circular Road?
A young couple drives a hard bargain for the house they’ve fallen in love with. Janice is a popular weather forecaster who sees the new home as a fresh start. Her husband Matthew is setting his own ambitions aside to put his wife’s happiness first. But every house has its secrets and Janice soon discovers hers are bigger than most, when the ghosts of a couple who once lived in the house start to appear before her. She soon becomes completely distracted by what she sees and a shocking story unfolds before her eyes as the ghostly visions become more and more vivid. She is compelled to research the history of the house and begins to put the pieces of a dark crime together. However, she has to terms with the ghosts of her own past if she is to solve the mystery of North Circular Road.
NORTH CIRCULAR ROAD SCREENS AT HOWLER, WEDNESDAY SEPT 16 (5PM).
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