Yellow Bread had the opportunity to talk to Brian Deane, the director of “Blight”, one of the short films selected in this year’s Shadow Shorts Competition program at the Transilvania International Film Festival. We talked about his short film “Blight”, the Irish Film Board and its support of short films, as well as the current situation of the Irish Film Industry and his next projects.
Can you talk about yourself, your background and how you got into film?
Brian Deane: Sure! My name is Brian Deane and I’m a director from Ireland. “Blight” is my third short film that’s here at TIFF. I suppose I’ve always been madly in love with Film and it took me a long time to realize you could actually make films because I didn’t know anyone who worked in the industry and the city I come from doesn’t really have an industry at all. So, it was kind of chance, really, that an opportunity came along to switch courses in college and I started to think that maybe there was a way for me to make films. So, for the last three years, I’ve been working very hard, really just directing and concentrating on building a portfolio of short films and a web series. And, I’m really hoping to be able to make a living and do what I love everyday – this is kind of the dream, I guess.
You said at the Q&A that “Blight” is a homage to horror films that you liked from the 1960s and 1970s. The aesthetic, the style, the pace… It’s all very visible in the film. Can you talk about that?
B.D.: I just liked the idea of letting some of the scenes evolve in wider shots and having very carefully framed wide shots and very carefully lit and to try stay out of using lots of close-ups and lots of classical kind of TV set-ups. My D.o.P, Russell Gleeson, and myself, we had a lot of chats because I came to him and I was like: “I really wanna do it in an old-fashioned way”. So, we used old anamorphic lenses and we lit everything top down – the same way you would in a studio back in the day – and we didn’t have any hand-held or heavy camera moves. The only kind of little modern twist we had is the point of view of one of the supernatural creatures; we used a tilt-shift lens – which was our only little bit of a cheat – but everything else, we tried to stay true to the time. We did just some pans. I think that there may have been one or two tracking shots but only something very, very slight. That was kind of what we wanted to do with the aesthetic and just let things unfold rather than manipulate the audience visually. And, there was a lot of pressure, not so much on me but suggested by other people with regards to FX, and just to use a hand-held style because it’s much easier to generate energy quickly. But, I kind of set the rules and I didn’t want to break them. So, in the end, it all worked out but it did mean really thinking about things and how it would play out.
Can you talk about the story and how it came to be? Also, the ending is open…Will there be a sequel?
B.D.: It’s funny, actually, because whenever I make anything I always want it to be one complete piece of art, entertainment or whatever it is. And, I think a lot of times where American short films fail is that they’re trying to make calling cards for features or they’re trying to crush a feature down into ten or fifteen minutes. So, “Blight” was always intended to stand alone but as Matthew [Roche], the writer, and myself were working on it, we realized there was so much stuff that we wanted to put in that we just couldn’t. Even right up until quite close to the end, we were still taking stuff out to kind of simplify the story. So, we are talking about it – making it into a feature. I’ve never seen this story told before so I think we did take a particular genre of film and we turned it on its head, which you don’t see very often. So, I think having that in our locker would seem a shame not to take advantage of. And then, I suppose, the idea came from just Matt and myself chatting. We are both horror film fans – we’re fans of Cinema first but we also love really good horrors – and a combination of two things: one, which we already mentioned in the aesthetics, to make something that was kind of old school and old-fashioned and two, to move away from the more found footage and video type shorts and features. When Matt and myself were chatting, we were like: “It would be great to make a horror film” and we were talking about ideas. I really liked the idea of possession and playing around with incest and setting all of that in Ireland. In a weird way, it sort of mirrors what happened with Ireland and the Catholic Church and how that stuff was kind of locked behind closed doors. What I was saying was that you wonder in what other place in the world, a stranger can come into your house and leave with a child 24 hours later unquestioned, because such was the strength and belief people had in the Church that they went to it to fix all of their problems and in some cases create them. So the idea I had with Matt was – I like the idea of incest and Matt really liked the idea of when someone is possessed they’re kind of like a gateway to the other side – instead of always thinking of the devil coming out, we were really interested in the idea of somebody from this side using a demon to communicate with someone on the other side. So, we were looking at it as “the conduit,” as we were calling it originally – the first version of the film – and then those two ideas kind of mashed together and “Blight” is what came out the other end.
What was your inspiration? Did you draw inspiration from some Irish horror story or Irish myths? Also, your producer produced “Penny Dreadful”. Did the show inspire you?
B.D.: Well, we just stole the crew from “Penny Dreadful”, which was really nice. When we were putting the project together, the standard of the crew was really, really high because in Ireland, there are a lot of big things being shot at the moment. This means that there’s a lot of fantastic crew who are incredibly well trained but who are happy to do smaller projects if they really like them just because they’re used to working 24 weeks or longer on big TV projects. So, again it’s just that the talent is there for us to steal. But with “Blight”, we have the thing with the boatman and the kind of crossing to Hades and things like that but it was more to do with the link between Ireland and the Church and more of a commentary on Irish society in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s. We weren’t based on any particular myth. I guess it was more universal and taking some of those stories and bringing them and placing them in Ireland.
How was it received in Ireland, especially because of the commentary on society and the Church?
B.D.: It’s funny because I think in Ireland a lot of people have moved away from the Church. It doesn’t have the iron grip on the country that it used to have. I suppose we are criticizing the Church but actually, to be honest, the Church kind of just intersected with the film rather than being the active antagonist. So, it’s really society that is what I was looking to shed a light on and more its reliance on the Church.
“Blight” was supported by the Irish Film Board. Can you comment on that?
B.D.: Yeah! It’s a funny one, actually… We are incredibly indebted to the Film Board for backing it because they’ve never made anything like this before on short film level. They certainly backed a few horrors at feature level. I mean, we went in and we chatted with them and they really liked the script and they really liked us as a team but they just thought it was incredibly ambitious for the money. And, we were very unsure what we would be able to do due to the standard. They were fantastic in backing the project, backing us and helping promote Irish talent, I guess. So, from our point of view, they do an amazing job just in Ireland in general. It’s a really small budget that runs the Irish Film Board and it is trying to train up directors and commission people at short film stage and you can see that Ireland really punches above its weight. A lot of that work was done before the Film Board’s funding was cut so at the moment we are really pushing to get the Film Board funding reestablished because what we are reaping the last few years, with all the success we’ve had and stuff that’s been ten or fifteen years in the pipeline, where they’ve been backing directors, coming through backing writers, coming through backing producers… Hopefully, that’ll change. The government will come on board and support them because they’re already doing amazing things.
The Irish Film Board is also very much involved in short films and there is an Irish short film on the Oscars long list almost every year and one [“Stutterer”] even won this year…
B.D.: Yeah! There are two things that are great, I suppose, about the film world. One is they’re incredibly knowledgeable of short film and storytelling and the same people who work on the same feature projects work on the short projects so to have that support and that kind of objective you point at script stage and at the edit is amazing. I think that really helps up the standard of the Film Board shorts. And yeah, pretty much every year there will be an Irish short on either the shortlist for the Short Live Action Oscar or for the Short Animation Oscar. And, Benjamin Cleary was lucky enough to win this year, which is pretty great. I was actually on the long list as well but with another short [“Volkswagen Joe”]. I think that the reason that Irish shorts do so well is because we have a foot in the European camp and the American camp. The last couple of months, I’ve really seen a growing divide between cinema in Europe and cinema in the States. So, I think that in Europe there’s a lot of emphasis on more poetic and more artistic but less narrative-based shorts and then obviously in the States, I think, they go too far the other way. So, Ireland kind of has the balance of a very strong and really good European influence. But, at the end of the day, we’re a nation of storytellers so we’re always trying to tell stories and just take some of the aesthetic and some of the intelligence that comes from Europe and then apply it to a story. I think that’s the magic formula. If we can keep going, that would be great…
For most directors, shorts are sort of a way to their first feature. Why do you think is that?
B.D.: My issue, I suppose – because I put so much work into the shorts that I do, they may as well be feature films – with short films is that there is no financial return and they end up costing me money to work on them. They cost me a fortune in the end. So, at the moment, I am pretty bankrupt. But, the hope is that the hard work that’s gone out over the last few years will start to pay off for me and for my production company [TW Films] as well. There, I have two other amazing producers that I work with. So, for all of us, we put a huge amount of work – we’re now at a kind of tipping point but I think that’s the only reason people do that jump from shorts to features. It’s financial even in the development process; writing a script, there is funding able to support that. There are companies that are able to support so at least you’re earning while you’re working while on a short film, you work your ass off for six months or nine months and deliver a film and then, you hope to maybe win some prize, which isn’t really a financially viable option for most people.
Iain Smith, who I have just interviewed, said that short films are just a showcase of talent. Would you agree with that?
B.D.: Kind of… Obviously, it’s a great place to cut your teeth. But, to be honest, I don’t think there’s a huge difference between directing a short film and directing a feature film. My first short film is 30 minutes long and, I mean, if we had shot for three weeks instead of five days, then I probably would have had a feature film so it’s the same process. It’s just everything is bigger and you need to delegate it a bit more because otherwise you’ll just burn out as a director or as a person. But, no, I think that short films are a form in themselves. And, actually, in Europe, there’s a strange mentality because a lot of funders and programmers are very supportive of short films and love the format because people can experiment and aren’t tied to a strong narrative. But, when I was at the Berlinale Talents, I went to this wonderful talk with the head programmer of short films for the Toronto International Film Festival, Kathleen McInnis, and the director of the Tampere Film Festival, Jukka-Pekka Laakso, and they picked a short that they loved over the last ten or fifteen years. I asked – or someone else asked – how many of those directors had made feature films and none had made feature films. So, there’s definitely a weird divide that you can make a really good short that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a pathway to making a feature film while, also, you can make a very good short film but it’s not going to do that well in Europe because it’s got a strong narrative or it’s kind of a training session to step up to be a feature director. But, I suppose no one’s going to give you the money for a feature film unless you have a body of work.
And how do you see the current situation of the film industry in Ireland?
B.D.: Well, I do think, as regards film production, there’s so much talent coming through. There’s a queue forming where there are some amazing directors and writers. And, people who’ve been around for a while are coming back with some fantastic films so I do think there’s a bit of a “Golden Age.” We’re really lucky as well that there’s an incredible pool of Irish actors that have come through the last ten or fifteen years. Before that, you basically had Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne in America and that was kind of it. And, as directors you just had Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan. But now, there’s a roster of directors coming through; there are people like Lenny Abrahamson – who’s a personal hero of mine –, people like John Carney, Rebecca Daly… And then, there’s a roster of young directors who are coming through as well. There’s some really good talent coming through up North as well, like Stephen Fingleton, whose film [“The Survivalist”] is amazing. It’s a great time to make films and it’s a great time to be part of what I would say is almost like a “New Wave of Irish Cinema”. But, on the larger scale of things, it’s where these films are going to go and how they are going to continue to make a living and that’s a worrying question I think; that’s where cinema is going on a worldwide sort of scale and where those intelligent films fit besides these super budget American studio films. So, it is a bit of a conundrum where my whole life I’ve ever wanted to do is make a feature film and now I’m looking at the situation and don’t even know if there is going to be a somewhere for my feature film to exist because, obviously, there’s been a push to TV. But, a lot of people seem quite confident that the push will come back to cinema. We’ll have to wait and see…
What are your next projects?
B.D.: My production company – we’ve been actually very lucky that we’re working on our first feature that I won’t be directing but that TW Films will be producing. So, we’re going to be shooting that hopefully in August this year in America, which takes the pressure off me a little bit. So, it’s not going to be my first time directing and our company’s first film. I’m working on a feature film at the moment that I am co-writing with a wonderful writer-producer from Poland, Wiktor Piątkowski. We met at the Berlinale Talents. I kind of had this idea and he really liked it. He’s done a lot of TV work so he really wanted to get back into cinema and it’s going really well. We’ve applied for funding in Poland and I am going to apply for funding from the Irish Film Board for development to write a script and the plan would be to shoot it next year in Poland. So, I’m certainly plotting my first feature film at the moment. Hopefully, I will be able to get it financed and step up to make my first film.