Your new movie The
Three Sisters - in a few words, what is it about?
Three Sisters is about a
young couple who have recently split up, and are brought back together as
they attempt to unmask a killer who is targeting the girl's family. It
also contains will readings, mild drug-taking, a sex scene and Giovanni
Three Sisters was quite obviously inspired by classic giallo
cinema in both style and story - so what do you find so fascinating about
these movies of old, and your genre favourites?
I think -
without getting too deep into it - the best gialli are just really
entertaining. The classic giallo film combines inventive set pieces with a
mystery angle, so it's like watching an episode of something like CSI with
showstopping murder scenes every fifteen minutes, or watching an American
slasher film with a far more interesting plot. It's a combination which on
paper should be incredibly commercial, but the best gialli, probably
because of the production circumstances in which they were made
(multi-national casts, post-dubbing, quick production schedules but very
competent technicians) have a very weird atmosphere, which a lot of people
dismiss or mock. They're generally not particularly scary, but can have a
delirious, extremely cinematic quality that I just love.
As for my
favourites, off the top of my head: Deep
Red, Tenebrae, The Bird with the
Crystal Plumage, Opera, Torso,
The Strange Vice of Mrs
Wardh, All the
Colours of the Dark, Blood and Black
Lace, Deadly Sweet, Don't Torture a Duckling, The New York
Story, The House with Laughing
Windows, The Night Evelyn Came out of the
sources of inspiration when writing The
Can't really think of many to be
honest. I was watching Twin Peaks when I first started conceiving
the film (well, kind of - the film is an extensive rewrite of another,
unmade film I wrote years ago), and I had the idea of pitching it to the
Irish national broadcaster as a six episode series, with each episode
ending with a character being murdered. Then I started thinking about what
my options would be when that pitch was rejected, and I decided to just
jump straight to Plan B, which was to shorten it into a film and make it
How would you describe your
directorial approach to your story at hand?
this film differently compared to my two previous features. I shot both of
those in the traditional manner, with an intense period of production,
followed by a few months of post. This time, mostly due monetary
restrictions, but also because I wanted to have more freedom and less time
constraints, I shot the film over a two year period, from May 2012 to July
2014. I also didn't write a script, and worked initially from a
spreadsheet, and then an eight page treatment. I wanted to allow space for
my actors to improvise, so, particularly early on, we'd improvise scenes a
week or two before shooting them, and I'd write up a rough script based on
the improv sessions. Because the film has a fairly dense plot, I then had
to find the balance between allowing the actors as much freedom as
possible, while still ensuring that they hit the relevant story points.
I also edited
as I filmed (well, right afterwards), and tweaked the plot a fair bit
along the way, especially early on. I also reshot a couple of things,
which I've always tried to avoid, as once I shoot a scene it's marked as
'done' in my mind. When you're filming over a two year period though, it
becomes quite hard to justify not going back to fix something that's
bugging you in the editing. Saying that, there are still lots of bits that
I should probably reshoot, but don't want to.
Three Sisters features a few quite violent scenes - so what can
you tell us about these, how were they achieved, and were there any line
you refused to cross?
I've never been a massive gorehound
(I'm a big Fulci fan [Lucio Fulci
bio - click here], but more for the atmosphere he created in his best
films than the visceral violence), so I didn't necessarily set out to make
a violent movie. I did make sure to splash a bit of (fake) blood around as
I felt that the core audience for the genre would expect it, but didn't
try to do it excessively; just what I felt the scene required. The violent
scenes were all planned out well in advance, and were all done using
practical effects designed by myself. I actually feel like I dropped the
ball on a couple of the scenes, which could have been a lot more effective
in retrospect. There are a couple - and one in particular involving a
knife, a head and a head's mouth - which I think worked ok. A large part of
it too comes from the sound effects; a good foley effect can be incredibly
effective, if you'll pardon the excellent pun (it's not really a pun, but
Three Sisters features veteran Italian horror actor Giovanni
Lombardo Radice in a supporting role - so how did you get him even, and
what was it like to work with him?
I filmed with
Johnny (as he likes to be called) in June 2013. I had shot around 20
minutes of the film at that point, and for pretty much the first time on
any of my films, actually started thinking about what the process of
marketing the finished product would be like. I thought that having
someone who'd previously been in gialli and genre films could generate a
bit of attention down the line, and Johnny immediately came to mind. I
knew he was still active, and he had the right age and look for the part
he ended up playing (plus he's a great actor). I got him on board just by
emailing him, and he asked to see the film's script. As I've said I didn't
actually have a script, and at that stage I was working off a spreadsheet
which listed the scenes, plus I had about 3 pages of the treatment
written. I quickly wrote the rest of the film into the treatment, and sent
it onto him. Once we'd cleared up one or two things that were unclear in
the treatment (I'd forgotten to include any reference at the end to why
and how the killer had committed the murders) he was happy to come on
Giovanni Lombardo Radice
It was very
surreal to work with him, given that he's been in so many iconic films
over the years, and here he was in a hotel room in Dublin, with a crew of
three (that was actually one of about five days on the film where there
was something resembling a crew, and it wasn't just me plus actors). He'd
clearly read everything I'd sent him, and done some prep work, which was
pretty awesome to see. The filming actually went incredibly smoothly, and
we finished about an hour ahead of schedule. In some ways the only
difficult thing about directing him was having to have the confidence to
say "great, same again next time" after a take, because there's
always a part of you that wants to impress people with your amazing
directorial talent (there's a part of me anyway). In this instance the
actors immediately got into their groove and pretty much nailed every
take, so I just had to resist any temptation to needlessly mess with what
was already a winning formula. Fortunately, as I don't actually enjoy
being on set and generally want to get it over with as quickly as
possible, it was easy to resist.
A few words about the
rest of your key cast?
Johnny, I've worked with almost everyone else before (apart from two of
the actors, who were the sister and friend respectively of Gillian Walsh and
Elliot Moriarty, the two leads). Most of the people who are in the film are friends
and family, who took part with varying levels of enthusiasm (my mother,
who plays Johnny's wife, would regularly tell everyone how much she hated
acting, often mid-scene). Because we shot the film over such a long period
of time, it was a big challenge for the main actors, who began and
finished many other projects while still working away at this on the side.
The three main actors (Elliot, Gill and Neill Fleming, who plays the Detective)
were amazingly patient, and their performances, especially given the time
period involved, stand up really well (even if the wildly-varying length
of Elliot's hair doesn't).
Neill Fleming, Elliot Moriarty
am really grateful to everyone who was a part of the film, in any way,
shape or form. And, even though several people acted in the film under
duress, the fact that you referred to the cast in your review as 'very
competent' shows what a good director I am. I mean, what good actors they
What can you tell us about the
shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
As I've said it
was a long, drawn-out shoot, initially because I wanted to work free from
time pressure. I also worked 90% of the time with literally no crew, just
myself and the actors. And, because pretty much all the cast are friends
of mine, or related to me, it was a fairly relaxed shoot, at least when my
mum wasn't pissing me off by moaning to the other actors about me. In some
ways it's actually hard to get my head round the fact that I've just made
a feature film, because it was made in such small increments.
definitely difficult for the main actors, as I've mentioned, because they
had to achieve some sort of uniformity of performance over such a long
period of time. I remember the first big dialogue scene we shot involved
three uninterrupted ten minute takes of Elliot and Gill talking (well,
about four minutes of talking and six minutes of awkward silence in each)
and there was a feeling of the whole improv approach not really working,
but once I had a rough cut of the scene done I knew that it would all be
ok. Because I wasn't recording live sound for most of it, I was able to
reassure actors who were worried about their performance by telling them
that they could give better performances in dubbing, and that we could
even rewrite any line for which their mouth wasn't on screen (we barely
did that at all though, I mostly said it so Elliot would stop asking to do
more takes of stuff).
$64-question of course, when and where will the film be released onto the
I have no idea at all. I'm still polishing
off the audio, and regrading the odd shot here and there. Plus, the film
doesn't even have end credits yet. I've entered it into a few festivals,
and depending on how successful or otherwise that is, will decide on what
to do re: distribution. It'll hopefully be accessible to the public within
a year anyway.
Any future projects you'd like to share?
specifically in the works at the moment, although I have ideas for about
twenty films, and concrete story outlines/scripts for about six or seven.
I kind of like the idea of doing the next one in a concentrated five or
six day period, just to have a completely different experience to this
one. Then again, what I'd really like is for another person/company to put
up the budget, so I'm not investing all my money into, so far, extremely
working on and off (mostly off, but we'll hopefully pick up the pace soon)
on a sitcom for the past year or so with my friend Ben, and I also started
a book about gialli last summer (2013). I haven't written anything for
that for pretty much a year, but I'd like to dig it out and get stuck into
it sometime soon. It'll give me an excuse to rewatch a load of gialli, but
against that the feeling that I absolutely have to write something every
time I watch one might actually put me off watching them. It definitely
did when I started the book. So, some tough times ahead, with big
decisions to be made.
did you get into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any
formal education on the subject?
I wanted to be
a sportsman when I was younger, but after trying and failing at football,
golf, snooker and cycling, I realized that whereas in those sports you're
either good enough or you're not (and I wasn't), and there's an age limit
in terms of having a breakthrough, in film you can keep trying for your
whole life if you want. So I started writing scripts when I was around 15
or 16 (always feature-length ones), and decided that I'd try to be a
I went to
Trinity College in Dublin, and did a degree in Film Studies and English.
The Film Studies course involved a small bit of practical filmmaking, but
I was also an active member of the college filmmaking society, which was
pretty important in terms of getting a grounding in the basics. I'd made
some shorts with friends before going to college, and I made six more in
Trinity, with one of them winning the main prize at the National Student
Film Festival (which was actually the first time anything I'd made had
even been accepted to a festival).
What can you tell us
about your filmwork prior to The
Three Sisters, and your evolution as a director?
I've made two
other feature films, the first of which was a horror film called The
Farm, and was made a year after I left university. It was released on DVD
across North America in 2010, to middling-to-terrible reviews. The sound
quality was pretty shocking on the release, which was mostly my fault for
over-filtering the dialogue, but the DVD authoring wasn't great either. I
think the big mistake I made with 'The Farm' was not working enough on the
script. I put most of my directorial energy towards creating a
documentary-type feel for the film, which basically involved a lot of
planning to try and make it look like there had been no planning. This was
fairly successful, but it's maybe not the smartest approach for a
first-time director who's trying to get themselves noticed.
My second film
was called The Gingerbread Men, and is a dark romantic comedy/musical.
It didn't do very well, as it was quite hard to market (the 'dark romantic
comedy/musical' market isn't fully developed yet). It also looked crap,
which was the cinematographer's fault. I think it's a decent film though,
and definitely rewards viewers who stick with it til the end. The problem is
that there were basically no viewers, and no company was even remotely
interested in distributing it, so I had to do that myself. It's available
online and in shops in Ireland, and will hopefully find an audience some
day. Again, I didn't do anything to draw attention to myself as a
director, as I hoped that the film itself would garner enough attention
and plaudits to do that. It didn't though, and that's one of the reasons
why I chose to make The
Three Sisters next, as it had more scope for
flashy self-indulgence. In an admirable display of benevolence and
forgiveness, I also retained myself as cinematographer.
who inspire you?
I could come up with a huge list here, but
in the interests of brevity I'll keep it short. My top five influences
would probably be Michael Mann, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson,
Nicolas Winding Refn and Jess Franco. Well, they're actually my favourite
five directors, but they've probably influenced me a fair bit too.
Your favourite movies?
I'll try and keep it short. My favourite film is The Assassination of
Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I am also partial to (in no
particular order): Heat, Once Upon a Time in the West, Boogie
Apocalypse Now, Synecdoche New York, The Life and Death of
Colonel Blimp, The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre, Pulp Fiction, The
Black Sabbath and Festen.
and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
I'd be a bit
reluctant to go on the record slagging off other people's films, as I know
how much blood, sweat and tears can go into them (not much of any of those
in my case, but I do put a lot of effort in). There was an Irish film
called Charlie Casanova that made a minor splash a couple of years ago
that was a terrible, terrible thing. I'm fairly sick of superhero films at
the moment, and find it a bit chilling that Marvel have their slate sorted
until something like 2028. Oh, and I hate any modern movie that lazily
tries to associate itself with the grindhouse/exploitation fad, but
reduces the subject matter to a cheap joke, which the original movies
never did. Sharknado, and stuff like that.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
(hasn't been updated in months; will be soon, I promise)
(excerpts from the giallo book I'm writing; hasn't been updated for about
a year, will be soon though. That's not a promise, but I'll try)
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
pretty much everything. I suppose I should say thanks again to everyone
who chose to give their time to The
Three Sisters, and my family and
girlfriend, who were forced to give their time.
Thanks for the
for the interview!
I just said that.